enfrdeitptrues

Hardware

  • PDP Nintendo Switch Pokemon Pokeball Commuter Case

     

    boxart
    Product Info:

    PDP Nintendo Switch Pokemon Pokeball Commuter Case
    Notable features:
    Black case, with white handle and zippers
    Subtle, classy pokeball emboss that does not draw attention to itself
    White handle with the Pokemon logo
    Front pocket zipper pouch
    Fourteen cartridge slots
    Velcro strap and screen protecting pad with support for Switch or Switch Lite
    Small netting pouch
    Larger velcro sealable pouch
    Two smaller elastic loops for Joy Cons
    One large velcro strap for a Pro Controller or other similar full-sized controller
    MSRP: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you PDP for sending us this case to review!

    We own multiple Switches, with our first one being purchased on launch week. At the time, we got the very sweet-looking Breath of the Wild officially-licensed carrying case, and it had served us well. The main problem I have with it is that is has a rather inefficient use of space; there is a lot of wasted room near where the cartridge holders are, and only a small pouch to hold your extra things. So, you can carry up to eight games, two extra Joy-Cons, four Joy-Con grips, and that's pretty much it. If you want to bring along a power adapter, or pretty much anything else, you'll be needing another bag. So, when we had the chance to review this case, I took the chance, because as nice as the Zelda case is, there are some things I wish it could carry.

    As you can see in our unboxing video, we were pleasantly surprised by how these things look. I have played (and reviewed) Pokemon games in the past, but I don’t have a strong attachment to them like I do for other Nintendo properties. As a result, I was concerned that the case could be covered in bright, garish colors; thankfully, that is not the case. It looks great! There is a subtle Pokeball embossing on the outside, with an all-black aesthetic. I really like how it looks; I’ll no doubt keep using it after this review, despite not really having strong feelings for Pokemon.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Looks and feels great; strong materials makes it seem like it will last a long time; good use of space; external zipper pouch is a nice touch that’s appreciated; classy looks that doesn’t make an adult embarrassed to carry a Pokemon Switch case
    Weak Points: Pro controllers may unintentionally activate because they are quite sensitive to movement

    One of the best things about the Switch is being able to support both deep singleplayer gaming experiences, and the ability to just pop it up on its kickstand and start playing Mario Kart with friends. As a result, for some of us, the ability to transport a power adapter, as well as a Pro Controller, is a must. The Joy Cons are for little people with little hands; as for me and my man hands, a Pro controller is more than a nice-to-have; it’s necessary. The fact that this carrying case has room for a Pro controller is a huge plus in my book. That it can hold that, along with two spare Joy Cons (for a total of four)? That’s just icing on the cake.

    There is also a pouch that is closed with velcro that seems like it’s meant to hold a power adapter in it, along with whatever other small accessories might come in handy. I keep an AC adapter, a USB-C to USB-A adapter, and a controller adapter so I can use other controllers with my Switch. All of these fit pretty well, and I was able to put my third-party USB Switch dock in there as well; now I have a fully portable gaming station I can take with me anywhere I go. An HDMI cable fits just fine on the outside zipper pouch.

    While this case is a bit larger than most, the two or so inches taller it totally worth it for me. It’s still small enough to carry around, throw in a bag, and so on, while being big enough to fit everything I need.

    PDP Nintendo Switch Pokemon Pokeball Commuter Case

    There’s only one downside that I noted, that apparently angered some reviewers on Amazon, is something I was able to confirm: if you install the Pro controller a certain way, the straps can activate the joysticks, and even cause the fit to be too tight to work well. The easiest solution for this is to flip the controller around – push the sticks into the back of the case, and have the back of the controller stick up. The buttons might still activate, but the Pro controller fits in there much better along with everything else. The way Nintendo made the controller, it’s nearly impossible to avoid potential button activation; I would recommend using the charger when you get to your destination.

    Given my needs to always ‘be prepared’ when I take my gaming stuff with me, I am pleased to carry a Switch case that is a bit bigger than the standard size, in order to able to carry pretty much everything I need. It’s totally worth it to me, and if you have similar needs, I think you’ll be really, really pleased with the PDP Nintendo Switch Commuter Case. And this Pokemon model is excellent as well, as it looks great!

  • Portal router

    unboxed
    Hardware Info:

    Portal router
    Developed by: Ignition Design Labs
    Release date: October 2016
    Quad-Stream Wave-2 IEEE 802.11ac Wireless router/access point
    AC2400; supports simultaneous 5GHz and 2.4GHz operation
    Multi-User MIMO and Active Beam Steering support
    Seven operating bands (including DFS bands)
    5GHz: Quad (4x4) radios, wide band, IEEE 802.11ac/a/n support
    2.4GHz: Three (3x3) radios, high powered, IEEE 802.11b/g/n, supporting legacy devices
    Bluetooth Smart 4.2 supporting Dual super wideband radar detector and traffic monitor for DFS support
    Ten total radios for maximum range, power, and flexibility
    Supports Adaptive Smart Mesh for daisy-chaining two or more Portals for extended range
    Five port Gigabit Ethernet ports (one is the WAN port)
    2x USB 2.0 ports for shared storage
    QoS, DLNA, and UPnP support coming, as well as more advanced features
    Price: $199.99 (MSRP)
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Ignition Design Labs LLC for sending us a Portal for review!

    The Portal router was successfully Kickstarted in July of 2016.  In fact, they raised nearly $800,000 from their $160,000 goal.  For as little as $139 early adopters were able to embrace their dreams of faster wireless internet in their multi-story homes.  This 802.11ac router operates on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. What sets the Portal apart from the other routers is its ability to operate in protected portions of the 5GHz radio spectrum that were originally reserved for weather radar systems.  By using these frequencies that other routers are ignoring, you get more dedicated airspace for your streaming needs.  

    These frequencies cannot be used by most routers, because the router must support a feature called Dynamic Frequency Selection, or DFS.  DFS is required because certain 5GHz bands are shared with radar systems, and by law, no consumer equipment can be allowed to interfere with radar.  However, the vast majority of people do not live so close to airports or coastlines that interfering with radar systems is likely to occur.  Since this interference is strictly prohibited, it cannot be the clients, but the router itself that determines whether or not to utilize that frequency spectrum.  That is where DFS comes in.

    The Portal router has the necessary antennas and radios required to constantly monitor the airwaves for any possible radar transmissions, and if needed, instantly move any Wi-Fi clients to another 5GHz (or even 2.4GHz) band.  It is this, along with some other features, that makes Portal special.  Most DFS enabled devices are enterprise level Wi-Fi equipment; now it's available for consumers at a very reasonable price.

    The real benefits of DFS may not be in a typical suburban home use scenario, but in a crowded urban environment.  Since the vast majority of home routers do not support DFS, the 2.4GHz, and now standard 5GHz Wi-Fi bands are becoming crowded as more and more people bring wireless networks closer together in apartment buildings, condos, and so on.  Where DFS comes in is that these regulated but still available bands can be used, which allows the Portal owner to tap into spectrums that almost no one else is using.  Now granted this is somewhat of a race – these bands may well be used up also at some point in the not too distant future – but that is where band steering comes into play.

    Band steering is where the router can automatically watch for channel interference levels, and the router itself will automatically change what devices use which band in an effort to keep performance and reliability as high as possible.  This also allows multiple frequency spectrum bands to be utilized at the same time, allowing several demanding guests to stream video, play games, or more, without impacting each other much (assuming your Internet connection can handle it!).

    According to the manufacturer, this router can adequately provide Wi-Fi coverage for up to 2500 sq. ft.  If you have a larger home, Portal routers can be daisy-chained for increased coverage.  My house is close to that size, and I was pleased with the Wi-Fi coverage.

    While I do not have a large variety of routers to compare the Portal against, I am a Linux System Administrator for my day job, and I know a thing or two about networks.  So, I proceeded to compare this new device against my existing Asus RT-AC68U.  While it is no longer cutting edge, it was one of the very best routers on the market when it was released, and I have been very pleased with it.  It absolutely blows the doors off of the NetGear N router I had before that one in both performance and reliability.  This has been the best router I ever had outside of the Linux one I built myself some years back.  (That one was awesome, but ancient hardware and also ancient Wi-Fi made it too difficult to update.  I also got lazy.)

    What I quickly discovered is that not only are no two devices that claim to support 802.11ac alike, but also slight adjustments to position, orientation, and more can have a massive impact in Wi-Fi performance.  Even slightly adjusting the screen changed performance by as much as 20% in some cases in my testing.  Keep this in mind as you look at my results – while I tried to be as scientific as possible, variations are simply impossible to avoid.

    The main tool that I used for benchmarking is iperf3.  This open source tool is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, as well as Android, and I used it on all of those platforms.  I used an Intel i7 860 running Ubuntu Linux on Gigabit Ethernet as the server.  For the clients, I used a modified Lenovo Ideapad Y580 running Windows 10 with a swapped out Wi-Fi card for an Intel 7260AC, a 2015 Macbook Pro Retina (thanks day job!), and my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. I also used my GPD Win for a fourth client in the multi-client test.  Not surprisingly, both Unix-based systems, with the latest Wi-Fi chips, performed the fastest.  The Mac and Samsung were both consistently faster than my Windows laptops, though to be fair, they are both much newer and likely have the most current Wi-Fi chipsets also.

    To baseline performance for the most common use case, I started with a simple speedtest.net comparison between the two routers.  I have a 50Mb down/10Mb up rated connection.  This showed negligible differences (all are in units of Mbits/sec):

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Excellent for multiple devices streaming simultaneously; easy to use; sleek design 
    Weak Points: Limited features in the admin panel; only one paired mobile device

    This is well within any margins of error; for all practical purposes they are identical in this test.

    I also tested the WAN interface speed, using direct wired connections on both sides.  I put the Portal in bridge mode.  Since I could not easily test the Asus router's WAN port without disrupting a lot that was going on in the network, I wasn't able to do a direct comparison.  Here is the result: 787Mbits/sec

    While I would hope for >900Mbits/sec, it's certainly a respectable result.  Looking online, The Asus doesn't do any better.  The switches on both devices performed admirably, at between 940-944Mbits/sec.  Each run would fluctuate between those numbers.  Considering packet and protocol overhead, no one should expect a full 1Gbit/sec on a 1Gb Ethernet link; these values are right in line with what I would expect.

    Next up is the main bulk of what we are here for: the Wi-Fi testing.  As I said before, iperf3 was the chosen tool for bandwidth testing.  I did the default 10 second test.  On the client side, I always added the -P 4 flag to connect with four threads.  This had consistently higher performance than a single thread, especially on the Asus.  All speeds improved with multiple threads, but the Portal was faster with just one thread than the Asus was.  I can't really explain it, but I decided I would stick to 4 threads as standard for these tests.

