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Misdreavus

Pokémon Emerald flash memory corruption

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I have an Emerald cart that I got from GameStop on the release date in 2005, so I'm as sure as I can be of its legitimacy.  Back in 2009, I started getting a series of error messages when saving the game. Ultimately, my save file was deleted on its own.  Attached are photos I took of the bizarre messages I got.  I've shared these on other Pokémon sites and no one seems to have seen them before.  Excuse the poor quality / blurriness; these were taken with a digital camera over a decade ago, and some were captured from video that I took.

Not knowing at the time that the battery was not the home of the save file, I tried to replace the battery, only to get excess solder on my game and damage it.  (I'm looking at repairing that, and it's outside the scope of this post anyway.)  If I get my game running again, am I likely to have the same save corruption happen, or was what happened probably a unique case involving something going on with my particular save file?  I had never used any external devices with it, though, so that would be a surprise to me.

If it is indeed something that will probably occur again, is it at all possible to replace flash memory in the GBA cart?

Spoiler

emerald saving error 1.JPGemerald saving error 2.JPGemerald saving error 3.jpgemerald saving error 4.jpgemerald saving error 5.JPG

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2 hours ago, Misdreavus said:

I have an Emerald cart that I got from GameStop on the release date in 2005, so I'm as sure as I can be of its legitimacy.
emerald saving error 2.JPGemerald saving error 5.JPG

And here I thought it could all be explained by the presumption that you had a fake cart.
The explanation honestly fits, if it were a fake cart.

Not that I believe that GameStop sells fake carts, but I don't know what's their policy, especially if it's related to second hands goods.
Or maybe they had some kind of mix up. Who knows at this point.

I used to own a fake cart that battery ran dry (not that I knew it was fake until after the fact),
and this was exactly what happened. Once the battery ran dry, I could no longer save the game.

2 hours ago, Misdreavus said:

is it at all possible to replace flash memory in the GBA cart?

I don't know how it would be possible. I also wonder what you should do.
Replace the entire chip? Check the traces on the circuit board? Run a multimeter before and after the chip to check if it's dead?

It's possible the memory chip itself is dead, or unable to draw power from your battery.
But here's the thing: as far as I know, on a real cart, the battery isn't for running the memory. It only runs the RTC.

Maybe someone who knows what they're doing can come along and advise you, but my impression would be you should just buy a new cart.

 

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5 hours ago, theSLAYER said:

And here I thought it could all be explained by the presumption that you had a fake cart.
The explanation honestly fits, if it were a fake cart.

Not that I believe that GameStop sells fake carts, but I don't know what's their policy, especially if it's related to second hands goods.
Or maybe they had some kind of mix up. Who knows at this point.

I used to own a fake cart that battery ran dry (not that I knew it was fake until after the fact),
and this was exactly what happened. Once the battery ran dry, I could no longer save the game.

I don't know how it would be possible. I also wonder what you should do.
Replace the entire chip? Check the traces on the circuit board? Run a multimeter before and after the chip to check if it's dead?

It's possible the memory chip itself is dead, or unable to draw power from your battery.
But here's the thing: as far as I know, on a real cart, the battery isn't for running the memory. It only runs the RTC.

Maybe someone who knows what they're doing can come along and advise you, but my impression would be you should just buy a new cart.

 

Thanks for your reply.  I actually did get a new cart; however, this cart has sentimental value to me despite the save file being gone, so I'd like to get it up and running if possible.  The new cart I got eventually had its battery run dry, and it still saved normally afterwards, so I doubt the battery was responsible.

Here is a picture I took when I first opened the cart (prior to the attempted replacement of the battery).  I believe the flash memory is the black rectangle located directly above the word "FLASH," right?  The traces around it are extremely small, so I'm not even sure if someone who is proficient at microsoldering could successfully do a "transplant."

Do you mind elaborating on exactly what you meant regarding the multimeter?  That definitely sounds like something I could do.

Emerald inside 2.JPG

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12 minutes ago, Misdreavus said:

Do you mind elaborating on exactly what you meant regarding the multimeter?  That definitely sounds like something I could do.

Not that I can refer you to a specific video, but I've seen videos of repairmen dealing with circuit boards, and what they tend to do, is to place the prongs of the multimeter around the chip, to see if any voltage passes (to know if the chip is still functional), or to place them at the beginning of the chip and beginning of the where the current should originates from, to see if the voltage travels right up to the chip (no breakages in between circuits etc).

However, without a specific blueprint for the voltages that should be across the board, we can't just do that haphazardly.
Or course, you could do a simple compare and contrast with a working board, however I'm not certain you want to put the working board at risk
(from you know, not knowing what you're doing :( )

From what I understood, it's not the save that you value, but the cart itself.
Provided it's only the chip that's dead, and not the circuits on the board (or some other factor),
someone with the appropriate tools can try to transplant a working chip onto it,
but it's hard to save it'll work, and the cost and time taken will probably be high.

