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Difficulty Level: Intermediate

Medium: 60% - 1 votes

Nintendo 64 Memory Card FRAM Non-Volatile Memory mod

Nintendo 64 Memory Card FRAM Non-Volatile Memory mod

When Nintendo released the N64, they also released memory card with it. Any kid that grew up renting or borrowing video game during the 80's and 90's will tell you how awesome that invention was. Until the Playstation and the Nintendo 64, your precious saved game were stored on the cart's SRAM, which is fine if you own the cart but would be a problem if you were borrowing it or renting it. I remember renting RPG for the weekend, returning it and then waiting anxiously all week until I could re-rent the game and check if someone had deleted my game. So being able to keep your games save separatly was very practical in those situation. The only problem is that contrary to Sony and their Playstation memory card, Nintendo decided to go with a battery backed SRAM system. It is basicly what they had always used in their video game carts during the NES and SNES era. The only problem is the battery die, so will your precious save files. This wasn't a huge concern when the console was released in 1996 but fast forward almost 20 years and you'll find that the battery are now dying and your incredible Pokemon Snap pictures are all runing the risk of being erased from history. The normal course of action in that situation would be to replace the battery with a fresh one (and cry over the loss of your priceless Snorlax pictures). Or, we could make our memory card super awesome by replacing the SRAM with non-volatile FRAM. FRAM function in a similar way as SRAM with the difference that they do not require any battery or power source to retain their content. I had the idea when I stumbled unto some forum post describing the use of FRAM for N64 memory pak but I couldn't find much info about the type of chips used or the replacement process in those crazy 100+ pages forum threads. Also, all the pictures I could find were pretty low resolution and I couldn't make up the writing on the IC so I set out to do it on my own. All I knew is that Ramtron seemed to be the only producer of FRAM so I went from there. The first order of business was to find a suitable replacement for the SRAM used in N64 memory pak. To figure that out we need to open the memory card to verify what kind of SRAM chip it is using. You'll need a security bit for nintendo proprietary screw. You can find them cheap on ebay. As we can see, it use a LH52256 which is a 256kbit SRAM chip. They sometime use other kind but they are all pin-compatible and it shouldn't be an issue. A quick search on FRAM type tell us that we should be able to replace it with FM18W08 or FM28V020. Looking at their respective datasheet, we know that both are 256kbit and pin compatible with regular SRAM chip and even intended to be used in place of SRAM which should make this replacement very straightforward. They are basicaly the same except for their operating voltage. The FM18W08 can be fed 2.7v up to 5.5v while the FM28V020 use a lower voltage of 2v to 3.6v. What it mean is that both of them would be suitable for being installed in a N64 Memory card as the Nintendo 64 memory card port provide a voltage of 3.6v to the Memory Pak. Since they are pin-compatible with the SRAM used by Nintendo, all we have to do is de-solder the SRAM IC and solder our FRAM chip in it's place. Now, FRAM chip are much more expensive than regular SRAM IC. One FRAM memory chip will run anywhere you between 7 to 12$ in single quantity. I think we can agree that it is well worth it to have an eternal memory card! Well, maybe not eternal but the company is guaranteeing 60 years of data retention. Once you have everything, open up your memory card and desolder the old battery, we won't be needing it. Don't do it on a memory card with important saves on it as they will be all erased once the battery get disconnected. You could use an Everdrive 64 to backup your memory card before doing the mod. Once you have removed the battery, you need to de-solder the old SRAM chip. This will be the trickiest part of the mod for those with limited experience working with surface mount component. The best method would be to use hot air soldering iron but if you do not have one you can substitute it for a regular hot air gun found in any tool shop/hardware store. You got to be very careful though if you plan on using a hot air gun as they have much higher temperature than the melting point of solder and it woudl eb easy to damage the board. The trick is to keep a safe distance between the component and the nozzle of the gun and always move the gun in circle over the PCB to spread the heat as evenly as possible to avoid overheating the board. Putting some heat resistant tape (Kapton) over the tiny SMD component would also be adviseable as they easily get blown off by hot air. Another potential way of removing the old chip would be to carefully cut each leg with a precision blade and de-solder the pin one by one after. It you have never worked with SMD component before this would be the method I advise using. While it would be destroy the old SRAM chip, you would have less chance of making a mistake de-soldering it. I personnaly always try to salvage the part that I remove to re-use in futures projects but if you can't help it it is better than to destroy the circuit board.  Once you managed to removed the old SRAM chip, clean the old solder from the pads using de-soldering wick, position your FRAM chip while paying attention to the orientation of the chip (check the silkscreen on the PCB) and solder it in place. Verify your solder job to be sure that there is no solder bridge and such and you'll be ready to test your new awesome memory card. Now, Nintendo were pretty stupid as they did not include any way to manage memory card on the Nintendo 64. Fortunatly, some developer decided to remedy this ommission by including their own memory card manager software in their games. They were usualy accessible on game that were supporting the memory pak by booting the cart while holding the Start or A button(manual would list this). I used Perfect Dark to make sure my new FRAM memory pak was working nut many other game cart can be used like Mario Kart 64, Daikatana (Finaly a reason to own this game Xp) or Diddy Kong Racing. Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing's built -in memory card manager are the best in my opinion because they actually let you see the other game file stored on the controller pak and not just their own datalike with Perfect Dark for example. If you are using Perfect Dark, boot the game holding the Start button and you'll see that the game will display ''Accessing Memory Pak'' at the bottom of the screen. If you did not insert your new modified memory card yet, do it now. The game's memory card manager will complaint that the memory card is corrupted and will ask you if you want to repair it. Say yes.  If you soldered your FRAM properly, it should then tell you that the card was repaired and you should be all set. Test it by saving a game to it, disconnecting the memory card for about 30 second and then re-inserting it. Is your game file still there? If not, you might need to fix your solder job. Go back and make sure that all the pin soldered properly and that there is no solder bridge or solder ball anywhere. If your game is still there, congratulation, you succeded in replacing the SRAM module and you memory pak should never lose it's saved ever again! Archeologist/extra-terrestrial lifeform of the future will be thrilled to find your Super Smash Bros. game save intact! Well, maybe I'm exagerating a bit as this type of FRAM memory chip is guaranteed to hold it's data for at least 38 years but by that time it'll be your kids problem to figure out a way to have your gaming prowess live on for the next millenium Xp If you are like me and try to salvage old components to re-use them, you can also remove the watchdog IC. This little chip is responsible of detecting wether or not the memory pak is being powered by the console and if not, will quickly redirect the IC power source to the battery so that it retain it's content when your console is not turned on. Those chip could be convenient to havefor future project. Bt you'll need to add a jumper wire as simply removing the chip will cut the power going to the FRAM chip. I have yet to take a look at what need to be rewired if that IC is disconnected but I will update this article with pictures and information once I am done.Twitter (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_GB/all.js#xfbml=1"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));{lang: 'en-GB'}
