Installing a Mod Chip in the Sega Saturn
- Difficulty: Medium, Medium-Low
- Cost: ~$40.00
- Time: Less than an hour
- Risk: Low
- Reward: High
The Sega Saturn may have lived a somewhat short and uneventful commercial life (ok, so it wasn’t as bad as the Dreamcast), but with the advent of the internet it has developed an almost cult following. Enjoying a second life once the means to replicate CD-based media became available for widespread home use, an entire culture has sprung up around the lackluster console. Like most other 5th generation systems, the mechanics of duplicating Saturn games was quickly discovered and disseminated. Unlike most other 5th generation consoles, it’s not quite as easy to just pop one one of these duplicates in as if it was an actual game. Enter: the mod chip.
First of all, you should never burn games that you don’t already own. This is illegal. What is legal is producing backups for your existing library of games, you know, in case something were to happen to one of your precious Saturn titles. Creating backups is a fairly easy process which I’ve detailed in How to Burn Games for the Dreamcast (and Other Consoles). For those of you familiar with this already, you’ll remember that I occasionally address that although games for the Sega Saturn can be burned using this exact same method, it takes a little more work to actually render these duplicates usable.
Installing a mod chip in your Saturn isn’t the quickest or easiest way to play burned games, but it is the most permanent and elegant solution. You can also use “the swap trick” though you’ll constantly find reference to those concerned about burning out the Saturn’s motor. I believe in taking care of this older equipment, and even though I’ve successfully used the swap trick, clearly the mod chip is the answer for those who wish to regularly make use of backup discs.
The following procedure is only for Model 2 Saturns. I’m not sure if the chip will work with a Model 1 or not. There is a special step that must be taken “when using with Model 2 consoles” which makes it sound like, without this step, it could be used with a Model 1. I’m just speculating here, so you may want to dig around for more information if you have a Model 1. A universal chip for all Models exists as well, though at the time of this writing it was unavailable. The easiest way to determine if you have a Model 1 or Model 2 is to look at the Power and Reset buttons. If they’re oval, you’ve got a Model 1. If round, then it’s a Model 2. Within Model 2 Saturns, 3 different setups are possible. Though the inside of your Saturn may look different than mine, the important parts should remain identifiable and this procedure works with any Model 2 system.
WARNING: Proceed at your own risk. Although I’d consider this a relatively simple hardware mod, this probably shouldn’t be your first project. As always, the potential of bricking your Saturn, however slim it may be, exists. If you follow my exact instructions you should be fine. I make no guarantees or promises, nor do I or Nerd Bacon as a whole take any responsibility for any damage (to your console or chip) resulting from the following installation and neither do the manufacturers, distributors, or sellers of the mod chip. Be careful, and don’t start fooling around with anything you aren’t comfortable with. Read through the entire process before starting so that you’re aware of exactly what’s in store.
- Step 1: Opening the Saturn
- Step 2: Prepping the Chip
- Step 3: Connecting the Chip
- Step 4: Securing the Chip
- Step 5: Connecting the Power Supply
- Step 6: Finishing Up
- Now what?
- PCB V2 Saturn Mod Chip (more on this below)
- Ribbon Cable (included with chip purchase)
- A Few Inches of Small Gauge Wire (can be purchased pre-soldered to chip for $1 extra – recommended)
- Soldering Iron
- Electrical Tape
- Cardboard (optional, but recommended)
That’s it! You can skip soldering the wire to the power supply if you want, and if you add the extra dollar to your order you won’t have to worry about soldering the power wire to the chip either. You will however have to do a small bit of soldering in a very small area. If you’ve never used a soldering iron, I highly recommend looking for some introductory videos on the subject and practicing a little before going through with this. The required soldering is on the chip itself and in a very small area. Without a rudimentary understanding of soldering it’s easy to mess this step up.
