GBAtemp.net review of the... Ultra Flashpass EX 8 Gb aka: Ultra Flash Pass EX, UFP EX. Manufactured by: NDSGBA Team Review samples supplied by: NDSGBA Team By zatelli - February 14th 2007 Last updated: February 20th 2007. Review Contents & Index: Introduction - Official feature list Packaging and Contents - Box Contents Cart Design Setting Up & Using - Clean ROMS burning speed chart - GUI (OS) Performance - ROM compatibility - - Download Play / Single-Cart Multiplayer - Battery life Homebrew Support Additional Features Hidden extra Feature Conclusion Pros & Cons Introduction Ever since the launch of the DS handheld system three years ago, the flashcard market has grown at steady pace, offering a much wider choice variety. Nowadays we can distinguish two main categories: external memory based flashcards with R4DS/M3S, the SuperCard One or the EZ V being the main brands on that segment, while the other segment used to be a little light on competitors with mainly the DS-X and the N-Card till now. The Ultra Flashpass EX, which is he latest iteration of the Ultra Flashpass, is a new addition to the ever growing line of slot-1 DS flashkits. The main purpose of this review is to shed some light on this card's performance & find out to which extent does it sustain the comparsion to other flashkits. For this review I mainly used the firmware that was loaded into my review sample, which is ver 1.21 H for testing purposes then upgraded to the latest one. Official Feature List: 1. USB High burning speed (For 1.0G file approx. 3-4 mins.). 2. Compatible with NDS / NDS Lite (without any Passme device/flashed firmware. 3. No software patching required. 4. Same size of the NDS cart - (will not stick out from NDS / NDS Lite). 5. 1.0/2/4/8/16 Gbits NAND highspeed Internal Memory 6. Plug-and-play easy to use 7. Can use as a Passme Card. These are the advertised features, copied as is off the manufacturer’s official website. As you may have noticed, the feature lists doesn’t mention download play or multimedia playback. Out of curiosity, these two features will be be assessed aswell. The UPF EX sounds decent just from the list above, however, the burning speed looks quite slow for USB2 burning. Disappointing? Don’t worry as this review is to cover everything you should be aware of. Packaging and Contents The UFP EX ships in a tiny cardboard box with a carton tray inside that houses the card, the USB cable & slot-2 card writer. The box looks the way it looks, not that appealing but that’s not what we’re supposed to rate in this review, are we? I wouldn’t mind having an ugly looking box as long as the actual hardware provides me with a rock solid gaming & multimedia experience. Box Contents 1 X Ultra FlashPass EX 8.0Gbit (1Gbyte) 1 X USB 2 Highspeed Ultra FlashPass FireLine. 1 X USB Cable 1x page manual The card ships with everything necessary to start it up right away as we’ll see in a moment. Cart Design When put side by side to an original cart, it’s hard to tell the difference, both look and feel the same. The case is smooth and regular with no excess plastic, gone is the cheesy plastic body we used to see we many previous flashcards: the UFP EX feels like it's been cut out of a block of metal. Since the card has no chip that sticks out of the case, as this is unfortunately the case for many competing products, I had no problem popping the card in and out of its slot. I tried taking the card apart, to catch a glimpse at its internals however it wasn’t as breezy as I thought it would be, no matter how hard I tried I could not get it let me in: there were no screws or clips to be found anywhere, not even under the sticker. So all I could open was the slot-2 card writer which is fortunately tightened by a tri-wing screw: Now the only complain I have about the card aesthetically speaking is that the case comes only in white. It would have been much better if it were to match my black onyx DS Lite’s color. Setting Up & Using There’s nothing that special one has to do in order to get started. All cards are preformatted at the factory & loaded with the most current firmware at the time of purchase. So to make it as much straightforward & easy as possible, all you’ll have to do is plug the GBA fireline card writer & the flashcard into their respective slots then connect the first end of the USB cable to the card writer and the other end to a free USB port, hubs are reported to work fine as well. Power on your DS, get past the Health & safety warning if necessary and boot the card. Your OS now detects the card as a removable storage device & install the relevant drivers. At this point your flashcard is ready & you can offload as many clean roms, music & video as you wish. Once you're done uploading your backups to the flashcard, you can unplug the card writer as it is of no use for you at that point, you only need it to write data