Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Capcom Power System Changer: Back from the Grave

Don't ask me why, but there has been a resurgence of chatter about the Capcom Power System Changer. So, being as there is still some interest in this thing, that was motivation enough for me to visit my photo archive of "cool crap I've come across on Yahoo Japan Auctions." Rather than jump right into the Changer stuff, let me give you a little history.

Many folks see Capcom's CPS-2 as the product that marked the dawn of the "plastic case era" for this arcade game company. Not true. Others a bit more seasoned would recall a hand full of Capcom's CPS-1 QSound games which had plastic housings. Still not there yet. Capcom actually used plastic housings pre-QSound. The titles I'm aware of are Varth and Capcom World 2. These cases were purely for protection/aesthetics.

Shortly thereafter Capcom secured the rights to use 1Archer's proprietary QSound enhancement technology. At this point Capcom was looking at some changes to their hardware, just to support QSound, so they went ahead and designed a newfangled version of their CPS-1 product. They redesigned the housing (this time fully enclosed), complete with built in cooling fan, external 2volume control, as well as a faceplate with all the aux. connectors. In addition to that, their new electronics boasted anti-piracy technology and left/right RCA jacks for running stereo sound directly to an audio amplifier.

The titles I'm aware of in this format are Tenchi wo Kurau II, Cadillacs Kyouryuu Shin Seiki, The Punisher, Muscle Bomber, and Muscle Bomber Duo (and their respective non-Japan variants). Note that housing color does not indicate region of release, as in the case of CPS-2.


Capcom released their Power System Changer within a year of the last CPS-1 QSound arcade game, which leads me to believe they were working these projects in parallel.

I was overjoyed when a kind soul pointed me to an official Capcom document (many thanks to Summy House) which lists the games for this system. Here is a snapshot of the list:

And here is the translation:
  • Tenchi wo Kurau II
  • Muscle Bomber
  • Captain Commando
  • Cadillacs [Kyouryuu Shin Seiki]
  • Knights of the Round
  • Muscle Bomber Duo
  • Capcom World 2
  • Final Fight
  • King of Dragons
  • Street Fighter II [Turbo]
  • Punisher
As you've probably read elsewhere, Capcom later released Street Fighter Zero. That makes for an even dozen games. I was disappointed to find that I only had photo's of 7 of the 12 titles, but this will at least wet your appetite a little for what was available:


Aside from the original arcade content, some (all?) of the games also had extensive options. Check out the options for Final Fight (button mapping, stage select, etc.):

As you'll read in most descriptions of the system, it makes use of the Capcom Power Stick Fighter.

For those of you not familiar with the unit, there were connections for it to be used on the Nintendo Super Famicom (above), X68000, FM Towns Marty (below), and supposedly the Sega Mega Drive.

Not as fancy as the RF (radio frequency) wireless controllers of the current generation gaming consoles, but Capcom made an IR (infrared) add-on unit which allowed you to un-tether this beastie.

For those of you on the hunt for a Changer, my best recommendation is to keep a keen eye on the arcade section of Yahoo Japan Actions. My experience has been that at least one of these pops up for auction annually. Here are a few more photos of the Changer and games with tasty packaging:


1. On numerous Capcom flyers advertising QSound, a little disclaimer is included, "QSound Chips have been developed by Archer and incorporate Archer's proprietary QSound sound enhancement technology." The only Archer I could think of was the stereo equipment manufacturer that sold product through Radio Shack stores. Were they a remnant of this Archer? In my curiosity I e-mailed QSound Labs to ask them about this. They promptly replied, "The inventors vended the technology into a company called Archer Communications in 1988. In 1992, we changed the name to QSound Labs, Inc."

2. Aside from the volume dial, there is another dial close to the side. I have no idea what this was meant for, as it is unused on my Slam Masters CPS-1 game.


NFG's CPS Changer expose

Thursday, April 2, 2009

YsBox Ultra!