When Nintendo released the N64, they also released memory card with it. Any kid that grew up renting or borrowing video game during the 80's and 90's will tell you how awesome that invention was. Until the Playstation and the Nintendo 64, your precious saved game were stored on the cart's SRAM, which is fine if you own the cart but would be a problem if you were borrowing it or renting it. I remember renting RPG for the weekend, returning it and then waiting anxiously all week until I could re-rent the game and check if someone had deleted my game. So being able to keep your games save separatly was very practical in those situation. The only problem is that contrary to Sony and their Playstation memory card, Nintendo decided to go with a battery backed SRAM system. It is basicly what they had always used in their video game carts during the NES and SNES era. The only problem is the battery die, so will your precious save files. This wasn't a huge concern when the console was released in 1996 but fast forward almost 20 years and you'll find that the battery are now dying and your incredible Pokemon Snap pictures are all runing the risk of being erased from history. The normal course of action in that situation would be to replace the battery with a fresh one (and cry over the loss of your priceless Snorlax pictures). Or, we could make our memory card super awesome by replacing the SRAM with non-volatile FRAM. FRAM function in a similar way as SRAM with the difference that they do not require any battery or power source to retain their content. I had the idea when I stumbled unto some forum post describing the use of FRAM for N64 memory pak but I couldn't find much info about the type of chips used or the replacement process in those crazy 100+ pages forum threads. Also, all the pictures I could find were pretty low resolution and I couldn't make up the writing on the IC so I set out to do it on my own. All I knew is that Ramtron seemed to be the only producer of FRAM so I went from there. The first order of business was to find a suitable replacement for the SRAM used in N64 memory pak. To figure that out we need to open the memory card to verify what kind of SRAM chip it is using. You'll need a security bit for nintendo proprietary screw. You can find them cheap on ebay. As we can see, it use a LH52256 which is a 256kbit SRAM chip. They sometime use other kind but they are all pin-compatible and it shouldn't be an issue. A quick search on FRAM type tell us that we should be able to replace it with FM18W08 or FM28V020. Looking at their respective datasheet, we know that both are 256kbit and pin compatible with regular SRAM chip and even intended to be used in place of SRAM which should make this replacement very straightforward. They are basicaly the same except for their operating voltage. The FM18W08 can be fed 2.7v up to 5.5v while the FM28V020 use a lower voltage of 2v to 3.6v. What it mean is that both of them would be suitable for being installed in a N64 Memory card as the Nintendo 64 memory card port provide a voltage of 3.6v to the Memory Pak. Since they are pin-compatible with the SRAM used by Nintendo, all we have to do is de-solder the SRAM IC and solder our FRAM chip in it's place. Now, FRAM chip are much more expensive than regular SRAM IC. One FRAM memory chip will run anywhere you between 7 to 12$ in single quantity. I think we can agree that it is well worth it to have an eternal memory card! Well, maybe not eternal but the company is guaranteeing 60 years of data retention. Once you have everything, open up your memory card and desolder the old battery, we won't be needing it. Don't do it on a memory card with important saves on it as they will be all erased once the battery get disconnected. You could use an Everdrive 64 to backup your memory card before doing the mod. Once you have removed the battery, you need to de-solder the old SRAM chip. This will be the trickiest part of the mod for those with limited experience working with surface mount component. The best method would be to use hot air soldering iron but if you do not have one you can substitute it for a regular hot air gun found in any tool shop/hardware store. You got to be very careful though if you plan on using a hot air gun as they have much higher temperature than the melting point of solder and it woudl eb easy to damage the board. The trick is to keep a safe distance between the component and the nozzle of the gun and always move the gun in circle over the PCB to spread the heat as evenly as possible to avoid overheating the board. Putting some heat resistant tape (Kapton) over the tiny SMD component would also be adviseable as they easily get blown off by hot air. Another potential way of removing the old chip would be to carefully cut each leg with a precision blade and de-solder the pin one by one after. It you have never worked with SMD component before this would be the method I advise using. While it would be destroy the old SRAM chip, you would have less chance of making a mistake de-soldering it. I personnaly always try to salvage the part that I remove to re-use in futures projects but if you can't help it it is better than to destroy the circuit board.  Once you managed to removed the old SRAM chip, clean the old solder from the pads using de-soldering wick, position your FRAM chip while paying attention to the orientation of the chip (check the silkscreen on the PCB) and solder it in place. Verify your solder job to be sure that there is no solder bridge and such and you'll be ready to test your new awesome memory card. Now, Nintendo were pretty stupid as they did not include any way to manage memory card on the Nintendo 64. Fortunatly, some developer decided to remedy this ommission by including their own memory card manager software in their games. They were usualy accessible on game that were supporting the memory pak by booting the cart while holding the Start or A button(manual would list this). I used Perfect Dark to make sure my new FRAM memory pak was working nut many other game cart can be used like Mario Kart 64, Daikatana (Finaly a reason to own this game Xp) or Diddy Kong Racing. Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing's built -in memory card manager are the best in my opinion because they actually let you see the other game file stored on the controller pak and not just their own datalike with Perfect Dark for example. If you are using Perfect Dark, boot the game holding the Start button and you'll see that the game will display ''Accessing Memory Pak'' at the bottom of the screen. If you did not insert your new modified memory card yet, do it now. The game's memory card manager will complaint that the memory card is corrupted and will ask you if you want to repair it. Say yes.  If you soldered your FRAM properly, it should then tell you that the card was repaired and you should be all set. Test it by saving a game to it, disconnecting the memory card for about 30 second and then re-inserting it. Is your game file still there? If not, you might need to fix your solder job. Go back and make sure that all the pin soldered properly and that there is no solder bridge or solder ball anywhere. If your game is still there, congratulation, you succeded in replacing the SRAM module and you memory pak should never lose it's saved ever again! Archeologist/extra-terrestrial lifeform of the future will be thrilled to find your Super Smash Bros. game save intact! Well, maybe I'm exagerating a bit as this type of FRAM memory chip is guaranteed to hold it's data for at least 38 years but by that time it'll be your kids problem to figure out a way to have your gaming prowess live on for the next millenium Xp If you are like me and try to salvage old components to re-use them, you can also remove the watchdog IC. This little chip is responsible of detecting wether or not the memory pak is being powered by the console and if not, will quickly redirect the IC power source to the battery so that it retain it's content when your console is not turned on. Those chip could be convenient to havefor future project. Bt you'll need to add a jumper wire as simply removing the chip will cut the power going to the FRAM chip. I have yet to take a look at what need to be rewired if that IC is disconnected but I will update this article with pictures and information once I am done.Twitter (function(d, s, id) { var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0]; if (d.getElementById(id)) {return;} js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id; js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_GB/all.js#xfbml=1"; fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs); }(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));{lang: 'en-GB'}
60 out of 100 with 1 ratings

