PassMe Upgrade (aka. PassMe-2-Z) Review

Discussion in 'Official GBAtemp Reviews' started by shaunj66, Jan 8, 2006.

Jan 8, 2006
  1. shaunj66
    OP

    Administrator shaunj66 Administrator

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2002
    Messages:
    9,830
    Location:
    South England
    Country:
    United Kingdom
    GBAtemp.net review of the...

    PassMe Upgrade [​IMG]
    Aka: PassMe-2-Z, PassMe2Z, PassCard.
    Supplied by shop.01media.com
    Manufactured by: www.51gba.com

    By shaunj66 - 5th January 2006

    Introduction

    Welcome to an exclusive GBAtemp.net review - the first web review of the "PassMe Upgrade" (aka. PassMe-2-Z , PassMe2Z , PassCard ) - a new variation of the original PassMe design.

    First of all, let me thank the great folk at http://shop.01media.com for supplying us with this and other hardware for review. They're a fantastic European web shop run by very friendly people that are never too busy to help. Thanks Paul! [​IMG]

    There seems to be a growing number of PassMe variations lately, with another company offering a different type every other week it seems; making it hard for scene beginners to know what to look for in a PassMe.

    The truth still is; that they all do the same job. A PassMe (designed by a guy going by the name of Natrium42) is a device that has always been based off the original "pass-through" design for the Nintendo DS by scene legend Darkfader.

    A PassMe is simply intended to get the DS to read and run DS based data from a GBA flash cart inserted into the DS's GBA slot. This makes DS homebrew on the Nintendo DS a lot cheaper and easier to get done, as GBA flash carts are already so popular and widespread.

    One important factor in all PassMe designs is that they've always required an original Nintendo DS game card to be inserted into them, to "fool" the DS's authentication/protection systems and to get the DS to run un-signed (homebrew) code...

    That is, until now...

    The PassMe Upgrade

    This new PassMe design, quietly released by a company going by the simple name "www.51gba.com" is quite unique.

    It's unique in the fact that it doesn't require an original NDS card to be inserted into it. It doesn't even have a DS card slot on it!
    They've managed to cram all those necessaries inside this tiny little plastic casing.

    Yes, you heard right. It has an original NDS game ROM built in. (More on that later).

    The "PassMe Upgrade" (or so it's called), is not far off the size of a real NDS game card as you can see below.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    It's practically identical to a real game card, but stands approximately 1cm taller.

    Unfortunately, there is very little available information on this PassMe. The manufacturers websites (which coincidentally is also the company name) domain seems to have expired. And they also released little to no info on it...

    Packaging

    The PassMe Upgrade was shipped to me inside a small cardboard box with a cardboard inset tray which held the PassMe Upgrade.
    The box itself is nice and colourful, and looks fairly professional. It doesn't have any information on it besides the fact that it contains a "PassMe".

    The bottom of the box also contains no information; it looks the same as the top of the box (see photos).

    [​IMG]

    The PassMe Upgrade is fairly well protected and is held in place by two cardboard flaps. And even if it does fall out of place, it's not going to get damaged, there's plenty of empty space in the box for it to rattle around in.

    Unfortunately, that's all there is... empty space. Besides the cardboard inset, there's nothing else included. No manual... No leaflet.
    But in all honesty, it doesn't really need a manual anyway. It's pretty straight forward... And if someone's buying a PassMe, I'm sure they know how it's intended to be used.

    Hardware and Design

    The PassMe Upgrade as I said above, looks almost identical to a real NDS game card, and would be identical if it wasn't for the fact that it is approx. 1cm taller than a real card.

    The extra height is forgivable given the fact that they needed to fit so much inside the casing. But you just can't help but feel slightly disappointed that it is that little bit taller... You'll wonder to yourself why they couldn't make it that 1cm shorter, so it would be the same size as a DS game card, after all they've gone to the effort of making it as small as possible, but they came up short... Or, err,... Tall.

    The build quality I can gladly say is very good. It's made of very tough, durable plastic and seems to be constructed in the same way as a real game card.
    The PassMe Upgrade has a simple label on the front and a raised "PassMe" logo in the plastic on the back, that is visible when the top screen is folded down as the PassMe Upgrade sticks out that little bit (see photos).

    As I said earlier; the most unique factor of the PassMe Upgrade is the fact that it has an original NDS ROM chip and its EEPROM built into it.
    Yes... They've "robbed" the ROM from a legit cart and re-soldered it onto this PassMe PCB!

    Normally you are can tell what game your PassMe Upgrade contains by looking at a serial number on the side of the box. (See picture below).
    The code will be in the form of a 4 letter code, that is taken from the games unique serial number.

    [​IMG]
    Example box that contains the sticker - Here the game contained is "Devilish" (Japanese) (64Kbit save type)

    This code will come in handy as you will be able to identify what save type the game contains, and you can then in turn, find out what save type it has.

    As my box didn't come with a label on the side (for unknown reasons), I was tempted to see what game mine contained so I had to open it up...

    The PassMe Upgrade can easily be opened by removing four tiny screws hidden underneath each corner of the label.

    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    After opening my PassMe Upgrade (photos above and below), I could see that my PassMe Upgrade contains the Japanese version of the game "Dig Dug - Digging Strike" (chip serial NTR-ADDJ-0).

    As you can see, the PCB is fairly cramped, and they've done a good job of fitting everything in neatly. The workmanship here is also very good quality; it's all very clean and tidy.

