The M3 Mini SD and Passcard 2 Review
By MasJ

First of all, a big thank you to the folks at M3 for sending me this adapter free of cost for review. Of-course, first impressions first. What exactly is the M3 adapter ? For an answer to that one you'll just have to look up my M3 CF Adapter review (just click on it..). The M3 SD Mini is basically an extension of the basic M3 adapter, it helps you do most of the same stuff that the M3 can. Except for one obvious advantage. Notice the word mini stuck in there ? Yes, it does all the things it's big brother could, but in a much smaller form factor. One that is the same size as a regular GBA Cart. Do you know what that means ? No more sticking out of the cart slot, at-least on the original Nintendo DS.



Currently, I'm sitting in a flight from New Delhi to Bangalore, Seat 22E (Boeing 737) and listening to some music on my Nintendo DS (Mp3's..) using the M3 Mini SD. Ain't that nifty ? Well, it's a pretty decent all-in-one package for someone who needs that extra punch out of their DS.

EDIT: I think I should clarify here that I didn't finish this entire review while on the flight ; ).

Each part of this review shall aim at giving you a better understanding of what the M3 SD Mini is actually capable of. We'll give you an in-depth analysis of what you can and cannot do with this nifty little device. (Hint: There's lots of things that you CAN do with this device.. : ))

First Impressions - Box Shots

Well, first of all, the box arrived at my place in a big brown oversized envelope with Hong Kong post written on it in big red letters. Pretty tattered since the postman decided to chuck it across the gate. Some people are like that, eh ? ;). Anyway, on unpacking, I find a nice blue box (see pics..) and a red, green and black one. (Passcard 2, more on that later..)

The M3 Mini SD Packaging is pretty nice. It's a professional looking product packed in a box which is made to fit. There's a small CD inside which I'm assuming would hold all the required software. Check out the pictures below if you're the kind of person interested in external packaging.



Now for the M3 SD Mini. It's a pretty solid product which comes in the form factor of the GBA cart as mentioned by me earlier. On first touch it feels pretty sleek. That means that it feels no different than a regular GBA cart except for the fact that it has a tiny hole at the top where your mini SD card will slip in. Check out the pictures above if you want to see how beautiful this device actually is.

Passcard 2:

So what is this mysterious device ? Well, it looks just like a normal NDS cart. Works like a Pass-me. The net effect is nothing sticking out of your DS. It was relatively simple to get the Passcard 2 working right with my DS. All I had to do was download an SRAM.DAT file and place it in the root folder of my SD card. After that, with the Passcard 2 and M3 SD Mini inserted my DS boots up in NDS mode.

For those of you that don't know what a Passkey does, it's a device which tricks your Nintendo DS into running DS code from the GBA slot. This needs to be done in this case since you're going to be loading your DS Roms into your GBA slot via the M3 Mini SD.

An easy to use and well built product. The cart quality is very good. They've used some good plastic and the metal contacts are also of good quality. You could invest in this if you don't want to use Flash-me, or if you want an elegant way of booting into NDS mode.

Usage:
NDS ROM Compatibility:

Well, the thing everyone has been waiting for. The NDS ROM Compatibility of this device since believe it or not, most people will want one of these for this very reason. The M3 boasts of a pretty impressive compatibility array. There are some games which don't work but most titles work very very well. I've tried a bunch of titles and all of them have worked flawlessly. The games that I tried were:

  • Castlevania Dawn of Sorrow
  • Nintendogs : Labrador and Friends
  • Trauma Center : Under the Knife
  • Mario Kart DS
  • Brain Age : Train your Brain
  • Phoenix Wright : Ace Attorney
  • Mario and Luigi : Partners in Time

Every title worked flawlessly with 100% save-state support. No problems at all. In-fact, with the original M3 CF, I had a problem where movie sequences in Castlevania would slow down and get stuck at certain points. With the M3 SD Mini, this problem has been eliminated completely. There are no slowdowns anywhere whatsoever. I've played through entire games without any problems.

Check out the pictures below of me playing some titles. The picture quality is pathetic this time around. It seems like the Nintendo DS-Lite's brightest mode is a little too bright for my measly cell phone camera. Just to help you out, those pictures are from Castlevania, Brain Age and Mario Kart DS. I'll post better pictures sometime later. Until then you can, ahem, drool on these ; ).

Update (Pictures):
There you go, I took some new pictures which look MUCH better than the older ones. The games featured in these are Castlevania, Trauma Center, Brain Age, Mario Kart DS, and New Super Mario Bros.



The only point that you have to note here is that with all the M3 SD versions, you have to be careful about which flash card brand you're using. Some work better than others. I'm using a Kingston 512MB and it works flawlessly. You could check the M3 Forums for more feedback on which brands of flash cards work well with the M3 Mini SD.

The procedure for writing games on the M3 Mini SD is just the same as the M3 CF version. Except that you have to select SD when the software is starting up. For more details on this, refer to my M3 CF Review.

GBA Rom Compatibility:

Update:
Well, shortly after I wrote the above piece, the folks from M3 emailed me telling me that a new version of their Game Manager Software was out and that once I would update my software, I would have 100% GBA Rom Compatibility. I ofcourse had to try this out and so I did.

