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SYF – New Sega Game Gear Mainboard Built by Mathijs Nilwik

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Sega Game Gear Mainboard

The New Sega Game Gear Mainboard

At the back end of 2021, I was lucky enough to have a care package from a friend who lives in the Netherlands. Mathijs has helped me in my journey with Game Gears and always offered help along the way.  The help offered isn’t specific to myself, in fact he’s very vocal in the Discord groups and helps some of the bigger names out there where he can; BennVenn and RetroSix to name a couple.  So what was in this package? A Sega Game Gear, only with a twist, this console was built from the ground up. All three PCB’s, including a new Sega Game Gear Mainboard. 

In this review I will just talk about the mainboard, the star of the show.

Sega Game Gear BennVenn

How and why did Mathijs design the new board?

Fortunately I have had a call with Mathijs where he walked me through the entire process.  I tell you now this is no easy task to do and I’m going to try and relay all the information and processes as best I can.

Process Outline

Prepping the original Mainboard

Sega Game Gears are notoriously difficult for many who mod them.  The main reason (besides many others) for this are the capacitors.  Although these are fairly easy to replace for even a new modder (see my guide here), these capacitors after a few years start to leak.  The leaking capacitors release electrolytes that would then cause the capacitor to work and in the worst cases would erode the mainboard.  I myself have come across multiple mainboards that have not seen the best of days.  This along with leaving batteries to leak acid in the Game Gear for years whilst it’s in the loft can render the mainboards useless.

Mathijs was no stranger to damaged boards. He completely stripped a damaged original 1 ASIC main board, removing every component and cleaning off all the solder.  He did this manually for the components using hot-air, a hotplate and a good old soldering iron.  To remove the remaining solder he then used an oven. 

Once the board was clean of all the components and solder he used an ultrasonic cleaner to rid the board of any left over flux, dirt and grime.

Sega Game Gear Mainboard Close up

Creating a digital copy

With the board now clean, using a Canon LIDE CIS scanner at a resolution of 600DPI Mathijs made a scan of it. He took the image and then pulled it in to photoshop where he made improvements to the picture, altering the contrast, brightness, colour levels and straightening it until he reached his desired outcome (pictured below).

If you look closely at the picture you can see some of the damaged traces and the corrosion that has happened.

Sega Game Gear Mainboard

Retracing the original

Sega Game gear Mainboard Close up

With an image that now resembled the original, Mathijs was able to get to work on tracing the entire image.  You will see from these images he is using a tool called Abacom Sprint-Layout.  This tool enabled Mathijs to be able to trace meticulously every single detail of the board.

Starting with the big pads to find the “grid”, Once the grid is known you usually know the trace width, pad sizes etc – this is all based on the grid.  SEGA mixed a grid of 0.2mm and 0.175mm, which made it hard to retrace it. Based on this he would try to reverse engineer the design rules Sega made back in the day. You need to have this right or else you keep re-doing things.

Completing the copy and Validation

The completed copy included retraces made for:

  • Outline of the board
  • SMD pads and component silkscreen
  • Traces
  • Polygons
  • Silkscreen
 
With all of this Mathijs needed a complete component list which he validated using validation and design rule check (DRC) on the software he was using.
 
Below you can see the original amount of copper used for the traces and the ground plane highlighted in blue.  A good ground plane is important to have on a board as it reduces the noise. 
Printscree of Sega Game Gear Mainboard by SYF
This is the Original Game Gear Mainboard showing the copper in Blue

Building a new version

With the final digital copy of the original mainboard and his knowledge of installing and modding screens, he was able to start removing all the components he knew he did not need.  Also because he had the digital version, he was able to trace back through the board and remove all traces as well as other components.  This left him then with all of the essential traces and components that are needed to run the Game Gear without the old screen and a new one installed.  This left him a lot of room on the board to play with.

