The Exhaustive M3 SD, Passkey & Passkey 2 Review

Discussion in 'Official GBAtemp Reviews' started by Lily, Feb 9, 2006.

Feb 9, 2006
  1. Lily

    Former Staff Lily One Scary Lady

    Jun 18, 2004
    British Columbia
    The Official GBAtemp M3 SD, Passkey & Passkey 2 Review

    You can buy a M3 SD (Slim) on GameYeeeah!

    To begin, I would like to give some hearty thanks to the folks over at KickTrading for supplying the M3 SD, Passkey & Passkey 2 that were used in this review. I have shopped with many online retailers over the years, and many of those retailers could learn from the clear & timely communication, well protected packaging and overall professionalism exhibited by them every single order, every single time. To order a variety of GBA or NDS backup kits and accessories, including the M3 SD, Passkey & Passkey 2, visit them at .

    I refer to the M3 adapter official website at various times in this review. Rather than continuously adding the link, I will simply place it here: . All of the software discussed in this review may be downloaded from there, including software not available on the CD that ships with the unit.


    It was a remarkably cold Canadian winter day when the M3 SD (Secure Digital) review kit arrived on my doorstep, but not even that could dampen my excitement. As an avid follower, supporter and downright fan of console & handheld backup equipment, I simply couldn't wait to tear away the packaging and get my hands dirty as quickly as I possibly could. Until I had purchased a Nintendo DS (NDS), I had owned backup hardware of some sort for every single one of my video game devices. I usually jumped in early in the game, even when I knew the backup equipment wasn't up to par, because I knew I would be supporting the financial element behind getting new and better devices to market. However when it came to the DS, there didn't seem to be any kits worth purchasing even to finance the development of new kits. From proprietary kits using hacked ROM files to kits that used existing Game Boy Advance (GBA) backup carts coupled with bypass devices, I really didn't know where to turn. It seemed that things were getting more and more complicated by the day, while no real progress was being made. Then almost simultaneously, a myriad of kits hit the market that all claimed near 100% compatibility, zero speed issues, both NDS & GBA file support, as well as extras such as the ability to play movie files, play audio files, display text format e-books, and emulate other systems of years past. A few of those kits piqued my interest, and I struggled with where I should place my money - every kit had an equal amount of pros and cons in the reviews that I read - there was no clear 'must-buy' in my mind. No clear must-buy that is, until I was offered the chance to review the M3 SD. Aside from a few very minor complaints, this is by far and above the package that not only would I purchase myself, but I would instantly recommend to anyone else interested in investing in an NDS kit of their own.

    Packaging and Contents - The M3 Perfect GBA Movie Player

    The M3 arrives in a rather unassuming and cheap plain rectangular blue box, with the M3 unit wrapped in a plastic bag, contained within a hard plastic insert. There is also a mini CD placed on top. The box seems to emphasize the "GBA Movie Player" capabilities of the device rather than the game playing functions - perhaps this is to avoid Nintendo's legal eye after what happened to Bung Enterprises Ltd. back in March of 2000. The M3 logo is displayed in large golden 3D letters, and the functionality of the device is contained in bullet points on the front of the box, as well as the top, bottom and right hand flaps:

    -Can Play NDS/GBA and Emulator games, movies and music, read E-book and browse picture.
    -Never make the game drag and crash .
    -With Super Real Time Save Function . Unlimited revive.
    -Support Normal GBA Roms. ,Without needing conversion.
    -100% support Crystal Engine Movie and all GBA movies.

    Also on the front of the box is a picture of the adaptor with a sample SD Card stuck in the unit, and further bullet points as to what the device can be used for:

    Other functions: Low power consumption and build-in RTC chip and battery memory .Works as a U disk. No drivers required. Never Damage you CF/SD card.

    -Can be compatible with all games.
    -Can be compatible with all movies.
    -With Super Real Time Save Function
    -With Build-in Emulator.

    The left hand flap of the box speaks to the movie and picture capabilities of the device:

    The following movie file formats can be converted.
    The following picture file formats can be converted.

    The back of the box goes into more detail about each feature, with a descriptive picture for each function, and the "Connection method":

    1. First, insert CF/SD card with the exclusive movie file into the M3 adapter.
    2. Then, insert M3 adapter with the CF/SD card into the game player.
    3. Boot up the game player switch.

    Also included on the back is a list of package contents and the website address of the M3 adapter, which is probably the handiest and easiest to understand piece of text on the entire box. The level of translated English is not as poor as many other products to come out of that region, and while understandable to an English speaker (albeit with some inevitable laughter), it does not bode well for actually learning how to use the M3. The "Connection method" on the back is the closest thing to an included set of instructions, and unfortunately they do not make any sense.

    The included mini CD contains the M3 Game Manager software (version 2.2) and the movie converter software in both Chinese and English. There are no installation instructions included with the Game Manager, while there are instructions to install the movie converter software. Users should be aware that they will be asked to follow multiple steps which include installing the latest version of DirectX, an included video codec pack, and unregistering a particular video filter. All the software necessary to complete installation is included on the disc.

    In short, the box and packaging looks and feels cheap and unprofessional, and does not do an adequate job of teaching the user how to use the device. It simply tells the user what the device is capable of, offers a disc with software, and expects the user to figure out the rest. Thankfully, the review is not based on the packaging nor the additional contents, but I found it necessary to point out that it was a big initial black mark against the unit to not come with any instructions or directions at all.

    Packaging and Contents - The Passkey

    The Passkey also arrived in a tiny cheap blue box, with an outlined picture of the Passkey on the front, and the text: "PASSKEY For NDS Games Development". On the back of the box was a list of Passkey features:

    Base on PASSTHROUGH technology.
    Creative design, built-in mode switch for swapping between PASSKEY and CARD modes.
    Use with GBA flashcard, NDS game card for NDS Homebrew games development.

    Also on the back is the "Mode No: PY-001", which I assumed was meant to be the "model" number. Inside the box was the Passkey itself, wrapped securely in a copious amount of bubble wrap. As with the M3, no instructions for how to use the Passkey were included.

    Packaging and Contents - The Passkey 2

    The Passkey 2 arrived in a larger black box, nearly as large as the M3 adapter package. On the front is a large full colour picture of the Passkey 2, with a "FOR G6/M3" tagline, and what looks like a light and pair of angel wings superimposed in the background. The left and right hand flaps of the box have the same outlined picture of the Passkey unit found on the front of the Passkey box.

    The back of the box contains a list of product features similar to the Passkey, but with the additional features of the Passkey 2 touched on:

    -Base on PASSTHROUGH technology .
    -Use with GBA FLash card & NDS game card for playing
    -It supports all NDS & IDS console .
    -Easy operation & programmable , no need to connect any computers .
    -Just Plug N' Play

    Also included on the back are "Mode No: PY-002", and the web addresses for both the G6 & M3 adapters. As with the M3 adapter packaging, the web address will later prove to be the handiest piece of information on the box.

    The Passkey 2 along with the new programmer attachment can be found inside the box in the same hard plastic insert found in the M3 adapter box. While cheap, it is serviceable and does an adequate job of protecting the contents during shipping. Unlike the M3, the contents were not individually wrapped in plastic bags.

    Functionality - Passkey

    After removing the Passkey from its packaging, I was disappointed to not find any further instructions on what I was supposed to do with it. I was however, impressed at the tiny size of the thing. All of the pictures I'd seen on the internet make it appear as if it's quite large, and that it would be cumbersome to be hanging off the back of the NDS. That couldn't be further from the truth. While the Passkey does stick out a few millimeters from the NDS slot, it can't be felt or noticed while actually playing with the console. The plastic the device is made from feels sturdy enough, but doesn't seem as if it would be able to withstand a hard fall or someone who uses a fair amount of force on their electronics. For the perfectionists out there, when plugged into the NDS, it appears to be slightly crooked. Personally, this was driving me nuts until I pulled it out and realized that the unit is actually put together in a slightly crooked fashion. It doesn't appear to affect the functionality in any way. It is a grey/silver colour that fits in quite well with the silver coloured NDS.