You may have read my YsBox article already. Well, like a good little engineer, I was thinking of ways to boost the performance/efficiency of my original design. Areas of improvement would be graphics performance and cooling efficiency.

Around the middle of my YsBox project, I found out that a low profile Nvidia 9800 GT graphics card was available from Sparkle (SX98GT512D3L-MN).

This intrigued me and I purchased one when a decent price surfaced. The power demands on this card are in the ballpark of 100W, which still leaves plenty for the rest of my box, being as I'm running a 35W processor and my power supply is capable of 280W. Cabling posed some issues, as there are no spare power connections coming out of the power supply. Rather than construct a custom cable, I wanted to see if I could come up with an "off the shelf" solution. $12 later I had a harness that would take SATA Power and split it into SATA Power and 6 Pin PCI-E Power.

Unfortunately after solving the power connector dilemma I found some mechanical conflicts. As you can see in the following 2 photo's, the 9800 GT needs to share space with the CPU heatsink shroud.

The following photo indicates (highlighted green) the areas of the CPU heatsink shroud and the 9800 GT's rear heatsink which need "adjusting."

The parts fit beautifully after this adjustment.

Being as the Dell's CPU and 9800 GT's massive heatsink are sharing the same air flow, I wanted to maximize cooling efficiency through the core of the unit. I was troubled by the location Dell chose for the hard drive. It almost completely blocks the main exhaust vent for the system fan.

Hot air from the CPU blows through this area. In leau of protecting the hard drive from this heat, Dell mounted a little blower underneath of the hard drive. Although this may be helpful, I still don't like this setup.

Toward the front of the unit, below the DVD drive, is a 3.5" bay. To my dismay, it is not a standard full depth 3.5" bay, as to allow you to simply move your hard drive down there. I did find it is deep enough to allow for some creative mounting of a 2.5" (laptop) hard drive. There are off the shelf 2.5" to 3.5" mounting kits, but they do not fit properly with Dell's "sled" system. I ended up building a custom hard drive sled and I was quite pleased with the final product. (Note: the outer screws on the sled are only partially threaded in order to slide into the chassis rails properly.)

With this neat little conversion I mounted my 2.5" hard drive comfortably out of the area of main air flow. Now the CPU and graphics card have a nice path for air to flow through the core of the system, from the front grill to the rear vents.

I am quite pleased with the final product.


As much as I had certain changes I really wanted to make to the YsBox, I didn't want to do anything that would take what was originally a budget savvy system and turn it into something unreachable for many folks. My upgrade from the YsBox to the YsBox Ultra ended up being about a $100 upgrade.

YsBox Ultra (what I paid, including shipping):

$111.98 - Sparkle Nvidia 9800 GT (Low profile)
$99.74 - Dell Optiplex 745 SFF, w/ DVD drive
$15.00 - Intel Celeron 2.2Ghz 35W CPU
$26.50 - 100GB Seagate 2.5" 7200RPM SATA Hard Drive
$11.95 - Misc. Power Cable Converters/Adapters
$10.44 - Accessory Kit
$275.61 - Total

The Test Drive:

dB rating for this machine is a bit higher than the ~35dB of the original YsBox (under full load, 2 feet away). I'd say it's a fair trade-off for the increase in video horse power

Rather than copy data from my previous article, I thought I'd just make note of the areas I saw noticeable improvement.

In Game Performance:
  • Ys: The Oath in Felghana:
    (Results @ 1280 x 1024 Resolution, 75 Hz, Maximum Settings, Game Difficulty Normal)

    Every part of the game is a solid 75fps (aside from momentary scene loading).

  • Ys Origin:
    (Results @ 1280 x 1024 Resolution, 75 Hz, Maximum Settings, Game Difficulty Normal)

    Every part of the game is a solid 75fps (aside from momentary scene loading).

The Linkage:

A nice (albeit more expensive) alternative system for an YsBox is the HP Pavilion Slimline. Here is a thorough investigation/discussion of it. It's key advantages are sleek looks and smaller size (2" shorter)