GBAtemp.net review of the... Acekard 2.1 Manufactured by: Acekard Firmware by: Normmatt & Smiths Review by Another World - completed 5/2/10 Review Contents & Index: Review Introduction - History of the Acekard 2.1 - Official Features List - Features List Comments for 2010 Contents and Packaging Kit Design and Impressions Set-up and Usage - G.U.I. AKAIO vs. Official AKAIO's Features Performance - Homebrew (Compatibility, Soft-reset, etc) - ROMs (Download play, WFC, Compatibility, Soft-reset, etc) ConclusionReview Introduction Welcome to the official GBATemp review for the Acekard 2.1. You may be asking yourself the reason for a review, in 2010, of a Flash Kit released over 2 years ago. The reasons are that the Acekard 2.1 remains a viable choice and is still available for purchase, the AKAIO firmware fully supports it with frequently released firmware updates, and the card continues to remain a great choice for NDS Phat and NDS Lite owners. In addition I felt it was time changes from the Acekard 2 to the 2.1 (Acekard 2 review by Urza, March 21st 2008) were discussed, along with how the firmware has changed or developed, what features remain relative or constant, and if the card continues to score well. To accomplish this review I will focus on the AKAIO firmware as Urza focused on the official firmware. AKAIO's features, compatibility, and ease of use will be discussed throughout this review. The official firmware will be mentioned by comparison only. The decision to focus on AKAIO was because the official firmware remains virtually unchanged with infrequently distanced game-fix updates. This review will not read as a comparison article to any DSi Flash Kits or so-called “next-gen” Flash Kits (I-Player, SCDS2, etc). This review will instead be written for users who want a Flash Kit for an older NDS system. History of the Acekard 2.1: Acekard, as a company, has suffered through various trials and errors. Their first major obstacle took root in the summer of 2008. Users began to report an unrecoverable problem with the Acekard 2, an overlooked manufacturing defect. The card was susceptible to a fatal error which became commonly known as the “FAT error.” Users reported card failure anywhere between a few weeks to one year. Acekard acted admirably by honoring their 1 year warranty. Damaged kits were quickly and efficiently swapped for working units, free of charge, while Acekard began to work towards a solution. However, users slowly started to shy away from the Acekard brand and the Bliss O/S open-source firmware. Acekard’s eventual response to the problem was formed around the common “quick fix” solution. The Acekard 2 would receive a hardware patch and re-released with a modified Printed Circuit Board (PCB). This new Acekard was dubbed the 2.1 and sold to resellers with a new label sticker. These kits were essentially the same as the Acekard 2; they continued to make use of the same Green PCB and reported the same Hardware ID. Sometime around 2-5 months later, a more permanent solution was released in the form of the Acekard 2.1 Green/Black PCB HWID 80 cards. With the HWID 80 card, Acekard had modified the design of the card itself, insuring that this manufacturers defect would never happen again. The card was repackaged into a cardboard box, and a newly designed microSD reader was included. Sales of the card were slow at first as Acekard continued to swap FAT error kits for the newly designed 2.1. Resellers began to report the new design had a low failure rate and good faith was slowly restored back to Acekard. The 2.1 would eventually be redesigned a third time just before the introduction of the Acekard 2i. This third hardware revision had a shiny new metallic Blue PCB and less FAT MAP area. Due in part to negligible cost savings, Acekard went back to the previous design. As a result the third revision was only produced for a short time and is considered the rarest of the three Acekard 2.1 revisions. Around December 2009 Acekard made a small hardware revision to the Acekard 2.1. As a result from this change, AKAIO and the official firmware demonstrated serious saving issues. Team Acekard was unable to understand how the hardware change had altered their firmware’s behavior. The AKAIO team, with the help of its BETA testers, was able to fix the issue. As of AKAIO 1.6 RC3 these cards are fully usable. Team Acekard has applied this fix to the official firmware as well, which means that as of the writing of this review the Acekard 2.1 is fully functional once again. I have received confirmation that a new run of the Acekard 2.1 is currently in production. Acekard has gone back 1 hardware revision to ensure continual functionality with the two firmware choices. This new run is simply the same Acekard 2.1 which was produced before December 2009. Official Features List: The Acekard R.P.G., which retailed before the AK2/2.1, was actually designed after the Acekard 2. So while the Acekard 2 and 2.1 are considered to be cheaper versions of the R.P.G., based largely on their release dates, in actuality they are completely different Flash Kits. However, in comparison to the R.P.G., the 2.1 does remain in the budget price category as it is currently purchasable for under $15. Please do not let the price deter you, the Acekard 2.1 will last, has few problems, and incorporates a great list of features which are further enhanced by the AKAIO firmware.Perfect compatibility, no need to convert, no need to flashSave file is written directly to TF card, no need to manually select save size, no data loss.Automatic DLDI patching, run homebrew programs without convertingSupport soft-reset, download play and Wi-Fi gamingSupport SDHC TF card, virtually unlimited storage sizeSupport any brand of TF, with no slowdownSupport Action Replay cheats. Built-in editorLow power consumption for longer operational timeFeatures List Comments for 2010: Features and compatibility expectations can change from an initial release due to hardware revisions, firmware revisions, and creatively written selling tactics (ie: Perfect Compatibility!!!) which may not hold true. I felt that the honest thing to do was to discuss the official features with an analysis on how they have held up. Let us begin by discussing what Acekard probably had in mind with the term “perfect compatibility.” It is inappropriate to make a claim