EFA-Linker II 1Gbit Review

Discussion in 'Official GBAtemp Reviews' started by Darkforce, Nov 24, 2005.

Nov 24, 2005

EFA-Linker II 1Gbit Review by Darkforce at 4:43 PM (39,465 Views / 0 Likes) 1 replies

  1. Darkforce

    Former Staff Darkforce DERP!

    Nov 5, 2002
    United Kingdom
    GBAtemp.net review of the...

    EFA-Linker II 1Gbit [​IMG]
    from www.efa.cc

    By Darkforce - 24th November 2005


    Welcome to the official GBAtemp review for the EFA-Linker II. Documentation on the EFA-Linker II is a bit thin on the ground so hopefully this review will also serve as a basic guide for people who already own the cart. I'd like to thank everyone at Extreme Flash Advance (EFA) for supplying GBAtemp with this great new flash cart, who once again have been very helpful and insightful to us. I'd also like to thank the GBAtemp staff for giving me the opportunity to carry out this review, especially Opium who has been an immense help throughout.

    The EFA-Linker II is the follow up to the highly successful EFA-Linker which even today is regarded as one of if not the best GBA flash cart on the market, thanks to it's great build quality, reliability and very fast flashing times. Does the EFA-Linker II turn the whole GBA flash cart scene upside-down like it's predecessor? Let's find out...

    Feature List:
    • Works with GBA/GBASP/NDS (GBA mode).
    • 1Gbit storage.
    • Real Plug&Play U-disk (USB Storage Device).
    • Drag & Drop files directly to into the EFA-Linker II.
    • Write the ROMs direct from NAND FLASH to NOR FLASH.
    • Ultra fast writing speed (from NAND to NOR).
    • Instant save.
    • RTC (Real Time Clock).
    • RTS (Real Time Save) and normal save function.
    • SMS (Super Memory Stick) for backup of save files.
    • Soft-reset.
    • Cheat function.
    • Custom backgrounds.
    • Don't need any external writer (bridge).
    • Very small. It uses mini USB connector to PC, has internal USB control chip.
    • Power saving. Use 1.8v memory and saves you GBA/NDS battery. Consumes 60% less power than many other flash kits (with 3.3v memory).
    Photo Gallery:

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    Packaging and Looks:

    On first impressions the EFA-Linker II looks very similar to the first EFA-Linker; once again the cart is housed in an attractive wooden box and bundled with two mini-USB cables of different lengths (although as the pictures show only 1 was supplied for the review). Like the first EFA-Linker the EFA-Linker II does not use an external linker to write data to the cart, instead the USB cable connects directly to the EFA-Linker II. The only aspect of the design I'm not too keen on was the decision to move the LED that shows when the cart is being accessed and written to, from the top to half way down the cart, so now the light isn't visible if it's plugged into your GBA/SP/DS. It's also noticeably less brighter. Maybe EFA were a bit pushed for space inside the cart this time round so the LED got moved, but hey it's only an LED; it won't increase your gaming skills or make your games run any better, so who cares?! Let's move on...

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    The first thing you'll want to do is connect the EFA-Linker II to the PC to charge the carts internal battery, since the EFA-Linker II uses a rechargeable battery unlike many of the cheaper flash carts on the market. Doing this charge isn't compulsory but as the battery keeps track of the Real Time Clock (RTC) and saves made, so it is of course highly recommended.

    Understanding the EFA-Linker II:

    The EFA-Linker II is quite different to most conventional flash carts so I ought to explain the structure of the cart:
    • The 1Gbit NAND Flash - This part of the cart is 128MB large (127MB formatted) and is used to store the games you write on from the PC, games can't be played from this section. This section is also known as the U-Disk because works just like a normal plug and play mass storage device.
    • The 256Mbit NOR Flash - This part of the cart is 32MB large, you transfer games from the NAND Flash to this section in order to play them. You transfer games using the loader software onboard the EFA-Linker II itself so this transfer is done using the GBA/SP/DS and not on the PC.
    • There is additional Flash ROM to accommodate the loader menu, as opposed it being placed it in the NOR Flash section as with many other flash carts. This means that you can fit an entire 256Mbit game in the NOR Flash section. The area of the cart used for the loader menu is re-writeable to so the loader can be updated and improved as time goes on.