    As I said before, I used three main devices: my Windows laptop, the Macbook Pro, and my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.  I tested both with the Asus as the main wired router, and either the Asus or Portal in access point mode performing Wi-Fi duties. The Asus has a convenient Wi-Fi on/off switch, which I utilized, and I plugged or unplugged the Portal.  Both were configured with the same access point names and passwords, so it was mostly transparent to any devices on my network, other than a brief outage.  For the record, I have a lot of devices; I have seen well over 20 wireless devices at times show up in my connected devices log.  However, it's entirely possible that not all devices were connected during this test since the children were not home and not everything handles reconnection the same way.

    I tested by carrying each laptop/phone to seven different locations.  These locations are:

    On tower in closet: within two feet of the router

    desk: about 22 feet through a wall, stairs, and fish tank stand

    kids table: about 7 feet away, through the wall and fish tank stand

    kitchen table: about 7 feet away, through wood floor and dinner table

    living room table: about 20 feet away, through wood floor

    bedroom dresser: about 25-30 feet away, though 2-3 walls/floors

    girl's room desk: about 25-30 feet away, though 4-6 walls/floors

    Before I share the results, there is one dirty little secret about Wi-Fi: there are almost no devices that can use more than the double stream dual band connectivity of the Asus.  So the Portal supports up to quad (commonly referred to 4x4), but no individual device goes faster than 2x2 speed, with the very rare 3x3 device out in the wild.  Now, to the results:

     

    As you can see, there are no consistent winners or losers.  The "maximum performance at short range" award seems to go to the older Asus, as 813Mbits/sec is incredibly fast for Wi-Fi.  Of course, if you were that close to a router, you'd probably just plug it in.  Overall, depending on the device, the Portal or Asus tends to trade blows on which performs better.  Given this, you might think that there is no point to upgrade (if you happen to have the Asus RT-AC68U).  If you have a small number of devices, and don't have signal contention issues, you may be correct.  However, the benchmark numbers above don't tell the whole story.

    Where the Portal really shines is when you have multiple devices streaming simultaneously.  I tested four devices, all situated on the kitchen table (the same as above), using iperf3 on four different ports on the same server simultaneously. The maximum theoretical performance in this situation would be the WAN port speed of about 790Mbits/sec.  The four devices used were the same three as above, along with the Intel Atom powered GPD Win.  All used the same command line, with a respective port each.  Rather than show you the individual device results, I decided to sum them all up, as this is what matters: the total aggregate throughput.

    The method I used is a little bit unscientific, with some room for error.  I had the command ready to go on all four devices in front of me, then I hit 'enter' on all four keyboards within a second.  This likely inflates the values a bit, but I used the same process, so at least it's somewhat close, and it's a value I could use.  I ran the process twice on each router, before switching to the other and running it again.  Here are the results:

    The first time I did this on the Asus, I couldn't record the results; one of the systems actually had a timeout.  These other two runs as recorded all completed, though the two slower systems were dramatically so compared to the Portal runs, where the router appeared 'fairer' in how it dealt with that many clients.  These results really tell the story in my eyes.  Being able to handle that many high speed streams simultaneously really sold the Portal to me.  It is worth the switch for that alone.

    Outside of the primary Wi-Fi router or access point features, there are other common features like the WAN port for plugging in your cable/DSL modem and four Ethernet ports.  There are two USB 2.0 ports as well.  While many routers in this price class offer USB 3.0 for share storage, and this is indeed an oversight, this is not a feature I ever used on my Asus, and I won't miss it here.  I think the improved Wi-Fi features and performance is worth this sacrifice to hit the price point.  This router is equipped with Bluetooth technology to communicate with your cellphone or tablets via the free mobile app.  

    The mobile app has the cool ability to let you create temporary Wi-Fi networks for guests to join.  You can also enable a bridge mode if you have another router with better features in place.  That’s what we’re doing currently since our Asus RT-AC68U has some great features (Adaptive QoS, URL filtering, bandwidth usage reports) that we’re not ready to part with just yet.

    More features are in the works for the Portal router, but for now the bare bone requirements are in place.  From the admin page you’ll have access to the connected devices, DMZ, and port triggering.  While in theory we could still operate our various servers (Minecraft, Team Fortress 2, Team Speak 3) with the Portal router, I still prefer having the additional other features the Asus provides at this time.

    The developers behind Portal have an easy to use public ticketing system, and are actively developing and seeking feedback on both the web interface, Portal mobile phone app, and overall feature set.  I am slightly disappointed that currently there are features you can only configure on the web app, and others that can only be configured on the Portal mobile app.  It is very easy to use and a simplified interface, though as very much a power user, I look forward to the growing features that they have planned.  Another point of frustration is that right now you can only have one mobile device connect to a Portal as admin at a time.  So my wife and myself cannot administer the router through the app; there can be only one.  It's frustrating as there are a small number of configuration items not currently exposed through the web interface.

    If you’re looking for better Wi-Fi coverage throughout your house, and you have dozens of devices like we do, the Portal router is definitely worth looking into.  It's also simple enough that it would be a great option for the less technical loved ones in your life.  It has not crashed once in the time that we have had it.  It also auto updates, so users get new features constantly, and the less technical get a router that keeps itself safe from attackers – quite a nice proposition indeed.  If it’s advanced administration features you’re looking for, you may want to wait and see or buy something else until more options become available.

  • R4i Gold 3DS Plus Flashcart

     

    boxart
    Hardware Info:

    R4i Gold 3DS Plus Flashcart
    Supports DS games and DS homebrew, including emulators
    Easy access to ntrboothax/magnethax
    Price: Approximately $25 at love-gamecard.com

    Thank you to Love-Gamecard for sending us this R4i Gold Plus flashcart for review!

    R4. I cannot think of any two characters placed in succession that has likely given Nintendo more headaches than those two. In the height of the Nintendo DS era, they were reportedly so common and easy to find in Japan that people could find them at corner electronics stores. The laws were changed so that this is no longer the case, but their impact on the Nintendo DS, both the market (financial and otherwise), and the legacy, is hard to overstate. Nevertheless, they live in a legal gray area that often leads to shutdown orders or copyright infringement.

    Given this, why is Christ Centered Gamer reviewing a flashcart? *glares at person who requested it* Honestly, that's a really good question, and there is no easy answer, but let's give it a shot.

    At our house, we love Nintendo systems, and the games available on them. As a result, we often collect quite the library; we have over 40 games on both DS and 3DS, and easily over 30 on GBA as well. This is a common pattern for us; over a system's lifetime, we tend to collect most of the best games for any Nintendo system, and the DS and 3DS has an excellent library.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Supports all DS games and homebrew; has built-in ntrboothax/magnethax support to make hacking fully updated 3DSs very easy
    Weak Points: Build quality is not the best, as I had one of the tabs holding it together break on me; no convenient way to store the tiny magnet outside of the packaging
    Moral Warnings: It's easy to steal games, and acquiring them may require downloading them from the internet unless you have a means to rip your own ROMs

    This is relevant both because we don't have pockets of unlimited depth, and because we have children; we cannot practically carry that many games with us in cartridge form at one time wherever we go. This is especially important since we don't want to lose said cartridges when a child (or big kid) misplaces those tiny little wedges. So, for many years now, we have dumped our own cartridges (we are very strict about this; we do not download ROMs off of the internet) and put our library of games on our DS flashcarts. This protects us from losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars of games over time, while allowing us to still enjoy them (and even back up saves, which can be very convenient). We understand why some may feel differently, but by dumping our own games, it feels like a win-win – we are still giving Nintendo our money (we purchase each and every game) while still benefiting from the convenience that these devices offer. (And backing up your own games is actually legal.)

    That is why I've always loved the ingenuity in the console hacking space. While these devices (or hacked consoles) can be used for nefarious means, or to avoid buying games, what really happens for us is that we end up buying more games because of the ease of carrying them around and not having to worry about losing saved games that these devices (or hacked consoles) can do.

    The R4, as one of the most popular line of flashcarts of all time, is likely quite familiar to many readers of this review. It allows you to put ROM files on a microSD card, which you then insert into the tiny slot on the back of the R4 card. It has native support for Nintendo DS games; the 3DS thinks it's an obscure Japanese game, but once you launch it, you find a menu where you can browse the list of files available on the microSD card, and launch whatever games are listed there. You can put emulators for older systems there as well, along with required ROM files, and play those. Again, violating the law is made easy with these devices; please follow your conscience and be as legal as you can when taking advantage of these features.

    The performance of this device as a DS flashcart is as good as it's ever been. The menus are easy to navigate, and launching games is quick and easy. The R4 doesn't take too much battery power from your system while in use, unlike certain other cards from other brands (like the Supercard line, which works great, but impacts battery life). Honestly, this functionality is more or less time-tested, and many reviews exist online (and this cartridge is more or less the gold standard), so I think that's enough about the DS functionality.

    R4i Gold Plus DS Flashcart

    What makes this model unique, versus the R4i Gold RTS which immediately preceded it, is the additional hidden ntrboot mode. If you open the actual R4i cartridge, and you pull out the PCB, you will find a tiny switch that switches between NTR and boot modes. Boot mode is just like previous R4i cards - it loads a DS menu and works as a flashcart. NTR mode is unique, in that it allows you to very quickly and easily hack a fully-patched 3DS from scratch in a matter of minutes, rather than hours like it used to be before the discovery of ntrboot.

    You see, if you place the included tiny magnet in the spot that puts the 3DS to sleep (typically near the B button) and power it on while holding Start+Select+X, the system will go into a recovery mode, and will write to the firmware whatever is in the DS cartridge slot. (It's more complicated than that, but that's probably sufficient detail for the purposes of this review.) Hackers believe this recovery mode is what Nintendo uses to restore certain types of hardware failures, so it's not something they are easily able to patch out. And to date, they have not.

    After following instructions listed on 3ds.hacks.guide by downloading files and putting them on the SD card inside your 3DS (not the one in the R4i cart) and following the provided instructions, you can quite easily hack the 3DS with the popular Luma3DS custom firmware. This allows you to not only play Nintendo DS backups with the R4i cartridge itself, but also 3DS and eShop titles. There is also quite a bit of homebrew software that takes advantage of the more powerful 3DS hardware, including things like emulators. Sadly, enough other players out there take advantage of cheating features of the custom firmwares to make 3DS online play not quite what it could be, but that's the price we all pay for giving enterprising users lower level access to the hardware they purchased.

    Installing and using custom firmware is generally quite stable, but unexpected new bugs in operation are possible. It should also be quite expected that Nintendo will not repair any hacked systems under warranty.

    The R4i Gold Plus DS flashcart is easily one of the most feature-complete DS flashcarts on the market. While the older Supercard DSTWO, for example, does have some nice features utilizing the onboard CPU, it also drinks batteries for breakfast. The R4i does not have this issue, and with the added ntrboot/magnethax support, is easy to recommend to anyone who enjoys making the most of the hardware that they have purchased. But whatever you do, please do not break the law, or violate your conscience in the process.

