Professional software development, amateur BMW tinkering, old arcade game stuff


Data East Hippodrome arcade pcb repair

This pcb was dirty with signs of corrosion, booted to garbage on-screen and didn’t play.  First problem was very obvious – two RAM chips had been removed from the game board and a lot of traces had been pulled up and ruined.  Hippodrome isn’t the greatest game, but it deserves better than that so I installed some sockets and repaired the traces via wires on the underside.  I have another working Hippodrome for reference so it wasn’t too hard to figure out what was what, but schematics are available anyway.  (The RAM pretty much goes directly to the custom tilemap ASIC on the game board).

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I swapped the game board onto the working main-board and the game ran and played.  At first there was a problem with 1 layer of tilemap graphics – an address line fault that caused tiles to appear in the wrong places, but that was just a problem with my trace repair and easily fixed.


The main board continued to boot to garbage which is usually a sign the CPU program is not running.  A logic probe showing the CPU had activity on the data and address pins so was trying to execute something at least.  I removed and tested the main RAM (TMM2063 which are known for going bad).  One failed the test.  When replaced the game booted!

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But not so fast.. although the title screen was correct no sprites or background graphics were visible, just the top text layer.  Usually bad RAM would be the first port of call for missing tilemaps and sprites, but one layer comes from the game-board and I’d just repaired and tested it with the working main-board so why wasn’t it showing up here?

I suspected the priority mixing circuit – this is how the game decides what pixels from the 3 tilemap layers and sprite layer are above or below each other and also how transparency between layers works.  A lookup PROM is the core of this system – for every pixel on screen each of the 4 layers signals whether it contains a non-transparent pixel.  The PROM then contains a set of fixed rules that determine which of the 4 layers ‘wins’.  A logic probe seemed to show the inputs to the PROM were all pulsing but the outputs were stuck low (which would mean only a single layer would ever be selected – in this case the text layer).

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The PROM was removed and replaced with one from a parts board, and all graphics were working again.  It’s quite rare for these kinds of PROMs to fail, I assume it was physical corrosion.

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Data East Bad Dudes arcade pcb repair

Quick & easy repair – the sewer level had moving ‘dots’ that looked to be every 16 pixels up & down across the screen.  In fact probably every level had these corrupt dots but the constant scrolling of the water layer in the sewer makes it more obvious.

The problem was a corrupt mask-rom for one of the tilemap layers.  The ‘transparent’ tile had a corrupt bit.  Burned a 27c512 eprom from the MAME data to fix it.  There was no corrosion or any physical problem visible on the corrupt ROM.

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SNK Neo Geo 4 slot arcade pcb repair

This Neo Geo 4 slot motherboard reported ‘VRAM error’ on boot.  There is a useful diagnostic rom at so I burned this to board to see if it gave more info.  Well.. not really, still a VRAM error at location 0000.


Despite the popularity of these boards I couldn’t find a guide showing conclusively what each RAM chip is on the board, perhaps because they change about depending on the many different motherboard revisions.


Eventually I worked out it was one of the top two surface mounted chips.  The VRAM attaches to the graphics custom chip, rather than the 68K cpu directly.  The error is a stuck data bit which is quite a rare error for a RAM – often this means a bad trace so I examined all the traces from the RAM to the custom chip and didn’t find anything.  The worst case is that the custom chip itself is bad.  As I didn’t yet really know which of the two RAMs was the upper (top 8 bits) or lower (bottom 8 bits, of which one was stuck) I desoldered them and swapped them.  The error moved from the lower RAM to the upper RAM which pretty much confirms a bad RAM chip rather than traces or custom chip.


I removed a RAM chip from another broken NeoGeo and swapped it in.  All tests pass!

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Added the 4 slot board back on top (the lower board can run on it’s own), all 4 slots and audio tested good.

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Data East Cobra Command arcade pcb repair

This turned out to be quite a complex fix…  Board booted to a black screen and made no sound, but a logic probe showed the data and address bus lines on the CPU and program ROM were all active, so the CPU was trying to do something at least.

