The AceKard was originally announced on GBAtemp not long ago. A prototype version showed up about 2 months ago, which got many members excited. Unfortunately, the AceKard is currently (as of 24th November 06) only available in China and Chinese import stores. But I've been told by the manufacturer directly that an English version is under way and will be officially announced soon.
Quite a few promises there. Mainly "Compatible all DS games"! Let's get on with the review to see if these promises are fulfilled!
The box has a brief description of features on the sides and front. And the cart itself is held in place by another cardboard tray to stop it sliding about in transit.
The mini CD-ROM contains the AceKard client software. But you're best of heading over to the official AceKard website and downloading the latest version of the software which will no doubt be newer than what will be on the CD-ROM.
The AceKard Itself
The AceKard is original DS cart sized, that means that it's going to fit into your DS like a regular game with no stick-out. Unfortunately, the AceKard is currently only available in white casing.
I don't think the company behind this cart put too much time and effort into the art, especially after seeing the bland packaging, the label on the cart itself is rather uninspiring which you can see for yourself.
They've managed to fit a spring loaded micro SD (TF) slot on board the AceKard. The micro SD card clicks into place and is held in securely. To remove it, just push down until you hear a click, and it will eject.
The AceKard team must have had some troubles making everything on the PCB fit inside the plastic casing, because there is no casing covering the micro SD slot on the back of the cart, so the slot is actually exposed. Strangely though, there is a small indent in the upper plastic on the rear of the card, which leads me to believe that they actually intended to cover the slot and plastic with a thin label to make it look a bit more aesthetically pleasing. Whether or not this was left off intentionally for some reason or just forgotten; I do not know.
Unfortunately there's another problem with the AceKards build quality. Underneath the label on the front of the card is a large chip that sticks out, that you can feel if you run your thumb over the cart. Because of this, the AceKard is thicker than a regular DS game cart, which you can immediately tell when inserting it into your DS slot. The card rubs against the DS slot as you insert and eject it, and you need to use a bit more force when pulling it out. It doesn't feel "loose" like a regular DS game cart, and does rub against the slot.
This shouldn't really alarm you as I highly doubt this could break the DS slot, but it is noticeable. It could perhaps damage the label on the front of the AceKard over time, if your DS slot gets grubby, then the dirt could rub off very easily onto the cart/label, or the label could even start peeling off the AceKard if a corner gets rolled up.
The actual build quality and strength of the AceKard is good, the plastic is strong and clean. There is no excess plastic anywhere, and the plastic running across the contacts are clean and strong. Generally the cart looks good, and the spring loaded micro SD slot is a nice addition.
In keeping up the tradition, here's some photos of the AceKard ripped open for all to see!
The AceKard File System (AKFS)
The AceKard uses its own file system, the "AceKard File System" (AKFS), while the ordinary slot-1 solutions use FAT or FAT32.
The use of a proprietary file system has its pro and its cons. Let's examine the pros and cons of the AKFS.
Why are these read speeds so important? For DS game compatibility?
This doesn't seem like a pertinent explanation seeing as there are already several slot-1 solutions using removable media (DSLink, NinjaDS, X9...).
This question remains, as of today, unanswered.
Using the AceKard
Because the AceKard uses its own proprietary file system as mentioned above, this means that getting files onto the micro SD is not as easy as dragging and dropping. You're going to need to format your micro SD card to use the AKFS, and once that is done, Windows won't be able to read the cards contents. So you have to use the AceKard client software, which is the only software that can read the file system at present.
So first, get the latest copy of the client software, which at this time is only available for Windows based PCs. No the software does NOT run successfully in Linux under 'Wine'. You need a PC with Windows installed to use the AceKard software.
Open up the software and you'll be greeted with the following interface:
The left pane is your local files and folders on your PC, and on the right is the memory card that is inserted into your PC (the software will autodetect removable media - if you have more than one you can select the correct one in the drop down menu).
You'll be told that the memory card is not an AKFS device and that you need to format it before using. In the Tools menu select 'Format SD Card'.
You need to select your micro SD card brand and model. Here are the available options as of software version 1.01:
Apparently you can select "Other micro SD card" and choose different speed settings within the software, but whether this works flawlessly or not is unknown.
Once your micro SD card is formatted correctly, you will see "Free Space = *" in the right hand pane. Then you can begin copying ROMs over.
The AceKard software comes with a savelist.bin file. This file contains save type information for all known Nintendo DS games to the date the software was released. Example: Whether or not the game uses a 64Kbit EEPROM save type, or 2Mbit save type etc... What does this mean to you?
