SuperCard SD Review

Discussion in 'Official GBAtemp Reviews' started by Vince989, Sep 10, 2005.

Sep 10, 2005

SuperCard SD Review by Vince989 at 7:44 AM (72,624 Views / 0 Likes) 1 replies

  1. Vince989
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    Former Staff Vince989 Still lurking around, sometimes...

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    GBAtemp's SuperCard SD review
    By Vince989

    Introduction

    [​IMG]

    There has been quite a lot said about the SuperCard: some of it was about how it was great, some of it was about its slowdowns, and there has also been some more said. It comes from China, and is in fact not really a flash cart like many might think, but more of an adapter for memory sticks. It was first made for Compact Flash, and has recently seen a revision for Secure Digital, or just SD for short. Since this kind of memory is quite cheap, it allows people to have a development/backup kit without having to shell out a lot of cash all at once. And since the capacity ranges from quite small to rather huge, there's a size for everyone: while some may not play many games at once and would be perfectly fine with 128MB, some also love the idea of putting music, movies, or simply huge loads of games on a 1 GB card. The whole concept is really nice, offering such a device for a cheap price, which will work with a widespread, cheap and small storage format. However the biggest problem about it is in this same concept: the internal memory is cheap, and sometimes gives slowdowns...

    I will be writing this as a review, obviously, but also as a guide for SuperCard owners. Although it isn't the hardest thing to use, the almost total lack of English information makes it really frustrating to stumble onto any problem. While I will outline the steps required to make it work, the amount of effort required to make it really work will be obvious, and so will the results you can get with it. As far programs go, you will need a few of them, which your SuperCard reseller should have available on his website. If they don't, just go on www.supercard.cn, but it's going to take a lot longer to download if you don't live near China...

    This review is made with the version 1.50 of the firmware in mind, so if you are unsure if your cart has it, just download it (it is often referred to as "kernel" too, if it can be of any help), run it on the SuperCard just like you would run anything else, and follow the on-screen instructions. Also, if you ever feel your card is faulty, you can always turn it on while holding L+R, and it will execute a few tests. All you'll have to do is press A to execute the next tests, and see what happens. Just press B when you're done with it. If you seem to have a problem, and both your memory card and SuperCard are fine, then you'll have to look elsewhere to find an answer, as it is not due to a faulty piece of hardware.


    Looks...
    [​IMG] [​IMG]

    What would be a better way to start with than by looking at the product and its box? As you can see, the packaging is really straight-forward: it is a box with a lot of Engrish (or poorly written English) on it inside which is a chunk of plastic holding the adapter itself. Nothing more is included, no install CD-ROM or floppy, which is pretty much fine in itself, since it just ensures the customer won't be using outdated software, but where it lacks the most is in the total absence of directions. There's no manual, and as you can see from the box, it barely gives the user any directions on how to use it: the only directions are how to insert the SD card into the SuperCard, and that you need to insert it in the GBA/GBA SP/NDS after and power it on. I'm sure you've been enlightened!

    It already starts losing some points here. A great packaging is always a really nice bonus. Nowhere is it written how to use it, neither that games need to be patched in order for game saves to work properly on it. They have their website address written on the back, and the site is once again in hard to read English. It is only there that you can see what you need in order to make it work. I'll add some more details to exactly how to make everything work a bit later in the review.

    [​IMG]

    While the older, CF-based adapter was sticking out of the console quite a lot, now it is a lot better. As you can see, it still sticks out a bit, but at least the SD is secured inside it, and you can not pull it off anymore while inside the console. It is now inserted from the side, and when it is fully inserted, you can feel it click, and you need to push it again to let it out. The cartridge now looks better than before, although it still isn't perfect.


    The Software side of things...

    [​IMG]

    OK, now you've got a SuperCard, along with a working SD card. What should you do now? Make sure your SD card works well, obviously! At first, my brand new SD card didn't work. I have been able to transfer files onto it a few times, but it wasn't long until it was acting really weird, not getting detected by Windows XP when I inserted it in the SD reader, etc. So, remember that if your SD card doesn’t seem to work properly, get it exchanged where you bought it for a working one (most come with a warranty for at least a few months, mine is for 3 years), or just buy another one! If it doesn’t work, it would be similar to attempting to draw with a pencil that has no lead. Also, keep in mind that the SuperCard only supports the FAT file-system, but that should be fine unless you changed it yourself.