  • RCM Loader Model One B (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Hardware Info:

    RCM Loader Model One B
    Compatible with any Nintendo Switch firmware version
    Compatible with all Switches that have the first hardware revision (manufactured June 2018 and earlier)
    Includes USB-C dongle with integrated and boot up tool
    Integrated 2MB of flash storage to hold up to six payloads
    USB micro-B cable
    Small plastic case
    MSRP: Approximately $16 at Love-Gamecard (prices seem to vary widely)

    Thank you Love-Gamecard for sending us this device for review!

    I have always loved hacking my consoles - as long as I have been a techie, and I'd known it was possible to do so. I remember modding my PS1 many years back, and I also got flashcarts starting with the GBA so I could carry my library around with me. Ever since I reviewed the SX Pro about a year ago, the Switch hacking community has been hard at work enabling more and more features in their mostly open source custom firmwares (CFW). The most common are Atmosphere and ReiNX. SX OS is still quite popular as well, though it is proprietary and costs money. This RCM Loader supports all of these, as well as three other possible customizable payloads you can add if you choose.

    RCM Loader consists of four parts: a USB-C dongle, a boot-up tool, a micro USB cable, and a case. The USB-C dongle is the heart of the device, and has the USC-C plug, a micro USB-B port, and a button and LED for switching payloads. The case makes it convenient to store everything together, and lessens the chance of damaging it or losing any of the small parts.

    Like the SX Pro I reviewed last year, the RCM Loader takes advantage of the massive NVIDIA Tegra CPU flaw that was discovered in 2018. It’s in the Tegra boot ROM (Read-Only Memory), and as such, it cannot be patched or changed. The fix requires a hardware revision, and since the Switch is such a hot selling item, that means that there are approximately 15 million vulnerable units out in the wild, and no doubt a sizable portion of Nintendo’s most hardcore fans also desire to use their hardware in ways that Nintendo did not originally intend.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: All-in-one tool for Switch hacking; includes convenient case to hold everything; it's much easier to avoid losing the small boot up tool because it's all integrated; stores up to six customizable payloads; built-in 2MB of flash storage makes updating or customizing payloads very easy; enables all kinds of crazy customization that the Switch hacking community has come up with, including alternate operating systems
    Weak Points: If used improperly, you may find your console (or account!) to be banned by Nintendo; it's larger than some Switch dongles on the market; while it's worked perfectly, it does wobble a small amount in the case; it may be possible to brick your Switch with some of the more advanced hacking techniques (not the fault of this dongle)
    Moral Warnings: Enables piracy (but also works for backups, homebrew, and even custom operating systems)

    It has to be said up front that Nintendo very much dislikes the existence of devices like these, and has and will block consoles from their online services whenever they can detect it. Using devices like this to modify your console is against the EULA (End User License Agreement) that most people blindly agree to when they choose to start using their new gaming consoles. While some aspects of EULAs like that are for all practical purposes unenforceable in court or otherwise, the fact is that Nintendo can and will block unauthorized users from their network at their own leisure. Some of the capabilities of this device almost guarantee a ban, and it has already happened to several users. Be warned that caution is strongly encouraged.

    So, if these devices are so dangerous, and Nintendo hates them so much, then why are they so popular? Well, it comes down to two things: homebrew and piracy. Homebrew are applications like emulators, utilities, and more that are created by hobbyists, often for their own entertainment. Homebrew can be really great sometimes, as aspiring programmers desire to be well known in a tight-knit group, or simply want their cool device to do something the manufacturer never intended. Perhaps the most popular homebrews are game save manipulators, and emulators. These allow people to play games not originally designed for the system, or play their games the way they want to.

    Often homebrew meets a need not met by the original developers. For example, a glaring hole in the Switch’s software stack is a proper way to copy and back up saves, especially if they don't subscribe to Nintendo's online service (and even then, online save backups don't always cover every game). Homebrew developers have taken care of this, in the form of the Checkpoint homebrew application. Now, gamers can backup, or even copy saves in between Switches, or simply back them up to their PCs. Another need is to copy files back and forth between their Switch and PC wirelessly. Rather than needing to pop out that microSD card, they can now FTP onto their Switch and copy files. Another is simply a local file manager; being able to move, copy, and rename files can be very useful indeed; homebrew takes care of all this, and much more. You can even run Linux or even Android on the Switch.

    Piracy is another, and perhaps the most common, use case for the devices like these. You see, some more unscrupulous types will often download games off of the internet and play them on their Switch without paying for them first. At least some of the custom firmwares out there enable this.

    In order to get to all of this functionality, you have to prepare your Switch's microSD card by putting various files on it, depending on the chosen CFW. Once that's completed, you insert the included USB-C dongle into the charging port, insert the boot up tool (also called a jig) into the right Joy-Con slot, and boot the Switch up into USB Recovery mode. Hackers discovered this is done by shorting two pins on the right Joy-Con slot, and then holding volume up and pressing the power button. This must be done while the power is off; sleep mode is not enough. The boot up tool supplied in the kit shorts the pins exactly as needed; just take the right Joy-Con out, slide this thing in all the way, and you’re good to go. If it works as expected, your Switch should boot into a new menu that shows whichever payload you chose.

    If you plug the RCM Loader into your PC using the provided microUSB cable, a small 2MB (yes that's megabyte) USB drive shows up, which you can use to configure the RCM Loader. By default, it includes payloads for Atmosphere (slot 1), ReiNX (slot 2), SX OS (slot 3), and three user slots. Slot 4 has a SX OS knockoff called XK OS installed on mine, though you can easily change it to be something else if you wish.

    Once the RCM Loader is connected to a switch, you can press and hold the '+' button on the device to choose the desired payload. Each slot is actually a different color; Atmosphere is blue, ReiNX is green, SX OS is red, and XK OS is yellow. Magenta and cyan are only displayed if you fill the user payloads of slots 5 and 6. This may be quite useful if you choose to have Android or Linux use a different payload (I have not tested if this is possible or not; I am merely presuming that it is). Either way, having this flexibility is quite handy. I selected SX OS and chose to boot up my Switch that is currently running SX Pro from our previous review, and it worked perfectly.

    RCM Loader Model One B

    Rather than explain how to hack your Switch using this device, I'll say that there are several guides on the internet that can be easily found using the search terms 'switch hacking guide'.

    I have to say, I am impressed with the RCM Loader. It is perhaps the easiest say yet for the more technically-inclined to just plug something in and get started hacking a Nintendo Switch that has the unpatched bootloader. And with the convenient package, where the jig is built into the housing, it's much less likely that you will lose that important part. The ability to completely customize payloads is equally awesome, and the nice plastic case it all comes in is small enough to fix in most Switch cases, which is a really nice bonus.

    As always, there are moral and legal implications to consider when hacking a console, and as always, please do not steal game software. The potential for homebrew is always exciting, and if you play only your legally owned personal game backups, it can be quite nice and very convenient. As always, any time you go outside of the curated walled garden that the manufacturer wants you to live in, there may be weeds there, and you can incur the wrath of the gardener (in this case Nintendo). Please consider both the upsides and possibly severe downsides (like being banned from online play) that may come from climbing that fence. There may be vipers on the other side!

  • Sega Genesis Mini

     

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    Hardware Info:

    Sega Genesis Mini
    Specifications:
    One Sega Genesis Mini included
    Two Sega Genesis controllers with seven foot long cable (original 3-button version)
    One HDMI Cable
    One AC power adapter and USB cable (it's USB powered)
    One Instruction manual
    ESRB Rating: Teen for Blood and Gore, Violence
    Price: $67.98
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    I never owned a Sega Genesis growing up; we were a Nintendo family. I did have one friend for a short time that let me play his Genesis, and the memories are good, but it was not a significant part of my video gaming upbringing. I went from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) (along with PC gaming) at that time. But I certainly did get to experience plenty of gaming from that timeframe, so coming back and playing these games now sure is an interesting experience.

    It first has to be said that the SNES is a technical masterpiece in comparison to the Genesis when it comes to graphics and sound. I can't help but compare the systems directly, since that's what I have and what I know. With that said, I noticed almost immediately how incredibly smooth games on the Genesis Mini play (assuming that this experience directly translates to what the experience on hardware was like, and I am assuming it does).

    I was playing games like Streets of Rage 2, or Vectorman or Strider, and I was thinking not only how smooth and advanced for the time the animations were, but how quickly everything moves and dashes around, and without any slowdown. That nearly 3x frequency advantage on the Sega's microprocessor is quite evident in some titles.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A collection of some of the Sega Genesis' most popular and memorable games; perfect emulation; save states
    Weak Points: You have to launch the games before you can load the save states; some games benefit from the Genesis 6-button controllers but these come with the 3-button; some games didn't age well
    Moral Warnings: Some games feature violence, blood, and gore; others contain magic creatures, undead, and so on; a few have females in skin-tight clothes or bikinis that show off curves or cleavage

    At the same time, there are others that clearly could use some of that SNES Mode 7 magic; Road Rash II is a blast to play, but it runs at 10-15 frames per second; it's a little rough. It's still fun though! Space Harrier II, however, doesn't age quite as well in my opinion (though neither age that well I suppose).

    I was also struck how inferior the sound chip is. Don't get me wrong; some Genesis games have quite memorable music. But others would have benefited so much from a little General MIDI instrument samples love. I also noticed cases where sound effects could not be heard, or sound effects sounded a bit 'under the music', though that was pretty much a sign of the times in the late '80s/early '90s.

    One thing I found remarkable is, despite the official sprite size being larger in the SNES, certain games managed to overcome that limitation anyway, to make some really fantastic animation and motion effects. Vectorman looks amazing for a game of that era; I was also impressed with how Beyond Oasis looks, with smooth movements and animations throughout. While weaker in many ways, why Nintendo allowed Sega to keep the console with the faster CPU is a mystery for the ages (the SNES came out two years after the Sega Genesis!).

    Here's a list of the Forty-two games included:

    Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
    Alisia Dragoon
    Altered Beast
    Beyond Oasis
    Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
    Castlevania: Bloodlines
    Columns
    Comix Zone
    Contra: Hard Corps
    Darius
    Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine
    Dynamite Headdy
    Earthworm Jim
    Ecco the Dolphin
    Eternal Champions
    Ghouls 'n Ghosts
    Golden Axe
    Gunstar Heroes
    Kid Chameleon
    Landstalker
    Light Crusader
    Mega Man: The Wily Wars
    Monster World IV
    Phantasy Star IV
    Road Rash II
    Shining Force
    Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master
    Sonic The Hedgehog
    Sonic The Hedgehog 2
    Sonic The Hedgehog Spinball
    Space Harrier II
    Street Fighter II': Special Champion Edition
    Streets of Rage 2
    Strider
    Super Fantasy Zone
    Tetris
    Thunder Force III
    ToeJam & Earl
    Vectorman
    Virtua Fighter 2
    Wonder Boy in Monster World
    World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck

    The games in this mini console are generally quite good, or at least historically significant. I never really had a hankering for Altered Beast, but it was the original pack-in game before Sonic The Hedgehog was released, so its presence in this collection makes a lot of sense. It's also great that Sega went beyond their often-released games collections, and included some hard to license games from third parties, like Castlevania, Contra, and some Mickey Mouse games. These games are not only well known, but excellent, and in some ways (though not graphically) superior to their SNES counterparts.

