Traditionally, a forum full of technical users trying integrate their own hardware into a game system for the purposes of gaining unfettered access to its entire software library was the kind of thing that would keep engineers at Sony and Nintendo up at night. The development and proliferation of so called “mod chips” were an existential threat to companies that made their money selling video games, and as such, sniffing out these console hackers and keeping their findings from going public for as long as possible was a top priority.
But the Arduboy is no traditional game system. Its games are distributed for free, so a chip that allows users to cram hundreds of them onto the handheld at once isn’t some shady attempt to pull a fast one on the developers, it’s a substantial usability improvement over the stock hardware. So when Arduboy creator Kevin Bates found out about the grassroots effort to expand the system’s internal storage on the official forums, he didn’t try to put a stop to it. Instead, he asked how he could help make it a reality for as many Arduboy owners as possible.
Now, a little less than three years after forum member Mr.Blinky posted his initial concept for hanging an external SPI flash chip on the system’s test pads, the official Arduboy FX Mod-Chip has arrived. Whether you go the DIY route and build your own version or buy the ready-to-go module, one thing is for sure: it’s a must-have upgrade for the Arduboy that will completely change how you use the diminutive handheld.
We’ve been big fans of the Arduboy since [Kevin Bates] showed off the first prototype back in 2014. It’s a fantastic platform for making and playing simple games, but there’s certainly room for improvement. One of the most obvious usability issues has always been that the hardware can only hold one game at a time. But thanks to the development of an official add-on, the Arduboy will soon have enough onboard storage to hold hundreds of games
The upgrade takes the form of a small flexible PCB that gets soldered to existing test points on the Arduboy. Equipped with a W25Q128 flash chip, the retrofit board provides an additional 16 MB of flash storage to the handheld’s ATmega32u4 microcontroller; enough to hold essentially every game and program ever written for the platform at once.
Of course, wiring an SPI flash chip to the handheld’s MCU is only half the battle. The system also needs to have its bootloader replaced with one that’s aware of this expanded storage. To that end, the upgrade board also contains an ATtiny85 that’s there to handle this process without the need for an external programmer. While this is a luxury the average Hackaday reader could probably do without, it’s a smart move for an upgrade intended for a wider audience.