    Thankfully it wasn't particularly difficult to figure out what to do with it. The Passkey requires that you plug an original NDS game card into the provided NDS slot on the Passkey, and then the Passkey plugs into the NDS slot on your NDS console. It clicks in just like an original NDS game card, and to remove it you simply push it inwards for it to pop out, also like an original NDS game card.

    I loaded the Passkey with my most unused original game card, that being the Metroid demo card that was included with all first-run original NDS bundles. After quickly writing a test NDS game to my SD card and plugging it into the M3 adapter, I plugged the Passkey into my NDS slot and the M3 into my GBA slot, and booted up the console. The usual Health and Safety warning screen still came on, but rather than being prompted to touch the screen to continue, an LED flashed on the Passkey, the Health and Safety screen disappeared, and the M3 adapter menu appeared on the bottom screen of my DS. Elated with my success, I quickly chose to load the game I had placed on my DS card (Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow), and reveled in watching the game introduction.

    Satisfied that the Passkey works as advertised, I proceeding to try it with various game cards in my collection, including "Nintendogs: Labrador and Friends", "Mario Kart DS", "Polarium", "Trace Memory" and "Kirby: Canvas Curse". It did not boot as intended every time. I proceeded to try each and every single one of the eighteen game cards in my collection, and it booted with some and not with others. I discovered that there is a game card compatibility list located at the official website which lists the cards that are compatible and those that aren't. I just got lucky on my first try.

    There is a handy switch on the back of the Passkey, with one side labeled "Passkey" and the other side labeled "Card". Switched towards "Passkey", the Passkey operates as intended, allowing the NDS to load NDS game data from the cartridge inserted in the GBA slot. Switched towards "Card", instead of utilizing the Passkey functionality, the Passkey simply loads the original game contained in its slot as if it were actually inserted directly into the NDS slot. It is worth noting that while the Passkey has "For G6/M3 Use" imprinted on it, it actually works with any GBA flash cart that supports having NDS data written to it. I tested it with both an EZ-Flash III GBA flashcart and a ProCard, and it booted up just as if the M3 adapter itself was in the GBA slot.

    To summarize, the Passkey is deceptively small and light, and simply requires an original NDS game card to be slotted into it for it to boot up. It can operate in Passkey mode or boot the original cart slotted into it directly, and can be booted with any original NDS game card in your collection. It can also operate with any GBA flash cart device you have plugged into the GBA slot, provided that GBA flash cart supports having NDS data written to it. There are no instructions provided as to how to utilize the device, but with two very obvious ports, the learning curve is quite small.

    Note: The Passkey only works with an original NDS model; newer NDS units are protected against use of the Passkey, and require a Passkey 2 to be used instead.

    Functionality - Passkey 2

    The Passkey 2 and similar generation of devices is still relatively new, and was introduced because the original Passkey device was denied operation on newer NDS units. It is guaranteed to work on any NDS unit, and any iQue DS unit as well. (The iQue DS units are found in China.)

    Unfortunately, with the enhanced functionality comes a slightly more complicated device. It is the exact same size, weight and colour as the original Passkey, and has the fancier Passkey 2 logo emblazoned across the front. As I mentioned in the packaging section, it also comes with a standalone programmer unit. That unit is also the same grey/silver colour, but has markings of any kind on it. Just a single port that supports something the size of a regular NDS game card. Since the device comes with no instructions or media of any kind, I was at a total loss about what I was supposed to do with the two pieces. So, I loaded up the Passkey 2 with the same Metroid demo card I used with the Passkey, and proceeded to try and use it. Nothing happened on the NDS except a pair of blank screens. Undaunted, I proceeded to head to the official website listed on the back of the box, and poked around for any files related to the Passkey 2. Sure enough, there is a support download listed under "Other Supported Software" for the Passkey 2.

    It turns out that the Passkey 2 needs to be told what game you are using as the boot card before it will work with it. This "programming" can be done using the standalone programmer unit included with the Passkey 2, the M3 adapter, or any GBA flash cart you may happen to have. After getting the file and extracting the contents, I happily loaded up the English manual only to be completely astounded by the horrid torrent of words before my eyes. While the words are indeed English, it would be a veritable challenge for any English speaker to figure out their meaning when strung together. The English on the product boxes was nowhere near as atrocious at the English included with the Passkey 2 support download. After figuring out what to do, I managed to get the Passkey 2 programmed with the ID Code for the Metroid game card I was going to be using for Passkey 2 functionality. I tried to use the Passkey 2 with a different boot card, and I was once again faced with two blank screens.

    After being faced with having to reprogram the Passkey 2 each time I wanted to change the boot card, I decided that I would program it using the standalone programmer as well, and see if the outcome would be the same. It wasn't. After programming the Passkey 2 using the programmer, I was able to use any compatible bootcard in Passkey 2 mode, just as if it were a regular Passkey. Again, as there were no instructions included with the Passkey 2, I had no idea that there would be different outcomes between the different methods of programming. It appears that when using the standalone programmer, all compatible game card IDs are sent to the Passkey 2, rather than programming via the M3 adapter, where only the single code for the game card you plan to use is stored.

    Please see Addendum A at the end of this review for full instructions on how to program the Passkey 2 using the M3 adapter or the standalone programmer.

    Once the Passkey 2 is programmed, the functionality becomes exactly like that of the Passkey, except that it also works on a newer firmware revisions of the NDS. There is a switch on the back of the Passkey 2 in the same location as the switch on the Passkey, except the switch on the Passkey 2 has a slightly different function. One side is labeled "Passkey 2", and the other side is labeled "Passkey 1". Setting the switch to "Passkey 2" allows you to use the device as a Passkey 2 on newer revisions of the NDS, while setting the switch to "Passkey 1" allows the device to function as a regular Passkey on older revisions of the NDS. So, no matter what NDS unit you have ended up with, the Passkey 2 will work with it. It is important to note that the Passkey 2 only needs to be programmed the first time you are using it, or if you change your boot card. If you are using the Passkey 2 in "Passkey 1" mode, you do not need to program it at all. Also, as with the Passkey, the Passkey 2 will use any GBA flash cart that you have inserted into the GBA slot - it is not required that you use it specifically with the M3.

    To summarize, the Passkey 2 performs the exact same function as the Passkey, only it needs to be programmed with what original game card IDs it can use as boot cards. It can be programmed using the standalone programmer or the M3 adapter, and can function as a Passkey 2 or a Passkey, depending on what model NDS you have chosen to use it with. As with the Passkey, it can use any GBA cart in the GBA slot, provided that cart supports having NDS data written to it. It is clearly better to program the Passkey 2 using the included programmer, as it allows you your choice of boot cards without having to reprogram the unit each and every time. The major downside of the Passkey 2 is that not only are instructions not included, but neither are any of the files that you actually need to get it working. The English language instructions included in the download are practically indecipherable, and there is no information on the official website, including the "FAQ" section on what to do. However, once the process has been figured out, there are absolutely no issues with the Passkey 2 functionality, be it in "Passkey 2" or "Passkey 1" mode.

    Functionality - M3 Perfect - NDS/GBA & M3 Game Manager

    After taking the M3 adapter out of the box, it is striking how absolutely plain and unremarkable it looks. It is the same colour as both the Passkey & Passkey 2 - a grey/silver colour that matches the silver coloured NDS console. There is a label on the top side containing the M3 logo, website address, and:

    NDS & GBA Movie Player
    The real Movie and Game Player 3rd for NDS.GBA/SP&GBM

    It is approximately the length of 1 and a half GBA cartridges, and the same width. When placed in the GBA slot of the NDS, it sticks out slightly, but not enough to interfere with normal operation. The NDS looks a little strange sandwiched between the M3 adapter and a Passkey, but after a few moments of playing, it's easy to forget that either piece is even there. It fits quite securely into the GBA slot on the DS, the GBA SP, the Game Boy Player and the first generation GBA without being too tight or too loose. It fits far too tightly into the GB Micro slot - an unreasonable amount of force is required to remove it. Overall, I'm not comfortable using the M3 adapter in my Micro unless it isn't being removed for some time. The slight upside to the tightness issue is that the SD card can be removed from the M3 adapter without removing the actual M3, so transferring new content is quite easy. If you use a particular unit (DS, GBA, etc) more often than the others, you can simply leave the M3 in the slot at all times.

