THICC GBA SP Mod Gets Easy Install Ahead Of Release

Back in August we covered a unique modification for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance SP which replaced the handheld’s rear panel with an expanded version that had enough internal volume for an upgraded battery, a Bluetooth audio transmitter, and support for both Qi wireless and USB-C charging. The downside was that getting the 10 mm 3D printed “backpack” installed wasn’t exactly the most user-friendly operation.

But today we’re happy to report that the dream team behind the so-called THICC BOI SP have not only made some huge improvements to the mod, but that they intend to release it as a commercial kit in the next few months. The trick to making this considerable upgrade a bit more forgiving is the use of a bespoke flat flex cable that easily allows the user to solder up all the necessary test points and connections, as well as a custom PCB that pulls together all the hardware required.

In the video below, [Tito] of Macho Nacho Productions goes over the latest version of the mod he’s been working on with [Kyle] and [Helder], and provides a complete step-by-step installation tutorial to give viewers an idea of what they’ll be in for once the kit goes on sale. While it’s still a fairly involved modification, the new design is surprisingly approachable. As we’ve seen with previous console modifications, the use of flat flex technology means the installation shouldn’t pose much of a challenge for anyone with soldering experience.

The flat flex cable allows for an exceptionally clean install.

Some may be put off by the fact that the replacement rear panel is even thicker this time around, but hopefully the unprecedented runtime made possible by the monstrous 4,500 mAh LiPo battery pack hiding inside the retrofit unit will help ease any discomfort (physical or otherwise) you may have from carrying around the chunkier case. Even with power-hungry accouterments like an aftermarket IPS display and a flash cart, the new battery can keep your SP running for nearly 20 hours. If you still haven’t beaten Metroid: Zero Mission by then, it’s time to take a break and reflect on your life anyway.

According to [Tito], the logistical challenges and considerable upfront costs involved in getting the new rear panels injection molded in ABS is the major roadblock holding the release of the kit back right now. The current prototypes, which appear to have been 3D printed in resin, simply don’t match the look and feel of the GBA SP’s original case well enough to be a viable option. A crowd funding campaign should get them over that initial hump, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for more updates as things move along towards production.

The previous version of this mod was impressive enough as a one-off project, but we’re excited to see the team taking the next steps towards making this compelling evolution of the GBA more widely available. It’s a fantastic example of what’s possible for small teams, or even individuals, when you leverage all the tools in the modern hardware hacking arsenal.

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Game Boy Advance SP Case Mod Adds Battery Capacity And Modern Interfaces

While there’s nothing quite like running retro games on their original hardware, using older consoles in today’s day and age can be a hassle due to incompatibilities with modern chargers and headphones. [tito] and [kyle] worked together to update Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance SP with a whole bunch of new features, tightly packed inside a 3D-printed replacement backshell. (Video, embedded below.)

The original 600 mAh battery has been replaced with a 1600 mAh pack for several hours of additional screen time. A Qi standard wireless power module as well as a USB-C connector allows charging the battery without carrying the original mains adapter. A Bluetooth module enables the use of wireless headphones, and a 3.5 mm jack enables classic earbuds as well, a feature lost when the SP replaced the original GBA.

The new backshell fits exactly on the original console, making it about 10 mm thicker. Although this makes it slightly less portable, it is apparently more comfortable to hold for those with big hands. The new functionality is implemented using off-the-shelf circuit boards, connected together with flying wires that are soldered to the required points on the GBA’s circuit board. The original connectors and switches remain in place and functional, and the entire operation can be undone if you want to return the device to its original state.

Others have added USB charging to the original GBA, or even stretched that handheld to become twice as wide. But adding significant new functionality previously required replacing the handheld’s entire contents.

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A Wii Playing The GameCube, Disguised As A Game Boy SP

It may be hard to believe, but thanks to the expert work of Nintendo aficionado [Bill Paxton], the Game Boy Advance SP and GameCube lovechild that you see before you started its life as a Wii. That means not only can it play commercial GameCube and Wii games, but also has access to the wide library of homebrew games and emulators available for those systems.

