A comparison of Nintendo DSi XL flash carts

After succumbing to unbearable pressure (e.g. my Mum mentioned in passing that she was thinking about getting one…) and buying one of the new DSi XLs, the next task was to find a solution to playing all of the games I’ve bought since getting my original DS Lite several years ago – without the hassle of carrying around, changing, and then losing hundreds of tiny cartridges.

On the DS Lite, the CycloDS Evolution was pretty much a perfect solution for me – it was fast, stable, customisable, and frequently updated with the latest fixes and upgrades. Unfortunately, it was also completely incompatible with the DSi, and so also the DSi XL.

In order to find an acceptable solution which works on the DSi (and therefore the XL also – the two machines run identical firmware, and only differ physically in form-factor) I ended up ordering one card, and then another – and so it occurred to me that a comparative review could well be useful… especially since one seems to be very popular but really doesn’t work at all well, whilst the other takes some effort to get working but is really very good once it’s sorted out!

After reading around online, there seemed to be lots of praise for the R4i cart from R4. Based on further recommendations of trustworthy service (important when there are reportedly so many clone cards on the market) I purchased an “R4 R4i SDHC” “R4i Standalone Card” from memorycardzoo.com.

Following this, I later ordered an “Acekard 2i” from r4i.co.uk – mainly on the basis that they also guaranteed original cards, and (with a special offer) were cheaper than other suppliers.

   R4i-SDHC   Acekard 2i 
 Colour   Red   Dark Grey 
 Construction   Flimsy   Solid 
 MicroSD retaining mechanism   Friction   Sprung 
 Faults as shipped   Casing unclipped   Label skewed 
 DSi (XL) compatible out-of-the-box   Yes   No 
 Contains unlicensed copyright material   Yes   Yes 
 Firmware updatable   No   Yes 

It’s worth noting that the R4i card I received bears little resemblance to anything on Memory Card Zoo’s website. The package I received was as follows:

R4i "Happy Box" cart and packaging

R4i Front View R4i Rear View

It appears that the original manufacturer of the R4 and R4i cards stopped producing these some time ago, allowing a host of copy-cat offspring to launch onto the market, all claiming to be “genuine”, “official”, and sometimes even “original”. These cannot use the R4(i) firmware, and are often cost-reduced clones. From my (admittedly limited) experience, they seem to suffer in terms of hardware compatibility and software functionality.

(Does the name “Happy Box” remind anyone else of the James Spader film “Speaking of Sex“? … no? Just me then…)

Update: Around the beginning of September 2010, Nintendo released firmware 1.4.1 for the DSi and DSi XL, apparently primarily to block flash carts. Whilst the AceKard cart took this in its stride and the developers released a firmware update to fix the problem (and changed the title from “Danny Phantom – Urban Jungle” to “Alex Rider – Stormchaser” and gained a much better icon in the process), the R4i developers claim that a new hardware revision is necessary to work with the updated firmware. This renders the remainder of the review somewhat moot, as there can only be one conclusion:

The AceKard development team are fast and reactive with firmware updates (there are still some big-name flash karts for which current Nintendo firmware support is still pending), the AKAIO user-interface is modern and flexible, and the cart appears to be highly compatible with all homebrew and games. Cheaper options really aren’t worth the risk of being abandoned by their developers, who seem to view every change as an opportunity to sell upgrades.