    The M3 adapter comes with a software disc that contains the M3 Game Manager - the piece of software that is absolutely vital to the gameplay experience. Unfortunately the version included on the disc is outdated (version 2.2), so I went over to the website to get a more up to date version (version 2.7). The only requirements for getting content the M3 can understand onto your SD card are a PC, an SD card, a method of reading and writing SD cards on your PC that gives the SD card it's own drive letter - and of course, the M3 Game Manager. I have a multi-card reader installed in my PC which gives the SD slot it's own drive letter, and an ATP ProMax 150x 512MB SD card. (22MB/s read & 15MB/s write.) The SD card must be "FAT" formatted before it can be used with the M3 adapter. So, I quickly installed the M3 Game Manager and dived in.

    The major annoyance with the M3 Game Manager software is something I'll deal with right at the start - it does not save your settings, so every single time you load it, you must select whether or not you are using CF (Compact Flash) or SD, and then you must select which drive contains your CF/SD card. This gets very frustrating if you use the software frequently. I ended up simply leaving the software open during the review to avoid having to answer the prompts each time. Hopefully in a future release the M3 team implements a simple method of remember those options. It certainly doesn't affect any functionality, but it is definitely a sore point in terms of user-friendliness and usability. Unfortunately this issue makes the software rather clumsy to use, especially since it is easy to forget to set the correct drive every time before writing.

    While not intuitive, the software has very few buttons. After loading it up, choosing between CF/SD and setting the correct drive, users may change the interface language (English, Chinese, Japanese or Korea), or select from one of four command buttons - Write NDS, Write GBA, Delete or Help.

    "Write NDS"

    This button allows the user to choose an NDS ROM to write to the SD card. You will be prompted to choose an NDS file, and when chosen a dialog box will appear with some extra options. The ROM can be optionally trimmed, patched and the DMA speed can be set. You may also choose "same method for all games", and the software will remember the settings you chose for as long as it remains open.

    - "Trim Rom/No Trim Rom": The M3 Game Manager will trim excess data from the end of a ROM if there is excess data to be trimmed.

    - "Fast - Boot - Format": Selecting this option allows the ROM to be read directly from the SD card, and the sub selection "1 x DMA/4 x DMA" sets how fast that loading will be. From my tests, it appears that 1x/4x DMA work significantly better with 150x & 60x SD cards, as opposed to the generic regular speed SD cards out there. Anyone walking into a store and purchasing the cheapest SD card they can find has no right to complain of slow speeds, lag and glitchiness - you don't buy a BMW only to put tacky faux leopard print covers over the seats! The load time of games ranges from mere milliseconds to about three seconds - virtually no difference from a regular commercial cartridge.

    - "Normal": Selecting this option will patch the ROM but it will not be streamed from the SD card, so longer load times will result. The ROM is instead streamed into the internal 32MB of memory inside the M3 adapter. A few ROMs that are glitchy using fast boot mode can be fixed by using Normal mode.

    - "Directly Copy": The end result of this option appears to function the same as Normal mode. NDS games require a small patch so that they can run from the GBA slot while the console is in NDS mode. This option appears to simply add the patch but otherwise leaves the ROM untouched.

    After trying nearly every single NDS ROM currently released (that's almost 300 games including region duplicates), I didn't end up with a single problem. They all work correctly, are glitch free and save correctly. There is only one small exception, Ultimate Spiderman requires the user to press "Start" to escape from the initial demo to begin playing. I encountered this "problem" with that particular game as expected, but that is it. If looked at from a purely NDS perspective, the M3 certainly earns the "Perfect" in its title. Note: In the newest beta of the M3 Game Manager (3.0) only one game - Battles of Prince of Persia - requires a "Normal" mode setting. Every other game works successfully in Fast Boot mode.

    The M3 adapter manages savegames in a unique way. Rather than saving directly to the SD card, the M3 manages a "virtual" save system - it stores the save for the game currently being played in its very own SRAM. This allows it not only instant compatibility with any savetype, but ensures that there is no slowdown during gameplay when the game needs to save, unlike other competing units. If it wasn't for the M3 adapter sticking out of the GBA slot, there would be no way to tell the difference between the real commercial cart or the ROM while playing the game. While this is a great way to manage the saves, the downside is that the save gets transferred from the M3 SRAM to the SD card when the NDS console is rebooted. The M3 will present a status screen letting you know that it is backing up the save when you reboot. Some users may find this functionality inconvenient, but once you play a few games, it becomes second nature. It's certainly a small inconvience for 100% savetype compatibility. (Pokemon Dungeon save support was fixed in M3 Game Manager version 2.7). In short, the M3 manages the save in its internal SRAM while playing, and it actually writes that save to the SD card once the DS is rebooted.

    The M3 supports multiple saves for every game on the SD card. When loading a game, the M3 presents you with a confirmation screen, asking you to confirm the save that it is attempting to load. Simply press "L", "R" or Left & Right on the D-Pad to choose the saved game you would like to load. This is especially convenient if multiple people are sharing the same NDS console, or if a single user simply wants to maintain different savegames for their own purposes - such as an infinite number of Animal Crossing towns, something not possible using a commercial copy of the game. Backing up save games to the PC is as easy as plugging the SD card in and copying the save files using the file manager of your choice. To maintain multiple saves for a game, all you have to do is rename each save to something slightly different via the file manager on your PC.

    It is important to know that by transferring games via the M3 Game Manager, all the default save files and folders are created as necessary. If you choose to copy games directly to the SD card, bypassing the M3 Game Manager, you will first need to create a directory in the root of the SD card called "NDSSAVE", if it doesn't already exist. Then you will need to place a blank file in the "NDSSAVE" directory with the exact same name as the ROM you want to copy - only with a ".dat" extension instead of ".nds".

    The only other NDS specific feature to mention that the M3 supports is a brand-new software reset function, added in the newest beta version of the M3 Game Manager software. (Version 3.0 as of this review.) When enabled, pressing "L+R+A+B+X" at the same time in game will reset the NDS console without having to power off and on. The save game will automatically be backed up from the M3 SRAM to the SD card as well, which is a nice bonus for those that don't enjoy having to power off/on to store their save. Only one game remains incompatible with the software reset - Mario Kart DS. After enabling software reset on over 50 different ROMs, I can safely conclude that the function works as expected - and is much more convenient than powering off and on.

    So far, so good. The NDS game support is absolutely top-notch, and there aren't many options to play around with, significantly reducing the margin for error. Provided you are running clean and correct ROM images with a high-speed SD card, there is no lag, slowdown or glitches to be seen. Using a low-speed SD card, the odd game sequence may cause slowdowns at intensive moments or scenes - the Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow introductory movie being a good example. Virtual save management is unique to the M3 adapter, and ensures perfect 100% save compatibility. With the ability to have multiple saves per game and an in-game reset function to avoid having to power the NDS console on and off - I have absolutely nothing to complain about with the NDS support.

    "Write GBA" - Part 1 - GBA Games

    One of the functions that tends to get lost in the shuffle over backup units with NDS support is that the M3 adapter is also a fully functional GBA flashcard. It can be used to play GBA games on the NDS without the Passkey/Passkey 2, or it can be used to play GBA games on any other GBA unit. This button allows the user to choose a GBA ROM to write to the SD card. You will be prompted to choose a GBA file, and when chosen a dialog box will appear with some extra options. Real Time Clock (RTC) support can be enabled, and the ROM can be patched with an IPS file before being transferred over to the SD card. In GBA mode the M3 adapter also supports in game reset, multiple save file support - and the ability to "instant save" - where a "snapshot" of the game you are running is saved, and you can reload exactly where you left off.

    - "Load IPS": This option allows you to choose an IPS patch for games that may require it - such as Boktai (patch to play without the sun sensor), or WarioWare: Twisted! (patch to play without the gyro sensor). Any valid IPS file for the game will work, including trainers (cheat options that can be switched on and off when the game is first loaded) and translation patches.

    - "Enable Real Time": Checking this option will enable Real Time Clock support for games that require it, such as the Pokemon series.

