Beginners Guide To SNK Neo Geo MVS

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A guide to NeoGeo MVS motherboards and running them in your candy cabinet.

An arcadeotaku.com FAQ by kernow

The NeoGeo 'faces' logo

Introduction

This guide is aimed at a newcomer to the NeoGeo MVS system, its goal is to inform you about the different NeoGeo MVS motherboards available, a little bit of information about the system itself and the various points you need to take into account when running such a board in your Japanese candy cabinet.

NeoGeo is a system released in 1990 by SNK (Shin Nihon Kokaku) which is Japanese for 'New Japan Project' - they produced a few single board games before the MVS system, such as Ikari Warriors and Athena. Since this guide is centered around the MVS system I won't go too much into their history, to be honest I've never played any of their pre-NeoGeo games anyway so someone more informed will be better to write about that period.

The MVS (Multi Video System) was designed so that an arcade operator could fit up to 6 arcade games into one single arcade cabinet, and the player could switch between them at will. It allowed for arcade operators to have a lot more games running in fewer cabs than they would normally require with separate single game PCBs. The MVS was a cheaper system to run as you only had to buy the cartridge, obviously it was still expensive compared to home console software but you would usually get your revenue back quickly.

MVS was a hit with arcade operators as the game software came on seperate cartridges and a motherboard you plugged them into. A variety of MVS motherboards were manufactured during its lifespan (roughly 1990 - 2004). Around 150 games were created by the system, firstly by SNK at launch, and then various other software developers jumped on, such as Visco, Nazca (ex Irem staff responsible for the first Metal Slug game), Hudson Soft, Taito, amongst others.

It was a good way to get your game software noticed, probably cheaper to develop for than designing your own complex custom PCB hardware to run your game, and considerably powerful. There were a lot of advantages for developing for the MVS hardware at the time.

Highlights of the MVS software library include the first Puzzle Bobble, always a hit with the female gamers, Metal Slug series, the King of Fighters series, Samurai Shodown, Last Blade, Pulstar, Blazing Star, as well as many other quality lesser known titles. The hardware is affordable compared to other arcade hardware with motherboards ranging from £30 to £100, software ranging from £10 to £200, and the system is a good gateway for a beginner to get into arcade hardware gaming and collecting.

MVS System Information

Now the introduction has filled you in, lets get down to talking about the different types of motherboard you can purchase, which to go for, and which to possibly avoid.

The MVS system comes in a wide variety of motherboards, there are: (needs amendment)

  • 1 slot motherboards: MV1, MV1F, MV-1A, MV-1AX, MV-1B, MV-1C, MV-1FZ (MV-1H?)
  • 2 slot motherboards: MV2F, MV2FT (smaller version?) (maybe others)
  • 4 slot motherboards: MV4F, MV4H, MV4FT, MV4FS (various versions)
  • 6 slot motherboards: MV6F (others?)

MVS software is region free and JP/English carts will work on any motherboard. The BIOS determines the games region.

Generally, it is not wise to purchase a 6 slot motherboard as they can be very unreliable due to the amount of cartridge slots, and the motherboard drawing more current than any other version. It can take a while to get all 6 games working due to the age of the hardware and how clean your motherboard slots and game software carts are. If you purchased a dedicated NeoGeo cabinet and it is fitted with a 6 slot motherboard already, then don't worry and just try to keep the system clean. I will cover maintaining and cleaning of your motherboard in a later section.

Generally if you want a compact MVS motherboard for your cab you want to be aiming for a 1 slot, if you wish to have multi-cart functionality go for a 2 or 4 slot (obviously). One caveat with the 2/4/6 boards is that that are *not* a plain JAMMA pinout. I will address this later and how it affects operating one in your JAMMA candy cab.

Regarding purchasing a one slot, The MV1 and MV1F are the only two one slot boards which has a stereo output by default, other 1 slots can be modded for this function, but if you want it from the get go, these are the two to go for, the only problem with the MV1 is that some of the newer games such as Rage of the Dragons have a bug which will cause them to constantly reset on the MV1 motherboard. I am not sure if the Universe BIOS fixes this problem.

Generally if you are going for a 1 slot it is usually the norm to go for one with a socketed BIOS fitted, this would be the MV-1A, MV-1FZ boards, most other 1 slot's have a hard soldered BIOS, this makes it very difficult without modification to replace the BIOS ROM.

If you do not care about fitting a different BIOS such as the Universe BIOS (see below where I discuss this more), then by all means go for a different board such as the MV-1B which is tiny (just bigger than an MVS cart). The MV-1C which is the only vertical loading one slot manufactured and their last MVS board made, or the MV-1AX which is near identical to the MV-1A and MV-1FZ apart from the fact it has a soldered BIOS ROM.

