GBAtemp.net review of the... EFA-Linker 512Mbit Kit from www.efa.cc By shaunj66 - 5th December 2004 Update #1 (14th Dec 04) - Pogoshell 2.0b3 support and changed battery charging explanation. Introduction Extreme Flash Advance (EFA). Welcome to the official GBAtemp review of the EFA-Linker 512Mbit Flash Kit by shaunj66! First of all, I want to thank www.efa.cc for contacting me and offering me an EFA-Linker kit to review. The EFA-Linker comes from a new manufacturer. This is their first and what seems to be their only flash cart they have to offer at the moment. The people at www.efa.cc seem very helpful and were quick to respond to my e-mails; though they themselves don't speak perfect English they offer a very good level or service and support. The EFA-Linker does fortunately; seem to have many resellers worldwide, so if you do have a problem you should be able to contact your reseller for support depending on their personal terms of service. I'd better note that there was a small problem with the first cart I was sent to review, unfortunately I couldn't get it to work twice on my computer, and this was either an error with the cart itself or my computer. I have to say though; the folks at www.efa.cc were very quick in responding to this and sent me a new cart within 5 days (from China!!!) of me contacting them. The new cart works perfectly, and the guys at www.efa.cc assured me they will investigate AND fix the problem with the faulty cart/drivers/software. The EFA-Linker has been on the market for quite some time, but it's never really had the attention the more "popular" carts have had. Is there a reason for this or is this cart actually a dark horse? That's what I'm here to find out, and tell you. So, let's start by looking at the official feature list of the EFA-Linker 512Mbit... • Small: Using mini USB connect to PC, Internal USB control chip, no need additional writer and not infract the Nintendo Multiboot patent. (The long USB line for you PC, another short one for you notebook) • Fast: Ultra fast writing speed. Erase and write full 128Mbit ROM needs 126 seconds. Write full 256Mbit ROM only needs 211 seconds. • Long time using: Using the newest power saving Flashrom, Saving 60% battery energy than other first generation flashcard. You can play your GBA/SP with EFA at least 9,30 hours. • Perfect compatibility: Support save type include FLASH 1M V103, EEPROM_V124, FLASH512_V130, SRAM_V113. • Easy: Internal realtime clock, support all RTC titles. Hardware saver support and we are the first flashcard which hardware support 1Mbit Flash save type. Ignore the "Engrish" and you get the idea of the main selling points that this cart has to offer. I'll talk about each of these features later in the review, in the respective sections. Packaging and Looks The EFA-Linker 512Mbit kit arrived in a very nice looking wooden silver gift box. Currently included in the EFA-Linker 512Mbit package is... • EFA-Linker 512Mbit flash cart, • 1x Mini USB cable, • 1x Long USB cable. There are two USB cables included, which is quite a nice addition. One short USB cable (12cm/4.7inches) and one long USB cable (122cm/40inches). They both work the same, but the short one is intended for notebook PC's, but is also easier to use if you have a USB hub or port accessible from your desk. There is no manual or driver CD/floppy included in the package. They're all included in the driver/manual RAR archive that you're left to download this yourself from www.efa.cc. Unfortunately their website seems to be hosted on the world's slowest server ever, which most Chinese sites seem to be. Of course, you only need to get the drivers once so it's not really a big problem. The cart itself is a transparent purple colour as you can see below. It's the same size as a regular GBA game pak, except the part at the top of the cart you use to pull and remove the cart from a GBA, that part has been raised ever so slightly to make room for the carts mini USB connector. It's quite un-noticeable but I thought I'd mention it anyway. Features Here comes the main and most noticeable feature of the EFA-Linker - the mini USB connector on the cart (as shown below). This interesting feature makes the EFA-Linker stand out from the competition, because by having a mini USB connector on the cart itself, it eliminates the need for any linker device. You don't use a physical linker or flash through your Game Boy Advance, you simply connect the USB cable from your PC directly into the cart itself! This is a very handy and very straight forward way to flash a cart. It means there's no need to run down the batteries on your GBA or GBA SP or fiddle around with a clumsy linker device when flashing! It also significantly increases the speed at which ROMs are written to the cart, which I will cover later in the review. A good point I should make is that, by not requiring you to flash through a Game Boy Advance (& SP) it makes the EFA-Linker completely compatible with any device capable of playing GBA cartridges, yep that means the EFA-Linker is Nintendo DS compatible! The only downside to having the USB port on the cart is that there is no way to backup (dump) original game paks; also, you cannot send multiboot ROMs to the GBA. Fortunately neither of those two downsides will be applicable to the majority of end users (yourselves). The EFA-Linker also features a new power saving flash ROM chip, which is another main feature the cart has to offer. They claim it saves 60% more battery time than other non power saving carts and that you can play it for at least 9 hours and 30 minutes. Unfortunately I only managed to get just over 8 hours battery life from the EFA-Linker on my GBA SP. Note that my GBA SP battery