that your product has perfect compatibility. Users will interpret this phrasing to mean every ROM will work as expected the first time! However, it is important to understand how this is subject to interpretation based on the history of Flash Linkers. Initially, most Slot-1 Flash Kits did have a perfect clean ROM drag/drop compatibility without the need to “flash” the ROM. Flashing on older kits usually meant that the “flasher” was patching the ROM in some permanently altering way. Originally Slot-1 companies made a big deal about letting users know that the old days of patching and hacking were over. However, users who interpret this phrasing to mean ROM capability were being misled. A Flash Kits’ compatibility is only as good as its firmware, and the official firmware has never been perfectly compatible. AKAIO does have a relatively high compatibility rate, but AKAIO did not exist as a firmware when the phrase was printed onto the back of the box. So while this statement from Acekard is currently true, it is subject to interpretation. The Acekard 2.1 writes a general save size for most ROMs. If the save size is known and recorded in the Savelist.bin, AKAIO has the ability to create a file of the correct size. On rare occasions the save size might need to be manually set due to the write methods the firmware incorporates. If the firmware attempts to overwrite a corrupt save, data loss may occur. There remains a bug in the 1.6 RC2 build of AKAIO which causes saves to be rewritten as .SAV/.sav depending on file name length. Inexperienced users could end up with data loss by removing the wrong save file. Most of these issues remain problems with the firmware used, and not the Acekard 2.1 itself. While statements in regards to save files remain true, they are once again subject to interpretation. DLDI auto-patching was a sales feature for early Slot-1 linkers. Before auto-patching, users had to make use of a variety of tools to insure proper input/output permissions were maintained. The Acekard 2.1 allows the firmware author to automatically patch Homebrew files by storing a copy of the Acekard’s DLDI file on the microSD itself. This feature continues to work and no problems were experienced during this review. The Acekard 2.1 does incorporate soft-reset, download play, and Wi-Fi gaming. In addition to ROM soft-reset, as of AKAIO 1.6, Homebrew soft-reset is also supported. Download Play has been improved to the point that older slowdown issues found on other Flash Kits and the official firmware have been eliminated. These features have been improved from the original printing of the box, however, in order to experience these improvements the AKAIO firmware must be used. We now know that the size limitation of SDHC microSD cards is 32 GB. Currently 16 GB microSD cards have been tested with the Acekard 2.1 and have been confirmed to function correctly. This statement continues to be true, that which the Acekard does indeed support SDHC microSD cards. There are debates on which brands of microSD cards are best, have top performance, and cause the fewest issues. While the statement on the box claims perfect support, there is user evidence which points to the contrary. The use of Kingston 1 GB and 2 GB microSD cards was initially strongly encouraged. Since that time the Class-6 microSD cards appear to have the fewest issues. The Acekard does support any brand of microSD or SDHC card, making the statement on the box partially true. However, slowdowns have been reported on many different microSD brands. Most of these “slowdown” problems have been addressed by the AKAIO firmware, and fixes for many notoriously slow or problematic ROMs have been implemented. Acekard may have wanted this statement to be true 2 years ago, and thanks to AKAIO it is closer to actual fact in 2010. With that said, I encourage all users to do a bit of research before purchasing a microSD card. With the right card the statement on the box is completely justified. The Acekard has supported Action Replay cheats since the beginning, however, there has never been a built in firmware based cheat editor. The firmware does provide users with the option to “edit” which cheats are turned on or off. Older GBA Linkers often forced to user to patch the ROM with cheats during the flashing process. This process made it impossible to “edit” or apply new cheats. One can then interpret this feature to mean users can edited which cheats to use without having to “flash” a new ROM to the microSD. Users who read this feature and expect a built in firmware based cheat editor will be disappointed. Power consumption is a claim which should not be made without tests and results to back it up. I have used many Flash Kits over the years and I will say that the Acekard appears to use about the same amount of power as other Slot-1 kits. On the second back-light setting, I experience somewhere between 5-6 hours of normal DS ROM playback. I get around 3 hours of Wi-Fi usage with Clirc or Internet browsing. I have no means to test multiple DS units with the same Acekard setup; at this point these comments remain my personal observations. Contents and Packaging Contents:1x Acekard 2.1 HWID 80 Black PCB Flash Kit1x Acekard official microSD readerPackaging: Unlike the clear plastic clam-shell package of the Acekard 2, the Acekard 2.1 ships in a box. The box measures approximately 3 and ½ inches wide by 4 and ¼ inches high by ¾ of an inch deep. The box is constructed out of a thin wax coated cardboard and has a small cut-out suitable for retail rack hanging. The box offers basic support for the contents and should be enough packaging for the card to be safely delivered. The contents of the box are held in place using a clear plastic insert. The Acekard 2.1 “snaps” securely into the insert, however, I have found some cards free floating inside box. The box sits flush against the insert meaning the optional microSD reader will arrive in its tray, but with no way to secure the reader it will rattle inside the box. As the microSD reader is optional, there are two versions of the packaging available. One version contains an Acekard 2.1 and a microSD reader, and the other simply contains the Acekard 2.1. The microSD reader is optional and can usually be purchased for $1-3 more, depending on the reseller. The reader itself is in a smoke colored