Cart Readers

Last Revision: 2022-04-02

This section will go over the various methods available to interface directly with Game Boy Game Paks. Cartridge readers are useful as they allow you to back up the ROM and RAM (save data) or restore the RAM of nearly any game. This is useful because some games use a battery for save data retention and when this battery dies or is replaced, the save data will be wiped. With a cartridge reader, you can backup the save before this happens and restore the save after the battery is replaced. All Game Boy and Game Boy Color games that save use battery backed RAM but only a handful of Game Boy Advance games use a battery backed save. Another useful feature of a cartridge reader is that if you backup the ROM of your game, you can then play this game on an emulator on your PC or other device (but this is outside the scope of this wiki). Finally, some modified or custom games may reflashed with other ROMs or even common bootleg or reproduction games may be reflashed (though compatibility with these varies depending on the specific revision and cart reader and reliability or save compatibility can be lacking). Bolded devices are standalone readers whereas the rest of the devices are typically modified consoles.

If you are reading this list and faced with decision paralysis, the GBxCart RW from insideGadgets is widely regarded as the best bang/buck reader for GB. Some other readers have more specific or niche functionality but even those readers come at a premium.

Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance Game Pak devices:

  • BennVenn’s Joey Gen 3: Joey Joebags - This is the cart reader that really got the scene moving. It was not the first cart reader and it will not be the last but while it was supported, it featured the best compatibility with all Game Boy cartridges, including support for reflashing bootleg cartridges, and even supports Windows, Linux, and Mac computers. ~~Unfortunately, BennVenn has dropped support for this model and discontinued it in favor of the gen 4 reader, the Joey Jr](https://www.facebook.com/BennVennElectronics/posts/2534118816701556) but it is still a very capable and robust reader. Discontinued but page still up for support reasons.

  • BennVenn’s Joey Gen 4: Joey Jr. - This is BennVenn’s “ultra rugged” and “ultra portable” cart reader. Unlike the gen 3, this unit does not require installing custom software and using unsigned drivers (on Windows PCs) and thus makes setup and use even easier. When plugged into a computer with a cart inserted, the Joey shows up as a removable drive with the game files on that drive. From there, you can just add or copy files to backup ROM/RAM or to restore RAM. Recently, flashing support has been added to close the feature gap between gen 3 readers and gen 4 readers. See the listing for supported carts. When in stock, you can grab one from BennVenn’s website here.

  • insideGadgets’ GBxCart RW - This is functionally similar to the Joey gen 3 except that the device is largely open source. Compatibility is mostly the same but the GBx device does support a few carts that the joey gen 3 does not and vice versa. Nearly all original carts are supported on both devices. Software is written in C++ and has pre-compiled executables for Windows but the software may be compiled easily for Linux or Mac devices (though the CartBoy software may be a better option for Macs) though the third party FlashGBX is also a popular option. There are a few different hardware variants that add or change features like USB port or automatic voltage selection depending on the game but one of the most recent revisions was the introduction of the “Pro” model. The Pro model is identical to the standard model except that the PCB is shaped differently to allow you to install the the reader in a Game Boy Advance cartridge shell (aftermarket shells fit better). Recently v1.4 was released that uses slightly different hardware for expanding support and much quicker read and write operations. Newer bootleg carts may not receive support on v1.3 devices or older. You can buy one from the insideGadgets store here.

  • Submodule GB01 - This device is rather unique compared to the others as its biggest strength is the ease of operating. The software (that only works with this reader) is designed from the ground up and is very straightforward. Unfortunately, the device only supports reading ROMs and reading and writing saves on GB and GBA carts. Bootleg/repro support is minimal at best (but the GB01 should still read just fine – check the FAQ). Flashing bootleg/repro games is not currently supported. Software is supplied as executables for Windows, Linux, and Mac devices. You can buy one from the Submodule store here.

  • Epilogue GB Operator - This device appears to be a sort of spiritual successor to the Submodule GB01 with similar functionality but a better fit and finish (and case) and better compatibility. Units have shipped a while ago and current software (“v0.8beta” links to v0.7.2-beta) is a minor update to the launch version of the software (0.7.1-beta) and still has a lot the same bugs reported in early reviews. Only known update is that the reader no longer makes 1.4gb files when dumping certain games. Initial documentation (and the FAQ) hinted at being able to flash supported carts but the listing makes no mention of that function so compatibility is still unknown. One of the biggest selling points for this reader is the emulator integration. The idea is that you plug the reader in, pop a cart in, then just boot the emulator pointed at the cart reader. Unlike the Retron SQ, this device appears to support save write-back so using this device with an emulator means you can play your games on any supported hardware and your save will always be updated on the cart. Unfortunately, the packed in emulator does have some bugs and the settings are locked out. A work around is to just use this device to dump the rom and save data and then just load that into your own emulator (and don’t forget to write the save data back to the cart). The support for this reader seems to be completely abandoned. Epilogue store

  • GAMEBANK-web.com Original “GBA Damper” - It can read both GBA and GB/C carts. Has a voltage switch and USB B port. Can write to some flashcarts (specifically the MBC3 and MBC5 carts from the same company along with flash modified MBC3 carts) but does not work for most (all?) bootleg carts. Software is in Japanese and English and is relatively easy to use. Reader also apparently has a USB Mass Storage mode where it will present it self to the file explorer (similar to Joey JR) so that emulators can be run directly off of the device without having to dump the cartridge. Buy one here on amazon.co.jp.