obviously isn't brand new and has been charged probably a hundred times or so, which has probably affected my battery life. Their claim of a battery life of "9 hours and 30 minutes" was probably tested using a brand new GBA SP with a fresh battery. Still, the playtime of over 8 hours I got with the EFA is still considerably more than most other flash carts on the market, and rivals even the 8 hour and 18 minutes (taken from e2city's flash cart power consumption test) battery life the EZ-Flash II Power Star offers! Compare the EFA's battery life to the EZFA's average of just over 6 hours and you can see the EFA has a definite advantage here! And obviously, the 512Mb version of the EFA-Linker boasts 512Mbit of uncompressed space for your ROMs. That's 64MB (megabytes) of space. Although it's no longer the largest cart available on the market, 512Mb is more than enough space for holding your games. Using the Software and EFA-Linker Cart (And writing times) Installation was a breeze for me, and very straight forward... Once you've finally downloaded the drivers, that is! Unfortunately there's no simple installation software included, so you have to install the drivers manually. This is simple enough if you know what you're doing, but if not, just open the EFA English Manual PDF and read through the step by step instructions to install the drivers. Once the drivers are installed, a green LED on the EFA cart will light up indicating it's connected to your PC via USB and is charging or ready to flash... It's suggested by EFA.cc that you charge your EFA cart for 8 hours before using it. Actually this isn't mandatory, you can flash and play if you don't perform the initial 8 hour charge, but keep in mind that you may not be able to save any games on your cart until you do! You can charge the battery after installing the drivers and making sure the LED on the cart is green and leaving it plugged in and your PC powered on for 8 hours. It's probably best that you do the initial 8 hour charge, to avoid any problems or confusion on your part and to insure that the battery is fully charged when using the cart properly. Once all that is done, the drivers seem very stable and I haven't had any issues with them yet. The flashing software, called EFA Client is a custom application for use with your EFA-Linker. I am using version 2.2, which you can see below. It's a very straight forward piece of software with nothing over complicated. Once the EFA-Linker is connected to your USB port and the green LED is lit, load up the EFA Client and press the 'Search' button. It will detect the EFA cart and all the buttons on the interface become enabled. The first thing you might as well do is, synchronise the EFA's RTC (real time clock) with your computer's time settings. This is a very handy feature that saves your effort of setting the RTC manually. Just click the 'Sync Clock' button to synchronise! You can see how much space is left on your EFA cart by looking under the progress bar, it tells you in megabits how much ROM space and RAM (save file space) is left. I would prefer to see this in the form of a "filled progress bar" to make it more obvious (like the EZFA client), but it does the job and it is easy enough to see how much space is remaining. Adding ROMs is a snap, just click the 'Add Rom' button, and locate the GBA ROM or ZIP file and load it. The EFA Client automatically trims the ROM's and detects the save types, so you don't need to do anything else. If you want more than one ROM on the cart, make sure 'Use Loader' is ticked (which it is, by default). If you only want a single ROM on the cart, untick it so no boot menu is written. Once you have all the ROM's loaded that you want to flash, simply click 'Write Rom'. The LED on the cart turns to RED to indicate it's writing to the cart (so don't unplug it), now whilst it's flashing... sit back and wait... grab a coffee or someth-.... What!? It's finished already!?!? Yep, the time it takes to write the cart is the fastest on the market, and it's the fastest I've ever seen. It is very impressive to watch it write at the speed it does. It takes no more than 30 seconds to write 32Mbit! And takes under a minute to write 64Mbit! Here are the write times I experienced... • 32Mbit = 0 minutes, 30 seconds. • 64Mbit = 0 minutes, 54 seconds. • 128Mbit = 1 minute, 47 seconds. (107 seconds) • 256Mbit = 3 minutes, 17 seconds. (197 seconds) • 512Mbit = 7 minutes, 25 seconds. (445 seconds) Very impressive! The EFA client also allows you to do other standard things such as backup and write saved games, dump ROM's (off the EFA only mind you) and format the card. Unfortunately, one option that it doesn't have (or I can't find) is the option to rename games for the boot menu. Instead, you're stuck with the ROM's software title. You'll still be able to tell which ROM is which, but not having the option to rename the title makes the client feel a little outdated. If you need to add a new ROM onto the cart, or replace a ROM, you don't need to delete all your ROM's in order to add another; you can remove the last ROM on the cart and overwrite it with a new one (assuming it fits). The boot menu that the software uses and writes to the EFA cart is nothing special. You can see a picture of the default boot menu below. You do have the option, in the EFA Client, to change the background and font colours which is nice, even though it doesn't do much to sex up the boot menu; it's still nice that the option is there. On the GBA, the boot menu shows a list of flashed games, the title and version number of the boot menu, the www.efa.cc website address and the date and time in digital format. You can set the date and time on the cart if you