When Nintendo released the N64, they also released memory card with it. Any kid that grew up renting or borrowing video game during the 80's and 90's will tell you how awesome that invention was. Until the Playstation and the Nintendo 64, your precious saved game were stored on the cart's SRAM, which is fine if you own the cart but would be a problem if you were borrowing it or renting it. I remember renting RPG for the weekend, returning it and then waiting anxiously all week until I could re-rent the game and check if someone had deleted my game. So being able to keep your games save separatly was very practical in those situation. The only problem is that contrary to Sony and their Playstation memory card, Nintendo decided to go with a battery backed SRAM system. It is basicly what they had always used in their video game carts during the NES and SNES era. The only problem is the battery die, so will your precious save files. This wasn't a huge concern when the console was released in 1996 but fast forward almost 20 years and you'll find that the battery are now dying and your incredible Pokemon Snap pictures are all runing the risk of being erased from history. The normal course of action in that situation would be to replace the battery with a fresh one (and cry over the loss of your priceless Snorlax pictures). Or, we could make our memory card super awesome by replacing the SRAM with non-volatile FRAM. FRAM function in a similar way as SRAM with the difference that they do not require any battery or power source to retain their content. I had the idea when I stumbled unto some forum post describing the use of FRAM for N64 memory pak but I couldn't find much info about the type of chips used or the replacement process in those crazy 100+ pages forum threads. Also, all the pictures I could find were pretty low resolution and I couldn't make up the writing on the IC so I set out to do it on my own. All I knew is that Ramtron seemed to be the only producer of FRAM so I went from there.