    - "Soft Patch", "Hardware Support 1", "Hardware Support 2": These options are not explained anywhere. Hardware Support 1 & 2 are brand new options introduced but not documented in version 2.6A of the M3 Game Manager. I didn't have to change the setting from the default (Soft Patch) during my experience with the adapter, and when choosing Hardware Support 1/2 randomly, I didn't notice any change in support or gameplay - other than the odd game simply not working at all.

    The M3 adapter does not require you to use the M3 Game Manager to transfer GBA games to your SD card. Games can be copied to the SD card directly using the file manager of your choice as either compressed .zip files, or straight .gba files. Loading time is increased when the unit needs to decompress a .zip file as expected. The M3 Game Manager is only necessary when wanting to enable Real Time Clock support, or when adding IPS patches. Users with other IPS patching software do not need to use the IPS patching capabilities of the M3 Game Manager. If you are copying games directly, you must ensure that you create a "GAMESAVE" directory in the root of the SD card, if it does not already exist. Then you will need to place a blank file in the "GAMESAVE" directory with the exact same name as the ROM you want to copy - only with a ".dat" extension instead of ".gba".

    To ensure a fair test of the M3 adapter GBA functionality, I used a whopping 1,000 randomly selected ROMs from the entire released GBA catalog. The M3 adapter promises 99% compatibility with games, and 100% compatibility with every different type of save. After exhausting myself playing game after game after game, I did not encounter a single problem. Every game worked as expected with no slowdown, and every game saved as expected. I randomly selected some games with trainers and translation patches available, and used those IPS patches - they also worked as expected. If there is a GBA game that does not work with the M3, I have simply not come across it. Games can be pre-patched, save patched, have trainers already added, or be completely clean - and all work without a hitch. The functionality remains the same whether or not the games are running in GBA mode on the NDS console, the Game Boy Player GameCube attachment, or any other GBA compatible unit.

    If you have already read the "Write NDS" section, you may skip the following two paragraphs, as the functionality is exactly the same for both NDS and GBA games.

    The M3 adapter manages savegames in a unique way. Rather than saving directly to the SD card, the M3 manages a "virtual" save system - it stores the save for the game currently being played in its very own SRAM. This allows it not only instant compatibility with any savetype, but ensures that there is no slowdown during gameplay when the game needs to save, unlike other competing units. If it wasn't for the M3 adapter sticking out of the GBA slot, there would be no way to tell the difference between the real commercial cart or the ROM while playing the game. While this is a great way to manage the saves, the downside is that the save gets transferred from the M3 SRAM to the SD card when the NDS/GBA console is rebooted. The M3 will present a status screen letting you know that it is backing up the save when you reboot. Some users may find this functionality inconvenient, but once you play a few games, it becomes second nature. It's certainly a small inconvenience for 100% savetype compatibility. In short, the M3 manages the save in its internal SRAM while playing, and it actually writes that save to the SD card once the DS is rebooted.

    The M3 supports multiple saves for every game on the SD card. When loading a game, the M3 presents you with a confirmation screen, asking you to confirm the save that it is attempting to load. Simply press "L", "R" or Left & Right on the D-Pad to choose the saved game you would like to load. This is especially convenient if multiple people are sharing the same NDS console, or if a single user simply wants to maintain different savegames for their own purposes. Backing up save games to the PC is as easy as plugging the SD card in and copying the save files using the file manager of your choice. To maintain multiple saves for a game, all you have to do is rename each save to something slightly different via the file manager on your PC.

    For GBA games, the M3 Game Manager can also convert save files back and forth between M3 format and ".sav" format, which can be used in emulators such as Visual Boy Advance (VBA). To do this, you use the M3 Game Manager to navigate to your SD card, and double click on the GBA game you would like to convert the save for. You select the save file that you would like to convert (in case you have multiple saves for that particular game), and press the "Write .Sav" button. A dialog will prompt you to choose where you would like to save the ".Sav" file on your PC. To convert a ".sav" file to a ".dat" file, the "Read .Sav" button would be used instead. I also did not have any trouble with this feature. Save files were readable (once converted) under VBA, and saves I had made in VBA (once converted) were readable by the M3. This is a very slick extra feature that while not necessary, is a very welcome option. It means that the ".sav" file can be used/converted to work with other GBA flashcarts as well if required.

    Along with standard save management, the M3 adapter also supports an "instant save" method in GBA mode. Pressing "A+B+L+R" while playing a game brings up the M3 multi-function menu - this allows the user to restart the current game, reset back to the M3 menu, and use the instant save function. The instant save is like a "snapshot" - imagine playing a game, and needing to save immediately - maybe you have to turn off your handheld, the game does not have its own save function, or you just want to be able to save your status at a particular point before you move onwards. As with everything else I tried on the M3, the instant save appears to work without a hitch, regardless of the game being played. If there is a game that does not work with the instant save function, I did not encounter it through all my testing. The restart and reset functions also work as expected. When using the reset function, the M3 backs up the save automatically, as if you had just powered your console on and off. This is a welcome relief for those that do not like powering their console off and on to get a hard copy of their save.

    Finally, users may enter GBA mode while playing on their NDS console in one of two ways - either booting the NDS without the Passkey/Passkey 2 in the DS slot, or by booting the NDS with the Passkey/Passkey 2 in the DS slot. If the system has been booted with the Passkey/Passkey 2 in the DS slot, users can press "Start" when the M3 menu appears to enter GBA mode.

    The GBA capabilities of the M3 are just as spectacular as the NDS capabilities. ROM compatibility is impeccable, save management is excellent - from regular save management to instant save, and the in-game reset/restart work without trouble. Out of 1,000 tested games, all 1,000 worked regardless of whether I copied them with or without the M3 Game Manager. The Real Time Clock worked in the games that required it, and IPS patching was completely painless. There were no slowdowns, lag or graphical glitches that I could see in any of the games. If there is a GBA game that does not work with the M3, I certainly didn't encounter it.

    "Write GBA" - Part 2 - GG, SMS, NES, PCE & GB Mono

    Another function that the M3 adapter claims to support is built in emulation capabilities for GG (Game Gear), SMS (Sega Master System), NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), PCE (PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16) and GB (Game Boy Mono). This is one of the features I was most excited about, because it negates the need to download actual emulators for those systems and build a file that the emulator can read to play the games. Unfortunately when I first loaded the M3 Game Manager, I only saw buttons for "Write NDS" and "Write GBA". After looking at the included Help text file that comes with the M3 Game Manager, tucked in at the very bottom was a short instruction line - it turns out that this functionality is accessed through the "Write GBA" button.

    To start with, the box for the M3 adapter also claims that SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) games are emulated as well, and this is not true. Users must download the SNES emulator and try their luck with it as owners of all other flashcarts must do - support for SNES is not built in, so it's either a typo on the back of the box, or it was once an intended feature that ended up being dropped from the final product.

    To select one of the desired filetypes, users simply choose the "Write GBA" option, and instead of choosing a ".gba" file, a ".gg", ".gb", ".nes" etc file is chosen instead. The file will be written to the SD card with a ".gba" extension, and can be run in GBA mode on any GBA capable unit. I tried a random variety of each type of game, and experienced no slowdowns, lag or glitches outside of normal 8-bit gameplay. After all, some NES games look downright glitchy on a real NES! I found this to be a great added feature, not to have to muck around with the emulators for each system manually. [For example, the M3 uses the emulator "Goomba" for its Game Boy Mono emulation. Try pressing "L+R" while playing a Game Boy Mono game to see the Goomba menu, and change any desired options.] All save management for these games is identical to the regular GBA M3 save management - and the "A+B+L+R" button combination allows access to the same in-game reset, restart and instant save functions.

    For emulation of other systems, and even the systems for which the M3 includes built-in support, other emulators may be downloaded and used according to each of their individual instructions. Users are by no means limited to only the options that the M3 Game Manager makes available; the aim is simply to make that functionality as simple as humanly possible. I don't have much more to say on this particular subject - writing supported emulated games is as easy as writing a regular GBA/NDS game to the SD card, and all games have the same level of support that a regular GBA game does.


    This functionality is relatively self-explanatory. Users simply need to select the game that they want to remove, and press the Delete button. A confirmation dialog will appear confirming that you want to remove that game AND all of it's saved games. Make sure that you have backed up any saved games if you will want to use them at a later date!


