electronic brain surgery since 2001

NDS Homebrew: The Hardware

This is the first post of a planned series of posts about running “homebrew” software on the Nintendo DS. This first one covers the needed hardware. One or two upcoming posts will talk about available software.

So what is NDS homebrew? Homebrew is software written for the Nintendo DS game console by independent authors. Most of it is available for free on the internet. It allows you to extend the usabilities of your NDS beyond being a simple game console. There are games, graphic and multimedia tools, typical organizer applications, various network software and even a Linux port available.

To run homebrew software you need a special hardware in form of a game cartridge. There are a few different brands available. According to this poll, the M3 DS Simply and the R4 DS are the most popular ones. It happens that both cards are manufactured by the same company and are nearly the same product.

I bought a R4 DS through the Amazon market place (Germany) - let's have a look at the pictures first:

R4 DS: Package Contents R4 DS: Front Side R4 DS: Back Side and MicroSD card R4 DS: In my Nintendo DS lite R4 DS: Software

The device fits into slot 1 of the DS and has the exact same size as a normal Nintendo DS game. At the top edge is has a slot for a MicroSD card which has to be bought separately. To fill the card, the package comes with a cheap MicroSD card reader to be connected via USB 2.0.

After unpacking the box you need to install the software on your MicroSD card. It is delivered on a mini CD or can be downloaded at the company's website. The latter is recommended as it is usually more up to date.

The software consists of a simple boot manager which lets you choose a software on the card to start, can open a media player or lets you boot a GameBoy Advance game inserted in slot 2. The boot manager is said to be skinable but I wasn't able to make this work, yet.

The media player is called MoonShell and can play a bunch of different formats including Ogg Vorbis and MP3. Videos need to be converted to a special format first.

So with buying the hardware and installing the standard software you already transform your Nintendo DS into a full featured MP3 player. An introduction to cool NDS homebrew software will follow in an upcoming post.

Update: After reformatting the MicroSD card with a FAT16 filesystem, skinning worked fine. I'm now using the DS Blanc 2 Theme.

nds, homebrew, hardware, r4ds
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