to the flashcard. You might be wondering whether a card manager is necessary. Such software is optional and all it does at the moment is manage save files burn clean roms, trim them if you want to save space & formats the card. Now if for some reason the system isn’t present on your card already, download the OS from the download section at NDSGBA Team’s website or use the CD if the retail version ships with any. If you are concerned about bandwidth, the most recent version of the compulsory system folder is about50 KB which no big deal even for dialup. The following picture is an illustration of how the folder’s architecture should look on your card: If you ever need to upgrade the firmware or format the card, make sure to check on NDSGBA Team’s support section. As it comes with plenty of illustrations, you shouldn’t have trouble figuring things out. To summarize, the UFP EX ships with everything necessary to get started right away: it comes preformatted & loaded with the most current firmware & OS making it ready to use out of the box. This is clearly a source of inspiration for the competition as the user can make good use of his gizmo right off the box. One can still visit the UFP EX download page if he wants to take advantage of what the optional software has to offer him. Before we boot the UFP EX with clean roms we gotta burn them first using the USB2, however uploading data through the provided slot-2 card writer is supposed to be slow, at least that’s what NDSGBA Team says, (3-4 mns for 1Gb roms), let’s check this out with the following speed chart. Clean ROMS burning speed chart ROM size (in Mbits)Burning time (in s)Burning speed (in Mbits/s)1024931151245112562211128111164610 I’ve copied the results as is off my excel spreadsheet based on the time it took each rom to be burnt to the UFP EX using firmware 1.21H. It is a matter of facts that burning ROMS using the USB2 writer is much slower compared to card readers. Let’s hope the card deserves all the hassle we’re getting through. GUI (OS) Let’s now have a glimpse at the GUI. Granted you’ve booted your DS, you notice with joy that there’s no splash screen you’re taken to the main menu shortly after it the OS has loaded. The interface is one of the most user friendly ever: the roms which displayed in 3D icons only mode are arranged in pages of 12 roms each. One can browse through these pages either using the L & R shoulder and eventually the D-pad, or using the stylus, one can boot a rom by clicking once to select one of his likings then click a second time to launch it. This is great, as you’ll be sure not to mistakenly launch a rom while browsing the rom pages. Aside from this, the top left corner of the touchscreen displays your flashcart’s capacity with the firmware upgrade between brackets while the bottom left corner displays current date & time. The UFP EX comes bundled both with DSOrganize & Moonshell 1.6, both come already patched with the N-Card’s DLDI drivers which means you’ll experience Moonshell’s multimedia playback at its fullest while DSOrganize will assist you in everyday’s life. In case your copy of the UFP EX does not include these two great apps, make sure to pick them up from NDSGBA Team’s website. When you highlight a rom you wish to play, the top screen instantly shows the rom’s full name, size in MB, save type & size which you can eventually change by pressing SELECT and LEFT/RIGHT buttons simultaneously when the rom you wish to run has no entry in the OS saver database. The bottom line on the top screen shows if you have saved your game or not, and in case you did, tells you when it has been saved for the last time. Almost forgot to mention that the user interface, though not based off moonshell is fully skinnable, as you can see from the picture below showing a custom made skin: Check the included documentation with the firmware to find out how to skin your UFP EX. The only disappointing thing I’ve noticed with the main menu is it won’t shut down the display if you close the lid. To sum up the interface is user friendly & outrageously easy to use, due to it being 3D, browsing pages full of roms is somewhat slow compared to when you fire up few roms. The top screen on the other hand provides the end user with useful information such as filename, save type & size. The interface which isn’t Moonshell based is fully skinnable (check readme included with firmware upgrades to find out how to do so). This video shows to what extent browsing the interface is slow. Bear in mind however that, that the 3D icons system has been introduced fairly recently (firmware 1.21H). From my experience with the UFP EX, I can say that NDSGBA Team mainly had ease of use in mind when setting the card from burning clean roms running them on the actual hardware: Impressive. Performance No matter whether a flashcard looks appealing or not based on its