plastic shell with the Acekard brand name and Web site URL printed on top. This reader is a working alternative to not having a microSD card reader. It performed perfectly for me, has a small form factor, and never corrupted my files. I recommend this upgrade only to those that do not own an alternate solution. If you already own a good microSD reader you will get nothing new or exciting by purchasing the Acekard reader. Kit Design and Impressions The Acekard 2.1 form factor is the same as other Slot-1 Flash Kits. It measures approximately 1 and 2/8th inches by 1 and 3/8th inches. The card itself is flat black in color, made out of plastic, and contains a reflective sticker on the back. The sticker is imprinted with the phrase “Acekard ver 2.1, the real ultimate experience in your hand,” and the Acekard Web site URL. There are seventeen teeth on the PCB that are fully exposed with no plastic protection guides. The 2.1 no longer makes use of the raised Actel chip, as the Acekard 2 did. As a result, the shell under the sticker is flat and smooth. The shell is held shut with 5 tiny plastic clips. Each clip grabs a ledge of plastic on the joining half. Later shell revisions of this same card make use of a glued shell with or without clips. The clips seem very fragile and may cause a problem for users who attempt to open the shell incorrectly. I successfully opened the review Acekard 2.1 to take the interior photos using a small jeweler screwdriver. I raised and slid back two clips on one side, then the clip on the top. After that I was able to pull the shell apart by sliding the shell away from the remaining two clips on the opposite side. Putting the shell back together is as easy as snapping the clips back into place. The Acekard 2.1 is constructed from a thinner plastic than other Flash Kits that I’ve used. The PCB is free floating and not screwed into the shell (unlike my R4). There is a small amount of play between the shell and the PCB. In my hands the Acekard 2.1 feels as though the design was a bit rushed, I can almost understand why some users would think this kit is cheaply made. I like to think that saving on the amount of shell material has saved on the price, however they simply could have just been trying to run this cart off as cheaply as possible. All design complaints aside, I have owned this cart for over a year and it has never failed me. I have never abused it, misused it, dropped it, crushed it, pressed on it, etc. I feel that as long as you treat this card with respect that it will continue to function for years. The Acekard 2.1 ships with or without a spring, this is completely random and users do not usually have a choice. I have read reports, that on occasion, the spring loaded microSD slots ships in the down position and that some users may not even know that their Acekard 2.1 has a spring. I have further read that some users have experienced spring failure. If the spring does fail it is simply a matter of opening the shell and moving the pin back into place. The spring easily accepts any microSD card I have tried, but when removing the MSD the spring can release with built-up tension. I have managed to shoot my microSD card across the room on more than 1 occasion. Users should make sure to hold a finger over the top edge of the microSD when removing it from the Acekard. For the past year I only had one experience where my spring would not accept the microSD card. The spring behaved as though it was stuck in the middle of the ejection phase. I applied some force while pushing the microSD down firmly, the spring accepted the microSD card and has worked from that point with no further problems. Set-up and Usage The official firmware is a feature deprived yet functional solution. Additional features aside, the official firmware lacks one key element, updated loaders. AKAIO pushes what the Acekard can do and is continually recoded for better optimization. AKAIO maintains a higher ROM compatibility rate due to frequently fixed and updated loader support. For these reasons this review will focus on the AKAIO firmware. I recommend that you set aside some time and read the AKAIO WIKI article in its entirety. This article contains information that is beneficial to the user, both new and experienced. Guides, hints, help, descriptions, facts, and the like can be found in this highly detailed WIKI article. Initial AKAIO set-up as simple as the 6 steps below.Format the microSD card with the Panasonic formatter Download the current version of AKAIO Decompress the file and put the _aio* folder and akmenu4.nds at the ROOT of the microSD card Insert the microSD card firmly in the non-spring loaded Acekard 2.1. If the microSD slot is spring loaded make sure it "clicks." Insert the Acekard firmly into the NDS, again make sure it clicks. Boot up the NDS, select the Acekard from the firmware Slot-1 selection box, and enjoy*Please note that the _aio folder is hidden by default within the globalsettings.ini file. Access will be limited for files, Homebrew, and ROMs placed into this folder. Adjusting the G.U.I. to “display all hidden files and folders” will allow access to these items. The recommended method is to place the files, Homebrew, and ROMs, into folders in ROOT or subsequent sub-folders. The file structure of the _aio directory is as follows: CODE| + ak2loader | + cheats ÂÂÂÂ |-CC ÂÂÂÂ |-USERCHEAT.DAT | + fonts ÂÂÂÂ |-kochi-mincho-subst.pcf ÂÂÂÂ |-tahoma.pcf ÂÂÂÂ |-ugulim12.pcf ÂÂÂÂ |-wenquanyi_9pt.pcf | + frames | + icons | + language ÂÂÂÂ |-lang_br ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-language.txt ÂÂÂÂ |-lang_cn ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-language.txt ÂÂÂÂ |-lang_cz ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-language.txt ÂÂÂÂ |-etc ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-etc.txt ÂÂÂÂ |-language.ini | + loaders ÂÂÂÂ |-ak2loader.nds | + plugin ÂÂÂÂ |-wfplugin.ak4 | + ui ÂÂÂÂ |-Adv.EvoR ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-calendar ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ |-clock_colon.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ |-clock_numbers.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ |-day_numbers.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ |-year_numbers.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-arrow_down.