Author Topic: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)  (Read 7511 times)

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Offline shaunj66

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GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« on: June 03, 2005, 04:14:53 AM »
GBAtemp.net review of the NeoFlash 512Mb 3 in 1 Kit

Please click the following URL for the original version of this review in its original formatting and layout:
http://gbatemp.net/index.php?showtopic=25709

Introduction

Well, well... The NeoFlash.

Who would have thought we'd be seeing real Nintendo DS flash kits this early in the little DS's life? Certainly not me.

You can imagine the excitement in the community when the NeoFlash team announced the first retail Nintendo DS flash kit! The thought of being able to play all those great games so early... and then there's the fantastic homebrew opportunity, which was already underway with WiFi hacks, PassMe's and what not... But what a fantastic little device the DS is, to explore and tweak about with. Such potential!

But then, what happened? They offered me a free kit! Needless to say I didn't pass up the opportunity. Promising a review, I anticipated the arrival of our free kits. I thought we'd be waiting a while, but I was wrong. The kits arrived in under a week. The NeoFlash team must have been busy creating this little device!

WiFi hacks and PassMe's work so don't get me wrong! But it will just be so much easier to just use a proper DS flash kit, right? Right?... Guess we'll soon find out.

Fresh from China, I opened the package to reveal two NeoFlash kits. One for me and one for Costello, we'd both been in discussions with the NeoFlash team so we went 50/50 thanks to the more than generous NeoFlash team!

So, after ripping the package open, checking out the kit and trying it, after a couple of weeks; what do I think of the kit? Well, that's what I have been busy typing up. So read on.

Now that package has been ripped open, what have we here? The box promises a lot...

NeoFlash - Information and Promises

Magic Key technology, eh?



The back of the NeoFlash box promises a lot, and so has the NeoFlash team. Let's take a look!

128Mb - 4Gb sizes
Fair enough, but currently only the 512Mb and 1Gb versions are available. Hopefully they are indeed planning larger cart sizes, so let's move on. (Just a note that the version I'm reviewing is the 512Mb version which is clearly displayed on the front of the box.)
Mini High-Speed USB Loader
Wait a minute. Haven't we seen this before? Yep. It's a USB Slim Loader III - part of the XG2 flash kit already available. Fair enough though, there's no reason to complain here. If it works, it works I guess. Though it seems external flash linkers are a bit dated now, what with the EFA cart featuring direct USB to Cart writing. But at least they didn't rely on having to use a GBA to flash the cart with like some other flash kits, that would have been quite annoying for users only owning a DS (the DS obviously lacking the necessary ext. port.).
Build-in Battery Changeable System
Say what? Oh, you mean "built-in"?! Sirry Engrish speakers.
Here's quite a unique feature (if you ignore the XG2 that is!!). The cart features a replaceable battery compartment, so you can change the battery inside the flash cart when it's dead. Even though most batteries of this size should last a year or more at least, it's still a nice feature to have!
Directly support .txt/.html/.htm/.bmp/.dib/.gif/.jpg/.wmf/.emf/.ico/.cur/ NES / PC-E / GB / SEGA GG etc...
Wow! That's a lot of support (not sure why the heck anyone would want to view icons and cursors on their DS though!? And aren't HTM/HTML the same thing...)
Real Uncompressed High-Speed NOR Memory
Nice. I'm sure that will only be for 512Mb - 1Gb carts though, or the 1Gb+ carts will be very expensive otherwise.
Uncompressed memory is a nice thing to note though; some cheaper GBA flash carts cheekily use compression to store the data, meaning load times, slow-downs and other nasty side effects.

They promise a fair bit! We'll see how they deliver on these promises later in the review in the respective sections.

That's the back of the box out of the way. Let's take a more thorough look at the...

Packaging and Contents


Nice box. No fancy wooden boxes or anything, just cardboard. Makes sense! The package looks fairly professional too; looks like you could buy this from a high street shop. (And no... I'm not talking about China).

The box is tiny! Seeing photos on the net makes it hard to judge the size of something, so I was quite impressed to see everything crammed into such a small package. The whole box is about the same size as a closed Nintendo DS.

The artwork won't win any prizes. It looks like a quick Photoshop job... Nevermind... I wasn't expecting a Rembrandt.

The face of the box has a sticker with the respective cart size wrote on it; mine being a 512Mb version. Also, on the box is the "Designed for Windows XP..." logo and generic text. I didn't think that was particularly necessary on a product like this... anyway let's move on.

Let's open the box up...



What have we here?

