Review: EverDrive GBA X5 (Hardware)
GBAtemp review of the...
EverDrive GBA X5
Developed by: Krikzz
Worldwide sales by: Krikzz Store, DragonBox.de, emere.es, Stone Age Gamer, RetroGate, Everdrive.de, Stuffpoint.ru
Additional sales by: Various, full list here
Also known as: ED GBA, EverDrive GBA
Review by raulpica - Completed 10/08/2016, updated on 05/09/2016
Well, what better website than GBAtemp to review this flashcard? We started as a GBA-focused website and we still have a core audience of older members who game on the GBA regularly. But the market for GBA flashcarts has changed since the GBA's heyday. Until recently, if you wanted a cart which supported RTC, you were usually forced to look on auction websites for an older cart, which came with its own issues. Most of these flashcarts were developed back when Windows XP and Parallel ports were still commonplace but, as of now, both of those things have all but disappeared from modern computers. What to do then? Patch those games and renounce to the RTC events in games like Pokémon? Or play them on an emulator, which doesn't have the honest to goodness feeling of using the retro system of your childhood? Luckily for us, Krikzz, creator of flashcarts like the Super EverDrive and the EverDrive MD spotted this market opportunity for a new card and after it being in development for quite a long time we're finally ready to examine his new baby, the EverDrive GBA X5.
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A special thanks must go out to Krikzz for providing the review sample.
Copypasted straight from the official website, here's the spec-sheet for the flashcart:
- High compatibility. Near to 100% compatibility with GBA game library
- All save types supported, no ROM patching required
- Fast Loading (most games load within 1 - 2 seconds)
- 256Mbit PSRAM (32MByte) ROM memory
- 1Mbit SRAM (128KByte) save memory
- Real-time clock support
- Low power consumption
- SD, SDHC and SDXC cards are supported. Tested with micro-SD cards up to 64GB
- FAT32 support
- Supported with gamecube player, super retro advance adapter and other GBA accessories
- NES, GB and GBC games support (emulation mode)
As you can see, there's a very handy slot for changing the SRAM battery, which is a CR1220. Extremely commonplace and cheap, it's an excellent choice for a modern flashcart. No more soldering replacement batteries after a few years!
The cart uses microSD cards, which are now the standard for almost everything these days. It also means you can get a good brand microSD for peanuts - personally I'm using a Sandisk Ultra microSD and loading times are almost instantaneous.
Contents, Packaging, Design & Impressions
The EverDrive GBA X5 came in one of the usual Krikzz cardboard boxes, along with an anti-static bag and copious amounts of bubble-wrap. The sticker on the cart is of good quality and it does not compare badly to the stickers original GBA carts have. The cart itself is made of transparent smokey frosted plastics, which let you admire some of the hardware inside.
Most of you will have noticed by now the elephant in the room: the ED GBA X5 is a bit bigger than a usual GBA cart, similar to the cartridges Boktai games used. Before panicking, I'll have to say that I don't feel that the cart size is an issue at all when playing on the GBA Classic or the GBA SP. I can play quite comfortably on the GBA Micro as well, but your mileage may vary there. I have pretty big hands and I can feel the cart sticking from beneath the Micro, but it never gets in the way.
Setup and Usage
As with the other flashcards developed by Krikzz, the OS the card uses is directly loaded from the microSD itself, which makes for very easy upgrading when new versions are out. The microSD slot is spring-loaded but it seems to be pretty sturdy compared to what you'd see in early DS flashcards.
Cards up to 32 GBs can be used, which means that you can stick the ENTIRE GBA romset on a single microSD card. Quite a feat! As with the Super ED, Krikzz recommends using the Windows Formatting utility and 32k cluster sizes. Using other programs is not advised nor supported, so please be wary of that. There shouldn't be any troubles (I used a microSD card formatted by a Mac without any issue), but it's always better to follow the instructions written on the tin when possible. The testing was done on a Class 10 microSD card and the menus always felt snappy. I haven't been able to test how it'd fare with a Class 4 microSD but if you're spending that much money on an EverDrive GBA X5, I'd recommend to also spend another 5-10 bucks to get a good microSD to go along with it. You'll get the most out of your cart and minimise loading times.