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-arrow_up.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-brightness.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-btn2.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-btn3.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-btn4.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-calendar_no.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-card_icon_blue.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-cross.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-custom.ini ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-folder_minus.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-folder_minus_single.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-folder_plus.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-folder_plus_single.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-folder_up.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-gbaframe.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-lower_screen.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-menu_bg.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-note.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-progress_bar.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-progress_wnd.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-scrollbar_b.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-scrollbar_m.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-scrollbar_t.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-spin_btn_left.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-spin_btn_right.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-tick.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-title_bg.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-title_left.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-title_right.bmp ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-uisettings.ini ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-upper_screen.bmp ÂÂÂÂ |-zelda ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-calendar ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ |-etc ÂÂÂÂÂÂÂÂ|-etc | + ak2_sd.dldi | + ak.ico | + globalsettings.ini | + lastsave.ini | + poweroff.bmp | + rpg_nand.dldi | + rpg_sd.dldi | + savelist.bin | + sdlist.ini The “cheats” directory holds the CHEATS.XML, CHEAT.DAT, or USRCHEAT.DAT formatted file. Any official or 3rd party cheat files will go into this folder. AKAIO has the ability to update cheats via WIFI connection. Language files are simple text files. It is really easy to adjust, alter, or write, a language file for the AKAIO firmware. The “ui” folder contains User Interface skins. Each skin contains 36 specifically formatted files. “ak2_sd.dldi” is required for the DLDI Homebrew auto patching. This file can be swapped for the official DLDI firmware file, if the need arises. In Addition to the Acekard 2.1 system files this directory also contains some files for the Acekard R.P.G. (Real Play Gear). AKAIO stands for Acekard – All In One, and currently supports the R.P.G. as well as the Acekard 2, 2.1, and 2i Flash Kits. After the initial boot up of AKAIO a globalsettings.ini file will be created. The globalsettings.ini file stores settings values for the G.U.I. This file also contains some hidden settings which must be manually typed by hand. Users who are updating form a previous AKAIO install may choose to save their globalsettings.ini file. The spoiler below displays the contents of the globalsettings.ini file. Please note that the contents of this file are subject to change at anytime. Refer to the AKAIO WIKI for updated globalsettings.ini content listings. WARNING! Spoilers inside! G.U.I.: The Acekard will not bypass the Health & Safety screen of the NDS firmware. Users will need to click this screen or wait for the NDS firmware to timeout and load. Users will then need to click on the Slot-1 selection box to launch the AKAIO firmware, unless the NDS is set to auto-boot Slot-1. Booting takes approximately 1-2 second after the sequence has been initialized. On the first boot-up AKAIO will load using a default theme. To keep this review closer to Urza’s Acekard 2.0 review, I will be using the “Adv.EvoR” theme. This theme comes preinstalled with AKAIO and may or may not be set as the default theme. AKAIO's initial bottom-screen display will be of 2 icons. The top icon, shaped like a microSD card, selects the ROOT of the microSD card. The bottom icon, shaped like a Slot-2 expansion pack, will boot to GBA Mode or NDS PassMe Mode. AKAIO allows users to create 1 shortcut to their favorite title. If a shortcut is created it will be displayed in this same location. At any point during firmware execution the “B” button can be pressed in multiple successions to navigate back to this screen. The top-screen will always displays the themed logo, calendar, date, and time. The clock can be set to military or standard time via the globalsettings.ini. There are many ways to skin the G.U.I. but users must work within the limits of the firmware. The top screen can only display an image, or an image and a combination of the clock, date, and time. All of the pertinent Homebrew and ROM related information remains on the bottom screen. AKAIO’s skin selections are backwards compatible with Acekard 2 and Acekard R.P.G. skins. The recommended skin editor is AK Edit v1.2.1 by Dan Taylor. AKAIO offers users 3 views which include an icon based view, internal name view, and file name view. Users can switch between views by pressing down on the “select” button. Users can navigate the G.U.I. with a button combinations or using the touch screen. Depending on the skin’s settings, a path to the current file and a “loading” disk may be displayed. The top right corner of the skin used for testing has a button to change the back light setting. AKAIO’s options are set up using a windowed navigation system. The first window displays 1 set of options and users can quickly jump to the next set by clicking the left or right arrows. Each option can in turn be adjusted by clicking its specific spinbox arrow or by navigating and using the D-pad. Options are easy to understand, adjust, and customize. An experienced user who makes use of the AKAIO WIKI will need less explanation than the average or new users. This means that the AKAIO firmware does have a