Dreamcast Common Faults and Fixes

Published on: 09/02/2021 - 13:00 PM

The Sega Dreamcast was such an innovation for its time, bringing with it the ability to play online straight out of the box. There were other consoles prior to this which had this ability; believe it or not the Sega Saturn had a modem, it didn't come with the console and only a handful of games supported it, but I digress. During its short lifetime, (approx. 18 months) the Dreamcast is considered to have some of the best games ever made. Despite this, the console does have some shortcomings - which we will discuss in more detail shortly. Released in 1998 in Japan, 1999 everywhere else, marking this year its 22nd birthday if you go by the Japanese release date.

Any console that reaches this sort of age, especially when it uses disc based media is bound to have a few issues.

Some of the more common faults include:

  • Random resetting
  • Not reading discs / Reads discs intermittently
  • Controllers not working
  • Sound but no Video
  • Noisy disc drive

Random Resetting

Random resetting usually occurs after you have been playing for a while (at least from my experience), the console starts to heat up and then resets itself. It may be the game reloads, then it happens again, or it just won't reload at all. Give it a few hours, then it may start reading the games again, rinse and repeat.

So, what causes these seemingly random resets? In short, it’s the PSU (Power Supply Unit) more specifically the way the PSU connects to the Motherboard. There are six pins protruding up from the main board which the PSU slots onto. Over time, the sprung metal connectors which put pressure on these pins weaken, then as the PSU heats up, the heat causes the connectors to expand and results in less pressure on those pins, resulting in a poor connection.

Another cause is the pins corrode or get dirty/dusty over time also causing issues. You can remove the PSU and take some sandpaper to the Pins to rough them up, removing dirt/dust, also some rubbing alcohol will work. If your issue isn't due to dust/dirt read on. Another solution is to put some solder on the pins making them thicker ensuring a stronger connection. I have also heard of people hard wiring the pins to the PSU.

There are many articles across the Internet that will also tell you to bend the pins slightly (cringe) don't do it, or bend the sprung connectors on the PSU. Either of these solutions will work but are only a short-term solution. My issue with this is that I don't like short term fixes - I want a permanent solution. I want to know that I can rely on my consoles to work every time without an issue.

If you can find the part, you can just de-solder the existing connector and replace it with a new one. Other solutions include installing a new PSU, there are replacements which are available that look just like the original with more modern components, I have one and it works great, with the added benefit of being able to accept voltages across all regions 110 or 240. The other alternatives include the PICO PSU which is a generic power board, a fraction of the size of the original. it does use a different input connector instead of the standard figure of eight and requires a laptop style power brick to go with it. Dream PSU was a Kickstarter project to develop a new modern PSU specifically for the Dreamcast, it looks much like the PICO PSU and again required a separate power brick. Any of these solutions should resolve your issue.

Dreamcast won't read discs

The Dreamcast uses a custom disc drive known as a GD (Gigabyte Disc) Rom, it was developed for the Dreamcast and is also used on the Sega Naomi Arcade Machine.

Unfortunately, they aren't very reliable, and this is something that will happen more and more as time goes on. Good news there are solutions out there to fix this! The problem is the Optical Laser pickup weakens over time, causing the console to refuse to read discs whether genuine or backups, I suggest replacing the laser pickup. I spent a great deal of time trying different solutions for this, there were people suggesting to use a pickup from an old PC CD Rom (Not DVD Rom), the drives were all from around 1999 and were recommendations found on the internet, I never had any success with this - despite trying several.

You can purchase a new laser from several sites on the Internet, (this being one of them), you just need to know what type of laser you require. The two types are SPU3200 which came from the less common YAMAHA GD Rom Drive and R48-G from the SAMSUNG variant, I have only ever come across the Samsung drives, which when I started trying to find a replacement were the more uncommon to find replacements for. The manufacturer is stamped on the GD Rom Drive in the bottom right hand corner, so you will need to open the console to see.

Replacement solutions are available, known as GDEMU which is a plug-in replacement for the GD ROM drive and allows the console to read games from an SD card, eliminating the problem with the laser permanently. The USB GD Rom is another solution, the only issue with this is, if like me, you have a healthy collection of Disc based games, you won't be able to play them. The GDEMU can be purchased from the creator on his website but unfortunately the ordering window is very short, and I have never been able to acquire one. The alternative is a GDEMU Clone, which are being sold across the Internet, I relented and purchased one out of frustration, I have to say it works great, I haven't had any issues and it even has faster load times, the SD Card just needs to be formatted to FAT32. Windows is unable to do this by default if the drive is over a certain size, therefore I used AOMEI. Once it is formatted correctly you just need to add the games, it can use either CDI or GDI the latter being a straight RIP of a genuine Dreamcast GD Rom Disc. The easiest way is to use Mad Sheep SD Card Maker. Select the drive you want to add them to, select the files and hit save. Once it is done you will be good to go. An important note is you can't upgrade the firmware like with the original (It will permanently break the device) So I wouldn't recommend trying that.

Controllers not working.

This issue is caused by a blown resister on the controller daughter board, many articles state this is caused by pulling out the controller and plugging it in while the console is powered on. However, I don't think this is the case, I have tried this on several occasions to see if this was true - but it has never been the case. I would attribute this to either faulty components, or possible power surges, I'm not an electrical engineer, so this is just simply speculation. On to the fix…

The fix for this does require some soldering, unless you happen to have, or be able to purchase a working controller board, in which case you will only need to swap the boards out. I like to fix the existing hardware as the thought of throwing away a perfectly good PCB is just plain wrong! To fix this issue you will need a 5 Ohm 1/2-watt fuse resistor and it will need to replace the component labelled F1 on the Controller board.

Dreamcast has Sound but no Video

This issue isn't usually caused by hardware failure but that doens't mean it can't be. The main cause is usually attributed to incorrect assembly. For the most part, many of the screws found within the guts of the Dreamcast are all very similar in size, the exception to this being the screws holding the controller board in place. They are much longer than the others. When the console is being put back together, often the screws can get mixed up, the longer controller board screws get used to hold the GD Rom in place by mistake. If memory serves, it is the bottom left screw holding the GD Rom in place. If the incorrect screw is used here, there are some traces found below that get shredded by the longer screw. This is what causes the black screen. You can check by removing the Motherboard from the console and looking for a white strip towards the centre of the board. It should be very apparent as you will see the damage. There are other problems which can cause this type of issue, but this is the most common in my experience.

This can be repaired but is tricky and will need a very fine wire to be soldered in place, bridging the broken traces. There are several very thin traces and it will be difficult to see, so you may need some assistance to give you the required magnification. The other alternative is to replace the Motherboard, but they are less common to find for sale as it is a pretty reliable part, ideally you should want to fix your current board to save it from being thrown away needlessly - especially if you’re reading this!

Noisy Disc Drive

This is not so much a problem as a defining characteristic. The GD Rom drive on the Dreamcast has always been noisy. There is a quick fix for this which doesn't take much effort. There is a spiral rail attached to the Laser Pickup which when rotated moves the Pickup forwards and backwards, the solution is to add some White Lithium Grease to this rail, just spread a small amount over the rail and move the laser backwards and forwards a few times. Be careful not to get any on the Lens.

That covers pretty much all the issues you are likely to come across. I hope this will be helpful to anyone unfortunate enough to come across any of these issues. If I have missed anything or you notice any inaccuracies please drop us a line using the Contact Form.

Please note: it you attempt any of these fixes, we accept no responsibility for any damage you may potentially cause, mistakes happen, but It's on you!

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