    Selecting the Help button will open up a text file explaining the functionality of the M3 Game Manager in broken English. Users that need a refresh on a particular function would be well serviced with this file, but beginners will only end up confused by the haphazard English and the unclear flow of information.

    M3 Adapter Interface

    Whether the M3 adapter is booted on an NDS or GBA console, all of the functionality is controlled through a simple menu. On an NDS console, the menu appears on the bottom screen, but it is not touch aware. In GBA mode on an NDS console, the menu will appear on whichever screen you set in the NDS options. There are six options to the menu, controlled with the D-Pad and accessed with the "A" button on both an NDS and GBA:

    - "Movie": Access any movie files you have converted and placed on your SD card.
    - "Music": Access any music files you have converted and placed on your SD card.
    - "Picture": Access any compatible picture files you have placed on your SD card.
    - "Game": Access any game files you have placed on your SD card.
    - "Book": Access any text files you have placed on your SD card.
    - "Setup": Set the M3 interface options.

    The Setup menu option allows a variety of settings to be changed:

    - "Music Mode"
    - All: Play all songs.
    - Repeat All: Play all songs, and endlessly repeat.
    - Repeat One: Continuously play one song.
    - Single: Play one song.
    - Random: Play all songs in random order.
    - Rev Repeat: Play all songs, then endless repeat in reverse order.

    - "Sleep Mode"
    - Not Sleep: Able to play until you choose to shut the NDS/GBA console off.
    - Sleep 5/10/15/20/30/40/50/60min: Able to play until chosen time has been reached.
    - Play End: Unknown.

    - "Auto Page"
    - No Auto: Will not automatically scroll pages when reading text files.
    - 1/2/3/5/7/10/15/20/30 second: After chosen delay, pages will automatically scroll.

    - "Background"
    - Internal: Displays the default background.
    - To change backgrounds, create a "BACKING" directory in the root of the SD card, and fill it with appropriate image files. Images can be downloaded from the internet, as well as tools to produce your own.

    - "Password"
    - Set up to an eight digit password. Once set, every time the NDS/GBA console is booted with the M3 adapter, it will ask for the password before allowing access to the M3 functions. There is no dialog or error message when entering the password - it will only allow access to the correct password.

    - "AutoSave"
    - Yes: The M3 adapter will automatically back up its internal SRAM to the correct file when the NDS/GBA console is rebooted, or when using in-game reset.
    - No: The M3 adapter will not automatically manage the internal SRAM. If this setting is chosen, users must press enter the "Game" option in the M3 adapter menu and press "Select" to access the screen that will allow the user to write the SRAM to the correct file.

    The interface is very simple and easy to use, with a delightful lack of broken English. None of the options were documented however, so it took some experimentation to figure everything out. I still have not managed to discover what "Play End" does in the "Music Mode" section of the "Setup" screen. Long file names are supported in the interface, so there is no need to deal with the outdated 8 character file name, three character extension system. There is no lag while accessing any of the menu options, and the ability to change the background is a welcome addition.

    M3 Perfect - NDS/GBA & M3 Game Manager Overall

    Thank goodness I didn't take the box or lack of instructions at face value. For gaming, whether it be NDS, GBA, GG, SMS, NES, PCE or GB - the M3 absolutely excels. After spending mere minutes with the software, I was able to successfully write all game types to my SD card, and have my NDS and GBA units load and play them without errors. The save management, while initially a pain to get used to is actually quite welcome, as the "virtual" management and direct-to-M3 saving allows for no slowdown, no lag, and 100% compatibility across all different kinds of save types. If a game has a save function, the M3 adapter can save it successfully. The special functionality, including instant save and in-game reset, both work without incident, except for the aforementioned Mario Kart DS in NDS mode. It currently is the only NDS game not compatible with the in-game reset function. The M3 adaptor had 100% compatibility with all 300 NDS games, 1,000 GBA games and 240 various 8-bit games that I tried to play with it. That, quite frankly, is a mean feat for any backup unit. I found through my testing that using a faster speed (150x, 60x) SD card was an asset when playing NDS games, as regular speed SD cards appeared to be at the root of a few lag issues. The current firmware revision of the M3 adapter coupled with the latest M3 Game Manager posed absolutely no SD card compatibility issues for me. I won't claim that it is 100% compatible with all SD cards because I couldn't possible know or confirm that, but I would strongly suggest that most major name-brand cards will not give any trouble. As I referred to earlier on in the review, users that purchase the absolute cheapest SD card they can find and end up with problems only have themselves to blame. Spending a few extra dollars on an SD card is worth it, if only just for the performance increase. Based on its gaming capability alone, I have absolutely no qualms recommending it to anyone as the current NDS flashkit of choice. The M3 adapter definitely earns the "perfect" that they claim in the title, and then some.

    Functionality - M3 Perfect - Multimedia (Video, Audio, Pictures & Text)

    Unfortunately, this section of the review is going to involve the user having some prior PC knowledge, and knowledge of terms and software related to multimedia. I tried wherever possible to make every effort to be as clear as possible about each and every feature, but it is well outside the scope of this review to provide tutorials on functions outside of the M3 adapter.

    Amazingly enough, the M3 adapter is not just a game device - it's a full multimedia solution, capable of playing audio and video files, as well as viewing pictures and text. As I mentioned near the beginning of the review, "GBA Movie Player" is displayed prominently on the M3 packaging - leading me to believe that the M3 team would like to emphasize the multimedia capabilities over all else. In fact, when loading the M3 adapter on an NDA or GBA console - Movie, Music and Picture are the first three menu options! The packaging mentions that those three items need to be converted before they will be viewable using the M3 adapter. So, I challenged myself to give each of the functions the same workout I applied to the gaming portion of the review, with what I eventually found to be surprising results.

    To begin, the multimedia functions of the M3 adapter are as well documented as the rest of the package. There is reference to needing files converted to work on the device, but no mention on how to do that or where to start. A search of the CD included in the M3 adapter package revealed "M3media-eng.exe" tucked away under the "MEDIA\ENGLISH" directory. Installing this package added a DVD Converter, Image Converter, Movie Converter & Music Converter! With this software installed, I felt much more comfortable progressing with this section of the review, although some documentation beyond installation would have been appreciated. The software wants you to install the latest version of DirectX, Windows Meda Codecs, QuickTime Alternative and the ACE Mega Codec Pack version 6.03 - followed by unregistering a particular filter that the conversion software is incompatible with. There is a patch included for Windows '98 and ME systems as well. NOTE: The codecs are not required if you already have them installed on your system! Installing everything that the software requests will ensure a Windows installation fraught with errors, so consider this a "user beware" of the highest magnitude. If in doubt, simply install the M3 Media software, and NOTHING ELSE. If you find upon running the software that something is missing, install what you are missing very selectively and carefully - and ask for help if you are not sure.

    Also, none of the conversion software writes directly to the SD card as the M3 Game Manager does. Each converter has an "Output Location" box which defaults to "C:\". Make sure that you pay attention to where the files are being placed so that you know where to find them when the time comes to copy them to your SD card.

    Multimedia - "Book"

    One of the only multimedia file types that can be copied directly to the SD card and viewed on the M3 adapter without conversion are plain text files. I loaded up my SD card with as many different text files as I could find on my PC. Tiny notes and memos, this review in its entirety, and a four megabyte randomly generated file to see if the adapter would choke on a large file size.

    When wanting to view text files via the M3 adapter, users navigate to the "Book" menu option. As with all the other menu options, only the file types that mode can work with are shown in the file list, with long file names being supported. When a text file is selected, it shows up in a screen that looks somewhat like a folder, with a tab at the bottom that shows both the file name and the current page number. The "A" & Right D-Pad buttons move forward one page at a time, and the "B" & Left D-Pad buttons move backwards one page at a time. Up and down on the D-Pad scroll through the file forwards and backwards one line at a time, instead of one page at a time. Pressing "Select" allows the user to choose the font and font size being used. Available fonts include:

    - System Default
    - 1250 - Central European
    - 1251 - CRYILLIC
    - 1252 - West European
    - 1253 - Greek
    - 1254 - Turkish
    - 1255 - Hebrew
    - 1257 - Baltic
    - 1258 - Vietnam

    "System Default" is English. Depending on the font chosen, users can choose between 8x8, 12x12 & 16x16 - but the System Default font only allows 12x12. I don't have any text files available in other languages, but I imagine that selecting the correct font would allow the characters to appear correctly. I was interested to see that there are no Chinese, Japanese or Korean options - especially considering that the M3 software on the PC allows the interface to be displayed in any of those languages. Pressing "Start" brings up a dialog that asks whether or not you would like to save a bookmark on the current page. Whether the choice is yes or no, you will be brought back to the list of text files available on the SD card. If you choose "Yes", the next time that particular text file is opened, a load dialog will be presented asking if you would like to load the bookmark.

