When the Game Boy Advance came on the scene in 2001, it was a pretty big deal. The 32-bit handheld represented the single biggest upgrade the iconic Game Boy line had ever received, not only in terms of raw processing power, but overall design. It would set the state-of-the-art in portable gaming for years, and Nintendo was eager to get developers on board.
Which could explain why the official GBA development kit, recently shown off by [Hard4Games], looks like something that was built in a hackerspace. It’s pretty common for console development systems to look more like boxy 1990s computers than the sleek injection molded units that eventually take up residence under your television, but they don’t often come in the form of a bare PCB. It seems that Nintendo was in such a rush to get an early version of their latest handheld’s guts out to developers that they couldn’t even take the time to get a sheet metal case stamped out for it.
All of the principle parts of the final GBA are here, and as demonstrated in the video after the break, the board even plays commercially released games. Though [Hard4Games] did find that some titles from the later part of the handheld’s life had unusual graphical glitches; hinting that there are likely some low-level differences that don’t manifest themselves unless the developer was really digging deep to squeeze out all the performance they could.
The board also lacks support for Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, though this is not wholly surprising. When an older game was inserted into a GBA, the cartridge would physically depress a switch that enabled a special 8080-based coprocessor that existed solely for backwards compatibility. Adding that hardware to a development board would have made it more expensive and added no practical benefit. That said, [Hard4Games] does point out that there appears to be a unpopulated area of the board where the backwards compatibility switch could have been mounted.
Hackers have always been enamored with the Game Boy, so it’s fitting to see that the official development kit for the final entry into that storied line of handhelds looked a lot like something they could build themselves. If anyone feels inclined to build their own “deconstructed” GBA in this style, you know where to find us.