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Life cycles of multicarts

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So in my many readings on different forums, something kinda surprised me and I wanted to ask what you guys think. I have the following multicarts:

 

Colecovision 128 in 1 by Atarimax (USB, no SD card, the older model)

Harmony Cart 2600 (uses a microSD)

Everdrive MD (uses an SD card)

Super Everdrive (SD card)

NES PowerPak (compact flash card)

 

So, I read elsewhere that since these games use flash memory, at some point the flash memory will poop out (after say, 100,000 or so loads). First:

 

What's flash memory? :D I kinda thought I knew but I guess not! I figured if the carts are using SD cards or something like that, the worst that could happen is the cards go wonky and I'll have to reboot the games to it. From this other article, it makes it sound as if these multicarts have a limited lifespan depending on how often you use them.

 

Of course things get old, but I always like to think if I really take care of these older systems, they'll last as long as I do...so far, that's been the case with many.

 

The more pricey Everdrive carts like MegaEverdrive uses RAM instead of flash memory, and apparently don't suffer from that supposed fate. Is this just slick marketing, or am I really doomed to have this rather pricey hardware go down in the next, oh, ten years simply due to the flash memory wearing out?

 

Could someone please explain, and possibly address whether these concerns are real? I was only worried about the CV cart, as it has no removable media card...but that's ok, as the newer version uses SD cards (of course, like six months after I buy the now obsolete one :D )

 

Thanks again, gents!

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Well, are those multicarts, or ROM carts (can you put your one ROM on the SD/compact Flash cart)?

Multicarts are enclosed, non-modifiables carts containing a fixed number of programs. They usually use read-only ROM. This type of ROM last longer than Flash memory. However, it's not eternal (but our ROM carts aren't eternal either. ROM can die)

 

Flash cart, ROM cart, etc... are carts where you stick one kind of Flash memory and read ROMs from them.

The flash cards can go wrong, but it won't affect the cart itself, you will have to replace your SD/CF/whatever flash memory.

 

I don't know about the Everdrive, but RAM based carts I would think load the game data from a flash cart or USB, and put it into RAM. It certainly help saving the flash cart, but RAM can have failures too (never had a computer going bad because of faulty RAM?).

 

From those, I would say that non-writable multicarts are the less likely to fail. Flash-reading carts will be more likely to fail, but the flash cart is replaceable easily.

RAM based carts, I don't know.

Edited by CatPix

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Most flash carts will read roms from SD/CF and copy them to internal flash storage. It is this internal storage which will one day fail. The Mega Everdrive and SD2SNES copy to RAM instead, which has a much longer life span.

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Thanks, that was along the lines of things I read. Do you have any idea to what timeline that might be? I've read the 100K load cycles, but who really knows. I do think that I'd rather spend the extra money now and get something with more stable memory (like RAM) than to put out more cash someday in the future. I was kinda hoping my flash carts would last a looooong time, like in the decades! Do you think this is a realistic expectation? And once that internal flash storage fails, would one be able to repair or replace the part responsible (is it a chip?). Thanks for any help!

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I don't know the numbers for load cycles of the chips. It will depend on the cart, as each use different chips. I really wouldn't worry about it though. You'd have to be flashing multiple games, every day for years to kill the card in the near term.

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Just had a Turbo Everdrive bite the dust and only used it a few times! In reading the support forum for them, seems many folks have experienced the same thing. Hope the problem is limited to a particular batch, but you never know. :(

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I think saying that 'many' people have had issues with the Turbo Everdrive is an over statement. There's also a number of possible causes for failure and likely has nothing to do with the life cycle of the on-board flash memory. I own 3 of those carts myself, including all the other Everdrives and other popular flash carts, and thankfully haven't had an issue with any of them.

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Well, doing a quick count across only a few threads, just counted 11 different people having similar probs. I know there's more. Seems maybe the cards with stamp date 7/5/13 might be more suspect than others. I don't know, just trying to see if there's a pattern that way. I would have only said a few if 3-4 people we're having problems, but more than 10 is 'many' to me.

 

You have 3 Turbo Everdrives? Would you consider selling one? After my bad luck, wouldn't mind having a backup. Would especially like to find one that has a cover over the electronics. :love:

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Not looking to sell any of them. I don't like to handle them too much, being bare circuit boards. I keep them permanently in my systems (TG16, PCE and TurboXpress).