    That is the entire scope of viewing text using the M3 adapter. It handled every file I put on the SD card without a hitch, including the four megabyte one. I imagine that it is loading the file in segments as opposed to loading it all at once, allowing it to dynamically handle any sized file. The bookmark function works as expected, but only one bookmark can be stored per file. Bookmarks are not stored as actual files on the SD card, but appear to be stored in the internal M3 adapter SRAM. Unlike game saves, there does not appear to be a way to dump the SRAM contents to save a hardcopy of the bookmarks.

    I have nothing negative to report about the text viewing capability of the M3 adapter, except for the fact that the bookmarks are not stored to an actual file and therefore may be overwritten and lost when playing games. The ability to scroll page by page or line by line is welcome, and the text is very clear, crisp and readable on everything from the GB Micro screen, to the NDS screen, to my television via the Game Boy Player. Files display instantly with no hint of load times. Users without a device capable of reading text files or eBooks already may enjoy this feature for something different while on the go - or other users may find it useful to store walkthroughs, hints or cheats.

    Multimedia - "Picture"

    The other multimedia file type that can viewed using the M3 adapter without converting is a bitmap file. (.BMP) You may either copy bitmap files straight to the SD card, or use the Image Converter software to convert your images into bitmap format - optimizing the colour palate for viewing on the NDS/GBA, and resizing as appropriate. To start with, I copied a variety of bitmap files to the SD card, loaded up the M3 adapter, chose the "Picture" menu option, and began viewing. This was my first real disappointment with the M3 adapter.

    Smaller bitmaps that were nearly the same size as, or smaller than the NDS screen looked OK. Actual photographs had the wrong colours and a very washed out look to them, while simple patterns and images generated by the PC looked approximately as they were supposed to. The "Start" button scales a large image down to a thumbnail that fills approximately 1/4 of the screen, and the "Select" button enlarges the picture again. There is no zoom function, though you may scroll around large pictures using the D-Pad. The "B" button sends the user back to the file listing, and L and R scroll backwards and forwards through all the pictures in the current directory without having to select each one from the file list. A variety of the photographs that I tried only showed a small portion of the picture, such as the top or the bottom. Some of them had a thick line of coloured noise through the centre, and some of them just showed a black screen.

    Not impressed, I loaded up the M3 Image Converter software to see if the bitmap files would look any better when converted. The interface is very simple - there is a list on the left hand side which you add your pictures to be converted. You select the options you would like the software to use for your images, and press "Convert". As the images are processed, their file names are displayed in the right hand side list. I converted all the bitmap files from my original trial, as well as a variety of .GIF/JPG/WMF/PNG/TIF/EPS files - everything I could find that the Image Converter claims to convert. (It also claims .DIB/RLE/PCX/DCX/DXF/WPG & TGA. Some of these files are considered legacy formats, and the others I just plain didn't have.) The user is able to scale the pictures by scaling both Height and Width, or either Height or Width. The software automatically sets the scaling to Height only. Users can control the amount of scaling for either dimension via a sliding bar, keeping in mind that if the image grows outside of the preview box, it will need to be scrolled when viewed on the NDS/GBA console. The user can also set the output colour format:

    - True Color
    - GBA True color
    - 256 Colors
    - 256 B&W
    - 16 Colors
    - 2 B&W

    I found the best results with "GBA True Color" & "256 B&W", but your mileage may vary depending on the types of pictures you intend to view. After converting the images, I put them all on my SD card and proceeded to load up the "Picture" menu option again. The results for the original .BMP files were the same, and the results from the rest of the pictures were so/so. Some pictures displayed quite nicely with good color representation, while others demonstrated the same problems as my original trial. Obviously the picture converter is very hit or miss, and produces overall very disappointing results. The pictures looked their best on the NDS console & GB Micro as well. Viewing on a GBA SP caused image distortion and huge noise bar issues, and pictures looked much more washed out than on the GB Micro.

    Overall, I found the picture capabilities very lacking - the output was just not up to par with the quality shown with the device up to this point. The NDS & GBA screens are capable of some gorgeous colour, and the supplied Image Converter software simply does not take advantage of that. I would recommend the picture viewer solely as a novelty - or perhaps for viewing a world map from a game for reference. Having to convert and reconvert when images don't show up properly is frustrating, because there appears to be no rhyme or reason why some photos convert successfully and others do not. The software itself has a clean interface and is easy to understand - but the output it produces is lacking.
    migles likes this.
  2. Lily

    Former Staff Lily One Scary Lady

    Jun 18, 2004
    British Columbia
    Multimedia - "Movie"

    The M3 adapter packing claims that .AVI/WMV/ASF/MPG/MPEG/MOV/RMVB/VOB files and more can be converted. Upon loading the Movie Converter, I was presented with an interface similar to that of the Picture Converter. Very clean, and easy to understand. The horrid English that has plagued this package from the beginning is simply not present here. As with the Picture Converter, there is a list on the left hand side which you add the videos you would like to convert. You set your options, and press the "Convert" button. As the videos are processed, their file names appear in the right hand side list.

    You can select between NDS, GB Micro and GBA modes, with a sub choice of mode:

    - High Quality Mode
    - Standard Mode
    - High Compression Mode

    The output file size can be limited as well, so as not to overreach the size of your SD card. As an initial test, I tried a cartoon - a fresh episode of "Family Guy". Using the default settings, "NDS" and "High Quality Mode", I set it to convert and waited. It took approximately 30 minutes for the episode to be converted from XviD to .GBM (the format that the M3 adapter will play). There is a progress bar that appears to identify how long the process will take, as well as two counters counting the "Total Time" taken so far and the time of the "Current File". After it completed, I copied it to my SD card, loaded up the M3 adapter, and chose "Movie" from the on-screen menu. As I played the file, it appeared to be running at a low frame rate - which didn't hinder the animation at all. Anyone that likes to watch cartoons (such as popular Anime shows) while away from their computer will be quite pleased with the results. There was some artifacting, and the odd fast motion scene lagged, but overall the video was very watchable and the audio quality was passable. The same file encoded for GBM in "High Quality" mode looked amazing on the GB Micro screen, and the same file encoded for GBA in "High Quality" mode looked good on the GBA SP screen, although a little washed out - and I will explain why:

    There is a checkbox on the Movie Converter titled "Manual Setting", and checking it changes the conversion settings from the basic options to the advanced ones. NDS, GBM and GBA modes can still be chosen, and the differences in settings between the options become apparent. The NDS & GBM settings are identical - except that in NDS mode, the video is set to 256x192, and in GBM mode the video is set to 240x160. GBA mode has the same video setting as GBM - but the contrast, brightness and saturation settings are pumped way up to account for the poor visibility of the original GBA model.

    In "Manual Setting" mode, users have more flexibility:

    Crystal Fast/Slow with Best, High, Normal and Low settings. Crystal Fast is for videos with a lot of action and motion, and Crystal Slow is for videos that are mostly static with little motion and transition between scenes. Cartoons filled with bright colours and strong outlines are well suited to either mode. Contrast, Brightness, Saturation and Sharpness are all individually adjustable from low to high levels. Audio can be set to: 8:1 Stereo, or 16:1 Mono, 32:1 Mono or 64:1 Mono, with the Left and Right channels selectable for all mono modes. Video encoded with stereo audio sound remarkably better on an NDS console than the default 16:1 Mono.

    After the success with the "Family Guy" video, I encoded episodes of "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls" to see how the converter would fare with more standard video. After a fairly long encoding process (about 40 minutes per show), I tested them on each device. The results were about the same - fast video scenes were slightly laggy, there was some artifacting and pixellation. However, all shows were comfortably watchable with no noticeable audio skipping on any of the tested units - NDS, GBA SP, GBA Micro and the Game Boy Player.

