Linux on a Leapster for Classic Video Game Emulation

leapster

Christmas is coming, and if you have nieces, nephews, or ankle biters of your own roaming your house, you’re probably wondering how you’ll be subsidizing Santa this year. it looks like Toys R Us will be selling the Leapfrog LeapsterGS for $30 on Black Friday this year. It’s a Linux device running on a 550 MHz ARM 9, with 128 MB of RAM and 2 GB of Flash. Overpowered for a children’s toy, but perfect for when the kids forget about it in a month, because now you can replace the firmware with a proper Linux install and run classic emulators.

Putting Linux on these cheap handhelds made for children isn’t anything new; we’ve seen it done with the Leapfrog DIDJ and the Leapfrog Explorer. Those consoles, however, had rather anemic CPUs and not a whole lot of RAM. Moore’s Law finally kicked in for stocking stuffers, it seems, and the Leapster GS is powerful enough to play all those Nintendo, Game Boy and even MAME games.

All that’s needed to flash the new firmware is soldering a few wires onto the LeapsterGS’ board for a serial connection. The new LeapsterGS firmware even has an MP3 and movie player, so even if the recipient of one of these machines grows tired of it in a week, there’s still a lot of life left in it.

Video of the LeapsterGS playing the greatest arcade game below.

Comments

  1. mixadj says:

    You too can relive all those memories of being one of the few with an N-Gage. Just spray paint it black…..

  2. I have been waiting for this for EVER. My daughters each have a Leappad 2, which is an embedded Linux platform, but is heavily locked down. I was afraid to try and tap out the serial connection on it, but now that I see someone else has done it, I believe I know exactly which pins to use. And now that I know it’s possible, I’m more interested than ever.

    Files created, etc? I want to let it run the original system, but with capability for USB host mode and more.

    • reggie says:

      nothing leapfrog have done as a kids console could ever be called heavily locked down, if you ask them nicely, they’ll send you a copy of all of their non-proprietary source code.

      Either way, with the work that mike has done, it should be simple enough to boot the rootfs entirely from an SD card leaving teh stock machine intact.

  3. mikewolak says:

    >>Files created, etc? I want to let it run the original system, but with capability for USB host mode and more.

    This is an entire operating system replacement, there’s no chance it will run the stock Leapfrog apps – at least not in it’s current state. USB host mode still exists in both the bootloader ( that’s how you reflash it ) and in the running OS. There’s 2 kernel modules that handle USB connectivity, one which presents it as a mass storage device and another which presents usb connection as an ethernet adapter.

  4. Hirudinea says:

    When I was a kid we had yoyos, I was so deprived. :(

  5. MRE says:

  6. boondaburrah says:

    Yeah I remember when this happened with the Leapfrog Didj. That one didn’t really get anywhere for some reason though. I believe there was doom, some NeHe tutorial ports, and then once someone got a GBA emulator working it was all over. (not to mention that in order for the GBA emulator to have enough RAM to run you had to disable 3d acceleration) (not bitter I swear)

    The problem with these cheap or open linux handheld gaming devices is that their design is never that great. Either they’re leapfrogs bubble-made-for-kids huge, or they should have a sticker that says “danger: designed by programmers.” Basically this boils down to either it won’t fit in my pocket, or the buttons are placed in ways that I don’t think would be comfortable to hit.

  7. Yeah but when you’re all done, can it run as a Tor relay? I’m running Orbot on a Nook Color Nook running CyanogenMod. A $30 Leapfrog is cheaper than Nook Color.

  8. Chris says:

    Can anyone post a link to how to upload the rootfs to the Leapster? I have read a lot about it and gotten OpenLFConnect up and running… and the serial port console access but am new to some aspects of this? Thanks.

  9. Friv says:

    Cool device ;)

  10. AnonymousBosch says:

    It appears this scene is mostly dead. ARE THERE NO CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS ANYWHERE ON HOW TO FLASH THIS DEVICE?

    I tried flashing the kernel.bin and erootfs.ubi using OpenLFConnect on a Leapster GS identical to the one shown in the above:

    http://www.epromfoundry.com/home/?page_id=974

    To get OpenLFConnect to work, I needed a slightly old linux distribution so I used Knoppix 7.2. (There is something wrong with scsi, udev, or the mtd-utils in current Linux Mint.)

    I used the instructions found here:

    https://rfpoweramp.wordpress.com/2013/11/24/mame-on-the-leapstergs/

    After Flashing is just gets stuck at the “Waiting for Tuneup” screen with the exclamation point in a triangle and arrows suggesting I plug the device back in. It is not bricked: I can still surgeon_boot and use dftp_update to restore the original firmware.

    I would post my comments to epromfoundry.com but I can’t log into it. (It seems to be part of the wordpress cartel. Whatever, I signed up but still can’t post a comment there.)

    I did not find elinux.org all that useful because there are no specific, step-by-step examples on specific devices of how to flash and how to upload files. The two blogs are pretty much all I can find that is of any use.

    • ChrisJ says:

      I managed to get a video uploaded to a leappad2 we picked up for $20, but I have yet to get any other things accomplished yet.. I also found an explorer 1 for $10 which I started to dig into. I have not had very much time to really mess with it, but from what I used (openlfconnect) I was able to upload and download files as well as navigate the filesystem on the device through usb. I was hoping there was a way to add emulator functionality while still maintaining the oem build but I will see.

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