    Sega Genesis Mini
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay 17/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound/Music 8/10
    Stability/Polish 4/5
    Controls/Interface 4/5

    Morality Score - 67%
    Varies from 67% to 100% (worst case of several games put together shown below)
    Violence 4.5/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content/Nudity 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 8/10

    The emulation is pretty much top-notch from what I can tell, and the controllers and hardware look and feel great. Finally, someone included controllers that don't require extension cords out of the box, at seven feet! While I wish they included the six-button controllers for Street Fighter II': Special Champion Edition, I totally understand the decision. Most games only use three buttons, and they were the controllers the systems came with, and most gamers would be familiar with them. Sega also made some nice touches, like a 'working' fake cartridge slot, a fake volume slider, and a bottom expansion slot that many fans of the very cool looking industrial design of the Sega Genesis will most certainly appreciate.

    Morally, the Sega Genesis Mini can only be rated based on the included games. Sega marketed the system as being a bit more 'edgy' than Nintendo, and with games like Road Rash, where you punch other racers off of their bikes to get ahead, it was certainly that. There are one on one fighting games, lots of shooters (both action shooters like Gunstar Heroes and Contra and shoot 'em ups like Darius), RPGs like Phantasy Star and Shining Force where you can use magic and such. There are others where you can play as a lady in a skimpy outfit like Alisia Dragoon or Streets of Rage 2, or fight against lightly-dressed ladies. Castlevania and Ghouls 'n Ghosts (and perhaps others) features undead creatures and magic.

    I would say that the Sega Genesis Mini is, while not quite up to Nintendo's levels of classic console re-releases, overall a job well done and worth getting. None of the games are 'Final Fantasy III' or 'Super Metroid' good, but there are plenty of quality classic games here, and the hardware is just right. If you would like a taste of the 'other side' of the 16-bit console wars, I highly recommend the Sega Genesis Mini - you can't go wrong. With that said, Sega has released enough software-based versions of the Sega collections that you may have many of these games in other formats. If that's the case, you have to decide how important original controllers and the plug and play experience is.

  • SK Hynix Gold S31 SATA 1TB SSD

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    Hardware Info:

    SK Hynix Gold S31
    2.5 Inch Internal SSD
    SATA III interface
    3D NAND
    Available in 250GB, 500GB, and 1TB sizes (1TB reviewed)
    Read Speed: Up to 560MB/s
    Write Speed: Up to 525MB/s
    1.5 Million hours MTBF (mean time between failure)
    600 TBW (terabytes written)
    5 year warranty
    Price: $119
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you SK Hynix for sending us this drive to review, along with a nice red hoodie!

    I've been a technology professional for over 20 years now, and storage has kind of become one of my specializations. In my day job, I have access to many of the latest drives, including some of the fastest NVMe drives on the planet. So I have been kind of spoiled as to what fast is. But I also realize, through experience, that SATA SSDs are completely fine for 95% of all desktop workloads. Open world games do not require much more speed, but more consistency; if a drive hitches for a moment, that is far more noticeable than how fast the data streams. Windows bootup time is now so fast, that no one can really tell if it's one or two seconds quicker, and so on. So here we are, all these years later, and SATA SSDs are still completely useful and relevant.

    For this review, I did a couple of different tests; some in Windows, others in Linux. Of the four SSDs I compared, I couldn't do every test in every operating system, because some drives are formatted NTFS, while others were formatted ext4. Since I dual-boot, it is easy to reformat an empty drive, but I'm not doing that to drives with data on them. I have available this SK Hynix drive, as well as an older SanDisk X300 that I can format at will (nothing important was on the X300), so I tested them in both operating systems. My Intel NVMe 660p 2TB was tested in Windows at approximately 2/3rds full, and my Samsung 860 256GB Linux drive was tested in Linux, with the OS running on the drive.

    The Intel is certainly the fastest, despite being slow for an NVMe drive; flash is often limited by the interface, but much less so with NVMe, so Intel's QLC management takes center stage, and performance beats pretty much any SATA drive in burst usage, but it was be slower in sustained access. Unfortunately, the best test for this in my repetoire uses Linux, so we don't get to see that here for this drive.

    My SanDisk X300 is an older, midrange SATA III drive, and is what I compare the SK Hynix with the most, since they are both 1TB, and the closest in every other way. This drive is no longer for sale, but it's treated me pretty well over the years. My Samsung 860 laptop drive is a great, modern competitor to this one, but it's only 256GB, so it's also not a good comparison, since SSDs with more NAND chips tend to perform faster. But I threw it in the mix where I could (and it had enough free space).

    The first, and simplest test in Windows is with CrystalDiskMark 6.0.2 x64 edition. I always choose the largest test size and test count, since some drives will dramatically slow down over time. I have the three tests (Intel, X300, S31) listed below.

    SK Hynix Gold S31 SATA 1TB SSD
    SK Hynix Gold S31 SATA 1TB SSD
    SK Hynix Gold S31 SATA 1TB SSD
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One of the fastest SATA SSDs I have access to; excellent performance consistency; sturdy casing; excellent warranty
    Weak Points: They don't offer 2TB+ sizes yet; it's not NVMe

    As you can see from this simple test, the Intel NVMe is the fastest in most use cases. That is not at all surprising. The SanDisk X300 takes up the rear, with respectable sequential numbers, but a dramatic fall-off after that. The SK Hynix is right up the middle, with very good speeds in the higher queue depth scenarios. As future testing will show, these middle tests end up being much more indicative of real-world performance than the mostly ideal sequential tests.

    Next, I rebooted into Linux, and did some heavy write testing. I couldn't use the Intel drive, so I first did sequential disk writes, using 'dd'. DD is a tool that allows you to write data directly to or from disk, in a direct binary stream. It's very fast; I've used it to write GB/s in a work context. This is the command I used:

    time dd if=/dev/zero of=/<mounted device path>/zeros bs=1MiB count=100000 oflag=direct

    So, I wrote 100GiB of zeroes to each drive, the SanDisk and the SK Hynix, as fast as the drives would take the bits.

    The SanDisk:

    100000+0 records in
    100000+0 records out
    104857600000 bytes (105 GB, 98 GiB) copied, 494.816 s, 212 MB/s

    real 8m14.822s
    user 0m0.198s
    sys 0m22.268s

    It ended up doing a sequential write at a shockingly low 212MB/s, after all of the cache was exhausted. That means that the real speed of the NAND is what you see here. This is why I chose a 100GB file; smaller ones could easily be influenced by cache sizes, but 100GB is too large for any cache system.

    The SK Hynix:

    99999+1 records in
    99999+1 records out
    104856879104 bytes (105 GB, 98 GiB) copied, 221.383 s, 474 MB/s

    real 3m41.388s
    user 0m0.178s
    sys 0m48.308s

    Well over two times faster! I was very pleased with how much faster this was. This drive is off to a great start.

    The next test was a 50/50 read/write test, using a tool called fio. I had it write out 4 files of 10GB each, and then it performed a variety of r/w operations on them, this time with a 128KB block size. This was the command:

    fio --name=<name> --direct=1 --rw=randrw --rwmixwrite=50 --ioengine=libaio --bs=128k --iodepth=16 --numjobs=4 --size=10G --time_based --runtime=300 --group_reporting

    The SanDisk's results were the worst:

    read: IOPS=887, BW=111MiB/s (116MB/s)(32.5GiB/300056msec)
    write: IOPS=887, BW=111MiB/s (116MB/s)(32.5GiB/300056msec)

    Next was the Samsung:

    read: IOPS=1122, BW=140MiB/s (147MB/s)(41.1GiB/300025msec)
    write: IOPS=1122, BW=140MiB/s (147MB/s)(41.1GiB/300025msec)

    And last, and also best, was the SK Hynix:

    read: IOPS=1556, BW=195MiB/s (204MB/s)(57.0GiB/300017msec)
    write: IOPS=1558, BW=195MiB/s (204MB/s)(57.1GiB/300017msec)

    During my time testing, I found that Windows doesn't really have an easy way to time copies, but during copying some directories around, that the SK Hynix S31 would consistently perform 2-3x faster for large copy operations, similar to my dd and fio results above. And it wasn't just faster in burst, indeed it wasn't always, but where it counts - in sustained throughput. I found that when I tried copying 800+GB to the Intel SSD, the sustained performance would drop off massively after around 100GB of copying, to the point where you wouldn't see much more than 100MB/s. This drive was consistently above 400MB/s. This is one workload where consistency is more important than raw speed, and the SK Hynix performs very well.

    Overall, I am very pleased with the SK Hynix Gold S31 1TB SATA SSD drive. I have learned the hard way that DRAM-less SSDs can often have a large cost in performance (I tested one this summer that was slower than a HDD in some workloads) and it's really hard to know before purchase how a drive will perform. SK Hynix's new entry into the consumer SSD drive space is excellent; they have a high-performing, reliable drive, with a fantastic warranty. It's also much cheaper than other high-end competitors, though it is appropriately more expensive than the lower-end DRAM-less SSDs that are out there. Considering how much it slaughtered my older X300, which does have DRAM by the way, I can safely say that this drive can likely compete with the faster SATA III SSDs out there. For the very reasonable price of $119 for 1TB of space, it's an easy recommendation.

  • SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB

     

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    Hardware Info:

    SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB
    Developed by: EMTEC
    Read Speed: Up to 400 MB/sec
    Write Speed: Up to 300MB/sec
    Price: Approximately $111

    Thank you EMTEC for sending us a review sample.

    USB flash drives are quite popular and smaller sized drives are fairly inexpensive with 16GB drives costing less than $5 on Amazon.  USB 3.0 256GB drives sell for less than $50 as well.  Sadly, the EMTEC SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB isn’t available in North America yet, but the converted prices put it over $100.  While the SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB is certainly a nice device, is it worth the premium?

    The design is simple and elegant with the smooth black patterned finish.  While it’s not obvious, there is a red LED that flashes dimly when the device is being accessed.  There’s also a notch on the corner to attach a key ring if desired.  My only concern with the notch is that it’s thin plastic and it makes me wonder how durable it will be in the long run.  

    Enough about the looks, let’s talk about how fast it is!  According to the website the read speed is rated at 400MB/sec while the write speed is up to 300MB/sec for the 256MB model we reviewed.  We ran some data transfers using traditional hard drives to solid state drives as well as running a CrystalDiskMark.  Though our results were good, they didn’t reach the numbers on the manufacturer’s website.  

    SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great performing USB drive; password protection available
    Weak Points: The default file system is FAT32 which does not allow files bigger than 4GB; only available in Europe
    Moral Warnings: Depends on what you put onto the drive 

    The CrystalDiskMark gave the read speed between 333-368/MB and 92-165MB/sec for the non-4K tests.  This is pretty fast given the USB 3.0 interface.  Of course it’s not going to touch the speeds of a SATA connected SSD drive.

    SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB

    Not surprisingly, the speeds will drop dramatically if connected to a previous generation USB port.  Another technical detail worth mentioning is that this device is FAT32 formatted by default and cannot take files bigger than 4GB without reformatting it to another file system like NTFS in Windows.

    Many people still use traditional spinning hard drives and transferring data from a hard drive to the flash drive peaked at 157MB/sec for me.  In this test I transferred my e-mail folder which is 15GB in size.

    SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB

    I have two solid state drives in my system, one 240GB for booting my operating system (Windows 10), and a 1TB for storing games.  When transferring my mail folder from the flash drive back to my OS drive the max transfer rate was 357MB/sec.  The max speed from transferring a game, (DOOM) to the flash drive was 257MB/sec.  Due to the FAT32 file system in place, I was not able to copy all of the files over since at least one of them was 5GB in size.

    SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB

    Included on the drive is a password application that lets you set up a secure partition as well as a public partition.  The public partition will show up as an accessible drive in the operating system while the other one will require the password to access it.  Be sure to provide a hint if needed because you will not be able to recover your password if it’s forgotten.    If an incorrect password is entered six times, the secured partition will be formatted.  

    All in all, the SpeedIN’ USB 3.0 S600 256GB is nice and fast USB drive.  Though the numbers aren’t as fast at the website claims they’re still pretty good.  Definitely faster than some of the cheaper 256GB USB flash drives out there.  People who want to do more than just copy files around will really appreciate what this USB drive has to offer. I hope that this device comes to North America and that it will be competitively priced.

  • Stargate 3DS

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    Hardware Info:

    Stargate 3DS
    Supports 3DS and DS games
    Supports ntrboothax/magnethax
    Supports some emulators
    Fully updatable
    Price: $80

    Thank you StarGate for sending us this flashcart (available from nx-card.com) to review!

    Let's get the obvious elephant in the room out of the way: Why is Christ Centered Gamer reviewing a flashcart? *glares at person who requested it* Honestly, that's a really good question, and there is no easy answer, but let's give it a shot.

    At our house, we love Nintendo systems, and the games available on them. As a result, we often collect quite the library; we have over 40 games on both DS and 3DS, and easily over 30 on GBA as well. This is a common pattern for us; over a system's lifetime, we tend to collect most of the best games for any Nintendo system, and the 3DS has an excellent library.

    This is relevant both because we don't have pockets of unlimited depth, and because we have children; we cannot practically carry that many games with us in cartridge form at one time wherever we go. This is especially important since we don't want to lose said cartridges when a child (or big kid) misplaces those tiny little wedges. So, for many years now, we have dumped our own cartridges (we are very strict about this; we do not download ROMs off of the internet) and put our library of games on our DS flashcarts. This protects us from losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars of games over time, while allowing us to still enjoy them (and even back up saves, which can be very convenient). We understand why some may feel differently, but by dumping our own games, it feels like a win-win – we are still giving Nintendo our money (we purchase each and every game) while still benefiting from the convenience that these devices offer.

    Stargate 3DS
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Supports most retail 3DS games in your region and all DS games and homebrew
    Weak Points: Some 3DS games do not work; DS mode does not currently work with a CFW 3DS; homebrew 3DS games nor eShop titles work; no simple way to dump your own games using just this that I am aware of; battery life is fine during gameplay, but sleep mode time is much shorter; if you accidentally press the buttons on the back, you can lose some game progress
    Moral Warnings: It's easy to steal games, and acquiring them may require downloading them from the internet unless you have a means to rip your own ROMs (in which case you probably have CFW installed and may not need this cart)

    That is why I've always loved the ingenuity in the console hacking space. While these devices (or hacked consoles) can be used for nefarious means, or to avoid buying games, what really happens for us is that we end up buying more games because of the ease of carrying them around and not having to worry about losing saved games that these devices (or hacked consoles) can do.

    What the StarGate team has done is create a flashcart that is dual mode: it has a 3DS mode, and a DS mode. In 3DS mode, it shows you a game icon, just like any other cart. To switch games, you cycle through them via a set of two buttons, which can be thought of as next and previous buttons. These are installed by placing clean dump 3DS ROMs on the root of the filesystem of a microSD card that you put inside of the Stargate 3DS itself. There is also a microUSB port for flashing firmware in case Nintendo blocks the cart somehow, which is fairly forward thinking in that way. All of that functionality is a tight fit, but it works very well.

    DS mode is not unlike other popular flashcarts like an R4 or Supercard. When in this mode, you see an icon for 'Alex Rider Stormbreaker THQ' like many other flashcarts show. I have never seen anyone actually play Alex Rider, but there are a lot of people with that game in their play history. When launching it in this mode, it starts an easy to use menu where you can browse the integrated microSD card's filesystem and choose a .nds file (Nintendo DS ROM) to launch. You can also chose a .3ds file (3DS ROM), and it will exit out to the main menu, after which you will find that 3DS game selected on the 3DS home screen.

    I did not have any large microSD cards that have a lot of space free on them available, so I setup a 1GB card with five 3DS games, as well as five DS games. I tried a recent title by itself (Metroid: Samus Returns) and the other smaller titles (Cubic Ninja, Jewel Master, Angry Birds, Adventure Time, and Freakyforms) together and they all worked flawlessly. The StarGate team has made it clear that a few games do not work yet (Pokemon Sun and Moon, and others) and they are working on fixing these compatibility issues soon.

    The emulator features promise to offer NES, SNES, and GBA compatibility. These features are not released yet, so they could not be tested as of the writing of this review. Any DS compatible homebrew will work as is, so emulators for older systems like the Game Boy and such should easily be covered by the DS homebrew community.

    Stargate 3DS

    This is the only card in existence that I know of that has all of these features. It does a lot, though the MSRP of $80 is only for the most committed. The real challenge for them is that hacking the 3DS to install CFW (custom firmware) has never been easier. If you have a supported DS flashcart (which typically cost around $20), you can install a special installer onto it, and then install a CFW onto your 3DS in about 5 minutes.

    Installing CFW is more complex than using this cart, but it's also much more powerful. You can run 3DS homebrew, dump your 3DS cartridges yourself, use the same SD card that your 3DS uses, and more. In the absence of CFW, this card would be fantastic. But as is, it's really only meant for those not able or willing to install a CFW on their 3DS out of fear or a lack of technical skill. And while you can use this cart to install CFW via ntrboothax, once that process is completed, you can't use this cart (at least in stock form) in DS mode on that 3DS anymore. I didn't prove that this was the case, as I don't want to hack our last non-CFW 3DS, which would make continued testing of this cart a little difficult.

    I did find a couple of downsides to using the Stargate. For one, sleep time battery life, where you close the 3DS, seems to be quite significantly impacted. On the 3DS we used to test, while in a game or in the main 3DS home screen, in neither case did the battery last the night while closed with this cartridge inserted. Another issue (which is more user error than technical) is that whenever the cartridge buttons are pressed, it will switch games - which is by design, but you can be in for a real shock if you bump it in the middle of a game, or while putting it in your pocket. As long as the 3DS is not powered off, the cart will change games, as well as draw some power.

    The Stargate 3DS card strives to be the easiest solution for someone who wishes to carry their library around with them in the simplest way possible. It's also practically risk free, since there are no console modifications that can get in the way of future system updates, or cause problems for users (or even be a bricking risk, despite how small that risk is). If you are risk averse, or want to stick with the strict non-modification guidelines that Nintendo requires for your 3DS to still be covered under warranty, then the Stargate 3DS is an excellent choice. It's just a shame that there currently is no way to avoid either having a CFW'd 3DS around to dump your games, or otherwise requiring a visit to the darker parts of the internet (and the moral and legal hazards that requires) to get them.

  • Team Xecuter SX Pro (Switch)

     

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    Hardware Info:

    Team Xecuter SX Pro
    Compatible with any Nintendo Switch firmware version
    Compatible with all Switches that have the first hardware revision
    Includes USB-C dongle and boot up tool
    Includes SX OS Pro license
    Promises continual updates for the life of the Nintendo Switch
    $46.99

    Thank you Team Xecuter for sending us this device to review!  It's $46.99 at Worldwide official reseller Anxchip.com.

    I have always loved hacking my consoles - as long as I have been a techie, and that’s been about as long as I have been on this giant green marble (sorry flat earth folks). I also enjoy the convenience of portable gaming, and feel that carrying dozens of cartridges around kind of defeats the purpose of that. So any time that we can avoid having to do so, I am going to look into it, and Team Xecuter delivered.

    The SX Pro consists of three parts: a USB-C dongle, a boot-up tool, and the SX OS (which you must download from their website. They also offer the SX OS for sale independently to folks who choose to use their own solution for hacking their Switch.

    You see, earlier this year (2018), it was discovered that there was a massive NVIDIA Tegra CPU flaw, that Nintendo can’t patch. It’s in the Tegra boot ROM (Read-Only Memory), and as such, it cannot be patched or changed. The fix requires a hardware revision, and since the Switch is such a hot selling item, that means that there are approximately 15 million vulnerable units out in the wild, and no doubt a sizable portion of Nintendo’s most hardcore fans also desire to use their hardware in ways that Nintendo did not originally intend. By trying to meet that desire, products like the SX Pro are born.

    It has to be said up front that Nintendo very much dislikes the existence of devices like the SX Pro, and has and will block consoles from their online services whenever they can detect it. Using devices like this to modify your console is against the EULA (End User License Agreement) that most people blindly agree to when they choose to start using their new gaming consoles. While some aspects of EULAs like that are for all practical purposes unenforceable in court or otherwise, the fact is that Nintendo can and will block unauthorized users from their network at their own leisure. Some of the capabilities of this device almost guarantee a ban, and it has already happened to several users. Be warned that caution is strongly encouraged.