- 1 x Magic Key
- 1 x 512Mb GBA Flash Cart
- 1 x USB Slim Loader III
- 1 x USB Cable
- 3 x 3v Batteries
- 1 x Sticker

The Magic Key, Flash cart and Slim Loader will be covered in more detail later in this review.

The USB cable is actually just a USB extension cable as the USB linker (Slim Loader III) has a USB socket directly on it. The USB extension cable is approximately 100cm long.
Everything is packaged nice and neatly, and most items are inside sealed plastic bags.

The batteries are a set of 3x "3V CR1632" lithium cell batteries. The cart doesn't have a battery pre-inserted so you need to use one of these batteries in the cart, leaving you with 2 spare batteries. Well done to the NeoFlash team for providing spare batteries, it seems quite thoughtful and saves you having to hunt down the right battery type if the first battery runs dry. 1 up!

The sticker is the same sticker that appears on the Magic Key. It's the same shape as a regular DS card sticker, so if you are planning to purchase a spare original DS card for use only with the Magic Key, you could replace the sticker on the card with this one for aesthetic value...

There was no CD included in my NeoFlash kit, though this isn't a problem as the NeoFlash team already told everyone to discard the drivers/software on the CD and download an updated version from their website. I wouldn't blame them for not putting CDs in the kits in the future, it's just a waste as the drivers and software will be updated so frequently.

The Magic Key

So what is the Magic Key you say? If you're into the DS development scene already, I can tell you that it's simply a manufactured PassMe (much prettier though). But... if you're new to the DS scene, then put simply; it's a device that plugs into your DS's DS card slot (slot 1) that is the key (no pun intended) to running all the homebrew and flashed DS software you want.

The Magic Key consists of a "fake" DS card on the bottom, the part that obviously slots into your DS. The top part is a bulk with another DS card slot, where you will place an original DS card (more on that in a bit). The top bulk of the Magic Key is slightly off centre, which I assume is to stop the bulk from covering the DS ext. port.



Another thing I noticed that was missing that really should have been included is an instruction manual or quick start guide of some kind. Maybe this is only absent from kits that have been sent to developers... if not, it would seem quite careless not to include some sort of instruction sheet in the retail package.

There is a small light blue LED on the Magic Key, facing away from the back of your DS when it's inserted. It's quite a bright LED, so fortunately it doesn't stay lit as it would be quite distracting when using your DS in the dark. The LED flashes whenever the original DS card is being accessed, which is quite infrequent (normally just during boot up and loading of software from the flash cart).
Quite a nice feature, even though it is a bit unnecessary - I like it.

So, really, what the heck does this Magic Key do? Well, to put it simply; under normal circumstances (without a Magic Key inserted), when your DS boots up it reads the DS card that is inserted and looks for software to run, it also checks the cards encryption, and if all is OK then it starts running the code. This is where the Magic Key comes in! With a Magic Key inserted, that initial boot up is intercepted by the Magic Key, it allows the DS to check for authentication of a legit DS card in the Magic Key, then, when the DS has done that - it forces the DS to load data from the GBA slot instead of the DS slot. This will now allow you to run any code you've flashed to a suitable GBA flash cart on your DS!

And that's that! That is all the Magic Key is used for, but it is the most crucial part to running code on your DS.



The Magic Key is made out of a nice plastic; it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy. The plastic and texture is bumpier and has a different feel to it than a regular DS cart. The pins are almost identical though. They copied the DS cards quite well!

The top bulk sports nothing but the blue LED in the bottom left corner, and a DS cart slot on the top at the back.

The DS slot on the Magic Key is quite different to the DS slot on a DS. First of all it isn't as deep. The original card doesn't insert all the way into the device, it only inserts just past the contacts on a DS card. The pins inside the Magic Key's DS slot are raised, so when a card is inserted the pins push down against the cards contacts to hold the card in place. And it does so quite securely. The DS card when inserted feels quite secure and solid, and won't come out unless pulled with force.

The Magic Key locks into place in the DS just like a regular DS card, it feels a tad clunkier, but inserting and removing it is no more different than a regular DS card. And a good thing to note is that when you're DS is opened up, you don't notice the bulky Magic Key in the back, as the upper screen completely hides it.



512Mb GBA Flash Cart

Eh? GBA flash cart? Yes. So the NeoFlash kit isn't technically an NDS flash card? Correct. Why? Why not?

GBA flash carts are already so widely available, and are able to be used in this manner and are cheaper to produce and thus, cheaper to the end customer. Plus, DS cards are so tiny, it would take a lot of effort to cram all the necessary chips them and the cost of chips small enough would probably be quite high. In all, using GBA carts for now just makes sense.