    The overall quality of the encoded videos certainly leaves a little to be desired. For a device that claims to be the "GBA Movie Player", the overlong encoding time and resulting lack of quality produced by the included software is enough to turn anyone off from seriously attempting to use the device as a portable video player, especially considering there are a variety of alternatives and popular devices that require no re-encoding at all. The main factor that stopped me from testing more videos was the length of time that it took to encode each one. While the videos produced are of a watchable quality, it feels as if for the amount of time users have to wait while encoding those videos, that the quality would be significantly better.

    Multimedia - "Music"

    The final multimedia function of the M3 adapter is playing music. The package claims that you can convert .WAV/MP3/RM/WMA to listen to on the device. After listening to the quality of the audio that the Movie Converter software produced, I was certainly expecting to hear something of similar quality. I loaded the Music converter software, and was pleasantly surprised to find a similar interface to both the Picture and Movie converters. There is a list on the left hand side which you add the music files you would like to convert. You set your options, and press the "Convert" button. As the music files are processed, their file names appear in the right hand side list. The Music Converter has the least amount of options of all the conversion programs:

    Audio Mode: 8:1 Stereo, 16:1 Mono, 32:1 Mono & 64:1 Mono. 8:1 Stereo is equivalent to a regular 44khz 16 bit WAV file, with the quality reducing for each subsequent option. If choosing a Mono Mode, the left or right channel can be selected. The only other option is to set the volume of the encoded file, with the default set at "1". Raising the sound volume beyond one produces significant levels of distortion that all but ruin the quality of the final sound file, regardless of which type of console is used for playback.

    I choose a variety of artists to encode to get a sense of how the converter handled different types of music. Tracks included samples of rock, pop, hip-hop, rap, country, techno, dance, trance, house and classical. Encoding conveniently took mere seconds per track. The completed files are given a .GBS extension, which is what the M3 adapter will recognize. After copying the files to my SD card, I loaded up the M3 adapter and chose "Music" from the on-screen menu. I randomly chose one of the files, and it began playing immediately with a status screen that shows how long the file is, and the current position in the file. While playing the song "A" or "R" was Play/Pause and "B" sends the user back to the file listing while the song continues to play. I wasn't sure if that was an intended feature or not, but further experimentation shows that it is indeed intention. While the song is playing, I could go into both the "Picture" and "Book" options, and view pictures and text files. Selecting the "Game" or "Movie" options caused the music to automatically stop. I could also change the options in "Setup" while the music continued to play in the background. This is a nice feature for those that want to listen to some music while reading, or perhaps set up a very basic slideshow complete with music.

    Left and Right on the D-Pad skip forwards and backwards through the file in 10-second increments, while Up and Down on the D-Pad switch songs. ("L" also performs this function.) Pressing "Select" once will mark a start point for A-B repeat, and pressing "Select" again will mark the end point. A-B repeat simply repeats a chosen section of the song continuously until "Select" is pressed again; the song will continue from the point where "Select" was pressed and remove the repeat. "Start" is described as the "Lock" function, but whether "Lock" is displayed on screen or not, every function was still available.

    Song quality for my chosen tracks was actually quite good. As with the Movie Converter, tracks encoded using the 8:1 Stereo option sounded wonderful on the NDS, although regardless of audio quality or console, the tracks all experienced distortion equally on high and low frequencies. I would refer to the quality as "below radio standards", but is still more than bearable. The NDS is certainly the ideal choice, or the GB Micro with a pair of headphones. The worst audio quality came from the standard GBA model, as expected. The .GBS sound format already hurts the audio quality, and Mono certainly does nothing to improve upon that.

    Overall, the audio quality was surprisingly better than I expected, although the limitations of conversion to an inferior format definitely shine through. The distortion on highs and lows make music that rely heavily on them to be thoroughly unenjoyable. Classical music in particular is not suited to the conversion process in the least. The ability to be able to listen to music while browsing pictures and text is a nice function, intended or not. Music loaded instantaneously, and there was no delay experienced when skipping back and forth through any given track, regardless of how long it was or how fast I tried skipping. Top marks for the audio capability, even if the quality is low for working exactly as expected.

    Multimedia - "Movie" & "Music" Addenda

    There is a piece of software that the M3 team offers from their website called "MoonShell". It can play video, browse pictures and even play MP3 files without the need for conversion. It makes use of both screens and supports touch screen input as well. It is most certainly a better solution for video, audio and pictures than the converters that ship with the M3 adapter, and it's well worth investing time into this program if you are more serious about using the M3 adapter for its multimedia functions as opposed to the game playing functions. The video quality is better, the picture quality is better, and being able to play MP3 files without conversion removes almost all of the distortion and quality issues. However, as the software is not actually created by the M3 team nor distributed with the M3 adapter, it is beyond the scope of this review. However, I felt it is only fair to mention, since it is an overall better solution as compared currently to what ships with the M3 adapter. Users interested in MoonShell can download it from the M3 adapter official website. (Editor's Note: The M3 team is rumoured to be replacing the default M3 software with Moonshell in an upcoming firmware update.)


    I am an avid Action Replay fan, and felt it would be remiss not to discuss whether or not the M3 was compatible with it. Unfortunately, the answer is no. Both Action Replay models (the original GBA-only model and the current Action Replay Duo) will not work with the M3 adapter, regardless if the game you want to use is the only one on the SD card or not. The Action Replay software will load and allow you to choose your game and codes, and will allow the M3 adapter to boot up afterwards. However, upon choosing the game to play on the M3, it will begin loading and then freeze. I tried using the GBA, the Game Boy Micro, the NDS and both Action Replay models. I also tried having multiple games on the SD card, or just the one I wanted to cheat with, and had no success. Those looking to cheat or otherwise modify their games will have to stick to trainers via IPS patches, which the M3 Game Manager allows.

    I didn't touch upon homebrew applications specifically during the review, as I was attempting to stick to the software offered by the M3 team as much as possible. However, the M3 is a champion with homebrew software as well. Whether it be NDS or GBA software, official Nintendo demos or anything else you can find, provided it has been programmed correctly the M3 adapter will play it. Homebrew software, depending on the specific application, can be copied directly to the SD card through a file manager, or written to the SD card via the M3 Game Manager. MoonShell, which I touched on briefly, can be copied directly to the SD card, for example.

    Finally, last but not least - the issue of battery life. After running the M3 through multiple full charges and discharges on both the NDS and GBA, it is my unofficial determination that the M3 SD barely uses any extra battery power at all. Using a commercial NDS cartridge I normally get an approximate 10-12 hours of use from the NDS, and with the M3 SD I still had the same 10-12 hours worth of use. The same held true with both the GBA SP and the GB Micro - battery life does not appear to be adversely affected in any way. It may shave approximately 20 minutes or so from the total play time, but nothing that I was able to notice that wasn't within the usual battery life range.


    Running the M3 adapter through every advertised feature was quite exhausting. I ran down the battery in each of my Game Boy & NDS consoles multiple times, and I'm sure I reduced the life of my SD card by at least 1/2. However, it was worth every single day that I spent tackling each feature. The excitement level that I experienced when it first arrived on my doorstep has long disappeared, but there is absolutely no questioning that this is a quality piece of kit - and judging by reviews of other kits currently on the market, I might be so bold as to say this kit stands head and shoulders above the rest. Taken purely as a gaming device, the M3 earns their "perfect" title in every respect. From game compatibility to save support, I did not run across a game it couldn't handle - well over 1,300 titles! The "built-in" emulation is completely seamless, and a welcome feature to avoid having to deal with each emulator individually. Taken purely as a multimedia device, it performs as advertised, but the quality of each individual function varies depending on settings used for conversion and the software used. Support as a multimedia is vastly enhanced by using software that doesn't come with the M3 adapter, and any user serious about using it as such a device is going to want to look into that software. However, I can't deny that the device is capable of every single thing that it claims to be, quality niggles aside. The only claim it does not live up to is about the SNES emulation support claimed on the packaging. The software has no support for this, and the M3 team simply directs users to the web site of the SNES emulator and encourages them to try their luck.

