BigBoy Advance - modded GBA project finished...

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BigBoy Advance - modded GBA project finished...

Post by bacteria » Thu May 31, 2007 3:45 am

Ok guys, I have finally finished my GBA mod. I figured calling it "BigBoy" was appropriate. Thought of "Game BigBoy Advance" or "BigBoy GB Advance" or similar, but "BigBoy Advance" seemed sweet! :P
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Yes, the GBA is a small handheld device and already portable, however the screen is small. I wanted to make a GBA with a much bigger screen and bigger control buttons. The original GBA had a very dark screen, the SP is fine but is a bit fiddly to use as it is so small (and so is the screen) for adult hands. I wanted something better, and a screen big enough to get you more immersed in a game - hence this mod!

I would suggest that this mod is in keeping with the spirit of the other projects on BenHeck, the only real difference is it isn't making a non-portable console portable as this device was (more) portable to start with, however the process and demands of the mod are very similar. I also had a harder job Googling for information to compile everything I needed to research this project.

As with all game consoles, there are masses of games available, mostly tat; however there are many really good quality games available for the GBA - eg Advance Wars (1 and 2), Mario vs Donkey Kong, Super Mario 3 - Yoshi's Island, Mario Kart, Zoo, PacMan collection, etc (just to name a few). You can also buy them cheaply second hand via stores or E-bay (c. £4-£7 each typically inc P+P). That is the advantage of buying games and consoles when the console has been well established for a while - you can buy them very cheaply!

You need to use a tv-out card designed for the GBA in order to get the GBA to output to another (PSone) screen. The composite quality of the output is quite poor, bleeding on screen and the images are too red; so really you need to get RGB output to make this project worthwhile - it makes a big difference with the GBA - as per usual, RGB makes for clear images, crisp and the colours are well defined. Interestingly, I hooked up my PSone screen previously to an N64 I have, via composite, and was amazed by the picture quality on the N64 via composite.

You can get two types of tv-out adapters, one of which is the GBA Transverter, which I had, and it was rather nice to use it. I bought it when it first came out and only used it once - playing a GBA on a tv set is awkward due to the extension cabling and the image on the screen is blocky as the low resolution of the GBA games don't convert on a big-sized tv screen.

I included pinouts for both types of tv output. The GBA Transverter is the better option as it uses over 80% of the screen, all the horizontal - although you do seem to lose the leftmost edge (not a problem). The other tv out card gives a bigger border, so the final image is smaller on the PSone screen. I notice you can now buy a tv out card for the GBA SP, so there is no reason you couldn't do a mod with this configuration if you desire. You have various options.

What you need for this mod:

* GBA (original one, not SP model)
* GBA Transverter (or other tv card for GBA)
* NES controller (for the D-pad and board)
* A couple of lunchboxes (see dimensions at base of post)
* Electronics button switches for the A, B, R-shoulder, L-shoulder, start and select buttons. You also need an on/off button capable of turning 3 items on at the same time. I live in the UK, so visited Maplins for these items.
* Polyfiller, paintbrushes and mini roller, paint (satin/matt), clear varnish, sandpaper, mounting board card, hot glue, soldering iron with thin pencil tip, etc
* Dremel or similar, with diamond side cutter and grinders
* 14 high power high drain NiMH AA batteries, at least 2500NiMH (you can get away with 12 not 14 if you wish). Yes, you would get better battery life with C cells, but space is a consideration, and you really need over 5000NiMH minimum (high drain batteries) if running a Transverter and PSone screen from one set of batteries (I use 2 sets hence).
* Battery holders and wire connectors
* Larger speakers (8ohm) if you want to improve on the PSone's (optional)
* HINT - disassemble the wires from the NES cable - you get about 6 wires, very flexible and long - you have plenty of wires from this cable to do this whole mod!

Parts on E-bay are cheap if you bid sensibly and get a bit of luck! You will find it very hard to get a Transverter for the GBA anywhere on the net (I had one from about 2002) but the GBA tv-Converter type alternative is quite easy to get hold of.