You can find the latest software for the ED GBA X5 in the Downloads section of the cartridge's product page. Currently the software version is GBA O/S v1.01, released on 30.07.2016. It is usually recommended to always update to a newer version as soon as it's released, as they'll fix bugs and improve functionality. Krikzz has already released one version since I've received this card, which should say plenty on the kind of care Krikzz has shown to put in his product.
Update: GBA O/S v1.10 is out, which fixes the homebrew save issue and also adds built-in support for PocketNES and Goomba Color, on top of improving compatibility with some microSD cards.
In the archive you'll download, you'll find a folder called GBASYS which needs to be copied to the root of your microSD card. The folder contains a file called GBAOS.GBA which is the OS itself and it's also where the flashcart will store settings, and most importantly, the save files it creates when loading a game for the first time.
After all of this is done, you'll get the ED GBA's file browser.
It's pretty spartan but it gets the work done and it's unlikely you'll be spending that much time on it anyway as you'll be busy playing some amazing classics like the Super Mario Advance games, the extremely well-received GBA exclusive Mother 3 or the likes of Rhythm Tengoku Silver (the translation of which was proudly released here on GBAtemp!). You might not notice it from the picture but the EverDrive GBA X5 currently does not automatically sort games by alphabetical order. You'll need to do so with an external utility, like FAT Sorter. It's a bit of an annoyance but it seems that the feature will be added in one of the future updates.
The controls are extremely simple, Right and Left will jump pages, Up and Down will let you select individual titles, B takes you back to the previous folder, A brings up the "File Menu" which lets you start a game, SELECT gets you to the "Main Menu" screen while START will let you immediately jump back in the last game you loaded in the EverDrive GBA X5. Let's have a look at the various options the menus provide:
Select And Start will load a game and start it (duh) which also means the game will be kept in the flashcart's memory until you load another one; Select Only will let you preload a game, without starting it; Rom Info will give you some interesting tidbits about the game you're going to play (like the Save Type or if it uses RTC) while Hex View is a nice bonus for the tinkerers out there - it lets you see the entire contents of the games, directly on your GBA, in hexadecimal notation.
Update: The ROM Settings menu has been added in v1.10 - it grants the possibility of manually editing the Save Type and to force RTC on, in case you're playing Homebrews or some edited ROMs which are not recognised by the ED GBA. I've already tested the function with some Homebrews, which now save correctly after forcing the Save Type to SRAM.
The remaining functions are in the "Main Menu": Options will let you manually change things like the Save Type (it's not like you'll ever need to, anyway) or to force-enable the RTC. It also lets you disable Fast Boot which means the GBA Splash Screen will be displayed every time you start a game; Swap A/B will let you decide which button will be "confirm" and which one will be "cancel". There's also a Recently Played list in case you forget which one of the many games you were playing lately and a Start Random Game option if you feel lucky and want the cart to select a game for you. They're novelties but they're still something nice to have.
Update: v1.10 also adds the option Hide GBASYS, which hides the GBASYS folder from the menu. Another interesting feature is the ability to directly play NES and GB/C games by simply adding the latest PocketNES.gba and Goomba.gba files to your GBASYS folder. The feature works as advertised: every ROM will directly launch the appropriate emulator, making things much easier if you have a big collection of retro games on your ED GBA. It was one of the things I was missing the most from my old SuperCard miniSD - kudos to Krikzz for implementing such a nice feature on his cart!
For those who hold an interest in the technical aspects of the flashcart, you'll also find the Device Info screen here, which will list the various versions of the components the cart uses and the Diagnostics screen, which will accurately test every hardware component in your EverDrive GBA X5 to be sure that it's in tip top shape. It'll even list the microSD read and write speeds (a feature that it's extremely handy for benchmarking your microSD cards) and the current RTC settings which can help you confirm if the feature is working as it should. Lastly, the About screen contains an helpful reminder of the commands the ED GBA uses along with the credits.