    The greatest feature of the EFA-Linker II definitely has to be the plug and play compatibility... Tired of fumbling around with drivers and software for your flash cart? Paranoid parents, teachers or friends don't like you installing stuff on their machine? No problem! simply connect the mini-USB cable to the cart, stick the other end in a USB port and away you go!


    The first time you connect the EFA-Linker II to a PC Windows will detect the new hardware and a couple of clicks later the cart will be ready to use. The EFA-Linker II also works on Macs and Linux; the cart operates like a standard USB mass storage device.


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    To write games to the EFA-Linker II simply open up the drive in Windows explorer and drag and drop the games into cart, it couldn't be any easier! The EFA-Linker II also supports games inside folders for those who like to keep things organized.


    Alternatively you can use the PC client to transfer the games over. The software is fairly basic but does its job, you can add games to a list with the total size of the games available at the top, you can then export all the games in the list to the cart or delete anything in the list you don't want to write. If you double click a title in the list you can rename it (handy because the file names are limited to 8 characters unfortunately) and on the right hand size you have the options to patch the selected game for soft reset, instant save, save patch and cheat support. These features are all covered later in the review. The client copies the selected games into a temporary directory to make any changes to each game so you don't have to worry about your roms being ruined. At the bottom there's a handy bar which shows how much space you have currently used in your cart and how much space you have remaining.


    The EFA-Linker II has a little red light in the cart to show it's connected to the PC okay, when you transfer games across the light will blink. You can leave the cart in the GBA or DS while it is being accessed by the PC however the handheld needs to be switched off.


    Using the Cart:

    Turn on the EFA-Linker II and the first thing you'll see is an EFA splash screen followed by a list of everything in the U-Disk section of the cart. At the top it displays the directory path and in the top right the version of the loader software, photos show v1.001 of the firmware but this review has since been amended and written up using the latest firmware v1.004. Firmware updates can be found on the official EFA site and updating the firmware is very easy; simply drag and drop the update file into the U-Disk, turn the handheld on and it'll update automatically.

    Using and navigating the loader is straight forward; pressing Select gives presents you with the option to write a game to the 256Mbit NOR Flash section, or write a save file onto the save space, you can also select the language of the loader (English or Chinese) and set the Real Time Clock (RTC). Pressing select will return you to the main menu, here L will bring up the help file and R will display the time and date.


    To play a game you need to move it from the U-Disk section to the NOR Flash section, this is easy enough to do, just press A on the game you want to play and the loader will show everything already in the NOR Flash.


    Here you can either press A to write the game or if there are already lots of games in the NOR Flash and don't have the room you can delete games from the Flash section prior to writing the game. The loader shows how much space is available in the NOR Flash section (ROM), how much you need to write your chosen game (Need) and even how much free RAM the system has for some reason. At the bottom you'll see some numbers relating to the save size, read more about this in the saving section. When you write a game the loader shows the writing progress, the time taken to write a game depends on its size but on average you'll be looking at a minute or two (exact times are available a bit further down).


    Once the game has had been transferred from the U-Disk, just select the game you want to play and away you go! You can press left or right to switch between the U-Disk and the NOR Flash sections of the EFA-Linker II. In the NOR Flash section there's a bar to display how much space in the Flash section has been used. You can carry on adding games until you run out of space (256Mbit).

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    Writing Speed Comparison:

    The EFA-Linker had some of the fastest writing times around so how does the EFA-Linker II compare. Well the structure of the cart is quite different to the EFA and most other GBA flash carts as you should now realize, in fact the only other cart with a similar design is the recent EZ3, so it made sense to compare writing times for the two. The graph below show the total time taken to write a game i.e. the time taken to write the game from the PC to the U-Disk/EZ-Disk section of the cart and the time taken to write the game from the U-Disk/EZ-Disk to the NOR Flash section:


    As you can see the writing times are very similar on the whole, for 32, 64 and 128mbit games the EZ3 is ever so slightly faster. This isn't necessary a bad thing for the EFA-Linker II because whatever way you look at it both carts have phenomenal writing times. The real eye opener though is with 256Mbit games, as here the EFA-Linker II is almost 4 minutes faster than the EZ3.

