Thursday, August 6, 2009

Taito F3 PCB 101

I'm still not completely certain what about Taito has stolen my heart over the years. Maybe it's fun characters like Bub and Bob. Maybe it's their deceptively cute puzzle games like Landmaker and Puchi Carat or their amazing-to-this-day shooters like Ray Force. Whatever the cause, I'm a huge fan and a bit of a hardware nut, which has resulted in getting acquainted with a few of their more popular hardware platforms.

Today I'd like to discuss/dispell some myths regarding Taito's F3 hardware. Most arcade collecting folks are acquainted with Taito's F3 Cartridge System. Those eye catching cherry red carts just beg a reason for you to own some. What many folks are less acquainted with are the bare PCB F3 games. Some people know they exist, but little more than that. Even your most detailed MAME list won't give details as to which version of F3 hardware was dumped.

There are a total of 5 variations of dedicated F3 PCB. There are two F3 MAIN PCB's, one of which has 2 possible daughter boards, and the F3 Cartridge prototype PCB. The easiest way to distinguish between the two F3 MAIN PCB's is by the color of the electronic components near the JAMMA edge. One PCB has a long row of WHITE components, the other a long row of ORANGE components. There doesn't seem to be any correlation between release dates and PCB versions, so rather than refer to them as "old" and "new" versions, I will simply refer to them as "WHITE" and "ORANGE" versions.

Let's start with the ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB. Games that use the base version of this PCB are Riding Fight, Ring Rage, and Arabian Magic:


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This base PCB was not enough hardware for the likes of Taito's Grid Seeker:

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A small daughter board board mates with the sockets for IC66 and IC67 of the main PCB and is secured via a single stand-off near the edge. The next upgrade handles both Light Bringer (aka Dungeon Magic) and Ray Force (aka Gunlock):

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This larger daughter board actually has a name, "EXPAND PCB." If you've played either of those games, you won't be surprised that they needed more real estate to fit in all that awesomeness.

The WHITE F3 MAIN PCB is home to Top Ranking Stars (aka Prime Time Fighter), Hat Trick Hero '93 (aka Taito Cup Finals), and Ray Force (yes, again):

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Somehow Taito squeezed Ray Force into the WHITE board. I've not cross checked the parts between the WHITE and ORANGE version Ray Force games, but I'm curious how much work was needed to port this (may have been as simple as using higher capacity ROM's and changing a few addressing PAL's) and also if there are any noticeable game play differences.

The only other F3 PCB's I'm aware of are prototype F3 Cart PCB's. These utilize a standard F3 Cartridge System motherboard which merely lacks the plastic frame, a few IC's (my Landmaker proto is missing IC10 and IC32), and all PAL's and sound IC's are socketed.

Here is a photo comparison between a prototype F3 Cartridge (left) and a production F3 Cartridge (right):

Some of you may be thinking to yourselves that you've seen some of the games mentioned here in F3 Cartridge form somewhere. Boot F3 carts have been around for a while. They pop up on Yahoo Japan Auctions from time to time and have probably made their way to eBay on occasion. Boot carts that I'm aware of are:
  • Arabian Magic
  • Hat Trick Hero '93
  • Light Bringer
  • Ray Force
  • Ring Rage
Here's a small collection of pictures that I gathered from a Yahoo Japan Auctions seller a while back. If you are still in disbelief, check out this guy's work (these photos were archived when his site was still hosted at

(ROM's missing from original PCB next to his shiny boot cart)

(ROM mapping for boot cart)

(Boot cart running)

As we near the end of this discussion, some of you may be wondering why I have not mentioned the Space Invaders DX PCB. The reason is simple, really. It's not an F3 PCB. I've owned and inspected it myself. Not only is it a different layout from WHITE or ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB, but it also lacks the silk screen label "F3 MAIN PCB" which the other F3 boards boast. I guess Taito was just feeling nostalgic when they ported the game to the F3 Cartridge System.

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In conclusion (and for those of you that just need a simple list to copy and paste into your site/blog/forum to show the interwebs how much you know about F3) here are the 8 production PCB only Taito F3 titles (9 different PCBs):
  • Arabian Magic - ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB
  • Riding Fight - ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB
  • Ring Rage - ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB
  • Grid Seeker - ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB + IC66/IC67 Daughter Board
  • Light Bringer - ORANGE F3 MAIN PCB + EXPAND PCB
  • Ray Force - WHITE F3 MAIN PCB
  • Hat Trick Hero '93 - WHITE F3 MAIN PCB
  • Top Ranking Stars - WHITE F3 MAIN PCB

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