The ultimate Sony PSP Go

Sony released the original PSP back in 2005. It was promoted as a portable PS2 but although it was impressively powerful for the time, as was standard practice back then, Sony was talking bollocks and in reality its power lay somewhere between that and a PS1.

Its games came on a Universal Media Disc or UMD. This was a 1.8GB disc encased in a plastic housing that was designed to protect the media from scratches.

UMDs were chosen over cartridges because of their capacity and, more importantly, their cost-per-GB. To compare, cartridges for Nintendo’s DS ranged between 8 and 512MB in capacity – with most games using either 64MB or 128MB.

In truth though, the format sucked. The PSP’s drives were painfully slow, clunky and overly fragile for a console that was meant to be portable. And thanks to the mechanical aspect of the drive, it also impacted on the battery performance of the console.

Sony released two more iterations of this design which improved the performance and specification of the console, but they were all hamstrung by the UMD drive.

In 2009, Sony released the PSP Go. This model removed the UMD drive and the idea was that users would get their games from the online store instead. The removal of the drive meant that the console could be much smaller and lighter than all the other iterations, with better battery life.

Where Sony gave with one hand though, it took away with the other. The memory format was changed from the Pro Duo of the earlier models to another proprietary format called M2, which was much smaller – about the same size as Micro SD. This decision would be significant for the model’s future.

After releasing a console that could only get its games from the online store, Sony seemed determined to make it as difficult and as unpalatable as possible for people to actually go ahead and make use of it:

  1. The digital versions of games were more expensive than their physical counterparts. They would also remain full price for months if not years after release, while physical copies would get discounts just weeks later.
  2. Since digital seemed to be an afterthought as far as the PSP was concerned, the vast majority of the PSP’s game library was not available for digital purchase due to licensing issues.
  3. The M2 memory cards required to store these downloaded games were stupidly expensive compared to alternatives like Micro SD, and while Micro SD capacities continued to increase, the largest M2 that was ever released was just 16GB. This meant users with large collections of digital games would either need to purchase multiple cards – each stupidly expensive – and swap between them as required, or just have the one card with a small selection of games carefully chosen from their online library.
  4. Although Sony had previously suggested PSP owners with existing UMD collections may be able to trade these in for digital versions at “participating stores”, this idea never came to pass. So regardless of the size of a user’s UMD collection from earlier PSP models, it was actually impossible for Go owners to play those games on the Go without re-purchasing them digitally – for inflated prices – and that was only if they were even available for purchase.

It’s little wonder then that commercially, the Go was a failure.

The hacking scene however turned the Go into a pretty reasonable device, since custom firmware allowed it to run games that the user could either dump themselves using a UMD-based console, or take advantage of someone else’s efforts and download them for free from the internet.

Suddenly the Go wasn’t limited to the anaemic selection of games that Sony had made available on its store, and it could play every game that had been released physically. This really made up for Sony’s poor efforts.

This development benefitted the other PSPs too, since they no longer had to use their slow, clunky and battery-sapping UMD drives to play games but instead could run them all from memory card. However, while those consoles enjoyed ever-expanding Pro Duo capacities, the Go languished on 16GB (or 32GB including the internal memory) and this was because the Go’s lack of sales convinced them not to bother releasing any larger capacities.

The older PSPs have even able to enjoy the much larger capacities of modern Micro SD cards thanks to Pro Duo/Micro SD card adaptors. But since M2 is about the same size as Micro SD, it has not been possible to create an adaptor for those.

The PSP Go is actually my favourite form factor as it fits very comfortably in even the smallest of pockets, and since the screen is a little smaller than it is on the others it also looks a little sharper. It can also be played on a large TV thanks to TV-out and Bluetooth support that allows it to be paired with a controller. For years though, the problem with the Go has been its terribly small memory limitations. But not any more!

Breaking free from M2

I recently purchased this ribbon cable from a seller in Japan. It allows the use of a Pro Duo/Micro SD adaptor by running a cable from an internally-stored adaptor to the M2 port.