    A more detailed breakdown of the times are available below:


    (EZ3 data provided by Opium)

    As you can see whilst the total write times for 32, 64 and 128Mbit roms are very similar, the EFA-Linker II and EZ3 both excel in different areas; the EFA-Linker II has fast transfer times from the PC to the U-Disk, and slow transfer times from the U-Disk to the NOR Flash. In comparison the EZ3 is the complete opposite with slow transfer times from the PC to the EZ-Disk and fast write times from the EZ-Disk to the Flash ROM. It might seem disadvantageous for some that writing games form the U-Disk to the NOR Flash takes longer with the EFA-Linker II, however it should be noted that when playing 32, 64 or 128Mbit games, with the EFA-Linker II games stay in the Flash memory until you decide to remove them; so the next time you play the game will load instantly. With the EZ3 however you need to transfer the game from the EZ-Disk to the Flash every single time you want to play it, which as the table shows takes around 2-11 seconds each time depending on the size of the game.

    So what cart is fastest then? Well for games 128Mbit or less there isn't really any difference, but if you compare writing times for 256Mbit games the EFA-Linker II comes out on top. The EFA-Linker II writes a 256Mbit game almost 4 minutes faster than the EZ3, which is a BIG difference so if you're someone who plays any 256Mbit GBA or DS games you know which of the two carts I'd recommend! As for DS support please read the relevent section for more information.


    In total I tested over 80 commercial GBA games on the EFA-Linker II, both old games and new games, small sized games and large sized games, games from a wide range of publishers and developers... you get the idea. The good news is that they all worked just fine and it's great to have such excellent compatibility. Earlier versions of the firmware had a few niggles loading games but have since been ironed out so make sure you have the latest loading software available and you'll be fine.

    Unlike commercial games compatibility for GBA games in the public domain (i.e. non commercial games, homebrew etc...) is not quite as good. I found out that some were not working because the authors do not always include a valid header in the rom which is something the EFA-Linker II needs to actually load a game, so using a program called GBATA I was able to fix the header in the rom and many more games now work, this only takes a couple of seconds to do for each game but it is nontheless disapointing that it is required considering there were first generation GBA flash carts without this problem. There is still some homebrew that won't run but thankfully a lot of useful utilities out there like PocketNES, SNES Advance, Meteos and Caimans Jpeg viewer all run fine. Whilst this will not concern the majority of users I thougth it was worth pointing out.


    Save management with the EFA-Linker II is thankfully pretty easy; to backup a save simply select the game in the 256mbit flash section whose save you want to backup, press Select and go to 'Back Saver' then press A. The cart gives you the option to name the save whatever you want, which is a nice feature as this allows you to have multiple saves for the same game; great if someone else is using the cart! Afterwards press start and the cart will send the save over to the U-Disk section. It's too bad there isn't an option in the loader to do this automatically because it's a fantastic feature and you can fit a virtually unlimited number of saves on the U-Disk. Of course if you want to put get the saves onto the PC you only need to connect your cart to the PC and just drag the SAVEFILE folder over from the U-Disk onto your PCs hard drive or wherever.

    Similarly to write saves onto the EFA-Linker II from your PC just drag the save into the SAVEFILE folder. To transfer a save from the U-Disk back over to the save area in the EFA-Linker II select the save file, press Select, choose 'Saver OP', press A and then select the game the save belongs to. The save space in the EFA-Linker II has room for multiple games, so you don't need to backup a save for one game before you start another.

    A word of warning though, I need to mention the EFA-Linker II does not have support for EEPROM saves, so any games (eg. Zelda: Minish Cap, Metal Slug Advance etc...) that use this need to be patched otherwise they will not save, this is very disappointing considering the first EFA-Linker had EEPROM support and to an extent defeats the idea that you wouldn't need to mess around with any software to play games on the flash cart. Thankfully the other save types SRAM and FLASH are both supported. My only other irk with the saving is that if you just drag and drop your games into the EFA-Linker II when you go to write a game from the U-Disk onto the 256Mbit flash area you need to manually select the size of the save for the game (64k, 256k, 512k or 1024k), being too lazy or just unable to check the save size (you can use the EFA-Linker II PC writer software or something if need be) I just select the largest size and that seems to work fine, although obviously your saves will take up slightly more space. If you transfer games over to the cart using the writer software however the save size will be selected automatically, even if you don't alter or patch the games in any way.