The AceKard software and GUI is unable to auto-detect the save type of a ROM. This means that if the save list doesn't contain save type information about your game, or the game has been released after the version of your AceKard software has been, then the software/GUI won't be able to determine the save type. The list is not manually updatable, and you'll have to rely on software updates from the AceKard team for information on the newest ROMs to be added to the database.
Does this mean there's no way of playing newly released games? No. You can manually set the save type for each ROM within the AceKard GUI/OS, but we'll cover that in more detail when we get to the GUI/OS part of this review. For now let's just concentrate on the AceKard client software.
When you format your micro SD card to the AKFS, the savelist.bin file will be copied across to the hidden portion of the partition so the GUI is able to detect the save types of games. When you download a newer version of the software and/or savelist.bin, you needn't format your micro SD card again, there is an option to update the savelist to SD card within the 'Tools' Menu of the software. (note: the savelist.bin file must be in the same directory as the AceKard software).
So let's copy some ROMs over to the micro SD card...
Simply select a ROM or a selection of ROMs in the left hand pane (it has to be uncompressed .nds - the client doesn't support .zip files), and then click the transfer ">>" button or drag them across to the right pane. The software will immediately begin copying the ROMs to the micro SD card.
On my computer using a USB 2.0 card reader the transfer speed is approximately 4.5MB/s, which is very fast. Here are some ROM transfer times:
Unfortunately, the client does NOT trim ROMs (removing dummy data to make the resulting file size smaller), when copying ROMs. So you'll have to trim them manually or use an external tool before copying them in the client.
If you want to backup save games once they are created on the micro SD card, you can copy them across to your PC by dragging them from the right to the left pane, or just click the download "<<" button.
Within the AceKard software, you can also choose to set what speed you want the AceKard to access your micro SD card at (when playing ROMs on the Nintendo DS). It's recommended that you keep at the default speed your card is labelled as, but you can experiment with speeds. Under the 'Tools' menu select 'Set Default SD Speed' and choose an option between 3-30 with 3 being the fastest, and 30 being slowest. This can make or break compatibility, so be careful. When using this option in the client software, it will save the setting onto the SD card and you will have to reformat or choose a different speed in the software again to change it.
You can also set the speed in the AceKard GUI, but it won't save the setting when you turn off your DS. More on that in the GUI/OS section.
Why would you want to change the speed? Simply, if you experience slow down in ROMs. But if you do set the speed higher than what your card is rated for, then you can end up with more problems than you first had.
Let's quickly review the remaining options in the AceKard client software...
"Tools > Update AKMenu to SD"
This option allows you to update the firmware on your AceKard. The client software comes with the latest firmware, so whenever you format your micro SD card to AKFS, the latest firmware is copied across. If you download a new software version, and don't want to format your SD card, you can use this option to update the firmware.
Unlike other flash kits, the firmware is not written to internal flash memory on the cart. The AceKard actually holds the firmware inside the hidden portion of the AKFS file system. This means whenever you format your micro SD card, whatever firmware is included with that version will be applied to the cart.
"Tools > Install Moonshell"
This will copy all necessary Moonshell files to your micro SD card. These files are included with AceKard software updates, and the Moonshell is a special version designed for use with the AKFS. More info in the 'Additional Features' section of this review.
Unfortunately, the AceKard software, while it is simplistic enough in its looks, it does present a lot of problems and bugs. We've encountered quite a few errors when using the software. The first, and the most annoying problem is that when deleting a ROM from the card, the client will create a new file at exactly the same size listed as Free Space, if you try to delete this file, the AceKard client will randomly (it doesn't happen every time) format the entire card and everything will be lost.
Also, the use of the AKFS means you can't create directories/folders on the SD card to organise your files. All your ROMs will be displayed on the main screen and will be displayed in the order you copied them to the card, not alphabetically. This means the AceKard menu can get messy.
The client is also quite unstable, sometimes it will hang when you insert or remove the micro SD card, and we've received quite a few random error messages when using features in the software that come and go as they please. There seems to be nothing that specifically causes these errors.
Hopefully we'll see enough software update from the AceKard team to smooth out the problems in their client.
AceKard GUI (OS)
The AceKard GUI will only boot on your DS when you have the micro SD card inserted. This is because the actual GUI menu system part of the firmware is stored on the micro SD card as explained above. If you boot the AceKard without a SD card inserted, you'll be prompted to turn off the DS and re-insert the SD card.
When you do have the micro SD inserted, and boot the AceKard, a small loading screen will appear (the same one that checks for the card) and then you'll be taken to the main GUI within seconds.
