Bootleg

From NeoGeo Development Wiki
Jump to: navigation, search
From the carrying of bottles of smuggled spirit in the legs of boots.

                                                    en.wiktionary.org

A "bootleg" commonly refers to a counterfeit game cartridge, CD or system.

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].

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.

Misleading clues

  • 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 Pcb.pngNGPC flash board. This is an original emergency solution/fix from SNK.
  • Some other late cartridges had a small board (Pcb.pngNEO-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:

Bootbrands.png

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

EPROM (which could have been used in a legit cartridge).

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

NGH #389 doesn't even exist. Also bright white "stamp" marking.

Memory chips only marked with a 3-digit number not matching the game's NGH number are certainly fake.


Sanded or rebranded chips

Chipicon.png PCM clone with a (probably) meaningless marking.

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

Two 8-bit Intel flash chips used in place of a 16-bit mask ROM.

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

Boot shape.jpg

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

The soldermask gives the board's final color.

Many bootlegs use yellow soldermask (protection lacquer).

All known SNK boards use green.


Questionable markings

Are they even trying ?

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

COB adapter + checksum label combo !

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 residue

Extreme case of flux barf. Board could still be functional.

[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.