aesthetic value, glossy & fancy packaging or the hype the hype that builds around the product. All of this is meaningless if the core feature is broken: commercial roms on the first hand & DS homebrew on the other one have to work the way they are supposed to: full speed, with no glitches, hitches or impediments. For benchmarking purposes, I didn’t go easy on the UFP EX, testing no less than 70 clean ROMs all burnt using drag and drop to the removable media – UFP EX – with strong emphasis on troublesome roms being my main concern when I built the list of roms to be tested. ROM Compatibility The Ultra Flashpass EX supports both FAT16 and FAT32 filesystems. In order to make sure the chosen filesystem be it FAT has no incidence on the flashcard’s performance, I have formatted it with both FAT16 the first time & FAT32 on the next try. In the following compatibility chart, unless stated otherwise, the card performs the same with both filesystems. PASS: Game plays just as it should on a real game card. FAIL: Game doesn't even load or freezes before game play. PROBLEMS: Game works but with issues. 42 All-Time Classics/Club House Games - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Actionloop - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Advance Wars Dual Strike - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Age of Empires - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Animal Crossing World Wild - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Asphalt Urban GT 2 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Biker Mice from Mars - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Big Brain Academy - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Bleach 2nd - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Bomberman Land Touch! - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Brain Boost - Beta Wave - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Brain Boost - Gamma Wave - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Brain Training - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Brick ‘em all - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Burnout Legends - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Bust a Move DS - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Castlevania: DoS - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Castlevania: PoR - PASS: Plays and saves fine.(On par with an original card, no freezes, glitches or slowdowns) Children of Mana - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Daigasso! Band Bros - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Danny Phantom - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Dead 'n Furious - PASSS: Plays fine and saves fine. Diddy Kong Racing - PASS: Plays and saves fine.(manually set save to 2M) Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Elite Beat Agents - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Feel the Magic - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Final Fantasy III - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Guilty Gear – Dust Strikers - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Hotel Dusk Room 215 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. InuYasha – Secret of the Divine Jewel - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Jet Impulse (J) - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Kaitou Wario The Seven - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Konductra - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Legend of Spyro - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Lost Magic - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Luminous Arc (J) - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Lunar knights - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Magical Starsign - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Mario Hoops 3 on 3 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Mario Kart DS - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Megaman ZX - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Metroid Prime Hunters - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Metroid Prime Pinball - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Micro Machines V4 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. My Animal Centre in Africa - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Nacho Libre - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Nanostray - PASS: Plays and saves fine. NEW Super Mario Bros - PASS: Plays and saves fine. New Zealand Story - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Nintendogs Dalmatian & friends - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Nintendo DS Opera Browser(with official RAM) - PASS: Works and saves fine. Picross DS (J) - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Phoenix Wright 2 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Point