The first order of business was to find a suitable replacement for the SRAM used in N64 memory pak. To figure that out we need to open the memory card to verify what kind of SRAM chip it is using. You'll need a security bit for nintendo proprietary screw. You can find them cheap on ebay.

n64pakfrontn64pakback

As we can see, it use a LH52256 which is a 256kbit SRAM chip. They sometime use other kind but they are all pin-compatible and it shouldn't be an issue. A quick search on FRAM type tell us that we should be able to replace it with FM18W08 or FM28V020. Looking at their respective datasheet, we know that both are 256kbit and pin compatible with regular SRAM chip and even intended to be used in place of SRAM which should make this replacement very straightforward. They are basicaly the same except for their operating voltage. The FM18W08 can be fed 2.7v up to 5.5v while the FM28V020 use a lower voltage of 2v to 3.6v. What it mean is that both of them would be suitable for being installed in a N64 Memory card as the Nintendo 64 memory card port provide a voltage of 3.6v to the Memory Pak. Since they are pin-compatible with the SRAM used by Nintendo, all we have to do is de-solder the SRAM IC and solder our FRAM chip in it's place. Now, FRAM chip are much more expensive than regular SRAM IC. One FRAM memory chip will run anywhere you between 7 to 12$ in single quantity. I think we can agree that it is well worth it to have an eternal memory card! Well, maybe not eternal but the company is guaranteeing 60 years of data retention.