    [​IMG]

    Once that simple first step is done, you can dive in by launching the software! First thing, set-up your default options, so that you don't need to change them for every game. The Out path is an important option, as it decides where the patched games will go. I don't really see a reason against pointing it straight to the SD card, but I'd advise creating an "SC Out" folder somewhere on your hard drive. Next you have the language, and since you are reading this, odds are you will set it to English!

    Finally, the "Game Default Set" is the default options set for the games which will be added to the list. If you want your games to save with the "real" way, which is triggered from the game itself, you'll need to have both the Saver Patch and Enable Restart checked. If you want to have cheats by default, just check that little box. I strongly recommend using compression, as it only adds some time when you start the games (more on that later), yet it usually nearly halves their size! Finally, the Real Time Save is pretty much the equivalent of an emulator's "save state" function, which allows you to save your progress at any time. In case you would like to know, I prefer to use the Saver Patch and Restart with Compress with games that have saves in them, and use Real Time Save only when they have passwords or no saves at all.

    [​IMG]

    Once this is done, adding games is almost a breeze. All you have to do is use the "Add" button to add them to the list. Clicking it will show a dialog in which you can select one or more games at once. Once added, you have a few options for the individual games, a few of which are the same as the ones you just picked in the default set. Here's a rundown :

    - Enable Save : Enable it if you want it to use the standard "cart saving" method. You can select an already created save file to put it straight on, or simply use the default empty save file that's already there. You can also "Enable more saver" for some games that might require it, such as Super Mario Advance 4 : Super Mario Bros 3. However, unless the game really requires it (you will know) , you absolutely don't need it on, and will just waste 192 Kb each time.
    - Enable Saver Patch : This is an important option. Although most of "The Scene" prefer clean, unpatched dumps of the games, this is not how this cart is meant to work. Remember, it is not really a flash cart, it is more of a memory card adapter, so they had to use a workaround to make it work like the real thing! Using this option will add a function to the games patched with it: When you press R+L+Select+A (the shoulder buttons, the select button, and the A button together), it will ask you if you want to Save or Load, along with a confirmation. This will send the game's save file to the adapter or load it, depending on which one you choose. In other words, when you load a game, its save gets loaded too, so it is something you don't need to do. However, this is the important part : it can't tell when you'll flick off the power switch, and it can't do it once it's done either, as there is nothing going on anymore in the system. This means that if you want to store your save for later, you need to do it yourself with the R+L+Select+A combination. It's not hard to do per se, and it doesn't take much time either, it's only something that you have to do if you want to keep your save for later; wave it goodbye if you don't! However, due to the way the patcher works, you will need to also have the "Enable Restart" option activated!
    - Enable Real Time Save : Remember those "State Saves" on emulators? You can use an equivalent with the SuperCard, the "Real Time Save". With it, you can save at any point in the game, no matter if the game even supported saving! This can be a really nice feature that can be used to add some checkpoints in some hard places in games. While the Saver Patch worked with the R+L+Select+A, this one works with the R+L+Select+B, and you will be presented with a very similar dialog, in which the operation will take a little more time to complete (it needs to transfer 448 kilobytes of data instead of the 64 kilobytes used for saving). This time, however, I have no clue what the "Enable More Real Time Saver" does, as the standard one seemed to work quite well to me... Once again, due to the way the patcher works, you will need to have the "Enable Restart" option activated if you want this feature!
    - Use External IPS File : IPS (International Patching System) patches are used to modify some games. They are mostly used for translation and modification (new levels, edited graphics, etc.) of games. The software supports them, and is able to apply them to the files which will be on the SuperCard without harming the original files. A nice feature if you need it!
    - Enable Compress : This is one of the most useful features. This does exactly what it says : it compresses the games so they take less space on the memory card, usually ending up at around 60% of the original size, sometimes even less. This comes only at the cost of some more time when you get to play them. While I haven't timed the process' length, it takes nearly double the time, but really, who cares if it allows you to store almost twice as much on it?
    - Enable Restart : Although this one might seem quite useless, this is in fact one of the most important options of the bunch. If you have either Enable Saver Patch or Enable Real Time Save checked, it needs this one to actually add any functions in the game. I have it on since it is needed by the other patches, but I still use it quite often : this makes it so I can just return to the SuperCard menu without shutting off the NDS, by only pressing L+R+Start+Select which is quite handy considering the time it otherwise takes to get to the menu.
    - Enable add text file : This one is quite obvious : you can attach files to games, making it possible to attach text files to games. To access it once in game, just press L+R+Start+B. This can be useful for small experience tables, FAQs and such, but keep in mind that the text viewer has a maximum of around 40 characters per line.
    - Enable Cheat : Enables the use of cheats. I found the support somewhat lacking, however : while the software is in English, the cheats' information is still in Japanese, so good luck sorting out the cheats you want from those you don't!