slight learning curve. The G.U.I. allows users to adjust all of their “system options” at the same time, and saves each individual selection at once by pressing the “OK” button. The AKAIO firmware makes use of a menu “start” button. This button hides the G.U.I. options and settings from view until they are needed and allows the bottom-screen to be free of clutter. The bottom-screen could just have easily been an open menu system which displayed its information on the top-screen. The way the official firmware and AKAIO make use of the space is more beneficial to the user. The only improvement I could see would be a Moonshell type approach, which scrolls across both screens, thus allowing more Homebrew and ROMs to be displayed at one time. “Start” menu options: Cut/Copy/Past/Delete – file, Homebrew, ROM, save, or directory (depending.) System Options – displays option windows Properties – view the properties of a file (info is dependent on the file type) Cheats – load the cheat selection area 3in1/FAS1 – options for supported Slot-2 cards WiFi Update – WIFI updater options Help – HWID, SVN build, and navigation info is displayed here A properties box is available for each file and displays information unique to the file type. .GBA for example, has options to “Flash to NOR’ and also displays information about the file such as its name, last changed date, and size. Future versions of AKAIO will include the ability to turn on and off Homebrew soft-reset as well as picking which Homebrew soft-reset hooking method to use. .NDS properties display information about the file as well as provide a button to change options on a per-ROM basis. Options include download play, soft-reset, which loader to use, Rumble level, and more. By far the best feature of the AKAIO firmware is the ability to update various key sections over WIFI. As long as your NDS can get online to play a game you can update using WIFI. WIFI updates include loaders, cheats, the WIFI plug-in itself, and the savelist.bin. An option to download older revisions of certain files is also available. This means that it is possible to grab loaders 3 revisions old if they are on the server. The WIFI plug-in, loaders, and cheats are hosted on GBATemp.net. Download time is relatively quick for each update and I experienced few problems. The occasional disconnection is combated by an automatic retry/resume built directly into the plug-in. AKAIO also features eWin, EZ 3in1, and FlashAdvance GBA Slot-2 options. The functionality is much like GBA Exploader with a different set-up. GBA ROMs are patched for save type and flashed on the fly. The firmware offers control over where the file goes (PSRAM/NOR) based on user choice or file size (16+ to 32MB for NOR, etc). Optionally I elected to turn on save prompting, insuring nothing gets lost after each reboot. There is no Flast2Advance support, so users with the USB Linker card will not be able to flash it on the fly as with the FAS1 card. GBA performance behaved well for me. There have been reports of issues with the 3in1+ (the currently produced cart). Some users have reported that NOR flashing can not be auto-booted from within the G.U.I. I was unable to check for any limitations as only had access to the EZ 3in1new for testing. Some ROMs may need to be SRAM save patched before they are loaded onto the microSD. Users will need to be a bit proactive at times but the vast majority of GBA Homebrew and ROMs that I tested gave me no problems. AKAIO also supports .GBA.NDS ROMs via PassMe. For the length of testing I continually re-flashed items into NOR and tested them. The button combination to boot into Pass-me mode is “L+A.” I experienced the occasional hick-up but for the most part this featured works as expected. AKAIO supports any properly formatted CHEATS.XML, CHEAT.DAT, or USRCHEAT.DAT file. Cheats are sorted by GAME ID, so users can easily create their own custom files. The cheat interface has a “Rebuild” button which will create a .cc file. This Cheat Container has only the cheats for that individual game. After a .cc file is built the cheats will load much quicker. It is recommended to build a .cc file for each game you wish to use cheats on. Updating the database will require you to build new .cc files for any game which has had new cheats added to the database. Once cheats have been turned on/off the user must hit “select” to save their selections, this also exits the choice editor. Building a .cc file may quickly become a task for users with hundreds of ROMs. Cheat Container files are not a requirement but they do enhance the speed of the cheat engine. It would have been nice to see an automatic build option of some sort. AKAIO vs. Official The AKAIO G.U.I. is easy to use, easy to navigate, and full featured. However, a small learning curve for the novice Flash Kit user does exist. To overcome any pre-boot jitters I again want to stress the importance of reading the AKAIO WIKI article. Take some time to get to know the firmware before you boot into it. On occasion a new version of AKAIO will be released with minor G.U.I. or interface bugs. For example while using AKAIO 1.6 I did experience two white screens after a WIFI update, however, please be aware this appears to have been fixed as of the current BETA build. The reason for these problems is that AKAIO is constantly recoded to better optimize performance. This is something the official team has never desired to do with their firmware, and the official firmware is basically the same firmware after the official/Bliss merge. The most recent official firmware updates have been based on shared AKAIO support. AKAIO’s constant pursuit for betterment has placed it in consideration by most as the best firmware in the scene. Because AKAIO is such an advanced firmware it has the tendency to put users off. Most users are accustomed to a very simple interface, simple options, and they expect the firmware to do all of the heavy lifting. AKAIO invites the user to get more involved by offering more options, settings, and features. What AKAIO does not feature are enhancements designed to push sales. AKAIO does not have plug-in based music support, in-game guides, slow motion, or real time save. So if you are looking for those features you will be disappointed. Personally I want my Flash Kit to play Homebrew and ROMs, to do it well, and to