Blank - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Pokemon Dash - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Pokemon Diamond - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Ryuusei no Rockman - Ice Pegasus (J) - PASS: Plays and saves fine. San Goku Shi Taisen DS - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Sonic Rush - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Starfox Command - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Super Monkey ball Touch & Roll - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Tetris DS - PASS: Plays and saves fine. The Sims 2: pets - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Tony Hawk American Sk8tland - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Tony Hawk Downhill Jam - PASS: Plays and saves fine. (same as original card, no freezes, glitches or slowdowns) Ultimate Spiderman - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Xiaolin Showdown - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Yu Gi Oh Spirit Caller - PASS: Plays and saves fine. Zoo Keeper - PASS: Plays and saves fine. The results are stunningly good, I’d have been far from thinking this card could handle backups that well. It ran Castlevania Portrait of Ruin as smoothly as a retail copy, even the most infamous roms, known to cause problems on micro SD based flashcards such as Animal Crossing World Wild (ACWW), Tony Hawk Downhill Jam worked flawlessly. Note:If you run a rom for the first time, b default, a save file will be generated based on an 8 characters long filename in th same way as other flashcards such as the Supercard slot-1 do. Of course it can take save files named after the rom's full name. Update: I have tested 50 more roms including some of the latest roms such as Jet Impulse, Lunar Knights, Bleach 2nd or Luminous Arc, all are working flawlessly. Considering most roms that were tested are those known to cause problems, & given the percentage tested (14% of the clean roms release list, up to #0852), it is safe to assume the UFP EX has perfect clean rom compatibility so far. Below is a video of the UFP EX in action you to see for yourselves, how well it performs: As one can see, Portrait of Ruin's intro runs smoothly, with no glitches & so does the actual game, no freezes when opening menus or during warping sequences, the latter one is not included in the video, but I've played the game for nearly 5 hours with no problem at all. Just for your notice, I’ve made my investigations and was able to find out that this card writes save files in real time. I’ve got some tasty information for those of you wondering whether GBA roms can be burnt to the slot-2 writer, the quick answer is yes and no: at the moment burning GBA roms to the slot-2 card writer is impossible but I had words from an admin at NDSGBA Team’s forum who told me that this feature is in the pipe and should be available by means of a future firmware update. Now that we’re done with the compatibility, let’s have a closer look at what download play on card has to offer. Download Play / Single-cart Multiplayer Even though NDSGBA didn’t make any statement concerning that matter, I did some testing on download play out of curiosity to see for myself where this card stands among competing brands on the slot-1 segment. I tested download play functionality between two unflashed DS handhelds using decrypted clean roms, below are the results: 42 All-Time Classics (Club House Games) - FAIL: Download play broken. Brain Training - FAIL: Download play broken. Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow - FAIL: Download play broken. Diddy kong Racing - FAIL: Download play broken.(Drops connection) Mario Kart DS - FAIL: Download play broken.(Drops connection) Mario hoops 3 on 3 - FAIL: Download play broken. New Super Maro Bros - FAIL: Download play broken. New Zealand Story - FAIL: Download play broken. Nintendogs Dalmatian & friends - FAIL: Download play broken. Picross DS (J) - FAIL: Download play broken. Pro Evolution Soccer 6 - FAIL: Download play broken. Yoshhi Touch & Go - FAIL: Download play broken. Zoo Keeper - FAIL: Download play broken. As you can see, the UFP EX does not support download play. I’ve tested that feature with a bunch of backups, nearly twenty, of which none worked over download play. It’s a possibility the device does not support it. Download play between flashed DS systems on the other hand works. This is no big deal though for gamers not interested in that feature & if you really want it, you might consider flashing your handheld. Battery Life Results: I have performed two series of power consumption tests on the UFP EX with two scenarii in mind: Scenario A: speakers nearly turned off (sound and music can still be clearly heard, brightness set to default (2) : • The DS's batteries would run dry after 8 h 45 mns of