Once you have everything, open up your memory card and desolder the old battery, we won't be needing it. Don't do it on a memory card with important saves on it as they will be all erased once the battery get disconnected. You could use an Everdrive 64 to backup your memory card before doing the mod.

Once you have removed the battery, you need to de-solder the old SRAM chip. This will be the trickiest part of the mod for those with limited experience working with surface mount component. The best method would be to use hot air soldering iron but if you do not have one you can substitute it for a regular hot air gun found in any tool shop/hardware store. You got to be very careful though if you plan on using a hot air gun as they have much higher temperature than the melting point of solder and it woudl eb easy to damage the board. The trick is to keep a safe distance between the component and the nozzle of the gun and always move the gun in circle over the PCB to spread the heat as evenly as possible to avoid overheating the board. Putting some heat resistant tape (Kapton) over the tiny SMD component would also be adviseable as they easily get blown off by hot air. Another potential way of removing the old chip would be to carefully cut each leg with a precision blade and de-solder the pin one by one after. It you have never worked with SMD component before this would be the method I advise using. While it would be destroy the old SRAM chip, you would have less chance of making a mistake de-soldering it. I personnaly always try to salvage the part that I remove to re-use in futures projects but if you can't help it it is better than to destroy the circuit board. 

n64pakprep

Once you managed to removed the old SRAM chip, clean the old solder from the pads using de-soldering wick, position your FRAM chip while paying attention to the orientation of the chip (check the silkscreen on the PCB) and solder it in place. Verify your solder job to be sure that there is no solder bridge and such and you'll be ready to test your new awesome memory card.

n64pakfram

Now, Nintendo were pretty stupid as they did not include any way to manage memory card on the Nintendo 64. Fortunatly, some developer decided to remedy this ommission by including their own memory card manager software in their games. They were usualy accessible on game that were supporting the memory pak by booting the cart while holding the Start or A button(manual would list this). I used Perfect Dark to make sure my new FRAM memory pak was working nut many other game cart can be used like Mario Kart 64, Daikatana (Finaly a reason to own this game Xp) or Diddy Kong Racing. Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing's built -in memory card manager are the best in my opinion because they actually let you see the other game file stored on the controller pak and not just their own datalike with Perfect Dark for example. If you are using Perfect Dark, boot the game holding the Start button and you'll see that the game will display ''Accessing Memory Pak'' at the bottom of the screen. If you did not insert your new modified memory card yet, do it now.

The game's memory card manager will complaint that the memory card is corrupted and will ask you if you want to repair it. Say yes. 

n64pakcorrupt

If you soldered your FRAM properly, it should then tell you that the card was repaired and you should be all set.

n64pakrepaired

Test it by saving a game to it, disconnecting the memory card for about 30 second and then re-inserting it. Is your game file still there? If not, you might need to fix your solder job. Go back and make sure that all the pin soldered properly and that there is no solder bridge or solder ball anywhere. If your game is still there, congratulation, you succeded in replacing the SRAM module and you memory pak should never lose it's saved ever again! Archeologist/extra-terrestrial lifeform of the future will be thrilled to find your Super Smash Bros. game save intact! Well, maybe I'm exagerating a bit as this type of FRAM memory chip is guaranteed to hold it's data for at least 38 years but by that time it'll be your kids problem to figure out a way to have your gaming prowess live on for the next millenium Xp

If you are like me and try to salvage old components to re-use them, you can also remove the watchdog IC. This little chip is responsible of detecting wether or not the memory pak is being powered by the console and if not, will quickly redirect the IC power source to the battery so that it retain it's content when your console is not turned on. Those chip could be convenient to havefor future project. Bt you'll need to add a jumper wire as simply removing the chip will cut the power going to the FRAM chip. I have yet to take a look at what need to be rewired if that IC is disconnected but I will update this article with pictures and information once I am done.