The NeoFlash kits are currently available in sizes of 512Mb and 1Gb (note - that's Megabit (Mb) not Megabyte (MB).) When it comes down to it, this is just a standard GBA flash cart. Which it is! The flash cart provided with the NeoFlash is actually just a re-branded XG2 cart, same as the linker provided. But it's not surprising; both kits were developed by the same team and manufacturer after all.

NeoFlash aside, the GBA Flash cart is just a standard GBA flash cart; there are no unique features that I'm aware of (besides the battery system). If you want to read into more detail about the flash cart, I suggest you look for reviews of the "XG2 2005" flash kit.

The removable battery system is nice though, I haven't seen it on any other GBA flash carts. The flash cart has a small removable compartment that the battery is placed in and inserted into top right corner of the cart. The battery compartment is quite clunky and it took me a flathead screwdriver to remove it (ironic, being that a screwdriver is all that would be needed to open and replace the battery in any other cart!!). Though in a way, the compartment won't need to be removed for a long time (if ever) so having it take a bit of effort to remove, instead of it falling out accidentally, I don't see that as a particularly bad thing.



The cart has quite a nice design. It's the same size as a normal GBA game pak, and has the same design. The casing is of a transparent smoky black colour and the PCB is a funky purple. The label is nice and shiny, and states the size of the cart on it. It sure stands out from all my other flash carts!

USB Slim Loader III

Now we've seen this before, too, haven't we? Again, it's the same as the XG2 2005 linker!

Not much to say about this, but at least they didn't decide to let people use their GBA's as flash linkers like some other flash kits. That would have been a bad move, seeing as NDS owners wouldn't have the necessary link port. Although, if they weren't using XG2 parts, they could have gone one step better and used a direct USB to cart linker such as the EFA kit. Never mind!

The linker works fine, and it's very small. Only slightly bigger and chunkier than a GBA cart! Interestingly, the linker has a USB cable pre-attached to it that can even tuck back inside the linker when you're not using it. This is handy for people who have their PC's or USB hubs on their desks. Granted the cable is only about 2cm long, but they do supply you with a 1 metre USB extension cable in the NeoFlash kit.

The linker is of a plain silver colouring, and unfortunately feels a little cheap, especially when inserting a flash cart into it.

There is a green and red LED on the casing, green for when the cart is being read, and red for when the cart is being written onto. Also, once the drivers are installed, when you connect the USB slim loader to your PC, the red LED should flash three times to indicate that the linker is OK and ready for use.

The USB loader and included cables are rated for USB 2.x speeds.



Software and Driver Installation

OK! Enough rambling, let's try this kit already!

As I said earlier, the software/drivers didn't come included in the NeoFlash package, so I had to head for their website to download the latest ones, and what a pleasant change I was in for! Unlike all the other GBA flash cart manufacturers websites; the NeoFlash website seems to be hosted on a half decent server as I can manage to get top speeds off their site! No 20kbit per second downloads here! The software had downloaded in no time.

The software version I will be using in this review is Neo Power Kit 1.0.

Remember! You need to install the software BEFORE plugging in the USB linker, just to avoid any incorrect drivers being loaded or any other problems that Windows may decide you'd like to deal with.

The software comes in a single .exe, using an InstallShield installer.

Opening the exe starts the install wizard; it's all very basic and straight forward, so I'll just take a quick look at the installation.

The current version of the installer doesn't provide many user options... actually it doesn't provide any at all. You can't even choose where to install the software too. So you're stuck with a "C:\NEO Power Kit" folder. Apparently this is to avoid any file path errors in the software, or was that laziness? It would be nice for them to fix that.

Continue with the installation wizard, and then close it when it's complete. The next thing you should do is connect the USB slim loader to a USB port on your PC. Windows XP will report that it's found new hardware and will prompt you with the following screen.



Now skip the first step if it asks you to check Windows Update for drivers. Somehow I doubt they'll be available there!
Just choose to install from a specific location, and browse to the "USB_Driver" folder in the NeoFlash software directory. Select the available driver and click next to install it.
Windows should warn you that the driver isn't digitally signed, but as with most drivers we're going to install it anyway. Once the driver is installed, Windows should alert you that the hardware is ready to use.



Now it's time to check out...