play. Scenario B: Loudest possible sound coming from the speakers with the brightness set to its highest (4): • The DS's batteries would run dry after 4 h 40mns of play. It looks like the power consumption is consistant with other slot-1 flashcards on the market which can only lead to extended playtime for the consumer. Homebrew Support Now let’s have a look at how the UFP EX gets along with DS homebrew, shall we. AMAP4DS: PASS Arcomage: FAIL A Touch of War: PASS Atomix 0.95: FAIL Beup 0.3 (with dragon drivers): PROBLEM Beup 0.3 Live (No FAT): PASS Comic Book 2.0: PASS(use NRIO DLDI patch) Deal or No Deal: PASS DSLinux: PASS DSminer: FAIL DSOrganize 2.45b DLDI: PASS DSFTP 2.4: PASS DSVNC: PASS Fish Tank: PASS Girl NDS (Tickle): FAIL IRCDS 0.3c DLDI : PASS(use NRIO DLDI patch) Lemmings DS : FAIL Lick's Media Player Beta: PASS(use NRIO DLDI patch) Moonshell 1.6: PASS NDS Mail 0.54b DLDI : PASS(use NRIO DLDI patch) Omalone DS : PASS Penko DS DLDI 0.2a : PASS(use NRIO DLDI patch) SylphIRC 0.05: PASS Tales of Dagur: FAIL Znax: PASS Since homebrew’s scene massive shift to the Dynamically Linked Device Interface, allowing homebrewers to focus on coding rather than compatibility with recent flashcards, it’s important from now on that DLDI patches be available for new hardware so that one can run homebrew on his flashcard with the least possible hassle & perfect compatibility. Knowing there was no DLDI patch available for download at Chism’s DLDI page I first thought homebrew built to take advantage of DLDI architecture would invariably fail to load correctly on the UFP EX. That was indeed the case. I only managed to boot no-FAT homebrew as well as a handful of projects that rely on disk access. However my position changed when digging through the latest firmware, I came across FATLib source code as well as NRIO dldi patch: it’s a no-brainer that all homebrew projects patched with the correct DLDI work as fine as they should. That was indeed the case: all the DLDI homebrew projects I had at hand that I patched with the NRIO DLDI device driver worked as fine as they would on other flashcards. Homebrew compatibility is much better than one would expect that early in the device’s life span. Thanks to Teams NDSGBA releasing FATlib /NRIO source code as well as USB mouse source code & NRIO DLDI patch that come bundled with latest firmware update, homebrew support is quite high already. (check the attachment for the FAT source code). Additional Features The UFP EX has a plenty of non advertised bonus features, most of which are very welcome: The UFP EX works as a super key (passme), in other words, it allows the end user to use the UFP EX to boot slot-2 flashcards, this feature is in the pipe at the moment, I’ve had words it’ll be released with next firmware upgrade. At the moment one can run the passcard 3 or superkey roms to boot his slot-2 flashcard. The UFP EX supports both FAT 16 & FAT 32 . The UFP EX user interface is fully skinnable, it was the first thing I’ve tried to mess up with, get rid of the ugly looking wallpaper, “loading’ icon… Just make sure you carefully follow the provided instructions The UFP EX can be used as a USB pen drive, no drivers are needed to enable this feature, just drag and drop your files to the removable disk. Since the UFP EX is based on FAT16/32 filesytem, you can easily hide unwanted folders such as the DSYSTEM & shell folders. To do so, one has to tick the hide button by right clicking on the target folder in XP then properties and finally ticking the “hidden” attribute button. From my investigations, the UFP EX is fully upgradable through low level firmware updates (do not confuse this with loader / OS), this feature puts the UFP EX on par with the leader on the built-in NAND flash memory segment. Perfect clean rom compatibility thanks to built-in Highspeed NAND flash memory. Moonshell support makes this device work as a portable multimedia player. Hidden Extra feature Let’s go straight to the point, I’ve found out about this feature out of curiosity: Knowing the UFP EX as well as many other flashcard on the market that rely on USB slot-2 writer including the DSLinker 8G, DS FireLink and the DSFlash 2 are confirmed OEM rebranded flavors released by the same manufacturer, perhaps the N-Card in term of hardware, I was wondering whether it was possible to flash the UFP EX sample I had between my hands to turn it into another flashcard. The first non UFP EX firmware I had lying around was the DSLinker firmware ver 122N, I flashed the UFP EX with the latter card’s firmware & somehow managed to fully turn it into a DSLinker 8G, same interface, GUI, everything. (check support section at NDSGBA to find out how to flash your card’s firmware). I also successfully flashed the UFP EX with firmware of the following cards: , DS FireLink and the DSFlash 2 & was able to get their optional burning