It's finally time to tackle the most important part of every flashcard review: testing compatibility.
A 4GB Class 10 UHS-1 Sandisk microSD was used for testing. The card was formatted in FAT32 using the Windows Formatter, as recommended by Krikzz. I've used the No-Intro Romset, which contains clean, 100% unaltered dumps of every GBA cartridge out there. I cherry picked the games I thought would make a good test case and played each one for usually 5 to 30 minutes while others for much more. I've tried pretty much every RTC-compatible game out there along with many different kind of Save Types to ensure that every single one of them was correctly supported by the ED GBA X5. . Please note that games are to be assumed to be always unpatched unless explicitly marked as such (which is the case for games such as Boktai and/or fan-translated games). The (Europe) version was always used when available, if that wasn't the case the (USA) version was used instead. Lastly, if there is no English release, the (Japan) version is the one that has been tested.
- Advance Wars - PASS
- Advance Wars 2 - PASS
- Banjo Kazooie - Grunty's Revenge - PASS
- Boktai - The Sun is in Your Hand (w/ Prof. 9's sensor fix) - PASS (see Note 1)
- Boktai 2 - Solar Boy Django (w/ Prof. 9's sensor fix) - PASS (see Note 1)
- Breath of Fire - PASS
- Castlevania - Aria of Sorrow - PASS
- Classic NES Series - Zelda II - PASS
- Classic NES Series - Super Mario Bros. - PASS
- Donkey Kong Country - PASS
- Donkey Kong Country 2 - PASS
- Donkey Kong Country 3 - PASS
- Doom - PASS
- Dragon Ball Z - The Legacy of Goku - PASS
- Dragon Quest Monsters - Caravan Heart (w/ KaioShin's English Translation) - PASS
- Elevator Action - Old & New - PASS
- F-Zero - GP Legend - PASS
- Final Fight One - PASS
- Final Fantasy IV (w/ Bregalad's Sound Patch) - PASS
- Final Fantasy V (w/ Bregalad's Sound Patch) - PASS
- Final Fantasy VI (w/ Bregalad's Sound Patch) - PASS
- Fire Emblem - Fuuin no Tsurugi (w/ Gringe's English Translation) - PASS
- Fire Emblem - The Sacred Stones - PASS
- Game Boy Advance Video - Sonic X - Volume 1 - PASS
- Game Boy Advance Video - Yu-Gi-Oh! - Yugi vs. Joey - PASS
- Golden Sun - PASS
- Harvest Moon - Friends of Mineral Town - PASS
- Kirby & the Amazing Mirror - PASS
- Kirby - Nightmare in Dreamland - PASS
- Legend of Zelda, The - A Link to the Past & Four Swords - PASS
- Legend of Zelda, The - The Minish Cap - PASS
- Magical Vacation (w/ magicalpatcher's English Translation) - PASS
- Mario & Luigi - Superstar Saga - PASS
- Mario Kart - Super Circuit - PASS
- Mega Man Battle Network - PASS
- Mega Man Zero - PASS
- Mega Man & Bass - PASS
- Metroid - Zero Mission - PASS
- Metroid - Fusion - PASS
- Mother 1+2 (w/ Tomato and Jeffman's English Translation) - PASS (minor glitch on the splash screen)
- Mother 3 (w/ Tomato and Jeffman's English Translation) - PASS
- Oriental Blue - Ao no Tengai (w/ The Romhacking Aerie's English Translation) - PASS
- Pokémon Emerald Version - PASS (see Note 1)
- Pokémon Sapphire Version - PASS (see Note 1)
- Pokémon LeafGreen Version - PASS
- Rhythm Tengoku (w/ W Hat's English Translation) - PASS
- Riviera - The Promised Land - PASS
- River City Ransom EX - PASS
- Rockman EXE 4.5 - Real Operation (w/ Prof. 9's English Translation) - PASS (see Note 2)
- Rockman EXE 6 - Dennoujuu Falzar (w/ exeguy11's English Translation) - PASS
- Shin Bokura no Taiyou (w/ DarthNemesis, lordhuffnpuff and SpikeMan's English Translation and Prof. 9's sensor fix) - PASS
- Shin Megami Tensei - PASS
- Sonic Advance - PASS
- Super Mario Advance - PASS
- Super Mario Advance 4 (w/ ShadowOne333's eReader Patch) - PASS
- Tales of Phantasia - PASS
- Wario Land 4 - PASS