give me the ability to tweak out options which enhance the compatibility of those files. This is exactly what AKAIO offers. The AKAIO development team is the easiest to get in contact with out of any team I have dealt with. They make use of the GBATemp IRC network by being available in the channel #Acekard, there is an AKAIO forum for bug reports and firmware suggestions, and the devs can also be found here at GBATemp.net in many of the various forums. WARNING! Spoilers inside! The official firmware offers some of the features of AKAIO. Users of both firmware choices will feel at home when switching back and forth due to their common themes and styles. However, even a novice user will quickly see the lack of features found in the official firmware. The official firmware supports copy, cut, paste, and delete. The start menu contains a patching option which features DS download play, soft-reset, auto running of the last ROM played, cheat settings and cheat database selection. There are basic 3in1 options here as well. Users can turn on/off the rumble mode and choose where to automatically flash their .GBA and PassMe files. GBA flashing appears to be a bit faster on the official firmware. While this could simply be attributed to my late nights of testing, it appeared that PSRAM flashes were slightly faster than with AKAIO. The properties setting offers users a similar view as experienced with AKAIO. Users will find some of the same per-ROM settings as well. Users can also create 1 shortcut, hide certain files, and adjust the G.U.I. scroll speed much the same as with AKAIO. The official is a functional solution for users who simply do not want the full featured options of AKAIO. Infrequent loader updates being the most important distinction between the firmware choices. As a result there are more problem ROMs, files which do not load, new games which are unsupported, etc. Acekard’s strategy from the beginning was to embrace open-source firmware solutions. The problem with this philosophy is that you end up with 1 or 2 users who have the knowledge to make a useable firmware solution. I feel that as long as AKAIO is being maintained the official will continue to fall behind with few updates. Each user should make up their own mind, and I suggest that you try out both firmware options to see which one you prefer. AKAIO's Features Official Loader Support AKAIO offers support for the official firmware’s loaders. The akmenu4.nds from the official firmware can be placed into the ak2loader directory. Loaders can be any name, thus allowing users to have multiple loaders available to AKAIO. Although this is an outdated feature now that AKAIO has a higher compatibility, it is still nice to see it available. WIFI Updates Users can update loaders, cheats, savelist.bin, and the WIFI plug-in. This is a very unique feature which simplifies updating if WIFI access is available.. Custom Icons Users can add custom icons to their files. Icons must be BMP format at 32x32x15bpp. File and ROM icons are supported. Currently there is a bug in the firmware and extension icons must be placed in the same directory as the file. GBA Frames Custom GBA Frames can be loaded before a GBA ROM is launched and provide a border during GBA execution. Custom frames use the GBA GAME ID and must be BMP format at 256x192x15bpp. The GAME ID can be found by using the “internal” view of AKAIO. Skins AKAIO features the same detailed skins as the official firmware. Users can swap skins between the Acekard R.P.G., 2, 2.1, and 2i. Skinning tutorial: http://wiki.gbatemp.net/wiki/AKAIO_How_To Globalsettings.ini This file is created after the first boot-up and features some hidden options. Users can change to a 12 hour clock, lock the start menu (child proof it), and more. Editing the globalsettings.ini file directly is for advanced users only. Customizable Experience Users can adjust many options from within the G.U.I. to better customize and tweak the end experience. Download play, scroll speed, view mode, and more can be altered with the tap of the stylus. Save Slots AKAIO offers the ability to have more than 1 save file for the same ROM by making use of 9 different save slots. Backwards Compatibility AKAIO is backwards compatible with the .NDS.SAV files created by the official firmware. Users only need to change a setting in the menu to make them accessible. In addition, AKAIO offers the ability to change the file extension from .NDS.SAV to .SAV (and vice versa) via the ROM’s property settings “SAVE EXT” button. Soft-reset AKAIO supports Homebrew and ROM soft-reset options. The soft-reset button combination is L+R+A+B+Down. Homebrew soft-reset works on a majority of files and supports two different hooking methods. Save Type Different save sizes can be manually set. This allows users the ability to debug issues with various ROMs which may need a save type manually set. Rumble With the appropriate expansion kit, rumble is available for both Homebrew files and commercial ROMs. Users have a choice between three levels of intensity or turning the feature off. Cheats Users can make use of cheats from CHEATS.XML, CHEAT.DAT, or USRCHEAT.DAT formatted files. Cheats can be easily turned on or off for any game with a GAME ID in the database. Building a .cc file will speed up cheat usage by making a file which contains cheats for a specific GAME ID. The only complaint I have with this is that the .cc file must be built after each update if you wish to implement new cheats, and the .cc file must be made on a per-ROM basis. This can be tedious for larger microSD cards which contain hundreds of games. Slot-2 GBA Support AKAIO supports the eWin, EZ 3in1, and FAS1 Slot-2 solutions. The built in control functions much like GBA Exploader. ROMs are save patched before being flashed, users can back up their saves, etc. Slot-2 RAM AKAIO will automatically boot your compatible Slot-2 device for use with the official Opera browser. DMA AKAIO offers different commercial ROM DMA patching options. One option features faster save patching and fixes issue with some problem ROMs. Trying different modes is a quick way to debug and/or get a ROM working. Language Support Users can change the language aspect of AKAIO. This allows for the G.U.I. to be translated into every language. Files are simple text files and contain easy to follow literal strings. DLDI