MVS Motherboard Manual downloads

MV-1 Manual (Partial)

MV-1A Manual

MV-1F Manual

MV-1FZ Manual

MV-1B Manual

MV-1C Manual

MV-2F Manual

MV-2F & MV-4F Manual

MV-6F Manual

Universe BIOS & compatible MVS boards

Later in the MVS systems life, a talented coder named Razoola created the Universe BIOS. This is a replacement BIOS ROM chip for the NEOGEO MVS hardware, it is easily fitted in under 5 minutes to an MVS board with a socketed BIOS. All 2/4/6 slot motherboards have a BIOS socket so the BIOS is easily replaceable. With the 1 slots, some have a soldered BIOS and this means a Universe BIOS can not easily be fitted without first soldering in a socket, this is quite difficult unless you have a decent amount of soldering skill, personally I'd avoid doing this and go for a one slot motherboard that already has a BIOS socket. I have discussed which one slot models have this in the section above.

The Universe BIOS is a great addition to an MVS system. It allows you to switch the system between MVS and AES mode, the AES being the expensive home console version of the same hardware. This gives you access to training modes and options screens contained on the cart that you wouldn't normally see on a closed-off arcade cabinet. For example on fighting games it gives you a proper 2 player versus mode so you can choose your characters each round, instead of the 'winner stays on' you have if playing on a default MVS system.

The Universe BIOS also offers an in-game cheat menu and several preprogrammed cheats you can apply to make the game easier, unlock secret characters in fighting games, reset the system without needing to switch it off, etc. It also offers a better test menu with tweaked features, a secret menu acessable by holding the ABC buttons when you first switch the machine on where you can change the region of the machine from Japanese/US/Euro, as well as many other features including a jukebox so you can play your favourite tunes on the cartridge.

I've rattled on about its features enough, and to be honest there is a better explaination on the official site.

Universe BIOS homepage

It is a well priced addition to the MVS system and also simple to fit, if you have an MVS board you'll probably want one.

Unless you're a complete purist who prefers everything to be original, thats fine too!

Prices for MVS hardware

A 1 slot motherboard such as the MV-1A or MV-1FZ in decent, working condition should cost you no more than £40, usually including UK postage. Any more than that and you are overpaying. A 2 slot can be from £40-£65 depending on how lucky you are. A 4 slot £50-£100, and a six slot in the £60-100 region. Boards to avoid would possibly be the MV-1 due to its problems with some of the newer carts such as Rage of the Dragons, but its benefit is that its one of the only two 1 slot boards to feature a dedicated stereo out feature.

I would personally avoid all 6 slot motherboards but thats just me, they are huge, cumbersome, and due to the amount of slots you're going to have more problems with dirty carts, poor insertion of carts, and keeping it clean. It is not advisable to purchase a 6 slot as your first MVS motherboard.

Maintenance & Cleaning

MVS carts like to be clean and so do the motherboard slots. I recommend electrical contact cleaner and cotton buds, and compressed air, its not rocket science and similar to keeping any cartridge based system clean. I hear isopropyl alcohol works well too as it evapourates quickly.

A pencil eraser is also useful for keeping the cartridge contacts clean just by giving it a rub over them. MVS carts are usually quite hardy and if they are glitching its usually not inserted correctly, or needs a clean. If you've performed these procedures and you're sure its and the system are clean, it could be down to a fault in the cartridge such as a cold/dry solder joint on one of the ROMs, or it could possibly be a badly made bootleg that has failed somehow due to its EPROMS being erased accidentally.

If you find you can't get a selection of games to work in your four slot for example, try putting the larger size carts in the first slots and the smaller, earlier released carts in the later slots. Usually an MVS board will skip the earlier carts if they are first, and go for the higher, later carts instead (in most cases).

MVS Bootleg cartridges

I could talk forever about how to identify a bootleg so I'll try and summarise this lightly. Basically NeoGeo was very popular in arcades in the 90's due to its multi-cart design and ease of use for arcade operators, this lead to a large amount of bootlegging which unfortunately SNK lost the war against - despite putting up a good fight. Due to the hardware lasting commercially for 14 years and basically being old technology it was easy to bootleg in the end despite various new encryption methods and even single board MVS PCBs that SNK manufactured for certain high profile games in the later days of its life.

They eventually moved to the Atomiswave because of this, and now develop for a lot of different hardware. The MVS format unfortunately died in 2004 or so with its last official game 'Samurai Shodown 5 Special' being a fan service and final farewell to the hardware/software.

Enough of that anyway, lets talk about how to suspect a bootleg. Some methods are better than others but all add up to being a good indicator, unfortunately if you are new to MVS you will lack the experience some owners have to quickly identify if the cart you own or are thinking of buying is a bootleg or not. I am sorry to say this skill will only come over time and having more knowledge of the software and its cartridge releases.