    I would have had a much easier time with the M3 adapter if there were instructions included with all the different functions, and if the functions that had instructions were clear and easy to understand. Coming from an English as a second language speaking team their effort is impressive, but undeniably frustrating for users that only speak English. The Passkey 2 was near unusable without real research into how to get it programmed, and the multimedia features would have been beyond my reach if I hadn't nosed around the CD and website to obtain information on how to convert the various files. I would not necessarily recommend the M3 adapter to someone who is not comfortable with their PC, installing software, or simply using trial-and-error to discover how something works. However, (and that's a big however) once I discovered how to get everything working, from both Passkeys to the M3 itself, my frustration with the lack of documentation slowly wore away. I wouldn't let that issue detract from the fact that this is an amazing piece of kit, and worth absolutely every penny being charged for it. Each revision of the Passkey is an excellent device, and does exactly what it is supposed to do, provided you use the correct Passkey for your NDS model.

    Performance was definitely better while using a high-speed (150x,66x) SD card as opposed to the cheapest off the shelf variety. I experienced slowdown and lag in certain games and videos while using a low quality SD card, whereas I experienced absolutely no problems while using a high quality card. I experienced no compatibility problems with SD cards either - as the latest firmware updates appear to have addressed that issue for all but a few brands. Eventually for my sanity, I ended up using the high speed card throughout most of the review, because it simply allows the adapter to do what it does best - play games, emulators, homebrew software and multimedia with ease. If the M3 team continues to improve the software in the future, there will be absolutely no reason to purchase a competing unit. The M3 adapter is certainly more expensive than competing units, but I would consider it to be an investment - no need to worry about patches, games that don't work, slowdown and lag, and any other issues that typically give backup kit owners headaches. The support for the device is both regular and continuous, and with each update it currently remains 100% compatible. If you had any doubts at all, the M3 adapter is quite simply the only NDS/GBA/Multimedia kit you will ever need.

    + Perfect GBA/NDS game compatibilty
    + No noticable lag/slowdown with a high-speed SD card
    + Built-in emulator management
    + RTC (Real Time Clock) support
    + Instant Save
    + 100% save compatibility across all games
    + Little to no power consumption
    + SD card removable without removing the M3
    + No special drivers required
    + Multimedia capabilities

    - No documentation
    - English documentation where found is nearly unintelligible
    - Passkey 2 unusable without documentation
    - Movie & Picture multimedia capabilities sub-par with built-in software & converters
    - No built-in SNES support as claimed on packaging


    Addendum A - Programming the Passkey 2

    When you have acquired a brand-new Passkey 2 that has not yet been programmed, you will need to program it to recognize whatever cartridge you are going to choose to use as the boot card. As the support file available on the M3 adapter website is completely unintelligble, what follows are the instructions to program the Passkey 2 using either the M3 adapter, or the standalone programmer included with the Passkey 2.

    Programming the Passkey 2 Using the M3 Adapter

    01. Go to the M3 adapter website at
    02. Click on the "Download" section.
    03. Download the "Passkey V2" file located under "Other Supported software".
    04. When the download has completed, extract the file to a folder (directory) on your PC.
    05. Find the original game card which you plan to use as your Passkey 2 boot card.
    06. Look at the bottom of your game card label, and find "NTR-XXXX..".
    07 The "XXXX" portion in the middle is the 4 character "ID Code" for your game card.
    08. Using the M3 Game Manager, add the GBA file "K2-RAM-XX.gba" to your SD Card. It is located in the folder which you extracted your "Passkey V2" download to. (The -XX portion of the filename is the current revision number of the file, and may change as the ID Code list gets updated.)
    09. Insert the SD Card into your M3 adapter.
    10. Insert the M3 adapter into your NDS. Do NOT insert the Passkey 2.
    11. Power on the NDS console, and choose "Start GBA Game".
    12. Using the "Game" option in the M3 menu, select "K2-RAM-XX.gba" and load it.
    13. You will be presented with a menu of game card ID Codes.
    14. Scroll through the list using the D-Pad and find your game card ID Code.
    15. When found, select it and press the "A" button.
    16. You will be asked to confirm your selection, so press "Ok".
    17. When complete, a message will pop up with "Load OK !"
    18. Press "Ok", and then power off your NDS console.
    19. Insert your game card into the Passkey 2.
    20. Ensure the Passkey 2 switch is set to "Passkey 2".

    The Passkey 2 will now function correctly when you use it in your NDS console.

    Note: The "sram.dat" file included with the download can be placed in the root directory of your SD Card. It is used to save the configuration data you just programmed. If you leave it in the root directory, the M3 adapter will load it into memory every time you boot into GBA mode. Once you use it to save your configuration data, simply copy it back to your PC, in case you ever need to reprogram the Passkey 2 with the same information, or you are programming multiple Passkey 2 units with the same game card information.

    Programming the Passkey 2 Using the Standalone Programmer

    01. Go to the M3 adapter website at
    02. Click on the "Download" section.
    03. Download the "Passkey V2" file located under "Other Supported software".
    04. When the download has completed, extract the file to a folder (directory) on your PC.
    05. Using the M3 Game Manager, add the GBA file "K2-HW-XX.gba" to your SD Card. It is located in the folder which you extracted your "Passkey V2" download to. (The -XX portion of the filename is the current revision number of the file, and may change as the ID Code list gets updated.)
    06. Insert the SD Card into your M3 adapter.
    07. Insert the M3 adapter into your NDS. Do NOT insert the Passkey 2.
    08. Power on the NDS console, and choose "Start GBA Game".
    09. Using the "Game" option in the M3 menu, select "K2-HW-XX.gba" and load it.
    10. Insert the Passkey 2 correctly into the standalone programmer.
    11. The NDS console will prompt you to remove the M3 adapter, and to insert the standalone programmer with the Passkey 2 inserted into the programmer.
    12. When the programmer has been inserted, press "Select".
    13. Press "Select" again to program the Passkey 2.
    14. When complete, you will be prompted to power off the NDS console, and to remove the programmer.
    15. Check the compatibility list provided in the Passkey 2 manual file to ensure the game card you want to use as a boot card can actually be used as a boot card.
    16. Insert your game card into the Passkey 2.
    17. Ensure the Passkey 2 switch is set to "Passkey 2".

    The Passkey 2 will now function correctly when you use it in your NDS console.

    Addendum B - Photographs

    The Passkey, Passkey 2 & M3 Adapter with Boxes
    The Passkey 2 & Box
    The Passkey 2 in the Standalone Programmer
    The Passkey & Box
    The M3 Adapter & Box (Front)
    The M3 Adapter & Box (Back)
    The M3 Adapter with GBA Cartridge, NDS Cartridge, SD Card & Passkey 2 for Size Comparison
    The M3 Adapter in the NDS Console (Front View)
    The M3 Adapter & Passkey 2 in the NDS Console (Side View)
    The Passkey 2 in the NDS Console (Back View)
    The M3 Adapter & Passkey 2 in the NDS Console (Top View)
    The M3 Adapter Main Menu on the NDS Touch Screen
    The M3 Adapter & Passkey 2 in the NDS Console (Bottom View)
    The M3 Adapter in the NDS Console (Open, Side View)
    The M3 Adapter in the GB Micro (Front View)
    The M3 Adapter & Passkey 2 in the NDS Console (Bottom View 2)
    The M3 Adapter in the GB Micro (Side View)
    The M3 Adapter in the GBA SP (Open, Front View)
    The M3 Adapter in the GB Micro (Bottom View)
    The M3 Adapter in the GBA SP (Bottom View)
    The M3 Adapter in the Game Boy Player (Front View)
    The M3 Adapter in the Game Boy Player (Side View)
    The M3 Adapter in the Action Replay Max Duo
    The M3 Adapter in the Action Replay GBA
    The M3 Adapter beside the EZ-Flash III Linker
    The M3 Adapter on top of the EZ-Flash III Linker

    Addendum C - M3 Links and Resources

    M3 Adapter Official Website
    M3 Wiki
    Purchase an M3 from KickTrading
    Purchase an M3 from

    Affiliated sites
    Purchase this cart from our affiliated shops:

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