You will probably spend (depending on how you bid on e-bay and luck of cheap prices) - PSone £25, GBA £12, NES controller £3, buttons/switches £17, mounting board/thick card (free?), paint, varnish and brushes (free?), Polyfiller (or substitute) and PVA glue £5, wiring (free from NES controller), battery holders and wire connectors £3, hot glue sticks £2, M3 flash card or similar (I got mine from www.divineo.com under GBA section, "Chips / development") for about £30. (NB - you don't have to use GBA roms, there are lots of excellent homebrew titles (eg Russ Prince's Bust-A-Move), etc - although if you own a commercial cartridge game I don't see why you shouldn't put its rom on the M3 unit, you have legitimately bought the original game after all, so no issue - the M3 just makes it easier to play the game you paid for in the first place - you can also use this M3 as a means to show pics, play MP3 music too). Alternatively, you could easily not use an M3 at all, and just play using your original GBA roms (although you will need to modify my case design to allow this easily). I use th M3 really for convenience (not swapping cartridges about when playing different games). You also need 14 photo grade AA rechargables, at least 2500NiMH c. £12.

Total cost, about £80/£110 from scratch.


Ok, on to the project work:


GBA Transverter (tv out card)

You need to solder onto the chip for the RGB connections:
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The Sync (pin 3 on the PSone) wire is soldered to the pin on the Transverter (4th pin on the reverse of the Transverter, shown with red dot); and the Ground (pin 7 on the PSone) is soldered to the last pin on the Transverter (shown with the blue dot).
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The other type of tv out uses the pinout below as alternative.
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The RGB wires will need to connect to the Red In, Green In and Blue In connections on the PSone screen

PSone screen

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Make sure you connect a wire from pin 12 to the chip on the reverse of the mobo (for the 5v connection)
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On slot 2 (diagram), solder the wires from pins 5, 6 and 7 together, so you get sound from the speakers.


Before going much further, it is a good idea to hook everything up (using mains power at this stage) to make sure everything works (ignore the black cable, this was when I tried composite instead of RGB):
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GBA wiring pinout:

Took a while to find this wiring pic on the net!

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You don't need the GBA's LCD at all, it boots up without it, and conserves battery power without it.

You need to use a 30w soldering iron (or higher) in order to generate enough heat to leave a solder blob on the motherboard connections, so the solder doesn't come off. Before you solder a wire to these joints, try to remove the solder blog with your fingernail, if it stays rigid, you are ok - if it comes off it needs re-applying.

Butcher a NES controller, dremel away all of the mobo not associated with the connections to the D-pad
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Case:


Vacuum forming is georgeous if you are skilled enough to make a suitable bench and prepared to spend a lot of time and money buying the plasitc sheets and experimenting until you end up with a lovely, commercial quality type case; however I don't have these resources and wanted to make a cheap and practical case myself.

I had a lunchbox lid which was the right size to accomodate the PSone board, buttons, D-pad, etc - big enough, but not too big. Started off with making a base out of mounting board card - rigid enough as a "skeleton".

1) Holes at top are for the speakers - using alternative speakers as the PSone speakers are tinny in comparison. They came from a set of portable MP3 speakers I had, which only gave good sound when sound levels were low, not much use for an MP3 device but ideal for a game system. I needed to raise the height of the speakers from the case, there was no room to simply mount them onto the front case directly, so I incorporated a tube between the front of the case to the speakers (hence the two large holes at the top of the pic). These are the largest speakers I could sensibly use in this mod.
2) Hole for the D-pad - dremeled the mounting area from a NES pad and hot glued in place.
3) Hacked up the PSone enclosure at the back to reduce the overall height of the final assembly. Hot glued the front into the mounting board.
4) Used Polyfiller onto the mounting board, to conceal the Psone front panel, D-pad, etc; making a slightly curved area to make the shape interesting. The finished product was left to dry and then was sanded to make it as smooth. I then drilled out the holes required for the buttons, mounted them, touched up areas with further Polyfiller, let it dry and further sanded. Polyfiller adds strength to make a rigid and strong case, but itself is prone to cracking if stressed and is powdery, so I painted on PVA glue to seal the polyfiller, once set it is extremely hard and solid.
5) Item painted, about 4 coats, then a clear varnish applied (2 coats).

The case looks smoother than this in real life, and this pic was taken before I did further sanding anyway. I used a yellow cream colour as I had some lying about and it is a nice colour; I had tried black but it shows lumps and bumps more - lighter colours are better - pastel shades.

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(isn't hot glue great!)