    So, if these devices are so dangerous, and Nintendo hates them so much, then why are they so popular? Well, it comes down to two things: homebrew and piracy. Homebrew are applications like emulators, utilities, and more that are created by hobbyists, often for their own entertainment. Homebrew can be really great sometimes, as aspiring programmers desire to be well known in a tight-knit group, or simply want their cool device to do something the manufacturer never intended. Perhaps the most popular homebrews are game save manipulators, and emulators. These allow people to play games not originally designed for the system, or play their games the way they want to.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simplest tool for Switch hacking currently in existence
    Weak Points: If used improperly, you may find your console (or account!) to be banned by Nintendo
    Moral Warnings: Enables piracy (but also works for backups and homebrew)

    Often homebrew meets a need not met by the original developers. For example, a glaring hole in the Switch’s software stack is a proper way to copy and back up saves. Homebrew developers have taken care of this, in the form of the Checkpoint homebrew application. Now, gamers can backup, or even copy saves in between Switches, or simply back them up to their PCs. Another need is to copy files back and forth between their Switch and PC wirelessly. Rather than needing to pop out that microSD card, they can now FTP onto their Switch and copy files. Another is simply a local file manager; being able to move, copy, and rename files can be very useful indeed; homebrew takes care of all this, and much more. You can even run Linux on the Switch, though I don’t think that is compatible with the SX Pro just yet.

    Piracy is another, and perhaps the most common, use case for the SX Pro. You see, some more unscrupulous types will often download games off of the internet and play them on their Switch without paying for them first. The SX Pro enables that, too. Currently, eShop-only titles are safe from the grubby paws of software pirates, as only physical cartridges can be easily dumped. The day may come when that will change, but for now, that’s where things are at.

    For the Switch, Nintendo did a really great job in locking not only the operating system down (not that there aren’t flaws, as is true in almost all software), but in the new online activation system. You see, each cartridge comes from the factory with a security certificate built in, that is unique to each cartridge. This means that Nintendo knows exactly which cartridge is being played on which system. If a cartridge is used on too many consoles simultaneously, or if someone is playing a game online with a zero’d out security certificate, then they know for a fact that the player is pirating – and down comes the ban hammer.

    Interestingly, the primary use case for me – being able to play games that you legally own, but not having to carry the cartridges around with you – is another feature that the SX Pro supports. This is also the safest way to use it (other than homebrew, which is not known to be detectable at this time). The reason is because you can dump your own cartridges using homebrew software that preserves the cartridge’s certificate; then, when playing the game, it is virtually indistinguishable from having the actual cartridge inserted. Or at least that’s the running theory; time will tell if bans will come for those who use it that way.

    In order to get to all of this functionality, you have to put the SX OS file on the root of your Switch’s microSD card, insert the included USB-C dongle into the charging port, and boot the Switch up into USB Recovery mode. Hackers discovered this is done by shorting two pins on the right Joy-Con slot, and then holding volume up and pressing the power button. This must be done while the power is off; sleep mode is not enough. The boot up tool supplied in the SX Pro kit shorts the pins exactly as needed; just take the right Joy-Con out, slide this thing in all the way, and you’re good to go. If it works as expected, your Switch should boot into a new menu that shows SX OS, stock firmware, or an options menu.

    The meat and potatoes is of course the SX OS, which allows you to do much of what was described above. The OS looks the same, until you try to use the Album. If you press ‘L’ while opening the Album, it works like it used to, and you get to see your game photos. If you just open the Album, it goes to a new screen where you get to choose which game ROM to load, and view (or register) the SX OS. It’s kind of crazy that software which allows users to violate license agreements has license key security (and you can buy more keys for more money) but sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The online activation for SX Pro users is quick and painless. To be clear, it’s one included license per SX Pro – if you want to share the dongle and use SX OS on more than one Switch, you need to buy the second license key.

    Team Xecuter SX Pro

    The options menu has a few interesting things, including the option to boot alternate payloads, which may come in handy as the homebrew and custom firmware (CFW) community keeps working on the Switch. Another interesting feature is the ability to force the Switch to bootup into USB Recovery mode every time, so you no longer need the boot up tool. It’s kind of dangerous though, because if you misplace the SX Pro dongle, you won’t be able to use that Switch again – unless you use another homebrew payload boot method, of which there are several, but none are nearly as convenient as the SX Pro. Some require a Windows or Linux machine, while others require an Android device with an OTG cable; either way, as cool as it is, I’m hesitant to make that change, myself.

    It is known that not all homebrew works, but most that is designed to work in the current Switch firmware version does. Quite a bit of homebrew was written back in the 3.0 firmware days, and most of that no longer works, but if it’s being kept up to date, it should work fine.

    Installing homebrew is done by putting the hbmenu.nro file in the root of the microSD card, and then creating a ‘switch’ directory to place homebrew into. The SX OS instruction manual does a decent job explaining how to do this, or at least point you in the right direction. If you plan on dumping your own games, or getting the most from this device, really, then I highly recommend you explore what homebrew is available.

    Once it was up and running, I tested dumping all eleven of my game cartridges using homebrew software. It took quite a while, but once it was completed, I then put all of the generated .xci files in the root of my microSD card. (I would personally prefer subdirectories, but it’s not the end of the world.) I then booted it back up, clicked Album, and voila – I had games to choose from. When choosing a game, the cartridge slot may no longer function properly, so it’s best to dump what you need and switch using the software as needed. When you combine the dumper and the homebrew file manager, you can actually dump games and play them without needing anything else, which is really nice. Moving files was a bit slow using the file manager though, so I preferred taking out the microSD on occasion, even if it meant I got to feel like a hacker and rerun the unique SX Pro boot process several times.

    I have to say, I am impressed with the SX Pro kit. Yes, there are moral and legal implications to consider, and as always, please do not steal game software. But the potential for homebrew is always exciting, and if you play only your legally owned personal game backups, it is quite nice and very convenient. As always, any time you go outside of the curated walled garden that the manufacturer wants you to live in, there may be weeds there, and you can incur the wrath of the gardener (in this case Nintendo). Please consider both the upsides and possibly severe downsides (like being banned from online play) that may come from climbing that fence. There may be vipers on the other side!

  • Toast Xbox One X Wood Cover

     

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    Hardware Info:

    Toast Xbox One X Wood Cover
    Developed by: Toast
    Price: $49.00-$79.00 (customized)

    Thank you Toast for sending us a customized bamboo Xbox One X cover to review!

    Toast began in 2012 after a successful Kickstarter campaign that enabled them to buy their first laser. They’re a small company that’s dedicated to quality products and the quality of life. Toast cares about our planet and only uses responsibly grown, rainforest friendly wood and bamboo. Their leather products come from American cattle, and everything is manufactured in Portland, Oregon. The company runs 100% on renewable energy and donates 1% of their net sales to environmental non-profits like: Native Fish Society • 350.org • Trees, Water, and People • Heifer International • Trees for the Future • charity:water.

    There’s a wide variety of items that they customize ranging from phones, tablets, consoles, laptops, and pint glasses. Even styluses can be customized by them! Not every item offered has reviews on it, but those that do have five-star ratings. After seeing the quality and simplicity of installing the Xbox One X cover, I can see why!

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Easy to install; looks great
    Weak Points: None!
    Moral Warnings: The word d*mn is on the packaging

    There are four wood types to choose from. If you want to maintain the dark appearance, you’ll want the ebony. Ash is the lightest option, with bamboo not being too much darker. If you want a classic brown wood, walnut is your best bet. The picture gallery shows off all of the color options and you can’t go wrong with any of them. In my opinion, the ebony is the hardest one to see any etchings on though.

    Applying the cover is simple and the whole process took me less than 10 minutes. An alcohol cleaning wipe is supplied so you can remove any dust and debris on your console beforehand. The trickiest part is a tossup between removing the tape backing and aligning the edges. I like how the corners have serrated edges that wrap around a little bit.

    All of the vents are open so you won’t have to worry about any air flow issues. Everything is aligned perfectly and easy to figure out for the most part. It was a little tricky determining which vented side went where, but the instructions clarified it.

    The pricing is very reasonable and for less than $50 you can get a console that stands out from the rest. Custom text can be added for $10 extra and if you want a bottom cover, that will set you back another $30. If you want a graphic or logo etches onto your console, it can be done for $79. During the checkout process you can upload your image and they will get back to you with a render to approve before they fire up the lasers. If all goes well, you’ll have your cover in a couple of days and installed a few minutes later. Prepare to be amazed and receive many compliments on your nicer looking console!

  • TrueBlue Mini Crackhead Pack 64GB (PlayStation Classic)

     

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    Hardware Info:

    TrueBlue Mini Crackhead Pack 64GB 
    Simplest way to add games to your PlayStation Classic - by far!
    Includes 64GB USB drive with 101 games preinstalled
    Includes USB 2.0 Hub, so 2-player games continue to work
    MSRP: $19.95 for 64GB versions, $17.45 for 32GB versions

    Thank you TrueBlue for sending us this TrueBlue Mini pack (available from flashcarda.com) to review!

    After the smashing successes of the NES Classic and SNES Classic from Nintendo, Sony decided to try their hand at reviving their original console for modern audiences also. So the PlayStation Classic arrived: 20 games, tiny box, two high-quality controllers, all for $99. Except that the game selection had people scratching their heads.

    Sony, in many ways, threw the collection together, seemingly without considering everything. For example, several of the games use the PAL 50Hz version, rather than the NTSC 60Hz version. This matters, because in the 50Hz versions, the game itself runs at 5/6 speed - and you can totally tell. One of the worst offenders is Tekken 3, which runs noticeably slow out of the box on PlayStation Classic (which I will sometimes call the PS Classic). Other issues include the strange selection of games, which excludes what are seemingly critical games in the PlayStation's (also called PS1) vast collection, while including others that were critically panned, or simply did not age well. (Not that the PS1's game catalogue isn't vast and fantastic, and narrowing down a list to 20 is a tall order, for sure.)

    Also like the NES and SNES Classic consoles, the PlayStation Classic has also attracted the attention of enterprising hackers. Like the aforementioned Nintendo systems, this Classic console was very quickly hacked wide open, and there are several excellent hacking tools to add your own games, or even emulators for other systems if you so desire.

    TrueBlue Mini Crackhead Pack 64GB
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Extremely simple, plug-and-play way to add more games
    Weak Points: Original 20 games shipped with the PS Classic are not available during use
    Moral Warnings: This device uses unlicensed games, so it's basically piracy

    As great as these things are, it is time to point out the obvious: most of these tools can easily be used to steal copyrighted software, otherwise known as piracy. I personally only put games on any hacked device that I own - if I have a digital or physical license in another format, I will sometimes 'format shift' that game to another device, often through hacking or emulation. I enjoy hacking just for the sake of seeing what I can do with something, often via the hard work of others. However, that is not quite what TrueBlue is offering here.

    What this USB stick is about, is most certainly the easiest way to add games to the PlayStation Classic. I can't imagine a way to make it any easier. You make sure the PS Classic is powered off, then you plug in the included USB hub and USB drive into the hub, and plug in controller two there as well if you wish (that's why the hub is included). I instinctively plugged them into the second controller USB port, though it turns out that may have been necessary for it to work.

    Once you turn on the PS Classic, it may take a bit longer than it would without the USB drive attached, and I found that sometimes it may even automatically launch a game you didn't tell it to. Once you exit out of the surprise game, you have in front of you a horizontal list of over one hundred games (101, to be exact). The interface looks exactly like the stock twenty game list, just with lots more. It works pretty much just like you would expect it to - all of the games support saves, save states, and so on, just like on the stock PS Classic games list. Speaking of which, the default list of games are not accessible while running with the TrueBlue Mini attached. Fortunately, it's a quick reboot and plug/unplug to switch between the games on the TrueBlue Mini, and the stock list.