    That is almost all for the main software, only two buttons remain : Del and Out. Del doesn't delete the file itself, it just removes it from the games list. While Del is quite obvious, Out is a bit less. Remember that folder you've set before? This is where the Out button will send all the games to, once they have been patched and compressed as necessary. Once the Out button is pressed, it will take a few minutes until it's done, and longer if you've enabled compression and have many roms in the batch, so just grab a beer and relax!

    [​IMG]

    Once that is done, what do you get? Depending on how much you had selected in the last step, a few games, or a LOT of files in your "Out Folder". And guess what? You might have to separate them if you want to be able to use all of them, as there is a limit of 64 viewable files per folder in the SuperCard. However, it can become a bit more complicated than that : In the main viewing mode, you only see the stuff that can be ran on the SuperCard, which means filetypes such as *.gba, *.scz (SuperCard Zip, the format for compressed GBA games on the SuperCard), *.gb, *.nes and a few more, eliminating all the rest, including *.sav . Going over the limit won't result in errors, but some just won't be visible on it. There are a few ways to sort them out, either by dump number or by game name, you are the judge, but just make it so that you don't go over 64 viewable files per folder, or you will somewhat lose some of them.

    Now that this is done, you've some GBA games ready. However, the SuperCard can do more than just that!


    What else does it support?

    For many, GBA games support might be plenty. However, there are still those that love older consoles, and that do more in emulation than just GBA games. For those, there are quite a few emulators which are built inside the firmware, making up for an even wider range of games that can be put on the memory cards. Also, as an added bonus is Movie Player support, enabling use of movies, music and E-Books!

    - Emulation : Let's start with emulation. Here is a list of the supported formats : NES, Game Boy (monochrome only, not Color!), PC Engine, Sega Master System and Game Gear. Usage for all those is quite straight-forward : simply put the game on the memory card, no need for patches! If you want saving with some games, just copy over any GBA *.sav file in the same folder and rename it so it corresponds with the game's file name (Tetris.sav for Tetris.nes, for instance), so it has a file of the right size to store the save for later use. Once again, if you want to save your game, you will have to press L+R+Select+A to copy it back to the memory card. I've tested this process with a good number of NES and GB games, and this process works really well; provided you don't forget to do it, of course!

    - Movies, Music and E-Books : For movies and music, a few steps need to be done. As it is pretty much unthinkable to make the movie player support many codecs and process all that's needed, they need to be converted to a specific format. In this case, the format is GBA Media, the one which was also used by the GBA Movie Player. While it is not a hard process in itself, it can take quite some time to do, as resizing a movie implies resizing each individual frame, of which there are usually around 20-30 per second. Although I could show you how to use the conversion software, it would just be a waste of time in the current context, so I will instead link you to the official Movies and Music conversion tutorials. Once the files are ready , just put all of them in a folder, along with the Movie Player (with a file name "FilmPlay.gba") somewhere on your memory card. In its main menu, you can view movies, listen to music and read text files. Just take your pick, select what you want to look at, and enjoy!


    Usage


    While I was talking about the software, I already explained quite a lot about how it works. When you start it up, you are taken straight to the file browser, where you can see the listing of all folders and files that can be run. There are 4 views, listed on top : List, Saver, Options and Help. List is the default view, which lists all files of known types, Saver lists folders and .sav files only (used when you want to copy what is in save memory to a particular save file), while Options contains 2 options (Auto load saver, which is on unless you turn it off, and Enable set emu options), and Help lists the shortcuts for cheat, real time save, return to menu and saving. Navigation in the file structure is quite simple : the A button selects a file or folder and opens or runs it, and B goes back a level. You can also use L and R as a Page Up and Page Down, respectively, in order to get to the 52nd file faster, for instance. The 64 files per folder limit is a bit of a drag, but when you consider the time it would take to reach files if they were even further than the 64th, you realize it only makes you sort your files better than in one folder.