- WarioWare, Inc. - PASS
- Yggdra Union - We'll Never Fight Alone - PASS
- Yu-Gi-Oh! - Worldwide Edition - Stairway to the Destined Duel - PASS
- Anguna - PASS
- Another World - PASS
- Rick Dangerous - PASS
- Powder - PASS
- Goomba Color - PASS
- MSXAdvance - PASS
- PCEAdvance - PASS
- PocketNES - PASS
- SMSAdvance - PASS
- SNESAdvance - PASS
Homebrew apps are working fine but saves aren't working yet as Krikzz is currently focusing on Commercial games support first. He assured me that support for the most popular ones is in the works. The review will be updated when the new version will be released and it will show to fix the saving issue with HBs.
Update: GBA O/S v1.10 added the option to force the Save Type, which effectively fixes any issues with saving in Homebrews. I've already tested some, and they all save correctly after forcing the Save Type to SRAM.
No slowdowns were noticed in any of the games listed and I never had the need to patch any game unless, as previously stated, I needed to apply a translation patch and/or sensor fix. We can see that usually troublesome games like the Classic NES Series and Dragon Ball Z - Legacy of Goku work without any patching needed. It seems like the ED GBA delivers on its promise of almost perfect compatibility without fail.
Note 1: The Pokémon games use a weird way of setting the RTC clock. Every time you start a new game, the clock will be reset to 2000/01/01 00:00 and it'll start counting from there. While you can easily reset the time in the Boktai games from the Options menu, there's no way to do so in the Pokémon games after starting them. This could lead to weird issues like losing the time and/or screwing it completely if playing more than one Pokémon game at a time. Even if it's Nintendo's "fault" for such a "bug" to exist, Krikzz has been notified of this issue and is looking into a solution.
Note 2: Rockman EXE 4.5 is technically working fine but the RTC does not get enabled by default by the current OS version, it needs to be manually set in the Settings menu after loading the game in memory (using Select Only) then start the game using START. The RTC will then work.
EverDrive GBA X5 vs EZ-Flash IV
In this chapter I'll be comparing this flashcart to the only other GBA flashcart you can still purchase as of today - the EZ-Flash IV. It doesn't make much sense to compare this to the M3 Perfect or the G6 since those flashcarts have since long been discontinued.
I have seen comments stating that the EZ-Flash IV can be bought for less and doesn't stick out - both of these statements are true. The EZ-Flash IV places ICs on both sides of the PCB, which let the EZ-Team stuff everything in a GBA-sized cartridge. The EverDrive GBA X5 has them only on the front side of the PCB instead which is cheaper to manufacture but bigger. So the answer to the question of why is the ED GBA X5 not placing components on both sides of the PCB is obvious: to keep costs low. Krikzz is a small indie developer and gets his flashcards produced in small batches. That makes them way more expensive to make than what you could pay to get them mass manufactured in China. Krikzz is also working on a new naming convention for his flashcards: X3, X5 and X7, which respectively mean "budget", "mainstream" and "premium" cards. As you can notice, the EverDrive GBA X5 is a "mainstream" card which might be the reason why he went for placing the ICs on just one side of the PCB instead of both - it also seems that an EverDrive GBA X7 will be released sometime in the future. We can speculate that one of the features of that premium card will be a shorter PCB with both sides fully populated - but you can expect to pay a steep premium for that.