The Software, Using the Software and Performance

You'll notice that the installer has created three shortcut icons on your Desktop. One is a link to the main flashing software, and the other two are shortcuts to batch files for either setup the software for flashing in NDS mode or GBA mode. The installer doesn't create any Start Menu short cuts, so if you decide to delete those icons off your Desktop you'll have to navigate to the software folder.



The two batch files merely modify the software's configuration files to either load without a boot menu - NDS Mode (or when flashing a single GBA ROM), or with a boot loader - GBA mode (for multiple GBA ROMs). So you'll need to run the respective batch file for whatever you plan to flash to the NeoFlash before opening the main software.

Now at the moment this all seems a bit primitive, with the lack of proper shortcuts and two laughable batch files. Hopefully this is just a temporary measure and that future software will provide more user options and integrate the functionality of the two batch files into the actual software.

Opening the main software, the "NEO Power Kit", presents us with a rather large and complex interface. And wait... we've seen this software before too, haven't we? Yes, yes... it's an updated version of the XG2 2005 software.



The GUI is separated into two main sections; a list of options on the left (that also appear in the file menu's) and a list for flashed ROMs or ROMs waiting to be flashed on the right.

Right! Let's try flashing some ROMs shall we? We'll skip GBA ROMs for now, and get straight to the point - running real Nintendo DS software on our own DS!

If you've loaded the software before connecting the USB slim loader, you'll need to close and re-open it. And if you haven't inserted the flash cart to the linker, just click 'Start' under 'Refresh' in the software to detect the cartridge.

If your NeoFlash flash cart was pre-loaded with example software, you'll want to remove that. Removing ROMs from the cart is simple; just select the ROM from the list on the right, and click 'Remove'. This won't physically remove the ROM from the cartridge, it will just allow the software to overwrite it with the next ROM you wish to flash. So don't be surprised if the ROM re-appears if you don't actually flash anything else.

One feature the software currently seems to be missing is the option for formatting the cartridge. As I just covered, the only option similar to this is the option to remove a ROM from the menu to allow it to be over-written with the next. A format option would be nice, as it would ensure a clean cart.

Now, to add a ROM, you simply click 'Add' and locate the ROM you want to flash. Simple enough! For this example, I'm going to flash the "Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt" ROM released by GST.

So, let's review that. We run the NDS batch file to make the software ready for flashing DS ROMs and not GBA ROMs, then we opened the software, and clicked 'Start' to detect the cart (if it wasn't already inserted when loading the software), then we removed whatever ROM may have already been flashed by selecting it in the list and clicking 'Remove', then we clicked 'Add', selected the Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt" ROM, and then we click 'Burn All' to being burning the ROM to the cart.

The status is indicated in the status bar of the software, it tells you what the software is doing. In this case as you can see below it's currently writing the ROM to the cart, and is followed by the current progress in a percentage. There is a small animated "-, /, |, \" on the left also, just so you know the software is working and hasn't crashed. And on the right of the status bar is the overall elapsed time.

The MPH:FH ROM I flashed was 128Mb (16MB), and according to the software, it took a total of 353 seconds to complete the write from start to finish. Unfortunately this isn't very impressive at all, but it's still not the slowest. Now apparently other users of the NeoFlash have reported different write times, anything from around 130 seconds to my time of near 360 seconds. I assume it's dependent on your PC spec.

For reference here are some more write times I've tested... (Approximate times)

32Mbit/4MB = 83 seconds
64Mbit/8MB = 159 seconds
128Mbit/16MB = 353 seconds
256Mbit/32MB = 713 seconds
512Mbit/64MB = 1459 seconds

The software also has an option to backup ROMs from your cart using the 'Save' or 'Save All' functions. I've tested this and it seems to work fine, it's considerably faster than writing ROMs which is to be expected. BUT the only ROMs it will allow you to backup (or even detect) are the ROMs that you've already flashed to the NeoFlash GBA cart which seems a bit pointless and careless, so you can't backup original GBA cartridges using the software at this stage.
This function may come in handy if you've accidentally deleted a ROM from your PC, but that's about the only use you'll have for it...

The software works well when doing basic tasks, and it does get the job done, but you'll eventually find yourself doing something out of the ordinary and generating a few bugs. I've experienced a few problems myself, where the software got stuck in a loop and threw infinite errors at me so I had to forcibly close it.

Other than that, it does get the job done (ahem... eventually!).

Using the Cart and the Magic Key

NDS Mode

Well, now the software reports it's finished writing by alerting you with a simple message saying "All Done!", now we've flashed our first ROM, let's see if it actually works! Removing the cart from the linker, I inserted it into the DS. Now it's time to prepare the Magic Key!