Even if it's not you, ultimately it would have to be determined if the chip is dead or the circuit board is functional,
before any decisions of what can or cannot be done be proceeded with.

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7 minutes ago, theSLAYER said:

Not that I can refer you to a specific video, but I've seen videos of repairmen dealing with circuit boards, and what they tend to do, is to place the prongs of the multimeter around the chip, to see if any voltage passes (to know if the chip is still functional), or to place them at the beginning of the chip and beginning of the where the current should originates from, to see if the voltage travels right up to the chip (no breakages in between circuits etc).

However, without a specific blueprint for the voltages that should be across the board, we can't just do that haphazardly.
Or course, you could do a simple compare and contrast with a working board, however I'm not certain you want to put the working board at risk
(from you know, not knowing what you're doing :( )

From what I understood, it's not the save that you value, but the cart itself.
Provided it's only the chip that's dead, and not the circuits on the board (or some other factor),
someone with the appropriate tools can try to transplant a working chip onto it,
but it's hard to save it'll work, and the cost and time taken will probably be high.

I do have other non-Pokémon games that I no longer play and would be willing to, more or less ,"ruin" in the name of testing the board, but I opened them up and they are structurally different inside (no battery, etc.).

While I certainly did value the save file I had on this cart at the time, I know it's long gone, so at this point, the cart is all I have left, and it would be nice to have another Emerald.  Your point about the cost and time of a potential repair is entirely fair though.

Also, after doing some research, I found a potentially relevant thread on Reddit, and if the numbers in the first reply are accurate, it makes no sense that the flash memory would fail after 4 years.  The second reply also mentions that I would need to flash the new memory first before swapping it in.

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I was thinking maybe some kind of hard knock (either dislodge part of the connection or broke the internals of the chip), or maybe the chip was substandard to begin with, thus leading to it's failure. Yeah, I know nothing about flashing the chip elsewhere..

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Sometimes the boards corrode with time, in other occasions falls break the boards and create microscopic gaps; these things disrupt communications within the board. If this was the problem, all you have to do is check for continuity.

A blueprint is useful for this matter, but you could trace the threads of the chip without one. Just check the board from the back, not the front.

This is a common problem in circuit boards; regarding micro-soldering, the common practice is not transplanting the chip, but bridging the faulty terminals to their destinations using wires (at least for the first attempt to repair the board).

You can check this generic video on continuity.

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18 hours ago, Hide said:

Sometimes the boards corrode with time, in other occasions falls break the boards and create microscopic gaps; these things disrupt communications within the board. If this was the problem, all you have to do is check for continuity.

A blueprint is useful for this matter, but you could trace the threads of the chip without one. Just check the board from the back, not the front.

This is a common problem in circuit boards; regarding micro-soldering, the common practice is not transplanting the chip, but bridging the faulty terminals to their destinations using wires (at least for the first attempt to repair the board).

You can check this generic video on continuity.

Thanks for your reply. If I'm understanding you correctly, are you saying to trace the fine lines on the back and see if a point on the left and its corresponding point on the right register on a multimeter?

IMG_1355 copy.jpg

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6 hours ago, Misdreavus said:

Thanks for your reply. If I'm understanding you correctly, are you saying to trace the fine lines on the back and see if a point on the left and its corresponding point on the right register on a multimeter?

IMG_1355 copy.jpg

Yeah, each pin of the chip must travel to another point in the board. So, take the multimeter and check if there is continuity between "origin" and "destination" using the exposed parts of the board (i.e. the little holes). Also, just FYI, here's another video that explains how to check if the battery works without removing it (or whether you should remove it soon or not).

 

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By the way, something "funny" about your cartridge is that its chips do not have ID data. Most chips have a printed number and/or the brand (this is how you start checking what they do). Your cart should look like these (pictures attached):

Emerald 1.png

Emerald 2.jpg

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Posted (edited)
5 hours ago, Hide said:

By the way, something "funny" about your cartridge is that its chips do not have ID data. Most chips have a printed number and/or the brand (this is how you start checking what they do). Your cart should look like these (pictures attached):

Emerald 1.png

Emerald 2.jpg

Actually, if what you're referring to is the printed text on the SRAM and ROM, mine does have that; it was just not visible with the lighting on the pic in the first post.  This is what my cart looks like after the attempted repairs were done on it.  I just removed the battery prongs for the time being.

You may notice a small bit of excess solder on the pins of the ROM; this has been brought to my attention before, and I removed it as best I could.  There may still be a small bit left (see pins 3-6, top to bottom, on left side), but I was unable to get that off, and I'm going to see if someone can help me with it.

IMG_9062 copy.jpg

EDIT: As for the continuity tests, are there any particular origin/destination points I should check?  There are obviously a lot of them.

