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NEC’s PC Engine line of consoles were dazzling gamers back in the late 80s and early 90s with their excellent coin-op conversions and bright, detailed graphics. Technology may have changed an awful lot since then, but computers still talk in binary and with the right software and hardware it’s possible to bridge some gaps between new technology and old. Legendary hardware engineer Krikzz has produced a plethora of amazing cartridges for classic systems that allow modern memory cards to be used in place of the original media. The Turbo Everdrive is one such device, specifically designed for the PC Engine/Turbografx systems. Thanks to our friends at Retro Towers, we can bring you this in-depth review and tutorial of this amazing little device.
Turbocharge your PC Engine forever
Our Turbo Everdrive arrived promptly from Retro Towers a couple of days after we placed the order. The card comes without an outer shell, so take some precautions when handling it (try not to touch the chips directly) and you’ll be fine. Some sites on the internet do sell the unit with a simple plastic shell, though this of course comes at a premium. If you really don’t like the naked PCB there are sellers on some of the more popular forums that sell 3D printed covers too.
As you can see from the picture on the left, the card comes with a number of hardware features. In the top left, there’s a header for a USB connector. The version that we received from Retro Towers did not have the USB port connected, which is just as well considering the PC engine we’re using here is a SuperGrafx. The SuperGrafx isn’t compatible with the USB version of the Turbo Everdrive, this is due to the fact that when you switch the SuperGrafx console on, a small plastic tab slides across to prevent the removal of the Hucard. This tab just happens to be exactly where the USB port is on the USB versions of the card. The USB port isn’t used for loading game ROMs, but it can be valuable if you intend to develop homebrew apps for the console. It can be used for debugging output or even with some compilers to load development code directly onto the PC Engine.
Nearer the top right you can see a reset button. It’s easy to miss this or mistake it for something else when you first get the card. A quick press of this button will reset the console and return you to the main menu, allowing you to choose a different game. Since stock PC Engine consoles don’t have a reset button, having this here is very handy and saves having to power cycle your machine whenever you want to change games.
In the top right is the MicroSD card slot. You insert your memory card here, face up. The card should click into place easily, if it does not, carefully remove it again and check that everything is lined up. You can use a MicroSD card up to 32gb in size. Retro Towers can supply you with an 8GB card for an extra £10 when you order, but considering every single PC Engine/Turbografx game ever released only amounts to around 600 megabytes of data, you might want to recycle an older, smaller card you already have lying around.
There are no special steps required when preparing a MicroSD card for use with the Everdrive. Simply format the card to FAT32 and you are good to go. If you have managed to find a complete ROM set or a large amount of games, you should create sub-directories to make navigating the Everdrive’s menus easier. The maximum number of files you can store in a directory is 220, which should be plenty for most people.
Finally, on the left edge of the card is a region switch. You only need to set this once, depending on what model of PC Engine/Turbografx you own. Set the switch down for Japanese hardware or up for US hardware. You can load ROM images regardless of region from the Turbo Everdrive.
Everdrive in action
Like Krikzz’s other flash cartridges, the Turbo Everdrive keeps things simple while in use. Don’t expect flashy menus and music like with the SuperUFO cartridge, for instance. Using the gamepad you can navigate the folder structure of the attached SD card. When you find a ROM you want to load, select it and press the Run button. The ROM is then loaded and run automatically. Compatibility is close to 100%, we are not actually aware of any games that flat out don’t work. If you’re lucky enough to own a SuperGrafx, the card supports the handful of SuperGrafx exclusive games too. As stated above, import titles will run perfectly regardless of what region your NEC hardware is. The only Hucards that may cause problems are:-
Populus – This is the only Hucard that ever featured a battery backed save. You can play the game on the Everdrive but you cannot save your progress.
Arcade Card – The Arcade Card contains extra RAM allowing a small number of enhanced CD-ROM titles to function. Since the Turbo Everdrive doesn’t have this extra RAM, you cannot emulate the arcade card.
It’s worth noting that although the Arcade Card does not work, other system cards do. So for instance, if you have a Super CD-ROM attached to your PC Engine, you can use a ROM image of the CD-ROM operating system card. What this basically means is you can leave the Everdrive connected to your PC Engine pretty much permanently and just load the CD-ROM operating system card when you want to run any of your CD games. A word of warning if you do this however, if you reset the PC Engine while CD audio is playing, the audio will continue to play until the CD-ROM is accessed again.
Save games, the Turbo Everdrive Achilles heel?
One feature we would have liked to see in the Turbo Everdrive is support for save games. With the exception of Populus, PC Engine save games are a bit of a mess. The original spec for the console didn’t include any save game memory at all and Hucards were generally too small to easily host backup batteries. Save game functionality was eventually added with hardware like the Tennokoe 2 or the Backup Booster. This functionality was also built into the various CD-ROM units and also included in later revisions of the console like the Turbo Duo. Like all antique hardware, this backup memory is prone to failure, usually thanks to flat batteries. It would have been great if the Turbo Everdrive could backup save game files from the PC Engine onto the SD card, where they could then have been stored and backed up on the PC. There is another flash cartridge that can do this, the “NEO Power PC-E 128M+SAVE super flash cart”, however this cartridge is limited to 128MB onboard storage for ROMs and software and will set you back a cool $149.00. At that price, you’ve got to really love your PC Engine save games before you’d consider that flash cartridge over the otherwise excellent Turbo Everdrive.
While we’re nit-picking, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no cheat engine here either, so no action replay style infinite lives or anything of that nature. There isn’t any support for save states either, so no saving your game mid-session and coming back to it later, though the flash cartridges that successfully support this kind of functionality are few and far between anyway.
Krikzz has delivered once again! The Turbo Everdrive is a fantastic piece of hardware that no PC Engine owner should be without. If you’re a collector, you can protect your valuable Hucards while still having access to your games. If you can find ROM images (and we should point out that, strictly speaking, it is still against copyright law to play a ROM of a game you don’t own) you can try out a huge catalogue of games that would normally only be available to the very richest and determined videogame collectors. Finally, you can try out a whole range of homebrew games or even create your own. The lack of support for save games is disappointing, but would have significantly increased the cost of the unit and would only have been of minimal benefit. If you want to check out the PC Engines extensive library without using emulators, this is undoubtedly the best way to do it.