    The list of games is quite extensive, so rather than listing them all out here, it might be easier to just link to TrueBlue's homepage. You can see their game list here.

    TrueBlue Mini Crackhead Pack 64GB

    Speaking of the stock games, a few of them on the Crackhead Pack are duplicates of variants of the versions included out of the box. For example, the stock version of Resident Evil is the director's cut; this device includes the original version. Tekken 3, which runs so poorly out of the box, is included in its NTSC 60Hz glory in this collection. Strangely, Syphon Filter is also included here, which appears to be exactly the same as the game included in the stock firmware.

    As an aside, I noticed that the stick is formatted ext4, which should be familiar to any Linux lovers out there. So, if you have a Linux computer available, it should be fairly easy to figure out how the stick works, and perhaps even try to add a few more games. I did not want to experiment with what we were asked to review, but there is a small amount of unformatted space left on the USB drive, so it may be possible to expand the storage to the full amount and add a small number of additional games.

    The selection already included on the Crackhead Pack is truly excellent. They also offer other packs, including the Meth Pack and Fight Pack, with is a smaller (32GB) collection of wonderful fighting games. The PS1 had a truly staggering selection of fighting games on it, so it's nice to see one of the official collections including them. This one, the Crackhead Pack, has everything from racing to platformers (more 3D than 2D), lots of fighting, and a great selection of RPGs. While there is always room for more, I am quite pleased with the games offered here. Twenty games taken from this list would likely offer a more well-rounded selection than what Sony provided out of the box on the PS Classic.

    Unfortunately, it has to be said again, that it is extremely unlikely that you will own all one-hundred and one games in this collection in some other format. I have more games than most, and I own a good 20% of what is listed. But it's still unlikely for anyone to have them all. So, what does this mean? You can't get around it - this device enables piracy, there are no two ways about it. Maybe pirating 20+ year old games doesn't matter to you, but that's the moral and legal risks you take when purchasing a device like this.

    If adding new games to your PlayStation Classic is of utmost priority to you, and sailing the high seas isn't a big problem, then it's easy to recommend this piracy stick. On top of the Crackhead Pack reviewed here, there is also a 64GB Meth Pack with another list of 101 games, and a 32GB Fight Pack that has an excellent selection of fighting games on it. The prices are also excellent, with the two 64GB collections at $19.95 each, and the 32GB pack is $17.45. The TrueBlue Mini Crackhead Pack 64GB (and, presumably, the other packs as well) is a high-quality, incredibly easy to use product for adding more games to the PS Classic with possibly the easiest installation method possible - just plug it in.

  • TrueBlue Mini Genesis Ultradrive

     

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    Hardware Info:

    TrueBlue Mini Genesis Ultradrive 
    Compatible with Sega Genesis Mini
    Simple way to add games to your Sega Genesis Mini
    Includes USB drive with 813 games
    Includes USB 2.0 Hub, so 2-player games continue to work
    MicroUSB cable included for software installation
    MSRP: $32.99

    Thank you TrueBlue for sending us this TrueBlue Mini Genesis Ultradrive to review!

    I very recently reviewed the Sega Genesis Mini. It's a really nice mini console, in the vein of the NES and SNES Classics from Nintendo, with a decent library of forty-two classic games. I never felt like the gaming collection was too limiting; sure, there are some notable games missing, but after all, forty-two is the answer to life, the universe, and everything. (If you don't get that reference, it's time to read a book!)

    Nevertheless, many of you who had a Genesis when you were younger, or have a significant cartridge collection, may want many more games on their Mini. While some utilities exist to hack your console yourself, you do have to rip (or download) the ROM files for the games you own, and go through the semi-technical process of uploading or downloading the flash ROM, and so on. TrueBlue makes all of this really easy. And, you don't have to worry about searching for any games, because the entire Sega Genesis library is here - not including add-ons, like the Master System cartridge reader, the Sega CD or the 32X. This includes Japan-only games. (It appears that US releases were prioritized when a game was released in multiple regions, but I don't know that Genesis' library well enough to be able to prove that one way or the other. At least that appears to be the case with English as the chosen language.)

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Adds 813 games to your console; you can boot back to the original firmware with a secret button combination
    Weak Points: If you saved the game using the original console, they are lost when using the TrueBlue Mini Genesis; each page-worth of games has its own separate settings; you have to modify your console with a tool to use it; it won't boot up with the USB drive disconnected unless you change boot modes
    Moral Warnings: This device uses unlicensed games, so it's basically piracy

    To install the TrueBlue Mini Genesis and be able to use it, you need to have a computer; Windows, Mac, or Linux are supported. You are instructed to download a utility that will install a driver so you can flash your Sega Genesis Mini with the included tool. Be aware that you are modifying the console, so chances or receiving support from Sega after this point is very slim. Warranties are likely void, as well. With that said, if you follow the instructions exactly as shown on the screen, it's unlikely you will have a major issue. You will need to use the included MicroUSB cable, as the one that comes with the Genesis Mini apparently is only good for power, and not data.

    Once the software has been installed on your Genesis Mini, you will no longer be able to use it unless the TrueBlue Mini Genesis Ultradrive is connected to the first USB port. That is, unless you change the boot mode. If you hold down the reset button while turning it on, after five seconds, it will change the boot mode to original, rather than the Ultradrive. Incidentally, this is the only way to access any saves that might have been made before converting the system to use the TrueBlue, as they are all lost, even when specifically running the Genesis Mini category. It will keep booting up this way until you hold the button when powering it up again, which flips it back to the Ultradrive again.

    The way this works is that there are six tiles across horizontally, and two rows per screen, and you can scroll down depending on how many tiles there are in that category. So, the main menu has 'Genesis Mini (USA)', 'Mega Drive Mini (Asia)', 'Mega Drive Mini (Euro)', and 'Mega Drive Mini (Japan)' that includes clones of each regions' Mini consoles, so you can check out what everyone got. After that, there are eight other categories, of every single Genesis game ever released, divided into groups of one hundred and two games each (6x17), all in alphabetical order. You can choose to view each group in other orders, but they are sorted into those alphabetical groups. (The last group is three games short of the full list of games, so it has ninety-nine in it.)

    TrueBlue Mini Genesis Ultradrive

    As a result, it's actually not too difficult to find what you want if you know the game's title, while each group of just over one hundred is a decent amount of games to sort through without getting lost. It's a pretty good system they devised. It also reuses the interface that Sega/M2 originally made with the Genesis Mini, which I think is great. Some hacks simply install RetroArch; as great as that is, it's not really the point on consoles like these.

    I also found it interesting that each and every game includes a short text description of it, just like with the forty-two games included on the Mini itself. I wonder if someone at TrueBlue took the effort to fill out that information, or if it came from another source. Either way, it's a nice touch.

    Morally, this collection has every game on the system ever released. There is no way that I can possibly tell you what every game includes. I do know that the games included are unlicensed, so by purchasing this product, you are most likely engaging in software piracy. Maybe pirating 30 year old games doesn't matter to you, but it's the moral and legal risks you take when purchasing a device like this.

    If you are not happy with the collection of forty-two games that were already included with the Sega Genesis Mini, and sailing the high seas isn't a big problem, then it's easy to recommend this piracy stick. It includes every game ever released, and installing the software is pretty easy to do, outside of a very small risk of bricking your console. Exploring its menus, I learned about games I didn't know existed on Sega Genesis, and unless you're a video game historian, you likely will also.

  • Vufine

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    Game Info:

    Vufine
    Developed by: Vufine
    Release date: July 2015
    Price: $149
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Vufine for sending us a review sample!

    Google Glass is no more, but the concept was great.  The two things that killed Google Glass were its price and privacy concerns with the built-in camera functionality.  Vufine solves both of those problems but has some flaws of its own.  Unlike the Google Glass, the Vufine is not wireless and unless you want a cord in front of your face, you have to use it on your right eye.  The biggest advantage of the Vufine is its reasonable price of $149 which was 10% of the cost of Google Glass.  While the Google Glass looked better, it certainly wasn’t worth $1,500.

    Vufine can be worn with glasses or with a headband if you want a techy Rambo look.  If you don’t wear prescription glasses, there’s a non-prescription pair included.  Sadly, the plastic frames aren’t of the highest quality and came with one temple/arm much looser than the other.  If you have wire-frame glasses, there’s a stabilizer to help secure the magnetic Vufine dock onto the thinner temple.

    Vufine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Cheaper and more welcome alternative to Google Glass
    Weak Points: Wired; Not compatible with Samsung S6/S7 or any phone lacking MHL support; blurry text; looks tacky

    The Vufine is rather light, but it will weigh down your glasses a bit.  The docking station is seven grams and the Vufine is twenty-six grams.  Some of that weight is from the built-in battery that lasts about ninety minutes and takes the same amount of time to fully charge the unit.  You can use the device while it’s charging.  What’s one more wire, right?

    Since the Vufine does not have an operating system of its own, it’s setup through the device it’s plugged into as a secondary display.  It worked flawlessly with my laptop and I was able to set it as a secondary monitor and set the resolution to 1280 X 720 (default), 1176 X 664, or 800 X 600.  The Vufine's screen appears to be 4:3, but because of the 720 resolution it cuts off a little bit.  

    The roughly 1-inch screen worked well with large fonts, but smaller fonts were blurry and illegible.  I’m sure it would be fine for watching funny cat videos at work with headphones and nobody would be the wiser!  

    Other fitting uses could be a viewfinder for a Go Pro or any type of camera.  If you have a smartphone that supports HDMI it can be great for GPS navigation or for playing Pokemon Go.  Android users should take note that the Samsung S6 and S7 phones no longer support MHL so the Vufine or upcoming Vufine+ devices WILL NOT work.  As an S7 owner I was not able to use my GPS or Pokemon Go on my bicycle or walking.  Driving with the device operational is considered illegal.

    In the end, the Vufine is a neat concept, but since the mobile functionality is not there for me and the millions of other Samsung 6/7 owners I have a difficult time recommend this device or it successor the Vufine+.  IPhone owners should be fine as long as they have a lightning adapter.  Since the text is blurry and hard to read I don’t plan on using this with my laptop unless I have something to hide (which I don’t).

  • Wyze Cam

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    Game Info:

    Wyze Cam
    Specifications:
    2.8mm focal length
    110º wide angle lens
    8X digital zoom
    1080p Full HD
    Motion Tagging
    Night Vision
    $19.99

    Thank you Wyze Labs for sending us a review sample!

    The Wyze Cam is an affordable home security camera that lets you monitor your house and inhabitants via a phone app. Through the app you can snap pictures, record video, listen, and speak through the camera. My kids got a kick out of hearing me describing their actions and talking to them from another part of the house.