    As you can see, at the top of the PCB lays the original NDS game ROM, on the right is the original EEPROM (ST M95040) which matches the original NDS ROM and is only 4Kbit large (512 bytes). In the centre of the PCB is the Xilinx CPLD which is pre-programmed to work with whatever NDS game they've decided to use in the PassMe Upgrade.
    I'm unsure whether they use the same game in every one (if so, the sales of Dig Dug - Digging Strike is going to be sky high in Japan, hehe!), or if they use whatever game they can buy cheapest at the time...

    Using the PassMe Upgrade


    Back to using the PassMe Upgrade; unlike other PassMe's (perfect example being the SuperPass), I can gladly say that the PassMe Upgrade fits into the DS slot perfectly. It fits and clicks into place just like a regular DS card, and ejects just as a DS card should. It feels fine and doesn't require any force to get it in there. I don't see this device breaking a DS slot or pins.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    There's not much else to say, as a PassMe either works or it doesn't. And of course - it works.

    Unfortunately, as they've decided to use the EEPROM chip that came with the game they used inside the PassMe Upgrade, this time being Dig Dug - Digging Strike (Japanese) -- it's only 4kbits big.
    This is a bit of a silly mistake design-wise, as users that will want to use this PassMe with an early DS flash kit workaround (such as running a ROM off of a GBA flash cart patched by NDSpatch.exe), won't be able to save unless the ROM they're playing originally had a 4kbit save type. And seeing as the majority of DS ROMs require 64Kbit or even 2Mbit, this really could be a major problem.

    Fortunately, with the newer types of NDS flash kits available, such as the SuperCard or the M3 Adapter; these kits don't rely on the save type available on the DS card, and instead have their own saving routines. So if you're an owner or a potential owner of a SuperCard or M3 then you needn't worry about this.

    Other than that, games I've tested that use a 4kbit save type; work and save fine.

    And for reference, using 2mbit save type games on the M3 adapter with the latest client, they patch and run perfectly, not relying or being affected by the save type in the PassMe.

    Conclusion


    It was only a matter of time before someone tried making a more compact PassMe, and it seems that physically attaching a real NDS game to it is the only way about it. Unfortunately, that has its drawbacks if you're not going to make the effort to use one with the largest available save type to guarantee full save compatibility with all ROMs. And even then, future games may use an even larger save type.

    It all comes down to the manufacturing costs and the final price of the product, and we all know cheaper is better from both perspectives, whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.

    This is the smallest PassMe I've ever seen, and there's no doubt that this IS the smallest PassMe currently on the market.
    While they've managed to make it this compact, it's still a shame they couldn't make it that little bit smaller, and had the perfect sized PassMe.

    The PassMe Upgrade is a very compact solution, and if you're one of those people that just don't trust flashing their Nintendo DS firmware and would rather stick to a PassMe, and perhaps intend to use a SuperCard or an M3 adapter (or whatever future adapters will show up) - then the PassMe Upgrade is definitely for you.
    No more would you need to worry about carrying a bulky PassMe and spare game card around with you, now you can have an all-in-one tiny solution.

    As I said above, the build quality of the device is very top notch and works and feels just like a regular DS game card. Much unlike the SuperPass and other cheap PassMe variations which feel like you're going to break your DS card slot every time you insert/remove it.

    You can pick up the PassMe upgrade already from our partnership shop at http://shop.01media.com for around €37 or £25. I'm unaware of any other Western companies selling the product.

    While the price isn't too attractive, it still works out a lot cheaper than buying a regular PassMe and a dedicated original card to use it with. And you can pick up a SuperCard/M3 adapter on their own a lot cheaper than one with their respective PassMe device. So you could be looking at potential savings.

    Overall, the PassMe Upgrade is a very nice device for those that would rather stick to a PassMe solution rather than flashing their DS. The only drawback is the save type it includes (which your completely unaware of until you open it), and the fact that it could be as little as 4kbit.

    Pros
    + Very compact solution - first of it's kind
    + Very easy to use
    + Very high build quality

    Cons
    - Save type may be too small for some uses
    - Slightly expensive for a PassMe

    Overall
    6/10


    Review Updated: It's just come to my attention that these PassMe's usually come with a sticker on the side of the box indicating what game is inside the PassMe. Written in the form of the 4 character serial number code. I don't know why mine didn't come with one, I guess some Chinese guy in a sweat shop is going to get a good telling off soon though! [​IMG]
    This update doesn't really affect the review at all, as the carts are still random and whatever save type you do end up with is still the luck of the draw.

    2nd Update: A few users of the PassMe upgrade have been reporting that it's NOT WORKING WITH THE NEW FIRMWARE DS or iQue DS.
    We can't confirm this for sure as we don't have a new firmware DS to test it on.
    For the time being I've updated the review to remove all PassMe2 related info, and have adjusted the score minus 1 point.

    Re-evaluation

    As of 25th September 2007

    With the emergence of slot-1 solutions, it appears that passcards such as this one have become completely obsolete.
    This device did its job (and did it well) when we needed it, but now for any slot-1 owner it isn't much more useful than a piece of plastic. However if you feel compelled to use a slot-2 flashcart for some reason, you might find this device a good solution.

    Additional Photos


    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]



    Affiliated sites
    Purchase this cart from our affiliated shops:

    ÂÂÂÂ
     

Share This Page