Patching Automatic DLDI patching frees the user from the requirement of manually patching Homebrew files before launching them. The AKAIO DLDI file has been reported to cause some issues for some users. Personally I have tested well over 200 Homebrew files and experienced no problems. However, if you do experience an issue the official DLDI file can be swapped for the AKAIO DLDI file, simply copy and replace. PassMe Holding L+A will boot into PassMe mode, allowing users to enjoy older Slot-2 Homebrew projects. These are just some of the features that AKAIO offers. This is by no means an in depth review of all of the features, how to use them, etc. AKAIO offers a complete ROM customizable experience, allowing users to get the most out of the Acekard 2.1. At first all of these features can be overwhelming, but in time you will learn to embrace them as I have. Performance Homebrew (Compatibility, Soft-reset, etc): Homebrew was tested using the Acekard 2.1 Black PCB HWID 80 card. 1 GB and 2 GB Japanese branded Kingston microSD cards were used in addition to an 8 GB Class-6 Transcend microSD card. Each card was formatted with the Panasonic formatter. A combination of the official Acekard microSD reader and an official Kingston microSD read were used. Each result is listed below by Homebrew name followed by a color coded phrase. Green colored phrases mean the Homebrew performed as expected with no problems. Blue colored phrases mean the Homebrew performed with some problems. Problems could include Homebrew soft-reset issues, microSD corruption, etc. Problems will be listed next to each appropriate section. Red colored phrases mean that the Homebrew failed. Failed Homebrew will be additionally tested on an original R4 running either the 1.18 English firmware or Wood R4 v1.06. Some failed Homebrew may also be tested on a Slot-2 M3 Perfect Lite or an NDS PC Emulator. Please note that any Homebrew compiled under the new Devkit ARM can not be soft-reset with AKAIO 1.6. This is a known problem which should be addressed in a future release. A lot of new Homebrew is still being compiled under old revisions to the development kit. This problem is not a large problem but could easily become one in the future. I attempted to test the latest revisions of Homebrew projects. For popular Homebrew projects I tested the most used revisions and not the latest BETAs. Applications:Animanatee - PassBunjalloo - PassClirc - PassColors - PassComicbook DS - PassDSNotes - PassDSOrganize - PassGBA Exploader - PassMario Paint Composer DS - PassMoonshell - Problems (Soft-reset fails)NitroTracker - PassPocketphysics - PassUAPaint - PassWordDS - PassGames/Emulation:1943 - PassCommanDSKeen - PassElement DS - PassBlocks Mania DS - PassRipholes in Rubbish - PassAlchemist Conflict - PassA Touch of War - PassBlockhead Catapultor - PassBombjack - PassDawnSeekers - PassDetective DS - PassDoomTrilogy - PassDSDoom - PassDSGoo - Problems (Soft-reset fails)DS Pack - PassDSx86 - PassFlight from the Dark - PassGreen Beret DS - PassHangman - PassInside the Machine - PassjEenesisDS - PassJNKPlat 08 - PassKnytt Stories DS - Pass (Must use "KSDS - Compatibility.nds")Lameboy - Pass (Soft-reset issue fixed in AKAIO 1.6 RC3 non-public BETA)LinewarsDS - PassManic Miner The Lost Levels - PassMissile Command - PassMr. Do DS - PassNeoDS - Pass (Soft-reset issue fixed in AKAIO 1.6 RC3 non-public BETA)NesDS - Problems (Soft-reset fails)Opentyrian DS - PassOperation Libra - FailPang - PassPassage to Demarr - Problems (Soft-reset works during the intro, fails during game play)Puzzle Maniak DS - PassQuake2DS - PassQuakeDS - PassREminiscenceDS - PassRise of the Triad DS - PassS8DS - PassSeek and Recharge - PassScummVMDS - Problems (Soft-reset fails)Snowbros - PassSoftporn Adventure - PassSolomon’s Key - PassSpoutDS - PassSpout Extended - PassStargazer - PassStarquake - PassStillAliveDS - PassTake the Eggs - PassThe 15th Floor - PassVideo Games Hero - PassWarhawkDS - PassWolf3D - PassWorld of Sand - PassYou Have to Burn the Rope DS - PassAs you can see AKAIO has a very high Homebrew compatibility. Homebrew files with problems were generally localized to soft-reset functionality; otherwise Homebrew functioned as expected and worked as it should. I used the IRQ Homebrew soft-reset hooking method for all of the files listed above. If IRQ failed then the SWI method was tested. For all failed files neither method was functional. The default AKAIO DLDI was used for all auto-patching. I did not experience a single problem with it. I was unable to get Operation Libra running on anything but an NDS PC Emulator. Some users have reported to me that they require special methods to get Moonshell working. I had all the default AKAIO patches turned on (including soft-reset) and was able to launch Moonshell using “MOONSHL2.NDS.” I would like to note that I experienced some corruption with Moonshell itself. A simply deletion and reinstallation using the setup.exe solved any on-boot memory errors. Snowbros cart-to-cart NIFI mode failed to function correctly during AK-to-AK, AK-to-R.P.G., and AK-to-R4 testing. Different combinations were used in regards to which cart acted as the server or client. Flash Kits were switched between two different NDS Lites during testing. At this point the problem does not appear to be AKAIO related. ROMs (Download play, WFC, Compatibility, Soft-reset, etc): In regards to my NDS I enjoy Homebrew more than ROMs. I have on occasion played through a game in its entirety, but not in the last year. I have attempted to test a wide range of games, some by popularity but most by their differences. ROMs were tested using the Acekard 2.1 Black PCB HWID 80 card. 1 GB and 2 GB Japanese branded Kingston microSD cards were used in addition to an 8 GB Class-6 Transcend microSD card. Each card was formatted with the Panasonic formatter. A combination of the official Acekard microSD reader and an official Kingston microSD read were used. Each result is listed below by ROM name followed by a color coded phrase. Green colored phrases mean the ROM performed as expected with no problems. Blue colored phrases mean the ROM performed with some problems. Problems could include ROM download play, soft-reset issues, microSD corruption, etc. Problems will be listed next to each appropriate section. Red colored phrases mean that the ROM failed. Failed ROMs