On the bright side, even if the ED GBA X5 is more expensive than the EZ-Flash IV, you're paying for a flashcard with more modern components, which will probably last longer and have less maintenance issues (when the battery runs out on the EZ4 the only option to fix that is to solder a new one while you can easily change it on the ED GBA X5) than an older design. The ED GBA also comes with RTC which is a major selling point for any Pokémon fan (or Boktai fan, like me) and a much faster memory than the EZ4 came with, which means near-instantaneous loading times in almost every case except the 32M games, which, by the way, will only take a few seconds to load.
The EZ-Flash IV is definitely good bang for the buck and the fact that it has been out for a long time is reflected in the feature list - the EZ4 supports cheats, which might be a big deal for some, while the ED GBA X5, as of now, still lacks such a feature. The EZ4 menu is also more fleshed out and it comes with skins support - the EverDrive GBA X5 instead just offers a textual menu with no frills. One annoying issue of the ED GBA X5 is that it currently doesn't do auto-sorting by alphabetical order. That means the game will be displayed in the order you copied them (but that is not always the case) which can be really confusing. In turn, the EZ4 does not need that as it automatically sorts filenames by alphabetical order. On the other hand, the EZ-Flash IV requires patching every ROM before copying it over to the SD, which can be a massive annoyance especially if you've got a quite big collection of GBA games. The ED GBA doesn't require any patching so adding a game is just a matter of dragging it to your SD card.
Krikzz assured me that the missing features will soon come to the EverDrive GBA X5, though, so the gap in functionality could close soon enough.
So, which one is the winner, in the fight between the EZ4 and the ED GBA X5? It's time for my concluding thoughts.
The ED GBA X5 is, without doubt, another fantastic cart by Krikzz, which pretty much checks every box except the size. Some features are missing right now (Cheats, Saves in Homebrews, Automatic Menu Sorting) but Krikzz has a proven record of quick and frequent updates, so these should be added soon.
Is it then worth paying the price premium over the smaller EZ-Flash IV? If you care about RTC support, then the answer will be a resounding yes. There are simply no alternatives for that on the market. If you add in the fact that loading times are pretty much non-existent and that no patching is needed, the scales start to tip heavily in favour of the ED GBA X5.
Still, if you're into Homebrew and Emulators, you might want to wait for a bit until the new update is out (should be in September) before splurging out for one. After that gets fixed, it'll be an even easier choice to make.
Update: Since version v1.10 added built-in PocketNES and Goomba Color support along with a fix for saves in Homebrews, it's now easier to recommend this cart to Emulation and Homebrew fans - everything works without any issue, and if you've got the knack for emulating NES and GB/C games on your GBA it'll be a total breeze to play them now, without having to compile menus for your favourite old-school games!
To sum it all up, if budget is not an issue and you can deal with the fact that this Flashcart is slightly bigger than the usual GBA cartridge, you'll be in for a treat - if Krikzz delivers on every of his promises (and we've got every reason to believe he will) this is definitely the best cart we've seen yet for the good old GBA.
Note: The score currently reflects the fact that some features are missing. It'll be amended when Krikzz releases new updates.
+ No patching needed
+ RTC support
+ Almost perfect compatibility
+ Super-fast loading
+ Built-in support for PocketNES and Goomba Color
- Cart larger than usual, sticks out
- No cheat support (for now)
- No automatic menu sorting (for now)
out of 10
The EverDrive GBA X5 is a great flashcard, with no real downside except for the size. The loading times are amazing, compatibility is pretty much perfect and the price is not too expensive for what it offers. Please keep in mind the fact that some features are currently missing but the ED GBA's potential is clear enough: Krikzz has already proven to deliver on his promises and the remaining features should hopefully be implemented soon. Highly recommended for every serious GBA aficionado!