Checking components and Improving the Design

Sega Game Gear Mainboard

Checking against the component list (made earlier on in the process), new components were sourced and upgraded where possible and with the newest and most reliable parts he could source.

With this, the board was then redesigned to allow for a more efficient use of the space so things could fit a bit better and to help stop the noise on the board.

As mentioned earlier a good copper ground is important.  Vast improvements where made in this area as well.  

Adding new circuits

With the board all working now, Mathijs was able to introduce the pads specifically designed for the new aftermarket screens (See my review of BennVenn here).  The current compatible units:

  • BennVenn IPS
  • Retro six Clean Screan
  • McWill LCD
  • FunnyPlaying (Chinese Clone)

 

Mathijs has also included new circuits like the BennVen resistor Mod and 2 player pads on his latest version, with development for more new features in the pipeline.

SYF Sega Game Gear LCD install points
img_3081-1

The Final Product

The final product is little short of amazing!  I have seen many mods in the past but never a complete redesign of old hardware.  Below shows just how different the new board is.  Mathijs has made numerous changes and here’s what he has done:

  • Significantly improved the ground plane.  All of the light blue represents just how much copper is now on the board (I’m told the reverse side is pretty much all copper now).  There is a weight difference as a result and if you were to hold the old and the new side by side, you would be able to feel the difference.
  • Added solder points for the easy solder of a new aftermarket LCD Screen
  • Added Solder points for 2 player options
  • Removed an estimated 90 components 
 
New Sega Game Gear Mainboard copper

There are just a few Components that could not be replaced. This means that they need donor boards to remove the needed parts to transfer.  Again I know he is looking for manufactures that can help/support with the these parts: 

  • The game cartridge slot
  • The 1 ASIC chip
  • The multiplayer port
SYF Sega Game Gear Motherboard

Are there instructions on Assembling the Sega Game Gear Mainboard

I haven’t had the experience of installing the boards as I had a prototype board sent, however Mathijs has provided instructions for installation the form of Video. 

Where can I order a new Mainboard?

Currently Mathijs does not have a dedicated website but this shouldn’t put you off.  You can order from Ebay where he has a shop and offers worldwide delivery. You are able to order these boards with all parts except those needed from the original (listed above) so you will need to know how to remove the parts that are needed to make this project (as well as then install them).

What's Next?

As far as I understand this there are many many ideas in the pipeline, adding new features to future revisions.  Whenever a new board is released I’ll be sure to update here.  One thing we do know is that he is working on a 2 ASIC version.  Mathijs also has Sound Boards and Power Boards available.  Sound boards can be found here.

Final Thoughts

SYF – NEW SEGA GAME GEAR MAINBOARD BUILT BY MATHIJS NILWIK
Overall
3.9
  • Design
  • Ease of install
  • Build Quality
  • Availability

Summary

I have to say, the work that has gone in to build this really shows.  It looks and feels premium.  Imagine if Apple built a Game Gear. I have a few of my own Game Gears which I have modded and this performs better than all of those due to the design, new technology and highly efficient sourced parts.  If like me, you have at least one board that you haven’t been able to bring back to life, this would be your best option.  Personally, I am excited to have a few of these things stocked in my store for those who want something special.

Currently, installing would require a more advanced/experienced modder, however, Mathijs has plans to make this easier with the release of more versions.

Although this is hard to find, Mathijs is working on having a shopfront, also I think he may be ramping up production due to the fact he has a pick and place assembler.  Future sales will come as a bundle with Audio and Power boards as well.

Pros

  • Giving old boards that don’t work new life
  • Superb build quality
  • Excellent product support through Discords
  • Improved battery performance
  • Compatible with Majority of LCD/IPS upgrades

Cons

  • currently a one ASIC version only
  • Tricky install for inexperienced modders

If you would like to order a similar design shell to the one I built for this build please contact me here Contact – Retro Gear Customs

 

More images of the SYF Game Gear Mainboard

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