Assembly:

Mounted the PSone mobo
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Cut out mounting board and used self-adhesive foam pads to secure them to the outer PSone casing. The mounting board provides a flat surface to mount everything else onto. Speakers mounted. I am not sure in speakers are magnetically shielded or not, they act as magnets; but doesn't matter with an LCD screen after all. The speakers are 8ohm. I wired the sound output directly from the mobo which sent sound to the GBA speaker (removed earlier) to the PSone speaker inputs.
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Space is a bit limited, but there is plenty of space for the GBA mobo and Transverter on the bottom half and the battery packs on the top.
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(A) PSone mobo, (B) mounting board (base), (C) GBA Transverter mobo, (D) GBA mobo. This was the only configuration which fitted fine, and allowed the GBA cartridge to be at the top of the construction. I got rid of the paper tape, realised I needed to place the GBA boards onto struts to keep them firmer in place (dremeled a masking tape as it is the right height and makes nice struts!). I know this looks a bit of a bodge, but works great, and anyway, won't be seen when the case is painted.
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Battery holder - made from mounting board, hot glue and paper tape. It needed to house a two 6 x AA battery holders and a 2 x AA battery holder. Just enough space to do it.
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(A) NES D-pad board, screwed in place (original mounting) and hot glued at other end to keep it flat and in place. (B) mounting board, (C) GBA Transverter, (D) GBA mobo, (E) GBA cartridge, held in place by a spacer connected to the (F) battery holder section.

I am using a flashcard for the GBA - the "NDA/GBA Movie Player M3 adapter" which allows playing games, movies, pics, MP3 via an SD card on the side of the flashcard - so the cartridge itself can be kept in place permanently.
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Make a case, mount the right and left shoulder buttons into it, attach the on/off button and cutout (dremel) holes for the battery covers (note, this was my version 1 rear case, final one looks different, but same principle).

Hole cut in case so you can access the SD card easily (I ended up making the hole longer in the end).
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I changed the rear case a bit after this pic was taken, as below.

The finished height is exactly the same height as the lunchbox, which is ideal. This fact also helps to keep everything nicely in place and snug.

As I used a lunchbox, it was hard to make screw attachments to take the case apart in the future if repairs are required, so I didn't - I used some hot glue in strategic places to seal the front of the case to the rear, which can be prised apart if needed. This means I can't get a nicely finished join to make it look lovely, that is the trade-off.

As an adult, I can easily hold the lunchbox in my hands and play the GBA quite comfortably - being flat at the rear means it also plays easily when flat on a desk! :wink:

I had thoughts of making a moulded area to conceal the battery compartments, then had a brainwave of hacking apart another lunchbox bottom and making a slotting attachment to secure it to the assembly at one end, and velcro strips at the other. Foam padding used to keep the batteries secure. Quite a neat, and quick solution.
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Rear view, showing the batteries in place
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and with the battery rear case on (cutout is for access to the on/off switch).
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NOTE - the hole for access to the SD on the flashcard is be covered by a thin piece of card, painted and varnished, secured with a little blu-tac to keep it flat. Cosmetic, after all!
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Final product:
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The draw on the batteries is large, hence two battery packs. One battery pack running the Transverter and PSone screen lasts about 10 mins before fading, and the batteries get very hot indeed. Using two sets (one each) keeps the batteries nice and cool (less draw) and you get playtime of about 1 hour 45 mins (once the voltage gets under 7.5v the Psone fails, and under about 7.3v the Transverter gives a very wavy picture). The AA batteries must be photo/digital quality, at least 2500NiMH and designed for hit drain devices. If you used C-cells, you would not have enough space in the case for them and hooking up to the Transverter and PSone screen (1 set of batteries) wouldn't give much better life as the combined draw seems to need over 5000NiMH. Ideally, a Li-ion pack of about 8v would be ideal, you can get them about 18000NiMH, but expensive. AA batteries are not the best, but satisfactory and more practical. They also recharge quickly and there is no issue if you have a spare couple of sets to use. Just taken delivery of 2650NiMH batteries, should hopefully get close to 2 hours with these (very acceptable - after all, you only play a console for perhaps 30-60 minutes at a sitting - at least, I do!).

You could use 12 batteries instead of 14 by connecting the cell pack from the Transverter to output 3v to power the GBA, reducing weight (less top-heavy then); however with the design I have used, if you are playing a game and the batteries from the Transverter and/or the PSone die you can replace them and get back to your game uninterupted as the GBA batteries are still powering the GBA itself - so on balance, this works well! When the batteries to the PSone get low, the sound continues but the screen goes shades of black; when the Transverter batteries get low, the image gets very wavy and fuzzy - easy to therefore know which set is on way out!

Final statistics:

size: (approx); 25cm x 16.5cm x 6.5cm.
Weight: 1.15kg, including batteries. This is a manageable weight.
Battery life: according to my testing: approx playtime of 1 hour 45 mins - time it takes for fully charged batteries (c. 8.44v) to reduce to under 7.5v and thereby not have sufficient power.