    Battery Life:

    EFA state the EFA-Linker II uses memory which only consumes 1.8v whereas many other flash carts use 3.3v, this means that the EFA-Linker II consumes around 60% less power than many other flash kits, resulting in more play time before the battery runs out. I thought I would put this to the test and so I charged up my DS chucked in the EFA-Linker II and left a game running in demo mode until the battery ran out. The game chosen had quite a long and impressive intro, the majority of which featured graphics, text and music pulled straight from the main game, so I considered the looping intro an excellent substitute to the processing power used if I were to actually playing the game myself. There was also a point where I spent around half an hour writing and testing other games to the NOR Flash from the U-Disk, an operation that presumably drains slightly more power than normal. I think it was appropriate to do, because in normal use the odds are you'll write and play on more than one game before you need to recharge the battery. I'll also point out the DS had the backlight switch on and the volume was on full. So the total battery life? The battery life for the EFA-Linker II was a few minutes over an impressive 10 hours! Nintendo themselves quote 8-10 hours battery life for GBA titles on the DS and historically flash carts have be known to consume a lot more power than normal cartridges, so to get over 10 hours play times with the EFA-Linker II is really incredible.

    Other Features:

    Generally speaking the EFA-Linker II isn't that big on extra features, and whilst other GBA flash cart manufacturers are developing things like ROM compression, music and movie players, built in file readers (.jpg, .txt, .html etc...), built in emulators and so on, the EFA-Linker II, at the moment at least, has practically nothing. It's not even possible to customize the loader yet; custom backgrounds despite being a listed feature of the cart have not yet been implemented. True the majority of the features listed above are accessible to the EFA-Linker II with a little work, for example you can use Caimans .jpg viewer software to convert pictures on your PC into a format viewable on the flash cart, but having native support for files like jpegs would better realize the whole point of having a flash cart with mass storage device. The extra features the EFA-Linker does have are listed below:

    Soft Reset:

    Using the PC software it's possible to patch the game so you can exit back into the EFA-Linker II menu without having to turn off the system. The button combination required; A, B, START, SELECT and R (all at the same time) is a little awkward for DS owners but the soft reset does work well and it's compatible with just about every commercial GBA game.

    Real Time Clock (RTC):

    The EFA-Linker II has a Real Time Clock (RTC), which is basically a clock inside the cartridge and keeps ticking even when your system is turned off. Utilized by a few games like Pokémon and Boktai events in the game change depending on the time you play them. The clock is also accessible in the loader menu; display with R or set the time by pressing Select and choosing the last option in the menu.

    Real Time Save (RTS):

    One of the listed features of the EFA-Linker II is Real Time Save (RTS) support, this is where you can save the game at any point you like, a great feature and ideal for games that spew out passwords and don't have proper save support. The only problem is that I don't have the faintest idea how to patch the games to use this feature. The EFA-Linker II cart has the options to backup and write instant saves but the PC software won't let me check the buttons to enable the RTS in a game. The EFA-Linker II doesn't come with much documentation so I'm at a loss here, I could just not be doing something right however I suspect this is another listed feature that hasn't yet been implemented just like the supposed ability to have custom backgrounds. If that is the case hopefully EFA will implement it soon.

    Cheat Support:

    Again, there was no documentation supplied explaining how this works but after a little research I discovered the cheat support is exactly the save as the first EFA cart and allows you to use Action Replay codes with a game, there's even a little menu where you can select what codes you want to use prior to starting the game just like an Action Replay/Gameshark. To use the cheat functions in the EFA-Linker II download the necessary files from here (541KB) and follow the instructions in the PDF file. Once you've created the .dat file (i.e. a file containing the cheats for the game you want), open up the EFA-Linker II client, add the game and then browse and select the .dat from the 'Cheat Info' section.

    NDS Support:

    Whilst there is no true NDS loader available exclusively to the EFA-Linker II, using the generic patcher; 'ndspatch', it is possible to patch and play NDS games up to the size of 256Mbit on the EFA-Linker II. At first I thought this wouldn't be possible as this normally requires any multi-boot menus or loaders to be disabled, and the EFA-Linker II currently has a non removeable loader, however I have discovered a workaround:

    1. Simply drag and drop the nds.gba files into the EFA-Linker II U-Disk as you would normally.

    2. Leaving the mini-USB cable inserted turn on the DS, boot into GBA mode and transfer the nds.gba file over to the 256Mbit Flash section and press A to start the game, just as you would do to play a normal GBA game on the EFA-Linker II.