For this test I'm going to use Wario Ware Touched! in the back of the Magic Key. Wario Ware Touched! has a 64kbit save type.

Booting up the DS, the regular boot screen appears, but you don't enter the DS home menu screen if in NDS mode. It's just the same as having the DS on auto mode; it gets straight into the game after the boot screen.

Now the moment of truth... will it work? Yes! The ROM worked perfectly, the FMV, the menus and the game are all just the same as the actual demo card. Now many people expected there to be delays or slow loading times between games, but with the games I've tested so far I've experienced NO DELAYS AT ALL running the software from a GBA cart. It's just the same as playing from a commercial game card.

Unfortunately, as of now there are no real multi-boot loaders for NDS ROMs. There are for homebrew, demos and apparently some people are working on them for commercial games, but just now you'll only be able to write and use one real NDS ROM using the NeoFlash.

The other games I have tried and managed to play and save successfully are as follows:

Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (GST)
128mbit, 4kbit save type.
- Works fine, able to save using original MPH:FH card (4kbit).

Super Mario 64 DS (GST)
128mbit, 64kbit save type.
- Works fine, able to save using original carts with 64k save type.

Wario Ware Touched! (GST)
256mbit, 64kbit save type.
- Works fine, able to save using original carts with 64k save type, but over-wrote original save game (SM64DS).

The Urbz: Sims in the City (GST)
256mbit, 64kbit save type.
- Works, but needs a game with 64kbit save type in Magic Key to boot, able to save using original carts with 64k save type, but over-wrote original save game (SM64DS).

Now we all know the saving support is a bit flaky. Well, it works. Unlike many people assumed at first, it doesn't save to the GBA flash cart at all. It's not technically possible (at least not yet). This current method does the job though, so unfortunately you DO need an original DS card in the Magic Key for it to save with a save type that matches the ROM you have flashed. Yes, it saves to the original DS card.
Interestingly though, tests have proven and I can confirm that sometimes you can have multiple saves for multiple games on a single 64Kbit (the highest current save type known for NDS ROMs) card in your Magic Key. This may be due to the fact that DS saves start off small and naturally increase in size with the amount of data included in the save, or that they don't in fact use the entire save.

Now it's unknown how many saves and what combination you can have before saves get overwritten or become corrupted. Though I did experience the flashed Wario Ware Touched! to overwrite an original save game on my Super Mario 64 DS game card. I haven't been able to test this thoroughly yet, because frankly you can't backup or rewrite saves to the NDS card. But the NeoFlash team are working on new product, that will apparently alllow us to backup DS card game saves (and hopefully re-write them), and if I get one (which I should) then you can expect more detailed tests involving save support but for now I really don't want to risk corrupting or losing all my save games! Hehe.

So for now, saving games DOES work... it's just still quite hit and miss.

There you have it, commercial ROMs (at least the ones released by GST) work using the NeoFlash kit!

I've also tried a large number of DS homebrew demos and the demos that have been captured using the NeoFlash and haven't experienced a single problem with them. Although some need to be modified slightly to run off of a GBA flash cart; details on this are widely available and are normally noted in the ROMs NFO file.

GBA Mode

I won't go into much detail on GBA mode on this kit, because most people are going to be using this kit to play NDS ROMs.

The cart doesn't offer any specific features for simple GBA mode. It will basically work the same as any other basic GBA flash cart. The cart features 2048Kb of space for GBA saves.

Running the GBA Mode batch file, and opening the software there are no real differences. It's pretty much the same as running the software in NDS Mode (see the Software section of this review for more detail). But now, the software will generate and write a boot loader you can flash more than one GBA game at a time, unlike NDS mode.

For the GBA mode test, I flashed three games with different save types - EEPROM, SRAM and FLASH. All seemed to save and load correctly but the cart did have problems saving and loading EEPROM_V124 saves, which would overwrite other saves on the cart and/or not load at all after turning the system off and on.

One thing to note about GBA mode is that the NeoFlash software at the moment doesn't allow you to write or backup save data to the cartridge. But, apparently they are working on it and it will be implemented soon.

The boot loader is very basic, and doesn't feature anything except a list of flashed ROMs to select from. It has a basic "XP" theme to it and displays "www.neoflash.com" at the top.



Extra Features

Now it's time to see if the NeoFlash can live up to it's hype! The NeoFlash promises that it can display TXT, HTML, BMP, DIB, GIF, JPG, WMF, EMF, ICO and CUR, and that it can emulate NES, PC-E, GB and SEGA GG.

So, let's see if it can!