There was obvious physical damage on the board in at least 3 places – a smashed custom resistor pack and gouged traces on the bottom of the board and on the top near the first program ROM.  I knew the resistor pack was used as the digital to analog convertor for one of the RGB channels, so although it would give bad colors, that shouldn’t stop the game running.  After checking and repairing the traces…  absolutely no change.

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My next theory was that the program RAM was bad and this was causing the CPU to crash.  I checked the program in the MAME debugger and it clears all memory before branching to a subroutine (with bad RAM a subroutine will mean a crash when the CPU stack is popped as the CPU will be given a bad return address).  This seemed to match the board behavior at least as the palette RAM was being cleared to all black.  But what RAM is the main CPU RAM?  This board has 11 RAM chips and no published schematics.  Usually the RAM next to the tilemap customs are for tilemaps, the RAM next to the sprite customs are for sprites, and the RAM next to the program ROMs is for the CPU.  So I pulled the RAM nearest the ROMs (H15) and it tested ok.  I then pulled the other RAM sitting on it’s own (B10) – that tested ok too.

Rather than risk damaging the board more by pulling all the RAMs (not to mention it would take ages) I took a different approach and wrote a little test program to see if the CPU was actually capable of running code. I modified the program ROM to print a string straight away, rather than clear memory and branch.  It worked!  So this proved the CPU, program, graphics was working to some degree, but didn’t explain why the correct program led to a black screen.  I worked out a more complex test program and wrote values to various RAM areas and read them back and printed on screen (again, taking care never to use the stack or call any subroutines as none of the RAM could be trusted).



Note there is no green in the images – I expected that from the bust resistor pack.  So the memory tests revealed that for every second byte the D0 value was stuck low (so writing 01 returns 00, writing 45 returns 44).  I used a logic probe on each RAM chip until I found the stuck data pin – turns out the main CPU ram is the pair at C10 and C11.  Removed this RAM chip – it tested bad, put in a replacement.. and still black screen.  I examined the traces on the board again and found another tiny break – all that work just to find a break near the others I already repaired (the pic is after I scraped it back more to repair it).


Anyway…  game boots now!


Graphics are clearly messed up and of course there’s still no green channel.  The broken resistor pack is a custom Data East pack used on many other games from this period.  I wasn’t worried about this too much as the worst case was I could just put in separate resistors to mimic the pack. I had a different plan in mind though – each resistor pack supports two channels, so with 4 channels available, and only 3 channels needed (red, green and blue) there had to be a spare… I traced out the TTL around the packs to find the unused channel, and just bridged one pack onto the other. Worked first time!



(The resistors values are fairly common at 220 Ohms, 470, 1000, 2200 to turn the 4 bit digital palette into an analog signal. The resistor pack contains a 5th value – 4800 Ohms but that is not used in this game).

On the home straight now – some corruption on the title screen and in-game.  This was quickly narrowed down to the tilemap ROMs in the corner of the board.  Removing them caused the corruption to go away (along with correct graphics too of course).  One ROM had obvious corrosion (EL07) but the ROM next to it was also bad (EL06).  I cleaned up the legs but the problem remained so it seems the problem was internal.  I replaced both with 27c512 eproms burned from the MAME set.


And at last, game is perfect again!






Taito Rastan arcade pcb repair

After working on pcbs with no self-tests for a while it was quite refreshing for this one to say exactly what was wrong with it – ‘COLOR RAM ERROR’.  The two color RAMs are located next to the PC040DA customs which are the digital to analog convertors for each of the RGB channels.  A logic probe showed that the lower RAM had stuck outputs.  Replaced this chip and the board was perfect.

Note that although the board has 2018-35 silkscreened on it (35ns response time RAM) the RAM installed was actually 45ns which works fine.

