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M3 mini + PassCard 2 Review

Written by Brakken
May 2006


Introduction

Welcome to my review of M3's latest Nintendo DS Development and Backup unit accessories. The M3 Team was kind enough to send me their M3 Mini SD and Shop@01media a PassCard v2 for review. Both are designed for the gamer in mind who doesn't like the look of bulky devices sticking from their Nintendo DS. Additionally to the form factor the PassCard v2 adds some much needed features that rival other solutions that have recently hit the market.

Features

Boot NDS Homebrew/Backups
Boot GBA Homebrew/Backups
Development/Backup Unit
Movie Player
Music Player
Picture Viewer
Book Reader
Direct Boot of NDS Homebrew
200 Saves per Game/Application
Real Time Clock (RTC)
Save Game Retention
In Game Rest
Built in GameBoy Emulator
Built in Sega Master System Emulator
Built in PC Engine Emulator
Built in NES Emulator
No Slowdown in GBA Games
Real Time Save (RTS) in GBA Games
FlashMe Compatible
Integrated Crystal Media Engine
Integrated Moonshell Media Player
Very Long Running (Battery) Time
Supports Nintendo DS Lite
Supports Nintendo DS v1-v4 Firmware
Supports GBA, GBA SP, GBA Micro
Supports GameCube GBA Player

Contents

M3 Mini SD
PassCard v2
Instructional Mini CDs

The Review

The M3 Mini SD is roughly the same size as a GBA cart and the PassCard v2 is the same size as NDS cart. Both are really compact are well produced. One nice feature of the M3 Mini SD which was lacking from the M3 SD X is the ability to insert and remove the SD Card without having to take the device out of your console. Yeah, and unlike other reviews recently published I've actually tested mine with a Mini SD Card (keep that in mind). One thing I did notice that I didn't like was the spring mechanism that releases the Mini SD Card is not so good. It seems a bit ruff when inserting and removing media. So I did that around 100 times, but it didn't break nor scratch the card any. I just guess I'll have to get used to the sluggish feeling.

Since you can use the device in a vast array of GBA compatible devices and both the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DS Lite I'm going to focus on the main functionality with the Nintendo DS. If you're only using a GBA system you're still going to get a lot of benefit out of the M3 as you'll still be able to play homebrew, backups and use the devices multimedia functions.

Installation of the M3 Mini SD is a snap. All you need to do to get the device up and running is to plug it into your GBA slot and turn your console on. It would most likely be in your best interest to obtain the latest firmware for the device which you can find on M3's webpage. Simply download it, place it on your Mini SD Card and turn the console on and it'll ask you if you want to upgrade.

Once you've got the M3 running you'll be presented with an onscreen menu where you can boot homebrew/backups, read e-books, listen to music, view pictures. You also have the option to launch the MoonShell media player which will let you listen to music, watch movies and view pictures.

Okay, you might wonder why have two different media players built into the firmware? Well, the Crystal Engine' software that is built into the Main Menu can only playback media files that use their own special format. This means you'll have to pre-convert all of your MP3's before you can listen to them. So using MoonShell you don't have to convert anything. Just stick some MP3's onto your Mini SD card and you're done. MoonShell can also playback a variety of different tracker formats (old school music).

MoonShell also has better graphic viewing features and you don't need to pre-convert your images as it natively supports a few different formats. The only mix-up between the two is the video playback. You need to pre-convert your video files for use with both players and in my opinion the Crystal Engine tops off MoonShell's video format.

You might of noticed I'm not getting to in-depth with the features and how to use them and this is because I've already reviewed the M3 Mini SD's bigger brother and sister. Each review goes into great detail on how to operate the device. The only difference between the three devices (well, four if you count the M3 SD X) is the removable media you use. So if you want to get the complete scoop on the M3's firmware (Operating System/Menu) check out the links at the bottom of this review.

Using the M3 is cake. You just select what you want to do from the main menu and you'll get a list of files to view and/or play. There is some pre-conversion necessary for using Nintendo DS homebrew and backups and this is handled by the M3 Game Manager. You should also download the latest version of this software from M3's website.

Compatibility wise the M3 is superior to all other solutions that I have reviewed to date. Other solutions leave you with a lot of non working images or ones you have to pre-patch, but the M3 takes care of most of these for you. When purchasing one of these devices be it the Mini SD, M3 SD X, M3 SD or M3 CF you'll know you're getting the best deal possible.

What is also impressive about the M3 is the support you will receive from the M3 Team. They are the most active company supporting their product releasing new upgrades and innovative features with free software upgrades (the firmware). If you get one of these you won't be stuck with a product that isn't supported anymore and be forced to upgrade to the 'latest' version at a high price.

Alright, now for what most of you have probably been waiting for ' the PassCard v2 portion of this review. In a nutshell once you have initiated your PassCard v2 you can boot homebrew and backups without the need for any future programming.

Yes, you heard me right. All you need to do is to copy the 'sram.dat' file that comes on the Mini CD onto your removable media, plug the M3 into the GBA port and turn the Nintendo DS (any model and Lite) on and you'll boot into GBA mode. Next turn off your Nintendo DS and put both the PassCard v2 and M3 Mini SD in their respective slots and turn it back on. Once it's turned back on you'll be greeted with the Nintendo DS menu (you'll see the boot to GBA Mode option at the bottom) and you're good to go.

I tested this on a newer Nintendo DS and also the M3 Team has tested it on the Nintendo DS Lite with 100% success rate. Yes, this means you no longer need to program the device with a special file for each backup you wish to boot. Once you've initiated the PassCard v2 you're done. No more programming! So if you're an owner of a newer Nintendo DS and happen to have the PassKey 2 I'd replace it with one of these puppies.

UPDATE: I have successfully tested the PassCard v2 with the SuperCard SD and CF versions. All you must do is put the "sram.dat" file on the root of the card and boot it up. So as advertised on the packaging of the PassCard v2 is does indeed work with other Nintendo DS development and backup units!

Well, that about sums up the review. Remember, if you want a complete in-depth review of how the M3 operates to check out the two links below.

M3 Perfect SD Review
M3 Perfect CF Review

Negatives

- Mini SD Card Spring
- Instructions need Better Translating

Positives

+ Ease of Operation
+ The Best Buy on the Block
+ Reasonble Price
+ Dedicated Support
+ Too Many To List!!!


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