EDIT2: To go along with my question in the first edit, here is some work I did with the photo of the back to make it easier to trace the points.

back of Em (filled).jpg

Edited by Misdreavus

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You should check the threads in the sector that holds the LE26FV10N1TS chip, that is the flash memory. Put very roughly (but it is not exactly as I say), the threads in the back are inbound communications and the threads in the front are the lines from the cartridge to the GBA system (Do you notice how the threads in the front go from the cartridge to GBA connection pins?). After you check the "inbound" links, check the "outbound" links.

AFAIK, Pokémon games employ these chips to save data:

Macronix: MX29L010TC-15A1, 1m (128kb) flash memory chip.
Sanyo: LE26FV10N1TS, 1m (128kb) flash memory chip.

I don’t know if you can swap one chip-model with the other (it shouldn’t be an issue unless they work differently); however, it is possible to remove an original chip from one cartridge and put it into another.

If it helps, here's a website about "home-brew" projects with Gameboy electronics (including GBA). This link features an -original- schematic of a GBA cartridge; it doesn't have the same layout as Pokémon Emerald, but it could help you to map the relevant connections of your flash chip.

This person took an original Macronix chip from a Pokémon game to make "his own" cartridge.

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15 hours ago, Hide said:

You should check the threads in the sector that holds the LE26FV10N1TS chip, that is the flash memory. Put very roughly (but it is not exactly as I say), the threads in the back are inbound communications and the threads in the front are the lines from the cartridge to the GBA system (Do you notice how the threads in the front go from the cartridge to GBA connection pins?). After you check the "inbound" links, check the "outbound" links.

AFAIK, Pokémon games employ these chips to save data:

Macronix: MX29L010TC-15A1, 1m (128kb) flash memory chip.
Sanyo: LE26FV10N1TS, 1m (128kb) flash memory chip.

I don’t know if you can swap one chip-model with the other (it shouldn’t be an issue unless they work differently); however, it is possible to remove an original chip from one cartridge and put it into another.

If it helps, here's a website about "home-brew" projects with Gameboy electronics (including GBA). This link features an -original- schematic of a GBA cartridge; it doesn't have the same layout as Pokémon Emerald, but it could help you to map the relevant connections of your flash chip.

This person took an original Macronix chip from a Pokémon game to make "his own" cartridge.

Everything checks out fine on the back of the board; the multimeter appears to confirm that everything that is supposed to be connected is indeed connected.  What exactly does this mean considering my game doesn't register at all after the attempted repair years ago (the GBA acts as if nothing is in it)?

Are you saying to do the same thing on the front?  I don't believe I'll be able to trace every connection on the front since many of them are covered by the printed text or other things such as the SRAM or ROM.

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On 7/18/2020 at 4:00 PM, Misdreavus said:

Everything checks out fine on the back of the board; the multimeter appears to confirm that everything that is supposed to be connected is indeed connected.  What exactly does this mean considering my game doesn't register at all after the attempted repair years ago (the GBA acts as if nothing is in it)?

Are you saying to do the same thing on the front?  I don't believe I'll be able to trace every connection on the front since many of them are covered by the printed text or other things such as the SRAM or ROM.

If something doesn’t return continuity, it means that the circuit is broken and that you could fix it using wires. If all of the appropriate terminals have continuity, then you may have a faulty chip (considering that your GBA is 100% OK).

If there is continuity in the back, I would assume that the “inbound” connections of the flash memory are working.

So, you have to check the “outbound” connections, this means you have to examine the continuity between the flash chip and the GBA pins (the cartridge pins that connect directly to the GBA). For that matter you have to locate the flash chip connections that reach for the GBA pins.

Now, this is a large assumption by me, but it could at least give you an example of what to do next:

The homebrew website I mentioned earlier presents a diagram of the Macronix chip and a custom GBA cartridge. Assumption: While the chip connects to the board, not all of its legs are expected to have an “outbound” connection. If the chip legs had 15 “outbound” connections, then 15 legs of your chip should return continuity with the appropriate GBA pins (check the diagrams). You should determine if the appropriate legs have the required GBA pin connections per trial and error.

I do not know what number of chip-legs have an "outbound" connection, but there’s a clue within the homebrew website I mentioned before; said website employs the flash memory of a Pokémon game, and also reproduces a Pokémon game's saving features using a Pokémon ROM.

Regarding your other question, if the game does not register after you removed the battery, it could mean that you broke the circuit board (as a said before) or the ROM. The battery is right above the chip containing the ROM, if you broke that part, then the game won’t load.

Please remember that these tests are very rudimentary. The more I get to know about this issue, the more I believe you require specialized equipment. Theoretically, you could employ computer software to check for faults in your GBA cartridges, but that is a field I have not explored.

This two websites may lead you to what you need (1 & 2), but you will also require some advanced skills to fully understand them.

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