We all know by now that the NeoFlash team didn't create their own emulators for these systems, so before I continue I should state that it does in fact use emulators all ready pre-available. I'm sure they have consent for doing so...?

Also, all these features are only available in GBA mode (well they are technically available in NDS mode due to the buggy software but they won't work!!). None of these tools take advantage of the DS hardware, they are all GBA homebrew which is unfortunate because a lot more could be done with the use of the dual screens and additional processing power.

All these formats are handled using Power View, GBA software created by Chaos Stars and the NeoFlash team. When flashing these formats you need to select them all at once in the Neo Power Kit software. For some reason it doesn't like handling them in separate ROMs, without knowing this, I ran into problems with it at first. So just select all the different files at once and add them, a new screen will appear to generate the Power View ROM, adding and converting each format automatically. When it's done, it will add the newly compiled ROM to the writing software, ready to burn.

Booting the ROM on my DS in GBA mode, you're greeted with two splash screens and then a list of all your files! I added a type of each format, named as such to test the software. As you can see, the Power View uses the same theme as the NeoFlash boot loader.



The software worked as it should, and viewing each file on the GBA/DS is easy. Just open a file with A from the menu, press L+R to return to the file menu, press select to open a menu to personalise the colour scheme or press start to open a save state menu.

BMP, DIB, GIF, JPG, WMF, EMF, ICO and CUR

Viewing images works great, and it's very smooth and crystal clear (at least on the DS), you can zoom in and out of images using A+B. You can't edit the images using this software (as of now at least)!



TXT and HTML

Viewing txt files works fine; you view them in a standard fixed width font and can scroll up and down the page. Viewing HTML works the same surprisingly... the Power View software doesn't really display HTML; it merely rips the text from the file and displays it in the same manner as a txt document. It works, I guess, but it's kind of misleading.

There are lots more key shortcuts to use to play with the images and text files. For a list of all button combinations click here.

A real nice feature in the Power View software is the ability to save your state in any graphic or text document, meaning; where ever you are in the file, you can save, shut off your GBA/DS, and then continue where you left off when you turn the GBA/DS back on. You have 24 save slots for any different files, labelled A-X.
Now this would be a perfect feature... if it worked. For some reason whenever I try it, my save disappears whenever I turn the system off and on. Hopefully this will be fixed in future versions.

NES, PC-E, GB, SEGA GG

Now let's take a look at emulation using the NeoFlash. As it is using external emulators, I'll just go over the NeoFlash support for them quickly.

The Neo Power Kit client only has support for four systems as of now, and uses the following emulators in order to run them:

NES - PocketNES
PC-Engine - PCEAdvance
GameBoy (mono) - Goomba
Sega Game Gear/Master System - DrSMS

Loading these systems ROMs in the client is just the same as any other ROM, just click 'Add', select one or more ROM (you can select ROMs from different systems in this manner). And unlike the image/txt support, you can click 'Add' again and select more ROMs.

An injector batch file runs quickly, adding the ROMs and emulators, generating the necessary complete ROM which is then added to the main client.

This step seems flawless, and I haven't encountered any errors yet. It's a lot easier and quicker than generating all the ROMs yourself!

After burning the files, let's check to see if they work.

Well they do indeed work. And interestingly the Neo client combined both GG and SMS ROM into the same DrSMS ROM which makes things easier for us!

Let's try save states on this cart using these emulators. Fingers crossed! ... Oh... not surprisingly it doesn't work! The game APPEARS to save correctly, but turning the system off and on, I find that my save state has disappeared. Yet another flakey save support using the NeoFlash GBA cart... Ahem! ...Moving on...

Experiments

In this section I'm going to try a couple of random experiments with the NeoFlash kit.

I will be using the following carts, their respective software and drivers (latest available), the NeoFlash kit and its software and other miscellaneous software and tools that I will bring up as I use it.

Visoly 128Mbit (Parallel  Version), EZFA 256Mbit, X-ROM 512Mbit, EFA Linker 512Mbit, NeoFlash 512Mbit GBA cart (from this kit).

Experiment #1: Can the Neo Power Kit software write to any other GBA flash carts?

OK first of all. Let's see if the NeoFlash software detects any of my other carts. Who knows? Some linker software can detect to and write to other carts just fine, so can the Neo Power Kit?

Visoly 128Mbit - Not detected.
EZFA 256Mbit - Not detected.
X-ROM 512Mbit - Not detected.
EFA Linker 512Mbit - Not detected.

OK... so that didn't work. It only likes the original NeoFlash GBA cart.

