Linux on a Leapster for Classic Video Game Emulation

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.

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Leapster Explorer continues the Didj tradition

Leapfrog has a new device out called the Leapster Explorer. [The Moogle] has been poking around the insides and he patched into the serial bus to get USB host mode running. Because the same cartridge interface is used for the Didj and the Explorer, tools like the DJHI should continue to work. The $70 price tag makes this a no-brainer if you interested in doing some portable hacking. We’ve seen promising Didj hacks such as OpenGL and Video out, hopefully the new hardware will help advance the cause.

DIDJ composite video out

[Nirvous] managed to get composite video out working on the DIDJ. He knew that the CPU had the ability to generate the signal, and that similar devices already had this capability. After studying some DIDJ teardowns he figured out which connection on the processor should provide the appropriate signal. Next was the firmware side of things and after sifting through a lot of code he was pleased to find a flag that looked like it would enable video out. Some cross-compiling, soldering, and a low-pass filter got it to work.

If you’ve been hacking around on the device you might try this. The CPU uses a ball grid array so soldering is a bit difficult. We covered a BGA soldering trick that might be just the thing so check it out before you retreat into your soldering-fortress of solitude.

Leapfrog DIDJ

Since we first mentioned the Leapfrog DIDJ, a lot has happened. A number of avid readers of Hack a Day teamed up with a couple hackers experienced with the DIDJ, and have managed to make some huge progress into making a linux based game console on the cheap. For all the readers who missed out on the last sale on Woot, its about time for a second chance.

The team working over at the HackerFoundry forum have managed to gain serial console access, map the file system, create a fake update server, and are almost at a point where replacing the stock OS and firmware can be done with software alone. They have also designed and tested a homebrew cartridge with a slot for a microSD card and breakouts for expansion and debugging.

Right now they are looking for someone with experience snooping USB protocols to figure out how the device communicates to the computer, as well as anyone who is interesting in just testing or playing around with what they have done so far. There are a number of tutorials and walk-throughs on the eLinux wiki. Its amazing how far this group has come in just two months.

Leapfrog Didj: Handheld Linux on the Cheap

Today our good friends over at Woot! are selling the Leapfrog Didj, a low cost educational toy aimed at little kids. Lucky for hackers out there, the Didj is actually a linux device, and gaining serial console access is as easy as soldering two wires. The documentation out there is a little outdated, with a number of broken links and stale wikis, but $25 for a portable linux device is a hard deal to beat. A list of sites which might be helpful are listed after the break, as well as the hardware specs of the Didj.

Let us know if you have played around with hacking the Didj before, and if you have any tips for other readers. Don’t forget to tell us what you do with the Didj as well!

Thanks to [Mark] for the tips and the hardware details.

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