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Nintendo 3DS Capture

on 5 March 2015 at 21:36:47 MST

Alright, I’ll start off by saying, that I have been having stress or anxiety attacks, triggered by two Centrelink forums, one I had help to fill in and a second by my doctor, who I have only seen twice.

I might get put back onto a payment called Newstart or worse even have it cut off completely, mostly because of changes I have heard about to the Australia social security payment system. It would be much easier if I had a secure job, but we can’t have everything.

So back to the 3DS capture, now when I hear 3DS, I think of Autodesk’s application 3D Studio Max, and not the Nintendo Handheld gaming device, like when I think of Tablet, I think of the Wacom drawing tables and not the POS mini computers that so many companies are just tossing at us these days.

So looking at what I think is the first capture card, it’s a breakout board with two IC’s and a Mini USB port. The board is called a ‘Chameleon USB SPA3’, it hosts an EZ-USB FX2LP and a XILINX SPARTAN3A (XC3S50A), along with a crystal clock.
As shown here:

For those of you who do not know, a crystal clock is use to keep the timing correct, I won’t go any more into the crystal, but for those of you who don’t know, crystals have been used in technology for years and clocks. There are a few other components, but they cost next to nothing.

Now for the EZ-USB FX2LP this is a microcontroller with a built in USB interface, all in one IC (integrated circuit, or the black things with silvery legs on electronic boards) A microcontroller is nothing more than a low power computer that can be programed to do a limited number of things, in this case it interfaces with the SPARTAN3A IC to stream data to a PC.
Here is a datasheet on the FX2LP:

Now for the XILINX SPARTAN3A (XC3S50A) long name isn’t it? Well this is the largest out of the two IC’s and is known as a FPGA (Field-Programmable Gate Array) now I will try not to get too in depth about this or confuse you, but all this chip is, is a large set of logic gates. We use logic gates in pretty much everyday life now, they are the core of how a computer works.

So a basic logic gate works like this, let’s say you have two switches connected to a light, now if you press switch one, but not switch two, the light does not come on. But if you press switch one and two at the same time, the light comes on.
Now that is one kind of logic gate, you can have one where both switches are off, and the light is on or pressing one switch and the light turns on, etc… There is more, but that is the best way I can describe a FPGA.

So that is where the 1’s and 0’s come from with computers, it’s just a tone of switches and lights.

Now the datasheet for the XILINX SPARTAN3A (XC3S50A is here:

In this setup, the EZ-USB FX2LP is taking the information that the SPARTAN3A has processed from the 3DS’s logic board and streaming it to the PC through the USB Port, where a program converts that into video.

Because of the processing power required, the SPARTAN3A or FPGA dose most of the hard work.

Now after I looked into this, I have to wonder if someone has just reversed engineered or gotten a hold of the schematics of the 3DS and work on it from there or if a Nintendo engineer, just sat down and worked out how to build a device to convert data from the logic board to data a PC can understand.

So what about the cost, well let’s look at the IC’s:
The XC3S200A on element 14 is listed as $25.50 and the EZ-USB FX2LP is listed on Digi-Key as $10.91, these prices are if you just buy one of each, you still need a board to attaches these onto, plus the other components.

Now what you need to understand, is that these have to be not only installed, but hand soldered onto the logic board, here is where someone without, great soldering skills can kill or damage the 3DS. Using the $5 to $30 soldering iron you can easily pickup, is like trying to hammer in a tiny craft nail in with a sledge hammer, it ain't going to be pretty… (I have a soldering station, and that set me back about $200, plus another $20 for a fine tip for the iron, I can't nor do I have the hardware, but I have used it to solder an atmega328 TQFP32)

Now there looks to be about thirty-fiveish (35), of these pins, which need to be soldered, so it’s going to take a while to install this mod, here is an image of the ribbon cable: this one dose need to be cut down.

So these boards are mostly coming from japan, then the software is written or modified for the English market.

Now the only thing, that is the main issue for someone to me making these boards themselves is the code on the EZ-USB FX2LP, without the program on that micro-controller, you basically have a piece of junk.

So when you see the $200 plus price tag for installing the mod, you can understand why the price is as high as it is.

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