software to recognize the card and burn clean roms to it. Switching between N-Card clones by means of firmware flashes is possible at the time being, unless it’s locked by means of PCB modifications on those flashcards. Therefore, one can turn his UFP EX into a DSLinker 8G, DS FireLink or DSFlash 2. I think this is good news since all of these cards architecture is open, one can upgrade to the latest firmware of the flashcard with best functionality & compatibility. Note: keep in mind that after flashing your card you’ll need to format in order to use it thereafter. On another note, there is no need to format the card when only upgrading the OS, just copy & paste the newer one over the previous one. Do not hold me responsible for damage to your flashcard if you happen to brick it using a firmware that does not match your card’s brand. Conclusion The UFP EX is a very worthy, feature rich cartridge. It manages to deliver a unique blend of unmatched game compatibility and ease of use, both of which are good selling points. It's also a multipurpose flashcard that can act both as a portable media player & a PDA thanks to DSOrganize rich functionality. Rom compatibility, which is still a concern with competing flashcards brands having performance issues if you don't own the correct micro SD brand, is stunningly good on the Ultra Flashpass EX: zero, keep that in mind as this is the number of roms that either have quirks or don't work at all on this device. The user interface , which is very simple can be skinned at will, so that you can personalize it to fit your mood with no need for a specialized software. Having opened its source code to developers, the UFP EX should also appeal to those of you interested in homebrew both as an end user & developer. The first time I held the kit into my hands I didn't fully agree with a slot 2 writer being easier because of slower write times, but also due to the fact I had to have my DS sticking around in order to be able to burn roms to the card. The card's overall performance, however, made me change my mind. It’s just a pity that a few shortcomings drag the UFP EX down. Download play though it isn't an advertised feature seems to be broken, at least with the clean roms I tried. Speaking for myself, I think it's no big deal, especially when it is still possible to play the same game over the net and have as much fun as I would with download play. A few other downsides consist of slowdowns when browsing clean roms in 3D. Sure there are still minor, non annoying, bugs to be fixed such as slowdowns when browsing clean roms in 3D, or the necessity to format the card whenever yu plan to upgrade the firmware but be confident that NDSGBA Team will fix those glitches in the upcoming OS updates. Since we’re talking about updates, I think this is yet another proof that the manufacturer values his customers by providing them with regular updates to ensure their devices are fully functional & up to date. At the time of writing, this card stands among the slot -1 flashcards top tier, it runs every single rom your throw at it exactly as the original does, which is impressive. The Ultra Flashpass EX performs quite well this early in the product's lifespan, so if it were not for those quirks plaguing the card at the time being, we would have had a clear winner right away. If you value a unique gaming experience you should seriously take the UFP EX into consideration when deciding which slot-1 flashcard deserves to be picked. Ever since I've received my copy of the UFP EX, I haven't let it go off my hand. Does it paint a picture for you? Pros & Cons Pros: + Sturdily built card, fits flush into the DS, no popping out chip, same size as that of a retail card. + Ready out of the box: no drivers or PC software needed, just drag & drop files over the card. + Fully skinnable, easy to use interface that makes full use of the touch screen. + Can be used as a passme for slot-2 cards. + Perfect clean rom compatibility. + Real time saves, compatible with many other slot-1/2 cards save files. + Option to set your own save type for newer games. + Satisfying OS & firmware updates frequency. + Decent Homebrew compatibility (FATlib source code’s available & supplied DLDI driver). Cons: - Somewhat slow roms burning speed through USB2. - Slow navigation in the 3D interface. - Broken download play. - Firmware upgrades require formatting the card. - No alternate colors to choose from, only available in white. - No GBA compatibility through the slot-2 writer. (At the time of writing). Score: -/10 External Links: - Official UFP EX Website Affiliated sites Purchase this cart from our affiliated shops: ÂÂÂÂ Where to buy?: - Mini Online Store This review was written for GBAtemp.net ONLY. The article and all included photos are property of GBAtemp.net If you see this review on any other site please pm me or email me.