  • The label - if you think the label looks dodgy it might have been replaced, there are various sites where you can compare the label with original MVS cart labels. It might still be an original cart with a replaced label as this frequently happens.
  • The case - once again with enough information and looking at other carts on website (www.neo-geo.com has pictures of MVS kits to compare against). If the case is the wrong colour to official releases it might have been changed for a legitimate reason and the circuit boards inside might *still* be original, so the cart wouldn't technically be a bootleg. However it is another factor to look out for.
  • If you have the cart on hand or have pictures of the circuit boards inside, you will be able to check the quality of the soldering of the ROM chips is factory quality, or some dodgy soldering thats been done by hand. Usually on a bootleg you'll be able to spot the bad soldering straight away, factory soldering is very precise and the solder points are very tiny. Hand soldering is usually messier and the solder points are a lot bigger, there might be excess flux still left on the boards too.
  • The ROM chips on the board will usually be Toshiba manufactured and will have an 'NGH number' which matches the PCB NGH number, it is a number referring to the release of the game software, these are incremental but have large gaps in places such as where prototypes were made but never released. Neogeo.com maintains a master list of NGH numbers which you can find here: NeoGeo.com master list
  • Windowed EPROMs. These are ROM chips that can be erased with UV light and reprogrammed with new data. A bootleg is likely to have a few of these and they are easily identifiable by a sticker or bare window where the UV light would be applied. The main point being certain *official* MVS carts also used EPROM's as last minute code fixes or patches to the game software, however this would only be 1 or 2 EPROMs at most. If you open a cart and near every ROM chip in there is an EPROM - it is very likely your cart is a bootleg.

A site devoted to having scans of original labels and PCB's can be found over at mvs-scans.

Note these are only a few pointers to help identify if you have a bootleg cartridge or not, it is certainly not an exhaustive list and there are probably far more ways to identify a bootleg. A mini-FAQ is being built up at Neogeo.com which can be found here: NeoGeo.com Bootleg FAQ

There is also a whole forum section dedicated to finding out if your cart is a bootleg which can be found here: NeoGeo.com 'Boot or no Boot' section

If you have ticks in most or all of these factors, well its probably the case that your cart is indeed a bootleg, I'd personally avoid them but if you get it cheap enough and it works 100% fine, its up to you if you're happy with it or not at the end of the day really. :)

Running MVS in your JAMMA cabinet

1 slot MVS motherboards are JAMMA standard and can usually be run in a standard JAMMA cab with four buttons wired to the harness and mono sound output. Apart from two MVS one slots that have a mono/stereo switch, they are all mono by default. 2/4/6 slot motherboards are 'MVS' pinout (although its rumoured a JAMMA 2 slot has been seen), and have a slightly different pinout to plain JAMMA as they all have stereo output. They also require a 'SELECT' button in order to change the currently playing game title.

The differences between the JAMMA and MVS pinouts can be found here: JAMMA Vs MVS pinout

If you plug an MVS pinout 4 slot motherboard into your standard JAMMA cab, you will probably find that the sound is all messed up, this is because its only playing one channel as the cab isn't wired to have stereo output from the JAMMA edge connector.

Dedicated SNK MVS candy cabinets do exist and these are MVS pinout so you can actually plug the multi slot motherboard straight in without any worries. It'll be stereo and select functionality will be working from the get go, as long as it has a button wired up.

To get around running an MVS pinout motherboard in your plain JAMMA cabinet, you need to purchase an MVS to JAMMA adapter. These can be found at various arcade part shops online, such as here

The MVS to JAMMA adapter card

(Note: you can also get a JAMMA to MVS cab adapter here too, for adapting an MVS pinout cabinet to plain JAMMA, make sure you get the right one. You'll probably be wanting the MVS to JAMMA, not the other way around!!)

This adapter board bridges the stereo left and right outputs from the MVS pinout motherboard, to a single mono output. It remaps the different pins on the MVS connection, back to a normal JAMMA pinout, and adds a header where you can connect up a D and Select button from the adapter, instead of not having it on the JAMMA edge. This is pretty simple to do as its just wiring up a couple of wires to the header and to a button. This will also leave your candy cab as plain JAMMA so you can use it for other boards with no problems.

The adapter also has jumpers to select wether you want to bridge the stereo connections into mono, or you can run seperate stereo wires from the header on the adapter itself instead. This way you can have stereo but depending on your cabinet you'll need to work out how to wire up these wires from the header to the speakers in a stereo configuration yourself.

Once D and Select are wired up you'll be able to press Select to switch between whatever games are in your system and it should operate fine in your standard JAMMA cabinet.

Running JAMMA in your MVS cabinet

JAMMA boards require an adapter to run in an MVS cabinet. The MVS cabinet is wired for stereo audio and the differences in the cabling causes damage to the audio amplifier IC chip on the JAMMA board.

The damage is usually not immediate but will occur if the board is run for a long while. The difference in wiring results in the audio amplifier IC chip getting hot enough to blister fingers and fail.

To avoid this, use a JAMMA to MVS adapter such as this which takes care of the audio wiring, test button, and other wiring differences between the JAMMA and MVS wiring.

Helpful Links

Pictures of original MVS cart labels and internal PCB's

Loopy Eddie's MVS Bootleg FAQ

HardMVS - The original NEOGEO MVS information site

HardMVS FAQ - Good for the newcomer to MVS hardware

HardMVS PCB Guide - Useful pictures and specifics on most MVS boards

The Universe BIOS

Future amendments

More information about motherboards, get verification if any others exist.

Cleanups/edits/additions

note page maintainer: mv4fs dimensions are 38,5x28x8(cm) including what looks like original PCB feet

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