Comments  
#11 dbwbp 2017-05-09 18:36
Quoting Nima Omid-Fard:
There is another modder who talks about adding a smoothing capacitor and 10 K Ohm resistor - would this make it more stable?

http://blog.qwertymodo.com/2012/10/non-volatile-n64-controller-pak.html?m=0


I would need to double check but I'm fairly certain there is already one on the PCB. Nintendo usually always put a decoupling capacitor for IC. To be honest though, I'm not sure how it could be more stable, it either work or it doesn't, I never had trouble using mine and I modded quite a few of those for people's.
Quote
#10 Nima Omid-Fard 2017-05-09 18:09
There is another modder who talks about adding a smoothing capacitor and 10 K Ohm resistor - would this make it more stable?

http://blog.qwertymodo.com/2012/10/non-volatile-n64-controller-pak.html?m=0
Quote
#9 dbwbp 2017-05-09 13:48
Quoting Nima Omid-Fard:
Hey man,

Thanks for the tutorial. Unfortunately the games fail to format the card.. I've used a multimeter to check all the connections and they are fine.

I got my Ramtron chip (Exact same as yours in pic) off Alibaba


That's too bad! I had a few doing that and couldn't get them to work after. The few I had who behaved like that never worked, some got fixed after reflowing but there's a few of them I could never get to work. My guess was that since I had ordered the chip from alibaba, I figured some of the FRAM chip might have been defective from the start.
Quote
#8 Nima Omid-Fard 2017-05-09 07:55
Well, it appears I got lucky through some trial and error. Reflowed solder and no luck, but then I tried to brute force repair in Army Men 2, many times while inserting and removing the controller pak, and eventually it repaired successfully after numerous fails! From there it was recognized in games.

Weird problem is that, despite saves being retained with power off >20 s, if I remove the controller pak and re-insert, the memory becomes corrupted. So I have to backup the .mpk file after each save, which kind of defeats the purpose but oh well. Maybe it is because the contacts are worn out? It's weird though that the simple act of removing the cart (with power off) and reinserting corrupts the memory.
Quote
#7 Nima Omid-Fard 2017-05-09 00:49
Hey man,

Thanks for the tutorial. Unfortunately the games fail to format the card.. I've used a multimeter to check all the connections and they are fine.

I got my Ramtron chip (Exact same as yours in pic) off Alibaba
Quote
#6 BLAHMASTER 2016-02-11 21:18
I checked my batteries a second time: one battery was good, one was bad. Oops. My original intention was to do the no battery mod for the rumble pak, but I didn't want to do the mod on a pak that had some other issue. Once I realized i just had a dead battery, I went ahead with the mod. The mod for a Nintendo brand rumble pak was simpler than the picture you provided, but thanks anyway! I now have no need for batteries on my memory card or rumble pak and I can play Flying Dragon to my hearts content. :)
Quote
#5 dbwbp 2016-02-11 16:03
Quoting BLAHMASTER:
Next project: figure out why my rumble pak doesn't rumble even with good batteries, a working motor, and a compatible game. Running out of ideas...


Maybe try to mod your rumble pak to bypass the battery and get it's power straight from the rumble pak connector? Here an example on how to do it: http://i.imgur.com/0kUaZ.jpg
Quote
#4 BLAHMASTER 2016-02-11 15:46
I successfully performed this mod! I used the same non-volatile chip in my Performance brand memory card and it works great! I have one of the single chip paks, not the switchable 4-card paks. Next project: figure out why my rumble pak doesn't rumble even with good batteries, a working motor, and a compatible game. Running out of ideas...
Quote
#3 dbwbp 2015-12-06 03:19
Quoting Paul:
i tried this and it didnt work. i tried to orient the FRAM chip both ways and it didnt work. i even tried both ways with the battery in and out. all 4 times, nada. the memory card worked before i swapped the chip

That is weird, I modded about 20 different controller pak using this technique. Every once in a while I end up with one or two that aren't working. Some get fixed by re-flowing the solder on the FRAM legs, while some other refuse to work so I am not sure if it's the FRAM chip that are defective or get expose to too much heat while soldering with hot air. You can always send me an e-mail so I can take a look at the picture of your mod.
Quote
#2 Paul 2015-12-05 15:28
i tried this and it didnt work. i tried to orient the FRAM chip both ways and it didnt work. i even tried both ways with the battery in and out. all 4 times, nada. the memory card worked before i swapped the chip
Quote
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