It took about a week to arrive. I’ve just installed it and am pleased to report that my Go now has access to the 16GB internal memory in addition to… a 400GB Micro SD card! So I now have the most portable iteration of the PSP with almost half a terabyte of storage space – and it can even be upgraded with a larger Micro SD card in future as capacities continue to increase!

Similar mods have been available in the past but those have required irreversible modifications to the device, which I was never keen to do. This modification however is completely reversible as it has caused zero harm to the console.

My next problem is deciding on how to fill that card!

The ultimate Sega Dreamcast

Having recently secured a dedicated games room after moving house, I’ve been slowly working my way through each retro console and making it the best that it can be before adding it to my custom-made TV cabinet. First on the list was the Sega Dreamcast.

The first thing to do was replace the optical drive (inherently one of the parts most prone to failure on retro hardware) with a USB GD-ROM. This board physically replaces the drive with a USB port allowing the user to run their games from USB stick. Games load faster, the console is more reliable (and a lot quieter!), and depending on the size of the USB stick, the owner need never get up from the sofa again when switching games!

When researching this component I come across a fair amount of negative feedback on “Mnemo”, the guy who makes them, including the notice on this page (since removed so check out this page instead).

By all accounts, the guy seems to be a bit of an arsehole challenge to work with. Nevertheless, the USB GD-ROM is a great piece of kit, he seems to be the only person on this earth who makes them and they hardly ever seem to come up for sale second hand, so if I wanted one I was going to have to buy direct from this guy.

Thankfully I found feedback from many users who had done just that and they had all received their units as promised so I took the plunge. And I’m pleased to report that a few weeks later, it arrived!

For a lot of people, this is as far as Dreamcast modding goes. But I didn’t like the fact that the board was visible through the hole inside the drive bay where the optical drive had once sat, so I ordered a 3D-printed plate that hides everything very neatly.

Patriot 512GB Supersonic Mega USB 3.0 drive completed the mod, allowing for the majority of the Dreamcast library – and certainly every 70%-and-over game – to be accessible without ever having to open the drive bay again.

Since the USB GD-ROM requires far less power than the optical drive, the power supply is known to get quite hot after this mod. Some people get around this by adding a resistor which is intended to dissipate some of that leftover power, but this didn’t strike me as a particularly elegant solution.

I subsequently found an Indiegogo campaign for the DreamPSU which replaces the original PSU with something far more suitable. I backed it and subsequently received two units. The DreamPSU keeps the console nice and cool and, since the original PSU is the 2nd most likely component to fail due to age, it should also last a lot longer!

Another benefit of the USB GD-ROM is the complete removal of the noise created by that optical drive. As such, my Dreamcast was now much quieter than an original specification machine but thanks to that incredibly noisy fan on the side, it still wasn’t truly quiet.

I remedied this by installing a Noctua NF-A4X10-FLX 5V fan with the Dreamcast Noctua fan mod kit. The result is that the console is now almost completely silent when running.

Another annoyance that I wanted to overcome was the dead internal battery. These units are meant to be rechargeable but after 20 years a lot of them have lost the ability to hold a charge. The result is needing to set the internal date and time every time the console is turned on.

Unfortunately the batteries are soldered to the board and cannot be easily replaced, but thankfully there is a solution which is to remove this component entirely and replace it with a battery holder that does allow the battery to be easily replaced.

Update 2nd July 2019

As of now, my Dreamcast also has a DCHDMI installed.

I had previously been using a VGA cable with an OSSC, with phono cables running into the speakers under my TV. The image quality this setup provided was excellent, and until DCHDMI came out, was the best available.

However, the clarity provided by DCHDMI is a noticeable improvement even over the above setup, and the bonus is that I no longer have to setup the OSSC and I no longer have to run phono cables to the speakers. It’s just a single HDMI cable running from the console into the TV, which itself runs through those same speakers by default. And the image quality is amazing!

The Results

So my Dreamcast can now play every game worth playing at the click of a button and it can load those games faster than it ever could before. It’s super quiet, easy to maintain and future-proofed for the next 20 years.

I’m very happy with how it’s turned out!

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