It turns out that they were right. They've introduced a new patching mode into the software called Hardware+Software Patching. Using this option, I could get to work any GBA ROM that I tried. Earlier, on my M3, I could not get any of the Pac-Man Roms running, with this new patching mode, the Pac-Man roms worked like a breeze! A number of other titles which were not working earlier also sprang to life. Thus, I can confidently say now that the M3 Mini SD is a great GBA Flash cart solution as well.

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Since the M3 can double up as a GBA Flash cartridge, you can also use it to play GBA titles. Compatibility in GBA mode is much the same as the M3 CF version. Nothing really that different. It's not as good as the NDS compatibility considering the fact that only about 90% of GBA titles work along-with save-state support, so you may have some problems here. This area could do with a bit of work since users would like to squeeze out the maximum benefit from their product including great GBA game support. Add to this the fact that the saving problems seem to be much more software oriented than hardware, this could be made to work in the future.

However, don't let the figure fool you. The GBA currently has about 2400 titles so that still leaves you with 2000+ playable titles at a 90% compatibility. Not bad for a device the size of a GBA cart.

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Other Features:
Moonshell:

In the newer versions of the M3 firmware, Moonshell comes pre-loaded. Other versions required Moonshell to be installed separately. So you're wondering what Moonshell is ? To put it simply it's a very nice program which turns your DS into an MP3/OGG Player. Apart from this you can also watch movies as well as read E-Books. All you have to do is hit the SELECT button after the M3 has booted up into NDS mode. After that, you'll be presented with a very slick interface (which is touch screen sensitive...) so that you can perform your tasks using the Stylus.

Moonshell was reviewed quite comprehensively in my previous M3 CF Review, so you should check that out for more details.

GBS/GBM Format Playback: (Native Movie and Music Support)

The M3 conversion software can also convert your music and movies to GBS and GBM formats respectively. However, these formats are quite lossy in comparison to the regular MP3/OGG music. After the coming of Moonshell integrated into the M3, this function has become vestigial.

Native Emulation Support:

The box claims that you can play certain older system's roms directly through the M3 SD Mini. Well, just to see how true this is, I tried it out. It seems that they're using regular emulators which were designed for the GBA to play these roms. That's fine by me as long as they work. All you have to do is select to "Write GBA" in your M3 Game Manager. Then you can select .nes, .sms, etc. files to write.

Once written, you can boot up into GBA mode and play the games pretty well depending on their respective emulators compatibilities.

For the record, I tried Batman - NES and Super Mario Bros. 3 - NES. Both games worked very well with sound support as well as save support so I was quite satisfied. This is a neat extra which has been bundled in although more experienced users will soon figure out how to write in their own emulators (SNESDS, etc.) and run their homebrew according to their own preferences. However, it's a decent start.

Wi-Fi (NiFi) Support:

Since my previous review of the M3 CF sparked a lot of questions regarding this, I think it's best that I cover it here as well. The M3 does support playing on Nintendo Wi-Fi. It's just the same as using an original game cartridge. Apart from this you can also engage in Download Play matches as well as regular multiplayer.

Battery Life:

Battery life is really not an issue. I don't usually play on the DS for 9 to 10 hours straight. I haven't really noticed any drop in battery life due to the M3 SD Mini being plugged in. Considering that the storage is flash based, data access energy requirements should be pretty much similar to what a regular DS/GBA cartridge would use. Thus, you won't notice much of a difference whether you're playing on the M3 or a regular GBA cart. I've been able to get 7 hours out of my DS-Lite pretty easily while using the M3 SD Mini.

Final Words:

So, the question here is, how much of an improvement is the M3 Mini SD over the M3 SD and the M3 CF ? Is it worth the extra cash ?

Well, usually the size of such a device is a non-issue if we're talking about monstrous home consoles. However, when we talk of handhelds, portability is a MAJOR issue. The M3 SD Mini is just the size of a GBA Flash Cart. This makes it very convenient to carry around, remember you have nothing sticking out of your DS! Also, the access speeds are faster so there is no lag during gameplay. Apart from these changes, there isn't much more that the M3 SD Mini offers that is different from it's predecessors.

The major benefit I felt was that with the earlier (sticking out..) models of the M3, I would never be able to pop my DS into the DS Bag (Official Hori bag) and go out since it wouldn't go in with the M3 inserted. Now this problem has been overcome and I can stick the DS into the bag, plug in a pair of earphones and be off. Honestly, a VERY nice portable Mp3/OGG player.

In conclusion, the M3 SD Mini is a solid product. It does everything it claims to do and does it well. There is definitely value for your money in this product. If you're looking for a flash-cart solution for your NDS, look no further, this is the best package that you can find.

Where to Buy:

So you're wondering where to buy this amazing product ? Look no further. We have teamed up with Divineo.com to offer you the M3 SD Mini as well as the Passcard 2 at a VERY reasonable price. Also, Divineo has outlets worldwide so you should be able to order from a location close to you and thus get lightning fast service. Many of our visitors have previously bought from Divineo and there have been no complaints about quality or service.

- Buy from Divineo.com

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