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Data East Gate of Doom arcade pcb repair

Board initially seemed dead, no rgb video or sync output at all.  Logic probe showed that there was actually some CPU activity, but a lot of the graphics chips had no clock signal.

Attempt 1

Probing some TTL around the graphics crystal revealed a LS75 chip that seemed to have a stuck output.  This is a latch that outputs both Q and ‘not Q’ for input D.  The logic probe shows both D and Q pulsing, but ~Q was stuck low.  Replaced with another chip and it behaved exactly the same.  I have to assume ~Q is intentionally grounded out somewhere on the board and isn’t used.


Attempt 2

I decided to trace out what controls the sync signal on the board.  The path runs from the edge connector to the diode at FB4, then the resistor at R13, then the LS04 chip @ L11.  The LS04 is used as a double invertor and the input comes from the custom graphics chip 55.

There are no schematics for Gate of Doom online, but there are for Desert Assault which is from the same era and also uses the 55 custom.  This shows the same setup with sync coming from pin 157 then a double inversion, so it seems to be the same design.  The schematics show the inputs to the custom – 14MHz clock to pin 11 – this was present and correct, reset on pin 15, again tested ok.  Various +5V lines also tested fine.  So unfortunately it seemed the custom chip was not working.


Attempt 3

All of the other inputs to the graphics custom chip 55 come from the PAL’s on the board.  And they run hot – a couple quickly shooting up to 43C – so I decided to replace them all with GAL’s.  I didn’t really expect much from this, as the Data East PAL’s of this era often run very hot, and I’ve never seen a failed one.  Indeed this had no effect, but the GAL’s do run much cooler.


Attempt 4

Examined the custom 55 again – applying some horizontal force to the pins revealed a handful of them moving – therefore not making good connection to the pads on the board.  Really I should have noticed this before, so I reflowed the solder with a hot iron on the pins to stick them to the pads again.  Success!  Everything now working 100%, including sound.  So even though the sync line was connected, some other control signals to the custom chip must have been disconnected.

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Data East Crude Buster (Two Crude) arcade PCB repair

This is actually a pcb from the UKVac ‘Kent Raid’ (see, interesting to know the history of a pcb and this one sat abandoned for over 20 years.


When powered on green garbage was displayed and that’s about it – no signs of life.  I tested the main RAM with a logic probe – the address pins were pulsing, as were the write enable and output enable pins, but the data lines remained stuck.  That’s a good sign the CPU is trying to do something but the RAM is dead – so I replaced the two chips (64K sram – TMM2063) with another two from a parts board.  Now I had some corrupt movement on screen, but it was also consistent corruption on every boot, so I was hopeful the game logic was actually running underneath the corruption.


Probing some more RAM chips in the same way revealed two dead 16K sram chips – these are the red and blue palette RAMs – so replacing them game full colour corruption.  The audio CPU RAM appeared ok with the logic probe, but when I piggy-backed another 64K sram on top and hit the coin switch sound & music played, so I knew for sure the audio RAM was bad, but also the main CPU was running properly now.

Logic probe on the 4 ram chips near the custom tilemap asic showed address and data lines pulsing, but after removing them from the board they all tested bad.  At this point I had no 64K sram left so I removed 4 256K srams from a dead Run N Gun board and used them instead.  The pinouts between 64K and 256K are identical except for the extra 2 address lines – so as long as you make sure these lines are tied high or low it will work (I soldered little jumper wires onto the bottom of the board to tie the lines high).  Success – all tilemap graphics now working, but still no sprites.

With all the other bad RAM on the board, bad spriteram was likely – many Data East games actually have a setup where there are two copies of spriteram.  The main CPU writes to one set, then when complete sets a flag for hardware to copy it to the second set, that the sprite ASIC reads out of.  I assume the reason for this design was to avoid contention between the CPU writing and the ASIC reading the same memory.  All chips tested bad when removed from the board.  When replaced sprites came back, but were obviously corrupt.