Procuring the Mod Chip
Mod chips are getting harder and harder to find. Supplies on the web are running low and it doesn’t look like any more are likely to come around any time soon. Even if you’re not interested in doing this right now, I’d suggest going ahead and buying one of these now if you think that you’ll ever want to go through with this. It’s fully transferable from console to console, so even if your old Saturn dies, you can easily move it to a new one.
I got my chip right here at SegaStyle.com for $36.95, plus the $1 for the pre-soldered power wire. The one labeled PCB V2 is the one I purchased and the only one in stock at the time of this article. For about $65, you can mail your Saturn to these wonderful folks and have them do the work for you.
Another chip is available at RacketBoy.com, the older SSICB chip. I know nothing about installing this one, and it’s nearly double the price of the one over at SegaStyle.com.
Step 1: Opening the Saturn
Before doing anything, make sure your Saturn is unplugged, both power and AV cables. Seems obvious to me, but I figured it needed to be said just in case.
The first thing we need to do is get the Saturn opened up. This is by no means difficult, and requires nothing more than a long, skinny, Phillips-head screwdriver. On the underside of the unit, you’ll see 5 screws. Once all 5 have been removed, put them somewhere safe and flip the Saturn back over. You should be able to lift the top half of the shell straight up and off. Welcome to the inside of your Sega Saturn. As mentioned above, yours may look a little different. As long as it has circular buttons though, you’re good to go.
Step 2: Prepping Your Chip: Connecting Points A and B, and Soldering the Power Wire
I suggest tacking on a measly dollar to your order to have the power wire pre-soldered to your chip. The less time you spend digging around near these electronics with a hot soldering iron, the better. However, if you do choose to solder the wire yourself, take a look at the picture above and see where the wire is connected to the chip near the top right corner; that’s where you’ll solder one end. Leave the other end alone for now.
Next you’ll have to connect points “A” and “B” with a touch of solder. This is the only soldering that’s absolutely required, but it is tricky. Notice the 3 points A, B, and C and look at the tiny bit of space between them. A and B need to be connected with solder, but C should remain by itself. Working in such a small area can be tricky for those not adept at wielding the tool. Fortunately it doesn’t have to look great or undergo any stress, so as long as you can get solder to touch both points without touching anything else you’ll be fine.
Step 3: Connecting the Chip
If you look just below the laser, you’ll see ribbon cable running from the CD board to the motherboard near the lower right edge. Your purchase will also include a ribbon cable. In the photos I took, I connected these cables in the opposite order, but in retrospect I see that it’s easier to connect the bottom ribbon first. First you’ll need to gently work the ribbon out of its spot on the CD board. Sometimes these can be in pretty tight; you want to use steady upwards force while gently rocking the cable back and forth to free it. You’ll now need to plug this into the bottom slot on the chip, the one labeled “Out.” Pay attention to the ribbon and the input slot. You want to put it in so that the metal on the cable is touching the metal pins in the slot on the chip. In this case, once inserted, the metal of the ribbon cable should be facing the top of the chip. Make sure to really get the ribbon down into the slot. None of the contacts should be showing.
Now your chip will be flopping around because these ribbon cables like to spring back to their original shape. Just be careful not to let it go and let it slam into important parts of the device. Take your new ribbon cable, included with purchase of the chip, and plug one end into the CD board exactly where you removed the original cable. The other end needs to go into the other available slot on the chip, labeled “In.” Remember to line up the contacts with the pins; in this case the contacts on the ribbon will be facing down.
Step 4: Securing the Chip
We don’t want the chip flapping about inside the Saturn, so our next step is to store it somewhere in all that empty space to the right. The easiest thing to do is position it as show in the picture. Face the side with the ribbons running into it up, and lay it back over the metal sheet on the right half of the system. The ribbon cables can make this difficult, so we will use some tape.
Before we start taping it down though, we need to insulate it. If the metal on the chip touches the metal sheet inside the unit (once plugged in and turned on), it can create a short and possibly harm the chip or even the console. Cardboard will make a great insulator for the back of the chip. Use electrical tape to hold it in place, wrapping it around the chip in a couple of places. Don’t worry about tape going over the chip, it won’t hurt anything. If you really don’t want to use cardboard, you could use the tape to cover the entire backside.