If I want to in the future, I could easily make the rear of the case prettier, smooth the edges, etc - and I may do so; but at the moment I am quite happy with this. As with many people's mods, the front of the case is pretty and nice, the rear not always so!

The GBA mobo and the Transverter are quite tolerant of being modded, didn't fry inspite of the testing I was doing to them initially. I did a lot of prodding and experimenting, the mobos stood up to this; and I had to learn how to solder to do this project! The mod is quite intensive but straightforward.

What you you guys think of it? :D

Any questions? I will do my best to answer them.

Thanks go to whomever produced the original pics for the illustrations used above I got from the net, they came from various sources.

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Post by Turbo Tax 1.0 » Thu May 31, 2007 5:15 am

great job :D
your case looks really nice
great post too
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Post by Sparkfist » Thu May 31, 2007 5:18 am

Nice GBA mod. I have one question, where on Earth did you find a Transverter?! I couldn't find one to save my life.
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Post by bacteria » Thu May 31, 2007 6:41 am

Thanks guys for the comments. Put a lot of work on this project, been fun! I plan at some stage to have a go with an N64 to hopefully try and get one of these made into a similarly sized box; I have two of these consoles at home, can therefore afford to "experiment" on one of them!

I bought the GBA Transverter from the UK from Craigix (his handle presently on the GP2x forum) when they came out (2002?) who is presently the UK distributer for the GP2x system. A few years ago (before GP2x) he sold GBA's, some carts and bits and bobs, and also some retro bits. He has long since stopped selling things unless GP2x related, but I have e-mailed him in case he still has any GBA Transverters lying about (unlikely though, he had a big clear out a while back on e-bay).

There are alternative tv-out boards for the GBA, including one at http://www.superufo.com/product_html/Ga ... ystem.html for the GBA SP model. No reason you couldn't use this (although I don't know if you need to find the pinouts). There is also the GBA tv Converter kit too. If you get an NTSC tv card, you will need to use an LCD screen which is also NTSC - not relevant on the GBA Transverter as it was PAL/NTSC at the switch of a button!

Nice thing about the Transverter is it fills most of the PSone screen, the others less so - bigger the better after all! Not sure if the one above in the link gives full or majority of screen image; might be worth asking them. This item costs about £8 plus P+P, and the Converter model only costs around £8 on e-bay. This means you can get one cheaply and play with it - won't cost much to try it out. Pleased I bought the Transverter when I did - although it has taken the best part of 5 years to get value from it, rather than it remaining a gadget bought on a whim and left to collect dust. :wink:

I read somewhere that Nintendo managed to ban the Transverter from the market after someone proved to them (a modder) that it was possible to do RGB output rather than composite (in the way I outlined - actually, it was the person who made this claim who posted how to do it (!)); apparently this contravened some patent?? (ironic). Seems strange, as another post I found gave RGB pinouts for the Converter (posted in this post). I guess the Transverter must have been "unauthorised" by the Big N??

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Post by CronoTriggerfan » Thu May 31, 2007 8:36 am

Sparkfist wrote:Nice GBA mod. I have one question, where on Earth did you find a Transverter?! I couldn't find one to save my life.
They're all over, man! :lol: A simple google search yields tremendous results.

Awesome mod! Kinda reminds me of this thing. Hope to see more kickass mods in the future!

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Post by gamemasterAS » Thu May 31, 2007 2:39 pm

Damn, thats nice. Congrads
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Post by Skyone » Thu May 31, 2007 4:28 pm

Very nice job! The case is surprisingly extremely nice looking - awesome post!

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Post by Krepticor » Thu May 31, 2007 6:50 pm

VERY NICE!

I like the fact you went with RGB and those are some enormous speakers! (did you have to put an amp in front of those?)

also there doesn't seem to be a good pic on how you put the Games in.. I am wondering how that feat is done...
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Post by bacteria » Thu May 31, 2007 7:07 pm

Pleased you like it!

Krepticor - I needed to go RGB as the composite quality is poor in comparison. Yes, the speakers are quite big, a couple of inches diameter, smaller speakers don't give much bass. No, not using an amp at all, wired from the GBA speaker outputs into the PSone mobo - tried it, absolutely fine. The GBA speaker was 8ohm, so transferring the signal going to one 8ohm speaker to another (bigger one) isn't an issue. Speaker volume is at about 30% on the PSone, and is quite loud.