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At this point I spent quite a lot of time triple checking all points I’d soldered on the new RAM, then checking for bad pins on the sprite ASIC, or any problems in the TTL that copies between the two spriterams.  It’s clear the player sprite was ‘almost’ correct, but had a corrupt layer on top of it. Eventually I unsoldered the large sprite mask ROMs to check if they were corrupt, but the checksums matched the MAME set.  When I booted the board with those ROMs missing though, the corrupt bit planes remained and suddenly it was clear what was going on.  The output enables for the second set of sprite roms were all stuck on – so whenever the main ROMs were active data from the second set was superimposed on top.  The custom sprite ASIC (chip 52) has a 32 bit combined data and address bus.  On one cycle it latches the desired address into external TTL, then on the next cycle it activates the sprite ROMs to read 32 bits of data.  The TTLs for the lower 16 address bits were fine, but the top 4 bits are controlled by a Fujitsu LS375N which had stuck outputs when tested with the logic probe.  This chip was replaced and all sprites were correct.

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Technos WWF Superstars arcade PCB Repair

Two different boards, both very clean with no physical damage.  One booted to corruption, the other to a solid white screen.  Logic probe showed the outputs on the palette RAM were dead on the second board, so when replaced it also booted to corruption like the first one.

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The logic probe seemed to the show the 68000 CPU was not getting a clock signal so I probed the chips near the crystal oscillator and removed them from the board with a heat gun for external testing (but they tested fine).  Strangely the game worked when I replaced the chip – that’s good but why?  I then also found the second board would sometimes boot if I flexed the PCB near the crystal.  My only theory is bad solder joints on the crystal that were fixed when the heat gun was used.  The second board also boots consistently after re-doing the solder around the crystal even though it looked fine.

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So board 1 now works 100% with sound.  Board 2 boots but had some doubled up sprites at first (fixed by reseating the connectors between the two layers) and no sound.  The sound amp seems to be working, but at least one problem seems to be the YM3014 DAC chip.  The logic probe shows pulsing on the digital inputs, but the voltmeter shows no movement on the analog outputs (unlike the working board).  Right now I don’t have a spare to check.

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Atari Asteroids / Wells 19V2000 HV Diode

There’s a wealth of information on old black & white vector monitors on the internet, so when the picture on my Asteroids ‘bloomed’ up much larger than it should be and became unstable I quickly found tips suggesting the high voltage diode was at fault.  However.. most of this information was actually written in Usenet times – text only documents!  I couldn’t actually find a picture anywhere of where this diode is.

So for anyone else searching, I’ve circled it in red in the photo.  I used a diode marked ‘VARO H598′ bought from Ebay which is not the original part, but comes recommended as a replacement, and indeed it works perfectly.

I should also point out you should make sure the monitor CRT is fully discharged before going near this part as the high voltage can be present even when the monitor is powered off.  Info on that can be found elsewhere on the internet.

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Midnight Resistance arcade cabinet restore

Cab wasn’t terrible when I got it – two chunks of wood missing, lot of mold and dust, but the wood and vinyl fundamentally ok, so I decided to paint it rather than re-apply vinyl or laminate.

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Tried out ‘wood’ Bondo rather than regular Bondo to patch up scuffs and missing pieces.  I used some spare t-molding as a guide to fill the missing chunk at the control panel, worked out quite well.  Also filled in the holes from those big ugly lock bars, not putting them back on.

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Some painting, then sanding, then more painting..  Plus new t-molding all-around, and replaced faded marquee with a reproduction.


I swapped out the plain joystick tops with some burn marks for some Data East logo tops I’ve had sitting around for a while.  They aren’t perfect but better.


Reproduction control panel overlay added and NOS side-art that I’ve been hoarding for a while.  Original bezel remains even though it has some stains and a rip.  Might change it out later.

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Coin door was fully disassembled, some rust cleaned up, repainted and new locks added.


End result!  It’s not a 10/10 maybe an 8 out of 10, but good enough :)