The GUI is nice, yet basic. But unfortunately it's NOT touch sensitive. You have to use the buttons to use it. And as far as we can tell, it can't be customised (eg. custom wallpapers).
On the touch screen, you have a list of ROMs on the cart, that are shown by their actual filename and extension, and are numbered numerically (for some reason) on the left. In the top left corner is the current speed your micro SD card is set to (see the AceKard software section for more on that); in the top right corner, as you highlight different ROMs it will show you the save type that is used for that game (more on that in a minute); and at the bottom of the screen is a message that tells you to press start for help.
On the top screen, as you highlight each ROM, the games embedded icon will be displayed (extracted automatically from each ROM on the fly), along with the internal name of the ROM (all 3 lines). Both English and Japanese character sets are supported here, though sometimes some Japanese characters are substituted with a large white square, why I'm not sure? And also special accented characters such as "á, é, í, ó, ú" etc.. aren't displayed so you're left with a name that says "Pokmon" instead of "Pokémon".
The ROM icon that is displayed can also have transparency issues, they some colours in the icon will appear transparent and will show the colour of the AceKard wallpaper behind it.
You can change the micro SD read speed on the fly within the AceKard OS by holding select and pressing left or right to choose a number, this is a temporary setting and isn't saved. So next time you restart, the speed you chose/kept in the client software will be applied.
This speed setting could be useful, but can cause glitches in game if your card doesn't support the speed. I tried upping the speed when the Castlevania intro lagged on my default speed (7), but it caused graphic glitching side effects.
The save type per game is displayed in the top right and be manually set on any game by highlighting and pressing 'Y'. This is completely necessary when you're trying to play a game that has been released after your client software or updated savelist has been, because the software is unable to automatically detect save types and pulls the save type data from a database (covered in the software portion of the review).
So you're going to need to know the EXACT save type of a game that isn't in the database or it will NOT save correctly. And no, you can't just choose the largest save type and it will work, because most (if not all games) will try to format save data before running, and if they encounter a save file that is larger than it expected it will produce an error such as "unable to format save data" or "save data corrupt, please restart".
This is really quite an annoying thing to have to do. Save types of newer games cannot be found out easily, so you'll either be left to guess and perform trial and error, or wait until someone on the net finds out the save type and updates ROM Wiki's or release lists, or wait until the AceKard team release a software update with an updated savelist.
If you choose to boot a ROM without setting the save type, you won't be allowed, and will be prompted to set it. You can choose to boot a ROM without saving by pressing 'B', but of course, save data will not be kept.
Apart from that, there's not much left to the GUI. You can boot a slot 2 device by pressing 'X' and open up a help screen by pressing 'Start'.
Now it's time to really test this card. Let's see how the performance and compatibility compares to the other kits on the market.
We'll start off with ROM compatibility. We're going to try a large amount of ROM backups to see how each one performs individually.
We are using firmware version 1.04 on the AceKard, and ROMs have been copied across using client 1.01. The micro SD is a "Sandisk Ultra II micro SD 1GB" formatted via the client software to the AKFS.
But unfortunately, there are slowdowns in game such as the intro to the first Castlevania, the music in Metroid Prime Pinball and the intro to Rockman Exe 5 are some of the slowdowns we encountered. And this is using an "ultra II" Sandisk card.
We tried changing the read speed of the micro SD card from the preset value of 7 to the fastest being 3, but some files failed to even load on the AceKard at this setting so we lowered it to 4 and 5 but encountered graphical glitches in games, which seemed like the card was running at an unstable speed. Speed 6 still had the lag, so we reverted back to speed 7.
As you can see some games we tested (mostly newer games) needed their save types manually set. This required us to look on the release list to see the save type. Some games also defaulted to the incorrect save type, most likely due to an error in the AceKard clients save list.
As you can see in the above list, we've also tested download play (single player between 2 DS units using only one game pak/flash cart). We all know that an unflashed DS console can successfully send download play games to flashed DS's because of the removal of encryption checks.
Some games DO work with DS download play when sending to an unflashed DS, but the majority of games don't work. So the chance of future download play working I'd say would be 50/50. Some games perhaps don't use encryption in the download play...
Save games are handled in the same way as other flash kits. During game play, save games are held in temporary flash memory onboard the AceKard. Once the DS is shut off, the next time it is turned back on and the AceKard OS is booted, the save game in the flash will be backed up to a real file on the micro SD card.
Saves are written in RAW format, so this means you can use your own save games from other cards/devices that use raw save format such as the Supercard.
The onboard flash can support game save types of up to 4 megabits (512KB).
And sleep mode, when closing the screens together on the DS during gameplay works and it resumes just fine when tested on the AceKard.
