From the carrying of bottles of smuggled spirit in the legs of boots. en.wiktionary.org
NeoGeo bootlegs are quite common, as SNK took years to implement security measures to avoid (or at least delay) piracy. Most are believed to originate from China and South Korea.
Over the years, multicarts gained popularity over single game bootlegs as memory chip costs decreased and decrypted ROMsets became available, making design easier and sales even more profitable.
Aside from the collection and authenticity interest, bootlegs are known to be plagued with functional problems due to low quality manufacturing and/or poor design.
All pictures are crops from [MVS-Scans].
- 1 Recognizing bootleg cartridges
Recognizing bootleg cartridges
Efficiently recognizing bootlegs can be important for collectors, sellers and especially buyers. Some online sellers provide PCB pictures of their MVS games, but many of them only show the label or just an overall view of the cartridge (especially for the home system, as they're hard to open).
Todo: how to open. MVS: easy, 4 screws. AES: everything snaps.
- EPROMs (UVPROMs) were sometimes used by SNK for P ROMs.
- Flux residue around logic chips, might be a repair job.
- A few late cartridges had their P ROMs replaced by a NGPC flash board. This is an original emergency solution/fix from SNK.
- Some other late cartridges had a small board (NEO-HYCS) wired to V ROMs and glued on top of them. This is also an original fix.
No gold plating
Original cartridge PCBs all have at least gold-plated fingers (slot contacts) for durability.
To reduce costs, some bootleg PCBs only use HASL (dark silver color).
This can be checked without opening the cartridge.
Unusual chip brands
SNK had their favorite brands. If found on a cartridge PCB, these chip logos can bad news:
From left to right, top to bottom:
- AMD: Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- Atmel: Memories and PLDs, often used in bootlegs
- Cypress: PLDs, often used in bootlegs
- Goldstar: Often found on bootlegs, sometimes on original boards
- Hyundai: Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- Macronix: Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- Microchip Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- Motorola: Rarely seen as logic chips on SNK boards
- Samsung: Never seen on SNK boards
- SST: Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- UMC: Rarely seen on SNK boards except for surface-mount memories
- Winbond: Memories, never seen on SNK boards
- Xilinx: Never seen on SNK boards, only Altera
Also Lattice (PLDs) and Intel (flash memories).
EPROMs or flash memory
EPROMs (UVPROMs), memory chips with erasing windows, are often used in bootlegs instead of plain plastic mask ROMs.
Note that some original cartridges use EPROMs as P ROM revisions.
Bad NGH marking
Memory chips only marked with a 3-digit number not matching the game's NGH number are certainly fake.
Sanded or rebranded chips
Some chips can be sanded (no markings, visible scratches...) to prevent other bootleggers from copying the design. Clone chips (either mask clones or PLDs) are often rebranded for the same reason.
SMT adapters are small PCBs commonly found in early bootlegs and converts. They allow the use of cheaper SMT flash chips in place of EPROMs without having to redraw the whole board's layout.
They were often assembled by hand and therefore covered in flux barf (see below).
Uncommon board shapes
As some PCB manufacturers set their price according to the board's area instead of the smallest containing rectangle, some bootleg PCBs were made in unusual shapes to reduce costs.
All known SNK cartridge PCBs are rectangular.
Soldermask not green
Many bootlegs use yellow soldermask (protection lacquer).
All known SNK boards use green.
Meaningless "serial numbers", serif fonts, Engrish, bad alignment, bad logo proportions, and wrong line thickness are all signs of fake PCBs.
Sometimes, nothing is better than something (even if no silkscreen at all also means bootleg).
Paper labels are very rare in original cartridges, most manual QC markings were done with colored grease pencils.
Make sure you don't actually own a prototype !
[Flux] used for manual soldering, when not cleaned off, looks like dried barf after a few years.
Aside from eventual traces of accidental beer spills, rat piss and dust, original boards should be clean.