    3. Now turn off your DS, insert a passme (not necessary if you have flashme) and turn the DS back on, boot into DS mode and hey presto the DS file you loaded is now working!

    The major limitation here is that for this to work you must have the mini-USB cable connected to the PC and EFA-Linker II cart during step 3, otherwise the DS game won't boot. Oh and if you want to put put something else onto the U-Disk afterwards, take out the mini-USB cable, turn off the DS and then reconnect the mini-USB cable otherwise Windows will pop up with a message saying your cart is not formatted. I'm not sure why this technique works and it's a bit of a downer that you need to have access to a PC every time you want to play DS games but even so it's great the cart has support, if I need to go out I simply load the game at home and keep my DS in sleep mode.

    Unlike most other flash carts you can have multiple .ds.gba files on the cart at the same time using the EFA-Linker II, the bad news however is that like GBA homebrew, the cart is a little finicky regarding NDS homebrew files such as those that have been converted using 'ndsmall' and most can not be loaded using the current firmware for the cart. The easy solution here is to just put the .nds files into Darkains Multi NDS Loader which plays them perfectly, alternatively patch like normal and then open up GBATA and fix the header. Other software tested such as snesDS, SCUMMVS DS and even a port of Heretic all run perfectly as well.

    EFA have announced they are working on a new loader firmware with proper NDS support so messing around with the mini-USB cable will soon no longer be necessary.


    As someone possibly like quite a few of you reading this who already own a GBA flash cart (and have done for almost 4 years now I might add), when waiting for the EFA-Linker II to arrive I asked myself if this new cart would ever end up replacing my good old flash cart (a 256Mbit Visoly FA Pro), and despite the incredible praise the first EFA-Linker had received, in truth I didn't think it would. In retrospect maybe I was in denial that something I spent $350 on might become obsolete overnight, but needless to say at the time I was content with my Visoly FA Pro...

    And then my EFA-Linker II turned up.

    Wow! The first thing that hit me was how within a minute of opening the packaging I was already playing games on the EFA-Linker II. The plug and play U-Disk is simply a phenomenal feature... no drivers, no software, no hassle; just drag and drop the games into the U-Disk and you're ready to go. Writing times are some of the fastest around and you have a generous amount of space for games (1Gbit). I particularly love how easy it is to backup saves and with the low power consumption of the flash cart I don't have to worry about recharging my DS as often as I used to. The fact that the EFA-Linker II also acts as a normal USB mass storage device is pretty cool, so even when the gaming stops the cart still has its uses, and like me you could use it to save work/homework onto, transfer files between PCs and so on. The EFA-Linker II doesn't use an external flashing unit so obviously it's extremely easy to transport and take with you. The downside to having the linker built into the cart is that you can't dump actual roms from original GBA cartridges, but I'm sure 99% of people wouldn't care less about this. Another thing I'm surprised with is just how well made the EFA-Linker II is; you can tell just from the weight and feel of the cart that EFA didn't skimp on decent using decent components and if I wasn't playing on the EFA-Linker II so much myself, I'd have no fears about lending the cart to younger family members, friends and the like.

    However whilst EFA were busy perfecting the hardware in the EFA-Linker II, the software has not been given the same kind of attention. What stops the EFA-Linker II from being an essential buy at the moment is solely the cart loader software; currently it lacks customizability, it lacks features, it lacks proper NDS support and these features have yet to be addressed by EFA. Thankfully since these are all software related issues it should only be a matter of time before these problems are sorted out.

    Overall, the EFA-Linker II is a fantastic and in some ways ground breaking cart but some minor software issues hold it back from its full potential. Even so though the EFA-Linker II is still an excellent cart; a worthy purchase and definitely one of the best GBA flash carts on the market.

    The EFA-Linker II currently retails for around $130 and some retailers that sell the product can be found here.

    You can also buy the EFA-Linker II 1Gbit direct from SHOP.01media.com, just click here!

    + Very fast writing times.
    + Can use as a normal plug and play USB mass storage device.
    + No need for any drivers or software.
    + Easiest flashing process ever!
    + Very low power consumption ~ over 10 hours play time!

    - Loader menu needs improvement.
    - No EEPROM support.
    - Some more features would be welcome.


  2. Costello

    Administrator Costello Headmaster

    Oct 24, 2002
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