    Once you select something the SuperCard can run, it gets copied into its internal cart memory, along with the save (if there is one) in the save memory. The size limit for games is set at 256mbit, which means most (more on that in the next paragraphs) GBA games are playable. Since it has to copy the file, and also decompress it at the same time if it is a compressed GBA game, it takes a short amount of time, which obviously is a bit longer with bigger files. I have not "benchmarked" it, but the delay is totally fine. I always compress the GBA games, which means it takes around twice as much time, and with 32mbit games it feels pretty much like a breeze, and 64mbit is quite quick. However. at 128mbit you get to feel it, and 256mbit feels like it takes some time. This is somewhat of a drag, but this is not coming from bad design or anything they couldn't get through any other way, considering it is indeed nothing but an adapter.

    Once a game is loaded, it should run well. As games need to be patched in order to work well with saving, amongst others, there are some games which just won't work. If they don't, start off by getting them again, making sure you try the cleanest version possible. If it still doesn't work, you can try running it unpatched, but keep in mind that you won't be able to keep your save file that way. While the SuperCard CF had the "Quick Power Cycle" (QPC for short) trick, I have never been able to get it to work on mine, and nobody has as far as I know, so you will have to just forget about saving with the game in question. I can't really give away numbers, as they would not be accurate unless I'd test the whole set, but the big majority does work. If I still was to give a ratio, I'd say probably around 5-10% didn't work. However, with all this card can do, and the huge amount of other games available, it is really not that bad.

    A more common issue is slowdowns, which comes from both the cheap internal memory it uses and the fact that roms are patched. While most do work, not all of them run at full speed, due to the way some of them are made. This is the biggest problem it has, but at least it seems like it has been fixed a bit. I can't compare, as I don't have a SuperCard CF, but from what I heard by talking with Opium and reading posts on message boards, all signs point towards an improvement. Not all games are affected, but a considerable amount of those that work have some from time to time, mostly when there is a lot going on, obviously. The more foes, explosions, etc., on-screen at the same time and the more likely you are to see it. However, there are once again some more games which get unplayable from it, so this is once again something to keep in mind.

    While playing, there's nothing really different about it, besides the slowdown that might occur. However, it is when you are done playing that those shortcuts I have often mentionned earlier end up coming into play. I know I am repeating myself here, but when you turn it off, it will not save the newer progress on the SD card by itself. If you don't press the R+L+Select+A and save it, the save on the SD card will not have been updated. The process is simple, quick and works perfectly, this is just something that you need to remember to do, as you most likely don't want to go through the same things over and over in a game. And don't forget about the Real Time Save too, which saves the state of the whole GBA; it's only a R+L+Select+B away!


    Conclusion


    What you heard from other people was right; it can be a good cart, but slowdowns are its most important flaw. However, its asset of massive storage potential is something that is indeed great. If your SD card is big enough (and keep in mind once again that they are getting cheaper and cheaper), you can have a lot of stuff on it at the same time : a lot of GBA roms, a pack of GB roms, a ton of NES roms, a few videos, heck, why not even some songs too! However, I do have to remove marks for the games which don't work, and mostly for the slowdowns, which can be really annoying in some games...

    Overall Rating


    7.5 / 10



    Related links...


    http://supercard.cn/eng/ - Official English SuperCard Website
    http://www.scdev.org/forum/ - Great SuperCard forum
    http://supercard.blogspot.com/ - Blog about the SuperCard


    Thanks to KickTrading


    This review has been made possible by KickTrading, who supplied the SuperCard SD I used. All along the way, they have been there to offer support when I felt stuck. If you follow the instructions I give, yet can't get something to work for a reason or another, don't be shy to ask for help on GBAtemp. Somebody will assuredly be able to help you.

    KickTrading offer two kits for each of the two kinds of SuperCard: one with only the SuperCard, and another one with an USB memory card reader, if you don't already have one on your computer. The latter is a really nice idea, and makes you save some money when compared to buying the card reader apart from the SuperCard.
     
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