will be additionally tested on an original R4 running either the 1.18 English firmware or Wood R4 v1.06. Some failed ROMs may also be tested on a Slot-2 M3 Perfect Lite or an NDS PC Emulator. I attempted to test the North American dumps of ROMs. If the “U” dump failed then another region dump was sought out. Games which have local WIFI or WFC were tested for co-op gaming between two NDS Lites and made use of Friend Codes when required. Both systems were using Ackeard 2.1s running AKAIO 1.6 RC2 with no modifications.42 All-Time Classics - PassAnimal Crossing: Wild World - PassBomberman Land Touch! - PassCastlevania: Portrait of Ruin - PassContra 4 - PassGrand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars - PassLEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga - PassMario Kart DS - PassMario Party DS - PassMario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis - PassMetroid Prime: Hunters - PassMetroid Prime Pinball - PassNamco Museum DS - PassNinjatown - PassNintendo DS Browser - PassN+- Pass (WFC servers have been removed by the company, WFC no longer functions for this ROM)New Super Mario Bros. - PassScribblenauts - PassSpace Invaders Extreme - PassTetris DS - PassThe Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass - PassTony Hawk's American Sk8land - PassUltimate Mortal Kombat - PassAs you can see from this list, AKAIO has a high compatibility in regards to tested ROMs. Only a few of the games on the list were played through in their entirety. Most of the games were tested for 35-60 minutes. This means that AKAIO features were tested, saving was tested, etc. Compatibility on AKAIO is generally much higher than the official firmware. However, not every known dump was tested nor was every possible circumstance. Users may continue to find problems with games which were tested or not tested. It should be noted that the AKAIO BETA Team has tested each ROM more than twice. While problems will slip through the cracks at times most of those problems have been caught. AKAIO’s generic Anti-Piracy patching routines have been removed from the firmware. The code makes use of a newer system which insures that only games which require patching receive it. Games are still patched “by hand” in the form of loader updates. One can not expect every game with A.P. to function without an update. This is an important distinction that required mention in this section of the review. Conclusion The Acekard 2.1 is sold at an entry level price and includes features, thanks in part to AKAIO, which make it worth every penny. The card itself is produced from a thinner plastic than other kits but still feels relatively solid. In comparison to other Flash Kits I have on hand, I would place the Acekard 2.1 at a 7/10 for build quality. A few of my test kits were wonderfully smooth while one caused a “click” during each insertion. Some users report the spring loaded microSD slot requires maintenance, something I have not experienced on multiple Acekard 2.1 kits which are well used and more than a year old. The AKAIO firmware is an excellent addition to any Flash Kit. I found it packed full of the features offering a high compatibility and a fun user experience. Bugs remain in items like the Homebrew soft-reset, file name length save extension issue (.SAV/.sav), etc. I found these issues minor and did not experience any serious problems while testing. Team Acekard has been good about getting back to users who contact them. The AKAIO development team can be contacted for live real-time conversations. Support of this magnitude is not often felt by most users, and this adds to the overall rating of the Acekard 2.1. Homebrew and ROM compatibility remain very high for this Flash Kit. AKAIO support is ongoing and frequently updated. There is a thriving community of users offering new themes, help articles, guides, and information. The AKAIO firmware has the most detailed WIKI article of any firmware in the scene. What the Acekard does lack are the 3 features the mainstream has coveted as the most sought after. This list of features includes Real Time Save, In-game Guide, and Slow-Motion. I could see where RTS would be useful, and I will only comment that the lack of these features is not from an Acekard hardware limitation. However the AKAIO firmware provides some features other Flash Kits are lacking. Homebrew soft-reset, FAS1 support, and WIFI updates are among those features. I would recommend the Acekard 2.1 to anyone who is looking for a NDS Phat/Lite Flash Kit. I would further recommend it to users who want excellent Homebrew and ROM support. Both firmware choices have a learning curve which I feel may be difficult for young children. Finally, if you can embrace the bugs which will arise from a constantly evolving firmware then perhaps this is the kit for you. Pros: + Low price point + microSDHC support + 2 firmware choices + AKAIO is frequently updated + Nice clean interface + Updatable over WIFI, cheats – loaders – etc + Homebrew soft-reset + Multi-language support + Action Replay cheat support + Clean ROM support, no patching required + Auto DLDI patching support + Native Slot-2 GBA Flashing support + PassME functionality + Custom icon support + GBA Frame support + AKAIO's Highly detailed WIKI articles + Community support through various help, guides, FAQs, etc + Extremely High Homebrew compatibility + Extremely High ROM compatibility Cons: - None Please read the spoiler below for my personal defensive comments towards expected user complaints about the lack of “cons.” WARNING! Spoilers inside! Links: Official Website AKAIO Forum AKAIO Loader Updates AKAIO WIFI Plug-in Updates AKAIO WIKI article This review was written for GBAtemp.net ONLY. The article and included photos are the property of GBAtemp.net, except for the following. The box shots and the Acekard 2.1 without the reader are the property of Acekard.com. The Blue and Green PCB photos were borrowed from metagames-eu.com. Research was conducted using the AKAIO WIKI, AKAIO Forums, Acekard Forums, and direct contact to team Acekard, the AKAIO developers, and the AKAIO BETA Testers. Special thanks to Shaunj66, Costello, Normmatt, Smiths, and the #acekard crew. Without all of you this review would not have been possible. If you see this review on any other site please let me know via a Private Message to Another World.