Things you will need to get started
- A username and password for the client software. This is the same user/pass that you use to register on the website.
- The means to open a cart. Carts are held together in a variety of way, some more difficult to open than others. I will be writing a special tutorial on this in the future.
- (Optional) A CopyNES unit. While now optional, it is still recommended. Not all hardware details can be documented without it.
- A scanner or digital camera. Scanners are usually easier in getting consistent images, however not all scanners can handle 3D objects such as PCB's. If your in the market for a new scanner and want to use it for this purpose, look for one with a CCD image sensor and avoid ones with a CIS image sensor. I personally use a CanoScan 4400F.
- Last but not least, patience! You must be willing to fully document the cart. The software takes care of a lot of the dirty work for you, so this is not as bad as you might think. However you must take your time to ensure the accuracy of the data presented and be willing to research and ask questions about things you may not understand.
- You should provide a PCB scan for every profile you submit! Even if the cart is another copy of the same game! Unique scans for each profile allows much of the data to be confirmed if needed.
Get familiar with the software using licensed carts
While I've tried to make the software as easy to use and understand as possible, there is a learning curve invloved. Do not jump in head first with some obscure pirate cart. The reasoning behind this is that the system will be able to offer you more help for carts it already has some info on. Having to define a new PCB or new chip on your first run may leave you confused and scratching your head.
Dumping carts that are already in the DB still provides useful information and is not just a waste of time!
- Ideally, every dump will be verified by 2 or more carts to ensure it isn't a "bad dump". There are still plently carts in the DB with only 1 profile available!
- You could end up finding a new PCB or ROM revision that was previously unknown.
- The more datecode info a profile has, the more complete data becomes about its manufacturing timeline, the number of runs it had, estimating a release date when it is unknown or incomplete, etc.
General Process Guidelines
You can go thru the process however works best for you, but just for reference, here are the steps I take.
If you're doing a lot of carts, work on them in batches. Perform each step on the entire batch of carts before moving on to the next step.
Clean the exterior of the carts
- If you're going to scan the cart, you want it to look its best right? Even if I may not need to scan the cart, I still like to have them clean.
Some of the tools I use for cleaning the exterior of the cart:
- Magic Eraser type sponges. It is amazing how well just adding water to these sponges will clean dirt and crap from the textured surfaces of carts. They can even take care of most marker types.
- Goo-Gone. This is a orange citrus-based cleaner that works very well at breaking down sticker adhesive. Obviously, you'll want to be careful around the label. If there is a sticker in the middle of the label and the labels protective layer is in good shape, you can even use this stuff on top of it.
- Denatured Alcohol. Some permanent markers can be fully, or at least almost, removed using this.
Open and clean the connector
- Cleaning the connector is an important step if your going to be dumping the cart. A single dirty pin can cause a bad dump. Even if they look clean, I still give them a wipe because looks can be deceiving.
- Cleaning is most easily accomplished while the cart is open.
Here are things I've found to work well for cleaning PCB connectors:
- Weiman's Glass Cooktop Cleaner. I have no idea why someone would have tried this to start with, but it works very well! I use a Q-Tip to apply the stuff to the connector and then an old t-shirt rag to rub it off. The really corroded ones may take a couple extra passes.
- DeoxIT Power Booster. Somewhat of a speciality item you'd likely have to order online. This stuff is made specifically for this purpose and works quite well. Before I found out about the Weiman's stuff, I used this.
- Denatured Alcohol. If the connector is just a little dirty and doesn't show significant wear, this will usually work. I also use this after I use Weiman's in order to get any possible residue off.
- Once cleaned, I set them back in their case, but leaving them open.
Scan the PCBs and put them back together
- Learn your imaging software and any time-saving features it provides you.
- My scanner allows me to scan up to 10 PCBs in one pass, while automatically cropping and rotating each one!
- Name your files in a way that will allow the DB software to find them automatically. See the page on Program Settings for more info.
- For consistency, orient your PCB scans with the connector at the bottom.
- You should scan at or above 300dpi.
- Ensure your PCB scans are readable and put them back together.
Scan any necessary carts
- If enough profile properties match, the website will find a suitable scan to display if one exists. So it may not be neccessary to upload your own, but by all means you still can!
- Again, you should scan at or above 300dpi and orient the cart so the label is right-side up.
- Using Photoshop and its scripting function can save you tons of time! As long as you have something setup that ensures your cart is in the same position everytime, with the press of one key it can do the scan, crop the image, do any rotating or resizing, and save the file! I even have mask images for each cart type that will be applied to each scan to make all the notches and whatnot transparent :)
Finally, run the "Add Profile" wizard with the client software. Here are some time-saving tips.
- The TAB key is your friend! There are a number of fields that do special processing when tabbing in & out of them. Things that will save you time, like skipping over fields that aren't needed or don't apply, or automatically filling other fields.
- If your dumping multiple copies of a game, after the first one, right-click on its entry in the main window to bring up a menu that allows you to jump over steps that are identical.
- After going thru the cycle of dumping a game, subsequent ones in the current session should be noticibly faster due to the caching system and the fact it will not have to perform a lot of the queries it did the first time around.
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