Experiment #2: Can other GBA flash carts and software write DS ROMS and play them on a DS using them and a Magic Key (or PassMe)?

Before flashing any of the following ROMs to any cart, it's necessary to combine a GBA header and boot file to the ROM using Darkfader's ndsmall.bin. So I have done this for each ROM in this test. I will use a 64Kbit original save type commercial card in the Magic Key - Super Mario 64 DS. Also, note that I have disabled any multiboot menu in each of the flash kits software.

Visoly 128Mbit
External parallel linker version. Using EPP mode 1.9, 9v PSU.

Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (GST) - FAIL
- Combined with ndsmall.bin, the ROM is too big. Original ROM, renamed from .nds to .nds.gba flashed OK but produced a white screen on the DS.

Super Mario 64 DS (GST) - FAIL
- Combined with ndsmall.bin, the ROM is too big. Original ROM, renamed from .nds to .nds.gba flashed OK but produced a white screen on the DS.

Wario Ware Touched! (GST) - FAIL
- File size too big - can't test.

The Urbz: Sims in the City (GST) - FAIL
- File size too big - can't test.

E3 Tech Demos (Submarine) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Darkain's NDS Multi Boot Loader (Containing E3 Tech Demos) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Random Homebrew - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

EZFA 256Mbit
Using client version 1.03, and newest XP SP1 driver.

Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Super Mario 64 DS (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Wario Ware Touched! (GST) - FAIL
- Combined with ndsmall.bin, the ROM was too big. Original ROM, renamed from .nds to .nds.gba flashed OK, but running it in the DS obviously just produced a white screen.

The Urbz: Sims in the City (GST) - FAIL
- Combined with ndsmall.bin, the ROM was too big. Original ROM, renamed from .neo to .nds.gba flashed OK, but running it in the DS obviously just produced a white screen.

E3 Tech Demos (Submarine) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Darkain's NDS Multi Boot Loader (Containing E3 Tech Demos) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Random Homebrew - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

X-ROM 512Mbit
Using Littlewriter RC 1.0.8.4 and latest drivers.

Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Super Mario 64 DS (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Wario Ware Touched! (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

The Urbz: Sims in the City (GST) - FAIL
- ROM already contains GBA loader, flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

E3 Tech Demos (Submarine) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Darkain's NDS Multi Boot Loader (Containing E3 Tech Demos) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Random Homebrew - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

EFA Linker 512Mbit
Using EFA Client 2.3 and included drivers.

Metroid Prime Hunters: First Hunt (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Super Mario 64 DS (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

Wario Ware Touched! (GST) - FAIL
- Flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

The Urbz: Sims in the City (GST) - FAIL
- ROM already contains GBA loader, flashed OK, but white screen on DS.

E3 Tech Demos (Submarine) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Darkain's NDS Multi Boot Loader (Containing E3 Tech Demos) - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Random Homebrew - PASS
- Flashed OK, worked on DS.

Well now... I can indeed say "no", the GST ROM releases do NOT work using other GBA flash carts and the Magic Key. Interesting... they only work on the NeoFlash GBA cart... (Well basing my theory on the carts that I can test personally). There's been some scepticism about this issue for a while now, but I'm not going to get into a rant about that; I'll leave the judgement down to you.

At least we can say you don't really require a NeoFlash GBA cart to run DS software, as all the homebrew and other demos work perfectly on every cart I've tried using Darkfader's useful 'ndsmall.bin'. There has to be something up with the GST releases... hmm?

Conclusion

Well, you can't fault the team behind the NeoFlash for their efforts. They managed to get a functioning kit out pretty darn quick, and it works!
Yes yes, I know what you're saying - "it's just a PassMe and a basic GBA flash cart". Yes it is, but it's the only one that can really play the current batch of DS ROMs perfectly (no matter what way you look at it) and that's what you want to do, right? If you want to really get into homebrew then this kit will do the job, or you can just get a GBA flash cart and a PassMe, it doesn't matter. I reviewed the kit for what it can do, and what it's designed to do.

As a whole, it's a functioning kit, it PLAYS DS ROMs. While we're so early into the DS development you can't fault it for having poor save support. We should be glad it saves at all, save support on early GBA flash carts was just as shoddy when they first come out. Remember all those save patches and hacks?
When the kit was first announced people expected a real NDS flash card and copier, as we can see now they're wrong, when it comes down to it, it is just a GBA flash kit - but one that can play NDS ROMs using an accessory. Actually, in fact it is just a re-branded XG2 2005 kit with a Magic Key thrown in. I personally don't blame the company, or have problems with this solution as it works. Why bother putting in months, maybe years of effort creating a real NDS flash card solution, when they can get one out RIGHT NOW that does the same basic job?