With the tape and cardboard in place, it’s time to push the chip back as show in the picture and secure it with a few pieces of tape. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just as long as its out of the way.
Step 5: Connecting the Power Supply
The last thing we need to do is give the chip 5 volts of power. If you look around the area of the front left corner, you’ll see a small strip of raised white plastic with silver contacts inside. Here’s where we get the juice. If you read the tiny print on the board, you’ll see that it tells you what amount of voltage each contact will give you, and all you need to do is connect the loose end of the wire. If you can’t read it, the +5V contact is second from the top.
You can solder the wire to this bit of metal if you’d like. Personally I found it a little too risky. It’s a tough spot to get to and I didn’t want to risk melting plastic. The other option is to just sort of wedge the exposed wire down into the plastic housing where it contacts the metal. This will suffice for what should remain a relatively stationary object. You do want to make sure the wire is secure enough to survive flipping the console back over to put the top on, so make sure it’s actually wedged and not just laying on the power supply.
Step 6: Finishing Up
Before putting your Saturn completely back together, you may want to test it out first. Place the top half of the case on, flip it over, and insert one of your burned games. Connect all the cables and make it sure it works. There’s nothing extra to deal with here, and it should load up just like the real thing. If it doesn’t, go back in there and make sure everything is well-connected such as the wire to the power supply and the 3 points where we fiddled with the ribbon cables: the 2 inputs on the chip, and the connection of the new ribbon cable to the CD board. Also make sure the contacts on the ribbon are touching the pins on the chip.
When you’ve verified that all is in working order, reinsert the 5 screws, and you’re finished!
Congratulations, you’ve just installed the mod chip in your Sega Saturn!
You may be asking yourself if all this trouble is worth it. I believe it is, especially if you want to make full use of your Saturn in this day and age. Sure, you can go out there and track down official Saturn games, but a great deal of the good stuff is prohibitively expensive and inaccessible for the casual Saturn fan. I like holding the real thing in my hands as much as possible but even used copies are steadily creeping up in price. What’s worse is that most of what’s left is scratched all to hell. Occasionally I hear talk of homebrew projects for the Saturn, and since obviously these never saw an official release, the only possible way to play is by burning them.
If you add the Saturn’s Action Replay Plus to the equation, you’ve got a perfect avenue for exploring import games. Sega’s Saturn saw much more popularity in Japan, and in an eerie foreshadowing of what was to come for the Dreamcast, they saw a multitude of acclaimed RPGs and SHMUPs that never made it to North America. Though the AR Plus will allow gamers to play imports on its own, the best of them fetch high prices as well. With the mod chip and AR Plus, you’re free to burn these locally unavailable titles and play them at your leisure. Some enthusiasts have taken these Japan-exclusive games and added English language patches to them so that once burned to disc players don’t have to fight through a bunch of Japanese text. Amazing stuff when you think about it.
To this day, my Sega Saturn collection was among the slowest growing when it comes to mainstream consoles. A combination of the fragile media and flat-out scarcity can make amassing a worthy Saturn library a time consuming, financial nightmare. The best thing we can do now to honor Sega’s penultimate system is to keep its memory alive and extend the experience of playing Panzer Dragoon Saga or NiGHTS…Into Dreams to casual fans outside of elite trading circles. I’ve put this project off for far too long and I sincerely wish I’d gone through with it sooner. It may seem like a lot of work to those unfamiliar with fiddling around with the inside of their systems but the reward is well worth it.
- Buy a Mod Chip at the SegaStyle.com Store
- Buy a Mod Chip at RacketBoy.com
- Download Sega Saturn Games at TheISOZone.com
- Saturn Action Replay Plus at Amazon.com
Here at The Bacon:
- How to Burn Games for the Dreamcast (and Other Consoles) – The exact same method can be used for producing Saturn games.
- Burning Games Using ImgBurn
Written by The Cubist
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