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Thanks, that was along the lines of things I read. Do you have any idea to what timeline that might be? I've read the 100K load cycles, but who really knows. I do think that I'd rather spend the extra money now and get something with more stable memory (like RAM) than to put out more cash someday in the future. I was kinda hoping my flash carts would last a looooong time, like in the decades! Do you think this is a realistic expectation? And once that internal flash storage fails, would one be able to repair or replace the part responsible (is it a chip?). Thanks for any help!

Well, your flash carts CAN hit the decade.

Let's say you play your game once a day, every day. Therefore it's one loading a day.

365 load per year, let's divide that by 100 000... you're up for 273 YEARS!

 

Well most games don't load their data at once in the system RAM, because there is too much data usually. So I guess for every game, you will have a load time at every level, and every game over/level restart.

Let's count 10 loads a day, again, every day. It's 3650 loading, and still your expected 100K limit will be attained in 27,3 years.

And keep in mind that most game have an internal flash that is bigger than the game; so if one flash cell dies, the cart will relocate the data somewhere else.

So your flash carts will last for at least two decades, if it doesn't fail in the first weeks of use.

 

Obviously it's a bit more complex that what I showed. Some games will rely more on loading data from ROM everytime, where other load most stuff in RAM and never touch the cart data until the level end. Also you surely don't play on the same system every day. And also, the 100 000 load lifespawn is usually a "100% working flash" limit, which mean that your fash memory may last 150K loadings, or just drop some cells here and there over time.

Edited by CatPix
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Well most games don't load their data at once in the system RAM, because there is too much data usually. So I guess for every game, you will have a load time at every level, and every game over/level restart.

Let's count 10 loads a day, again, every day. It's 3650 loading, and still your expected 100K limit will be attained in 27,3 years.

 

When they say "load" in that context, don't they mean the loading of the ROM into FLASH, not the loading of the ROM (or part of it) into the gamesystem?

 

So it wouldn't matter how many times you play the ROM, no matter how many levels.

It would matter how many different games you played per day, because each game played is a game "loaded into flash."

 

If you load 1 ROM and it's a game with 20 levels and you play all the levels 8 times, it's still one "load" as far as the FLASH is concerned..

(assuming you don't power cycle and have to re"load" the ROM)

 

desiv

Edited by desiv

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Well depends indeed. But... isn't flash also affected by reading data? In this case, each access of the system to the Flash data cause potential stress.

If not, then you're right, only loading the ROM into flash affect the flash memory.

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I gotta think this is referring to the Solid State removable storage used to hold the ROMs. Solid state (SD, Micro SD, CF, SSD drives in your computer, etc) is fast, but it can only write on the same areas so many times before it fails (by design). Usually the solid state storage specifies a limited number of WRITES before it is expected to fail. This varies by device and will keep changing as the sizes go up and technology improves. READS from the card are virtually unlimited. This would mean that it is only when you actually copy or WRITE new data to the flashcard that has a meaningful impact on the life of the solid state card.

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I gotta think this is referring to the Solid State removable storage used to hold the ROMs. Solid state (SD, Micro SD, CF, SSD drives in your computer, etc) is fast, but it can only write on the same areas so many times before it fails (by design). Usually the solid state storage specifies a limited number of WRITES before it is expected to fail. This varies by device and will keep changing as the sizes go up and technology improves. READS from the card are virtually unlimited. This would mean that it is only when you actually copy or WRITE new data to the flashcard that has a meaningful impact on the life of the solid state card.

 

This is how I understand it as well. Generally it's the number of write operations that impact the flash device. Having said that, one wonders about the electrical charge required for read operations and if they have any significant impact. Here's a neat PDF showing how complex all this read/write activity is for this type of storage:

http://www.google.ca/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=9&ved=0CFkQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.micron.com%2F-%2Fmedia%2FDocuments%2FProducts%2FPresentation%2Fflash_mem_summit_jcooke_inconvenient_truths_nand.pdf&ei=dPmRU8uCBsLpoATj6ICIAw&usg=AFQjCNHXhqOjEmfSTxTAo-mJMhcx8zS0Og&bvm=bv.68445247,d.cGU

 

 

As for the RAM comment earlier in the thread, RAM is the least-reliable storage medium, since it requires an electrical charge to maintain storage of data. And the idea that the flash device will re-allocate data to a good cell if a cell goes bad is a nice idea, but it doesn't happen automatically. That would require a re-write (as well as a deliberate piece of code to PUT that data in a location that is verified as good). Unless they come up with a managed redundancy system like the old SCSI RAID 1, but for flash memory. Now just how good is ECC for flash memory and how much user-intervention is required to make it work well? That's for someone more versed in this stuff to explain.