  • Sanni’s Cart Reader - This is a fully open source reader that supports both Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance cartridges. Compatibility with OEM games is near 100%, just like the other readers above, but this reader actually supports a few other systems as well like N64, SNES, Megadrive, etc. Sanni is constantly updating the software and hardware to add support for more devices. Beyond the support for more systems (which is outside the scope of this wiki), this device has a few more things that set it apart from the other readers. The biggest difference is that it is not actually sold anywhere. If you want one, you’ll have to DIY it or buy a home made reader from a third party. Another big difference is that this device does not interface with a PC for reading and writing carts. It stores games and saves on a (micro) SD card attached to the reader. Because of the modular design of this reader, you can also add a battery, buttons, and screen to it and eliminate the requirement of a PC altogether. This reader has the worst bootleg compatibility out of the Joey gen 3 and GBxCart RW but it does still support most of the common bootlegs. You can read more about the device on the sanni’s Github repository for the cart reader.

  • Retrode + GBx Plugin - This is another third party home console that may be used to interface directly with the carts. Well, it’s less a console and more a Joey Jr style device that also supports controllers. It’s basically an interface for emulators to interact directly with original controllers and cartridges. It supports SNES and Megadrive out of the box but an adapter allows Game Boy cartridge compatibility. See this guide from u/Slinky64 for the process. You’d need a Retrode and the GBx plugin for the retrode.

  • RetroN5 - This device is primarily a home console but it may be used to back up and restore saves. See this guide here for the process and you can find out more about the device itself here.

  • Nintendo GameCube + Game Boy Player + Game Boy Interface - If you have a GameCube and a Game Boy Player installed, you may have heard of Game Boy Interface, or GBI. GBI is homebrew that runs only on GameCubes with Game Boy Player hardware attached. It is a replacement for the software that comes with the Game Boy Player and it includes several enhancements over the original software. This software requires a method to run homebrew on your GameCube but it can also be used to dump games and saves. See this quick guide for more info.

Game Boy and Game Boy Color Game Pak only devices:

  • insideGadgets’ GBxCart Mini RW - This is a Game Boy and Game Boy Color only version of the regular GBxCart RW. The lack of Game Boy Advance support comes at a reduced price. Features are identical otherwise. Reader has been discontinued in favor of the non-mini v1.4 iteration.

  • HDR’s GBFlasher-Micro - This device is built using a modified schematic of the original cartridge reader from the early 2000s made by Reiner Ziegler. JRodrigo also made (and sells) a cart reader based on these schematics but HDR has added a few extra features that over the other readers. This device only support OEM Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartriges and a few homebrew cartridges made with AM29F016/F032 or MBM29F033C chips. HDR’s firmware and PC software will work with JRodrigo’s devices if you already have that device but the primary change in hardware is that HDR has made his readers physically smaller and is using parts that are much easier to hand solder. HDR’s software itself has quite a few features, including full Windows 10 (64 bit) compatibility, support for 4 MB MBC30 homebrew games, and even firmware updates via USB for the reader. Check out HDR’s github repo for the hardware here and the software here. These devices are not currently sold.

  • Altane - This device is very similar to the Reiner Ziegler based flashers above and has similar compatibility and features. Does not support bootleg or repro cart flashing but will flash homebrew carts like the device above. See this site for more info or you can buy one from retromodding.

  • Nintendo 64 + GB Transfer Pak - Using the Nintendo home console, you can manage save files on Game Boy (Color) cartridges and even save or dump ROMs. You’ll need a way to run homebrew on the N64 (like an Everdrive or similar) but otherwise, here is a guide.

Game Boy Advance Game Pak only devices:

While there are no stand-alone readers that work on Game Boy Advance only carts, there are a few methods using game console hardware that does only work on GBA carts.

  • Nintendo DS (Lite) + SLOT-1 Flash Cart - If you have a DS console that has a GBA slot and if you have a SLOT-1 flash cart like an R4 device or Acekard, you can use the homebrew software GBA Backup Tool to save the ROM or RAM of a Game Boy Advance cartridge to the internal memory card of your SLOT-1 flash cart. This device only supports reading ROMs and reading and writing RAM for most game carts.

  • Nintendo GameCube / Wii + Game Boy Advance Cable - This combination uses GameCube homebrew software to run multiboot software on a connected Game Boy Advance that will allow you to read and write RAM and dump ROMs. This method requires a GameCube that is capable of running homebrew or, more likely, a Wii that is capable of running homebrew and has GC controller ports. Do note that dumping a game can be very time consuming due to interface limitations. See this github repo for more information.