wish by pressing 'Select'. You can boot a game by pressing 'A' or you can boot it with a soft reset using 'B'. The boot menu is nothing special, and doesn't look very pretty, but it does what it's supposed to do. All in all, the client is nice and does the job. It looks quite fancy too, with its custom skin. It doesn't get over complicated and hasn't crashed or thrown up an error on me yet. They also seem to be releasing new versions quite often in case there are actually any bugs that need fixing. How did the EFA-Linker perform when actually playing with it? Well, just fine to be honest! I've already gone over the battery life it's given me (around 8 hours). I've not yet experienced any errors playing games, or slowdowns. The carts boot menu works well, and there are no "pauses" after selecting a ROM before it loads, it's instant, unlike other carts on the market that have a 1-4 second delay before the ROM actually loads. Saving files in games works fine. I've tested several games, using different save methods such as EEPROM_V124, SRAM, FLASH etc... and I've not yet needed to patch a ROM before flashing it. (Save patches/hacks etc.). No saves have disappeared from the cart yet and I've been able to backup them to my PC through the EFA Client and re-write them at a later date without errors. No complaints here! The on-board RTC (real time clock) also works perfectly. I've tested games such as Pokémon and it has worked fine in the game. I synchronised the RTC date and time to my PC clock using the EFA Client, and a week later it was still ticking over accurately to the second. So, no complaints here either. Pogoshell Pogoshell now works on the EFA-Linker! Currently only version 2.0 Beta 3 is compatible, so make sure you get that version. It can be downloaded from http://www.efa.cc There are a few minor errors with the first EFA supported beta. Firstly, the date and time are displayed incorrectly, secondly; all ROMs (EEPROM and flash type) must be save patched before flashing, and lastly only 256Mbit Pogoshell ROMs will work. So don't create an image over 256Mbit. Apparently, these bugs are being worked on for the next release so hopefully we will see a fully working version soon. Unfortunately when I tried flashing Pogoshell to my EFA, and changed the save type in the client to 512Kbits as instructed the client crashed. I flashed Pogoshell without changing the save type and it seemed to work ok. Hopefully these are just all problems in the early stages and we can expect to have a fully working version of Pogoshell for the EFA-Linker 256Mbit and 512Mbit versions and a client software that is more compatible with Pogoshell and save types it needs to run soon! Additional Software (Cheats) The EFA Client supports the use of Action Replay cheat codes. It's not exactly a straight forward process but it's not difficult either. There are two included pieces of software in the RAR archive, a code crypt tool and a converter, the PDF manual explains how to use them. You can find cheat codes at www.codejunkies.com. Note that Action Replay codes that use the physical AR button found on a real AR cart for cheats such as slow motion won't work; neither will (M) codes so make sure you don't select them when pasting codes into the software. I tested all of this out and it seems to work fine, I had infinite health and what not working in random games. I'm not a cheating person myself, so I won't use this function, but it's another nice addition and I'm sure some people (*cough*CHEATERS!*cough*) will appreciate it. Conclusion So to sum all that up, what did I think of the EFA-Linker 512Mbit kit? I'm actually quite surprised there hasn't been much recognition of this cart in the scene. It's certainly got the fastest write speed I've ever seen and IS the fastest currently available the market. The cart and software seem very stable and I've not had any real problems with them yet. The build quality of the cart and cables is very good, and it's nice to see it all packaged in a presentable gift box. Though it would be nice if there were a manual, or an FAQ leaflet and driver CD included. The EFA Client and other software isn't the best, but it does what it's supposed to do and doesn't get over complicated. Unfortunately, there isn't much you can customise, like the boot menu or the name of the ROM's on the menu. They do frequently update the software though, so who knows what they may be planning? If you're looking for a cart to hold your ROM's and simply play games, and you're the sort of person that frequently switches or adds new ROM's to the cart then the EFA-Linker is for you. But the inability to dump ROM's may put off some potential buyers. The EFA-Linker doesn't really offer much in the way of extra features. But it does what it's supposed to do very quickly and well. The EFA-Linker 512Mbit kit is currently retailing at about £70 / €110 / $130, which is fairly cheap, making it good value for money. You can find a list of dealers in your country here: http://www.efa.cc/dealers.html To round it all up, the EFA-Linker 512Mbit kit is a very stable and speedy solution if you're looking for a GBA flash kit. I would highly recommend it! Pros: + Very fast write times + Rechargeable battery + Low GBA battery consumption meaning longer playtime + Straight forward flashing process Cons: - Manual driver installation - Cannot dump games (except back off the EFA cart) - Not very customisable - You may want to perform an 8 hour internal battery charge Thanks for checking out my review, and thanks once more to the guys at www.efa.cc for giving me the chance to review the EFA-Linker for the members of GBAtemp! Review by shaunj66 for GBAtemp.net ONLY, on 5th December 2004.