If you're looking just for a GBA flash cart then it's not really worth bothering with the NeoFlash for it right now. Whether it can be improved in the future I do not know, but I should hope so. But right now you can find better kits elsewhere. On the other hand though, the GBA support as an extra if you're getting the kit for its NDS capabilities is reasonable and the plethora of extra features supported is a nice addition.

Compared to other flash kits, the NeoFlash is a quality product. They provide you with everything you'll need and a few extras, the overall build quality of the individual parts is excellent, but it's let down slightly by its poor software. While the software does work and to be honest it's not that bad, it can be buggy. This though, is something I hope they can and will improve on.

So, if you're eager to try out DS ROMs, some homebrew and other interesting developments on your DS right now, and let's face it, who in this community isn't? Then I CAN and will recommend the NeoFlash. Just don't be surprised if you bump into a problem or two somewhere down the line...

Now, to finish off let's summarise the sections of the review I've already covered, then look over the basic pros and cons of the NeoFlash kit...

Packaging and Contents
Well packed in a very small box but nothing overly impressive. Lacking a quick start guide.
- 4/5

The Magic Key
Good build quality, albeit a bit clunky. Having a Magic Key (aka. PassMe) stops the NeoFlash from being a "real DS flash kit".
- 4/5

GBA Flash Cart
Good build quality, but battery compartment is quite poor. As with the Magic Key, the use of a GBA cart stops the NeoFlash from being a "real DS flash kit".
- 3/5

USB Slim Loader III
Shouldn't be necessary, but they decided to go with it. Convenient design, very small and light weight but does feel a bit cheap.
- 4/5

Software and Driver Installation
Very quick and painless install, but lack of customisation stops it from getting a perfect score.
- 4/5

Software and Performance
Primitive and buggy software, gets the job done but can cause problems, missing a few features. Poor write times.
- 2/5

Using the Cart - NDS Mode
It works! It really does play commercial DS ROMs flawlessly! Dodgy save support lets it down.
- 4/5

Using the Cart - GBA Mode
Basic GBA flash cart, but poor save support. Can't backup saves. Boot loader not customisable.
- 2/5

Extra Features
Nice support for basic file types, fairly advanced GBA software for doing so. Good support for emulators of other systems. Almost non-existent save support for both modes is a big downer.
- 4/5

And if you haven't gathered them already, here are your basic pros and cons of the entire NeoFlash kit...

Pros:
- The first retail kit to really play commercial DS games
- Can play NDS software flawlessly
- Good overall package, provides everything you need and then some
- Good quality products
- Software is promising, extra features is a nice addition

Cons:
- Poor write times
- Software can be buggy
- Inability to dump DS ROMs
- Save support is poor for both NDS and GBA mode
- Quite expensive

Overall Score for the NeoFlash 512Mbit Kit:

7/10
[/size]

Thanks for reading!

Now, I'd just like to say thank you again to the NeoFlash team for not only providing me with a NeoFlash kit to review, but for giving the entire DS scene the opportunity to get their hands on a free kit. It's a very generous gift from them, so THANK YOU!

The NeoFlash kit is now available to buy in both 512Mbit and 1Gbit versions.
You can find a constantly updated list of shops to purchase a NeoFlash kit from on the official NeoFlash website, which is at:

http://www.neoflash.com

This review was written by shaunj66 in May 2005 for the members of GBAtemp.net and the NeoFlash team and forums ONLY.

Offline Thomper

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Re: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« Reply #1 on: June 03, 2005, 09:29:50 PM »
The most in-depth review I have seen to date. Very, very, veeeery good. :)

Offline Miqualke

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Re: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« Reply #2 on: June 04, 2005, 04:42:57 AM »
very nice review

Offline ryuu

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Re: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« Reply #3 on: June 26, 2005, 05:08:40 AM »
I agree. Very pricey for people like me (poor. ;P). Nice guide, this makes me want to start saving money...

Offline Extreme Coder

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Re: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« Reply #4 on: June 26, 2005, 04:04:01 PM »
Very Nice Review but there is something;

when doing the experiment of flashing true ds games by gst, you shouldn't  join  them with ndsmall.bin, they already have a loader at the beginning.


Offline Hopsi123

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Re: GBAtemp NeoFlash Review (English)
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2005, 06:41:34 PM »
why can i only have one game on the cart? and no ds game works.