 

No storage medium is perfect or lasts forever. All the more reason to remember to make backups.

 

Nothing like a bit of entropy for your day ;-)

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I gotta think this is referring to the Solid State removable storage used to hold the ROMs. Solid state (SD, Micro SD, CF, SSD drives in your computer, etc) is fast, but it can only write on the same areas so many times before it fails (by design). Usually the solid state storage specifies a limited number of WRITES before it is expected to fail. This varies by device and will keep changing as the sizes go up and technology improves. READS from the card are virtually unlimited. This would mean that it is only when you actually copy or WRITE new data to the flashcard that has a meaningful impact on the life of the solid state card.

If this is the case, then the failure is only dependent on the storage medium, isn't it? In my carts cases, the SD cards, or compact flash. The only one that uses an 'internal' flash (or some type of storage) is the (now obsolete) Colecovision 128 in 1 cart.

 

And that was my main concern, that the other carts are going to eventually (5,10,15 years?) break by design, due to where the ROM 'goes' on the cart when you're actually playing it. I'm sorry I don't have a better understanding, but I'll learn along the way :D

 

I have no issue replacing the SD cards, as they're cheap as chips (no pun) and backing them up is easy. My concern was that, even with diligent SD card replacement, that no matter how well I care for the carts I might not get more than 10 years out of them simply due to some kind of inherent limitation with the design, something that could be 'fixed' by paying more for a cart that uses RAM...or something to that effect.

 

What do you guys think?

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Let's take the Harmony Cartridge for example. You could probably fit every Atari 2600 ROM ever made into a 1GB SD card with room to spare. You load the cartridge with all the ROMs and you are done. You may never need to write to that SD card again.

 

When you tell the Harmony Cart that you want to play a new game, it copies the ROM from the SD card to its flash memory (32KB). The Harmony Cart uses a LPC2103 ARM microprocessor, which contains 8KB of S-RAM and 32KB of Flash memory. That Flash memory is rated for 100,000 write cycles, http://www.nxp.com/documents/user_manual/UM10161.pdf.

 

If you switched games five times a day, every day, you could get 54 years of continual use out of the device.

 

Now lets take the Everdrive N8, the modern NES "flash cart". It copies the ROM from the SD card into two 512KB S-RAM chips. S-RAM chips can be written millions of times. It also has 128KB of S-RAM for battery backed saves, and will write those saves to the SD card. However, not all NES games use battery backed saves, and the saves are usually only 8KB in size. With a decent 2GB SD card, you will have plenty of room for NES ROMs and their save files.

Edited by Great Hierophant
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Coming Back for new Peeps

 

That's my fare on Flash Carts

 

The EverDrive GB still uses Flash for Loading Games, I'm guessing to keep the price down, He went for Flash except RAM

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Thanks, that was along the lines of things I read. Do you have any idea to what timeline that might be? I've read the 100K load cycles, but who really knows. I do think that I'd rather spend the extra money now and get something with more stable memory (like RAM) than to put out more cash someday in the future. I was kinda hoping my flash carts would last a looooong time, like in the decades! Do you think this is a realistic expectation? And once that internal flash storage fails, would one be able to repair or replace the part responsible (is it a chip?). Thanks for any help!

 

According to this article, it says 100 million. But taking quality and/or manufacturer into the equation, it's likely slightly lower.

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so even assuming low end of 50 million, if you reflashed the cart to play a different game every 5 minutes, you would need 475 years with NO SLEEP to kill the cart. You're more likely to die of old age before your cart can't be flashed. Your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids will be able to enjoy the same flash cart. Who knows, maybe in 450 years, Krikzz branded carts would be worth a couple millions on eBay (worth $100, adjusted for 450 years of inflation) :D

 

Even SSD which uses cheap MLC or TLC can last for years as OS drive before it goes bad. Your carts are safe from burned out flash. You'd end up having problem with dirty contact and eventually broken card slot or busted pins.

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