For battery tests, we used a fully charged Nintendo DS Lite. Here are the results:
- Screens at 4th (maximum) brightness setting
- 100% sound volume
- Metroid Prime Hunters looping the intro movie continuously
- Sandisk Ultra II 1GB micro SD (formatted with AKFS)
Play time until the unit shut off due to dead battery: 4 hours and 15 minutes
Additional Features of the AceKard
The AceKard doesn't really boast any other additional features, all multimedia playback is handled by the renowned Moonshell homebrew. Unfortunately this is a modified version made to run on the AceKard because of the AceKard's proprietary file system (AKFS), so whether this support will be included into regular Moonshell updates or not is yet to be known.
That being said, the AceKard client software at least makes life a bit easier for you. There's an option in the tools menu to install Moonshell onto your micro SD automatically. And Moonshell files are included in the AceKard software packages.
If you want to know how to use Moonshell then just do a Google search, there's plenty of guides out there that should cover all aspects of the software.
One feature the AceKard does have is a PassMe mode. This allows you to boot a slot 2 flash kit that's inserted into your GBA slot straight from the AceKard menu. Just hit 'X' on your DS, and a screen will popup asking for confirmation to boot the slot 2 device.
I have tested this feature on the following flash kits, so here are the results:
That being said, if you do have FlashMe installed and still want to use the PassMe feature, just simply wait until the AceKard GUI is booted properly before inserting the slot 2 device then it works fine.
Homebrew on the AceKard
Due to the fact that the AceKard uses its own file system (AKFS), we didn't have high hopes for homebrew on the AceKard. Nevertheless, we've tested the following popular homebrew apps and have compiled our results.
All homebrew is the latest stable version and has been downloaded straight off the official websites, and copied straight to the AceKard using the client software (only possible way) and installed using the recommended methods.
Homebrew that doesn't require file system access, such as simple games like OMalone DS should work fine as they will function like a normal commercial ROM backup.
I think the only way we're going to see more homebrew supported on the AceKard is if the AceKard team release enough information on the AKFS for homebrew developers to write in support to their apps.
The AceKard had a big promise to live up to - the claim by the developers that it will run any game so far released, and any future games. That's a very bold statement to make. Fortunately for them, from what we've tested so far; they're actually right. All games we've tested so far do boot and are playable.
Now with a result like that, you would think that this is all that matters and that the AceKard is then the ultimate flash cart. Sadly it's not. Even with an ultra II Sandisk micro SD card, there is slowdown in some games, for example the Castlevania intro video. That's not the only quibble we have...
The biggest problem with the AceKard is its proprietary file system, the AKFS. Because of this, you have to use a PC running Windows to use their client software that is currently very buggy and lacking in functionality. You can't create folders, or organise games. And there are limitations when deleting games, in that you can only write a game of equal size to that which you deleted back into that space.
The AKFS is also a problem for homebrew, (except the included modified Moonshell in the client software), because the homebrew simply can't access the file system and therefore won't work.
The fact that the AceKard does not automatically detect save types is an annoying problem. The team does provide a save list file with the client software that will autoset the save type of any game that has been released prior to the date which the client software was released. But any future games you want to play, you'll have to find out and set the save type manually within the AceKard OS until the AceKard team release an update.
The AceKard also lacks any kind of customisation, you can't even change the wallpaper in the GUI - a feature that's been in flash kits for years now.
That being said, if you can overlook these problems and don't mind having to set or check the save type on each ROM you play, or don't mind waiting for software updates; then the AceKard could be a good choice for you if you have one of the recommended micro SD cards.
The AceKard's ROM compatibility is great from what we've tested personally and does play every game we've thrown at it. Just don't expect the AceKard to do much more than that.
+ Perfect ROM compatibility (100% so far from what we've personally tested)
+ Supports clean ROMs
+ Uses micro SD memory (currently up to 2GB)
+ Fits flush in your Nintendo DS
+ Ultra fast ~4MB/s write speeds
+ Supports DS sleep mode
+ Can be bought fairly cheap
- Proprietary AceKard file system causes more problems than it solves
- Need to use buggy client software (Windows only) to transfer ROMs
- Doesn't auto detect game save types - need to wait for software updates to play the latest games or set the size manually (requires research)
- Some slowdowns occur in games even using an Ultra II Sandisk - the AceKard requires specific micro SD cards for best compatibility results
- Low download play (single cart multiplayer) support
- Poor build design means it's a tight fit in your DS slot
- GUI is not customisable
- Lack of extra features
- Very low homebrew compatibility
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|Last Updated ( Monday, 01 December 2008 06:26 )|