    Inside of the box is a quick setup guide, the camera, a magnetic wall mount with paint-friendly adhesive, a USB cable, and a charging base. Setting up the camera took a little more effort than I anticipated. Before you begin, you should set up a free Wyze account and download the mobile app to your Android or iOS tablet/phone. An e-mail activation code will have to be typed into the app to complete the account setup process.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Affordable; easy to use; free rolling cloud storage
    Weak Points: Wireless setup isn’t clear

    The next step is binding the camera to your Wyze account. To link the camera you’ll have to press the setup button for a couple of seconds until it says that it’s ready to connect. In the app you’ll need to set up the Wi-Fi access. Our Wi-Fi network name was filled in yet grayed out and I was adding the password and having difficulty connecting. Once I manually typed in both the network name and password it connected quickly. I like how a QR code is generated from the information and shown to the camera to configure it. If the device loses power for a short period of time, it will still remember the connection information.

    During the daytime the video feed is in color and supports 1080p HD resolution. SD viewing is possible as well. The 8X zoom is pretty nice and lets you focus in on background movement. The motion tagging works really well for humans, but it didn’t pick up my senior dog’s subtle movement while laying in the nearby chair. If you have an SD card in the camera it can record video and allow you to watch playback footage. Time lapse recording also requires an SD card.

    Manually recording and saving photos and videos is possible thanks to the 14-day free cloud storage. You can view your recorded videos and view your photos in the album section of the app. From the album you can also share the recorded media to e-mail or social media accounts.
    The app also allows you to send phone alerts for motion, sound, smoke, and CO alarm sound detection. The notifications can be sent all day or on a specific schedule.

    For the reasonable price of $20, this little camera can do a lot. If you have a spare SD card laying around it can do even more. If you’re looking for an inexpensive home security solution or the ability to yell at your spouse or kids remotely, the Wyze Cam is worth looking into.

  • Zeskit USB-C to HDMI Cable

     

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    Hardware Info:

    Zeskit USB-C to HDMI Cable
    USB Type-C to HDMI Cable, connecting iPad Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro (w/ USB-C port) and more to monitor, TV or projector which has HDMI port. Both video and audio are delivered.
    Up to 4K 60Hz backed by latest powerful Parade chip, utilizing DP Alternate Mode. Meets HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2, DP 1.4 standards.
    6.5 feet long (2 meters)
    Gold-plated connectors
    2 Year Warranty
    MSRP: $18.95
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Zeskit for sending us this cable to review!

    I have way too many devices and gadgets, and I have virtually every combination of source to destination port imaginable in my house. I have monitors with DisplayPort, miniDP, HDMI, DVI, VGA, and probably some older formats if I look hard enough. I also have lots of different devices with all kinds of form factors, like desktops, laptops, microPCs, game consoles, and even a Mac work laptop. As such, when I was offered an opportunity to check out a USB-C to HDMI cable, I jumped at the chance.

    It turns out that I have two devices that support display output over USB-C. The first is my gaming desktop, with a NVIDIA RTX 2080 Ti. The other is my GPD Win 2. (My MSI laptop has a USB-C port sitting there right next to my HDMI port, but it doesn't actually do any video out there. It's just a USB port sitting in a conspicuous place.) After doing much testing (and talking to other GPD Win 2 owners), it appears that the Win 2 only supports 4K@30Hz with a USB-C to HDMI adapter or cable; if you want more than that, you need a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter or cable. What a shame. However, it does support 1080p@60Hz, 1440p@60Hz, and the aforementioned 30Hz modes. Thankfully, my RTX card does support 4K video modes over USB-C, so the testing can continue!

    zeskit

    The HDMI port from this cable comes from an embedded DisplayPort uplink in the USB-C connector in the GPU, rather than a direct HDMI port. So, from my RTX card it does work, but there appears to be a small mismatch in how video modes are negotiated between the two technologies. (I tested another USB-C to HDMI adapter box and it has the same issue, so I don't think it's the fault of the cable.) In the NVIDIA control panel, connected to my 4K monitor, I do see a full 4K (3840x2160) signal, at 60Hz. The only 'gotcha' is that the color spaces available are RGB and YCbCr422, rather than the full YCbCr444. What this means in practice is that the display must support HDR over RGB if you want to use HDR; my Acer 4K monitor supports this but many 4K televisions do not. So, full pixel color info + HDR support is technically present, but is dependent on what the display can support. (For those not aware, anything less than RGB or YCbCr444 will result in color distortions for some image types, especially on things like text over a PC input.)

    It is entirely possible that devices other than what I have available to test can support the optimal YCbCr444 + HDR mode for some televisions. I just don't have anything available right now that does.

    zeskit

    The quality of the cable is top notch, and it feels like it will last many bends and uses. As mentioned, it has gold-plated connectors, so it looks as good as it feels in use.

    I am very pleased with the Zeskit USB-C to HDMI Cable. It looks good, feels good, and works well where I tested it. What more can you ask for?

  • ZMI PowerPack 20000 Portable Power Bank

     

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    Hardware Info:

    ZMI PowerPack 20000 Portable Power Bank
    Specifications:
    AC Adapter (model AD03Z)
    Single USB Type-C connector
    PD 2.0 compliant
    Qualcomm QC 3.0 compliant
    Supports 5V/9V/12V/15V/20V output
    45W max output
    $19.95
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Power Bank (model QB820)
    20,000 mAh capacity
    1x USB Type-C I/O port
    2x USB 2.0 Type-A ports
    USB Hub mode
    4 LED charge status lights
    USB-C PD 2.0 compliant
    Qualcomm QC 3.0 compliant
    Supports 5V/9V/12V/15V/20V output
    45W max output
    $69.95
    (Amazon Affilaite Link)

    Thank you ZMI for sending us the PowerPack and PowerPlug to review!

    Like most modern techies, I have lots and lots of battery powered devices. These include my phone, various game consoles like the 3DS, Vita, and Switch, as well as portable PCs like the GPD Win. Juggling them all as battery continuously drops with use can be tricky if you don’t top them up all the time (which is bad for their batteries anyway). So, when we were offered the opportunity to review a power bank, I jumped at the chance.

    The primary devices I used to test this with were my Samsung S7 Edge, my GPD Win, and I also tested with my Nintendo Switch. On Monday, I decided I would not charge any of my devices on anything else until the power bank was low. So, rather than plugging my phone into my car charger, I decided to just bring the power bank with me to work. That day I used it as I normally do and I found that my phone was at around 30% as I was leaving work. I plugged my phone into the charger, and I was pleased the fast charging notification displayed on my phone. As such, it charged very quickly and was fully charged when I got home. That night, without thinking, I put my phone in my wireless charger to keep it topped up overnight, thereby violating my intentions, but I wasn’t done with the thing just yet.

    On Tuesday, I decided I would not make that mistake again; I continued to use only the power bank. I used it quite a bit that morning, and that day at work when my phone was 25% full, I charged it with the PowerPack once again and it worked great and then left it unplugged the rest of the day. I made sure it was full before bed, and left both the phone and the bank unplugged all night.

    On the third day, I decided I would give this power bank a little bit more to do. So, while using my phone as normal, I decided to start using my GPD Win that day. It actually has quite a bit of battery life, and takes quite a few hours to drain. But I knew from experience that draining it to zero is not good for any device, so once it was down to 25% I powered it off.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of battery capacity; Sleek design; Great connectivity; USB Hub mode is a nice touch; Nice, short cables with a built-in adapter
    Weak Points: Quick charge doesn’t work with multiple devices connected; USB Hub mode is only 2.0

    When it was time for bed, I gave the power bank the ultimate challenge: multiple devices while trickle charging all night. I plugged my phone in, as well as my GPD Win, which uses a USB-C connection; it was then that I noticed that the power bank cannot do fast charging with more than one device connected. Despite this, it was able to charge both my phone and my GPD Win at the same time. GPD Wins are notoriously difficult to charge, as only the highest quality chargers will work with them. I was very pleased to find that everything was charging.

    I knew that having it run all night is difficult on any power source, because it not only has to charge the battery, but it also has to keep the device(s) running all night. I was more than pleased when I woke up the next morning and found not only two fully charged devices, but that the power bank wasn’t completely dead either. Being one to baby my batteries, I just decided at that point, after checking the status lights and seeing only one of four left, that this device passed my testing with flying colors.

    The power bank also charged fairly quickly with ZMI’s PowerPlug Turbo A/C adapter that they supplied. According to the specifications, the PowerPack charges in 3.8 hours with a 5-20V USB PD 45W adapter, in 5.5 hours with a 9V/2A or 12V/1.5A adapter, and in 8.7 hours with a 5V/2A power adapter. These charge times are actually quite excellent, and the ~4 hours to charge the power bank mirrors my experience, though I did not time it. The power bank does not come with an A/C adapter, but it does include both a USB-A to C cable, as well as a USB-A to Micro-B cable, which includes a C adapter, so it can be used with either. The Type-C port on the power bank is an input and output port, so you use that to charge the bank itself, or it can also be used to charge other devices. The Type-A ports can only be used for charging, unless you’re talking about the USB Hub mode.

    Since you’re carrying this svelte brick-like device with USB ports in it, it was really a great idea for the designers to decide to add this Hub mode as well. I decided to test out the Hub mode with two different devices: my GPD Win and my MSI gaming laptop. The GPD Win didn’t seem to work correctly when connected through the USB-C port, because it would keep charging the device, instead of working as a hub. It did work as a hub when connected to my GPD’s USB-A port with the included cable, though. However, with my MSI laptop, which is not powered through the type C port, it worked perfectly as a USB hub. I was able to connect drives and even my phone and the system was able to see it. My phone was also charging when connected to the power bank. I am unsure if the power bank was being charged at this time or not. Even so, having a USB hub available in a pinch is quite handy.

    The ZMI PowerPlug Turbo power supply they included (which is sold separately) also included a Type-C to Type-C cable. It charged the power bank perfectly and fairly quickly, and supports the USB PD 2.0 power delivery specification. That means it can supply several different voltages as high as 20V based on whatever the device requires. 45 watts is a fair amount of power, and some small and thin laptops will work just fine off of it. It’s a no-frills power block that does what you need it to; what more could you ask for?

    I recently received the GPD Win 2, and both the PowerPlug and the PowerPack work perfectly.  These products are highly recommended for GPD Win 2 owners.

    The ZMI PowerPack 20,000 USB power bank met and exceeded my expectations. It looks nice, feels nice, does not get hot during use or charging, and powered my devices perfectly. I was impressed with how long it lasted, even during my stress testing. Last year, I went to a tech conference for work in another state, and I had a hard time keeping my phone charged. I sure wish I had this power bank with me then, and next time I will. If you have plans on being away from the grid for a while, this power bank is a perfect companion. Highly recommended!

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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