Putting games in - the SD card on the flashcart inserts onto the side of the M3 flashcart, so the flashcard can be permanently in the GBA cartridge slot, the SD card can be popped out from the side, files transferred via PC, and card popped back in - I have done this a few times - this is why there is the hole cut out on the bottom of the case, for this purpose - works easily. If you prefer to just use GBA cartridges, no problem, different sized hole needed (so you can hold the back of the cartridge slot while inserting in the cartridge), otherwise no other changed needed. Having the cartridge at the very base of the case is the only sensible place, as you need access to it. I had tried to make a home-made SD card extender slot, didn't work.

While I think of it - I know convention seems to have the speakers normally on the bottom and the controllers on the top; this is fine for slimline cases (so you can grip the case in the right places), however if you are using a thicker case like this one, it is better for the speakers at the top and controllers at the bottom (as per my design), so you can grip the case comfortably and use the controls easily - just incase anyone wondered! :wink:
Last edited by bacteria on Thu May 31, 2007 7:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by lifeisbetterwithketchup » Thu May 31, 2007 7:10 pm

Very nice mod. I've always thought the good ol' GBA could use a bigger screen.
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Post by Twisted Warthog » Thu May 31, 2007 7:12 pm

Really nice job man! Awesome idea and case you got going there. That would defiantly enhance my GBA gaming experience thats one thing for sure.

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Post by gamemasterAS » Sun Jun 03, 2007 10:04 pm

Sparkfist wrote:Nice GBA mod. I have one question, where on Earth did you find a Transverter?! I couldn't find one to save my life.
http://ps2modchip.com/search.php?page=gba_tv
.

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Post by bacteria » Mon Jun 04, 2007 1:33 am

Nice job, gamemasterAS - nice find.

I never got a reply to my e-mail to Craigix (old supplier), that that channel is closed - he either doesn't have any more or doesn't bother replying to e-mails.

Twisted Warthog - thanks man! Yes, it makes quite a difference to the GBA gaming experience.

One suggestion to this mod, it is always nice to run things off batteries, however the lighter the final product the easier to use. If you use an extra set of battery connectors for both the PSone screen and the Transverter, you could attach these to the mains power supplies from each of these units. If you want to play the BigBoy Advance from the mains, you just connect the Psone battery connector to those on the power supply, and the same with the Transverter (and remove the batteries from the compartment) - you can't then by mistake, have both mains and batteries running (thus blow everything) - ie one or the other. You don't need to so this for the batteries to the GBA mobo, they stay as they are - two AA or rechageable batteries last for many, many hours - after all, they don't have to power the old GBA screen - just the mobo itself.

This idea keeps the BigBoy Advance portable, yet also lighter for general play at home - no point draining batteries if you don't need to! :P

PS - thought I would make this project my sig!


UPDATE


You never know, when you make something from scratch, how well it performs/plays. Nothing is perfect after all.

I must say, the layout of the buttons work well, the shoulder buttons are positioned so your index finger rests on them (holding the case comfortably), and are easy therefore to use. I just played a 40 minute session of Super Mario Yoshi's Island (one of my favourite games of all time); hoping it would be playable on my system - boy it is great - proves controls are in the right place for easy play, graphics resolution is great on the PSone screen, and the bonus with the M3 card is that you can save anywhere in any game by pressing A, B, R-shoulder and L-shoulder at the same time - handy in the later, tricky and frustrating levels!

Guys, if you have an old GBA lying about, I really suggest you might like to do this mod. The mobos don't seem easy to fry and the mod isn't that hard; but is very worthwhile!! :D
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Post by bacteria » Thu Jun 07, 2007 10:19 am

Had I known then what I know now, I could have desoldered some of the components which are not needed (eg the PSone cable output from the GBA Transverter) and link connectors (I only just got hold of some desolder braid to play with!); I could have laid these two boards end to end, on top of a battery compartment the full size of box, single layer AA batteries (instead of the double layer ones I used) - I could have saved about 3/4" - 1" from the height, and made the project really quite slim (and still easy to get to the GBA cartridge)! No point doing this now, but if I ever need to crack the case open to replace the PSone screen, or do other repairs, I may update the mod to make these changes - however I am very happy with what I have at the moment, so no reason to change it.

I had to have half of the insides of the case dedicated for the Transverter and the GBA mobo which only left half of the case for the batteries. Having the two mobos flat on the mounting board, hot-glued in place, with another piece of mounting board on top would have given the full surface area for the batteries (hence height saving), which would also distribute the weight much more evenly.
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Post by jeroen » Thu Jun 07, 2007 2:13 pm

gamemasterAS wrote:
Sparkfist wrote:Nice GBA mod. I have one question, where on Earth did you find a Transverter?! I couldn't find one to save my life.
http://ps2modchip.com/search.php?page=gba_tv
Is that site reliable? I want to order something.

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