To create this marvel, [Bill] first had to expertly cut away extraneous components from the Wii’s motherboard. He then mated the “trimmed” PCB to a new board that holds the controls as well as some other ancillary components such as the audio amplifier and USB port. He even managed to squeeze a battery in there, as demonstrated in the video after the break.

Finally, he designed a 3D printed enclosure that incorporates GameCube-style controls (complete with printed buttons) into the classic clamshell Game Boy SP shape. Because of the complexity of the design, [Bill] decided to have it professionally printed at Shapeways rather than trying to run it off of his home printer, which he says helps sells the professional look. It did take him some trial and error before he got the hang of painting the printed material to his satisfaction, but we think the end result was certainly worth the effort.

It probably won’t come as a huge surprise to find that this isn’t the first time [Bill] has pulled off a stunt like this. A few years back he created a very similar “GameCube SP”, but by the looks of it, this revised attempt improves on the original version in every way possible.

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Game Boy Advance SP in ECG device

Game Boy Advance Hiding In A Medical Device

It turns out that medical manufacturers also do hacking once in a while. [JanHenrikH] recently tweeted a photo of an ECG-Trigger-Unit that he’d opened up. Inside he found that the LCD screen was that of a Game Boy Advance (GBA) and the reason he could tell was that the screen’s original case was still there, complete with GAME BOY ADVANCE SP written on it.

In the manufacturer’s defense, this device was likely made around the year 2000 when gaming products were some of the best sources for high speed, high quality, small LCDs displays.  This design document for a portable ECG measurement instrument from as recently as 2013 cites reasons for using a GBA as:

  • impressive plotting results,
  • no serious transmission delays, and
  • fine graphics processing capability.

The Verge had even turned up this US patent from 1997 that has the diagnostic medical device be a cartridge for plugging into a Game Boy. At the time, PCs were frequently used for medical displays but this patent cites issues such as the higher cost of PCs, software installation issues, and crashing. However, they talk about the crashing being due to running word processing and spreadsheet software on the same PC, something not likely to happen if the PC is dedicated to bedside monitoring.

But despite all those pros, wouldn’t you feel surprise and alarm when you first glimpse the Game Boy inside the device that’s monitoring your heart? We also have to wonder what licensing these products went through in the countries in which they were used. This particular device was made by German company Medical Imaging Electronics.

Game Boy hacks aren’t limited to the medical industry though. Here on Hackaday, we’ve seen them turned into remote controls for flying drones and we’ve seen Game Boy cartridge emulators that use STM32. Finally, if you’re wondering where you saw [Jan Henrik]’s name before, he was one of the two hackers driving the motorized armchair in a photo in our [Jenny List]’s SHACamp 2017 write-up.

Our thanks to [geonomad] for the tip!

The Smallest Portable Pi

What do you get when you take an extremely small Raspberry Pi clone and stuff it inside a Game Boy Advance SP? We don’t know what to call it, but it’s probably one of the best portable gaming machines ever made, able to run emulators ranging from the Apple II to playing Quake III natively on a tiny flip-top display.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [frostedfires]’ work on a tiny system stuffed into a Game Boy. The initial post on this build over on the bacman forums just covered the basics – getting an Odroid W up and running, and putting Quake III on the tiny display. Now that the build is complete, we can get a look at what it takes to turn a Raspberry Pi clone into one of the smallest portable projects we’ve ever seen.

Using a Raspi clone as the only component in a tiny portable emulation station isn’t possible, so [frostefires] added a few other bits of electronics to make everything work. There’s a joystick from a PSP in there to work as the mouse, a few extra buttons in addition to the stock Game Boy ones, A USB hub, WiFi adapter, speaker and amplifier, a battery and the related charging electronics, and a Teensy 3.1 to handle all the input.

It’s a very impressive build that can run emulators ranging from the Apple II to later generation Nintendo consoles and handhelds (including the Game Boy Advance), but since the HDMI connector is availble on the outside of the case, [frostedfires] can also use this as a tiny, portable media center. Check out the video below to see this Game Boy in action, playing Mario Kart and 1080p video.

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