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[Review] Linkmasta and flashmasta
#1
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Happy New Year! Hello guys, I have a new interesting review for a console that is not so popular in this part of the world, but it certainly has very impressive and amusing titles, the Neo Geo Pocket (monochrome and color), which was a boom when launched due to its colorful graphics, joystick and games (such as Metal slug and KOF), was the first non-SEGA portable console with a Sonic adventure.
Intro
Right from USA a new flashcart for the Neo Geo Pocket has arrived, it was developed by Ed Manly cc Flavor. In his website http://www.flashmasta.com/ you can find information, technical support, downloads, store, other reviews and some other details regarding this flashcart. This project started as an offshoot of the developer’s job, Ed decided to create his own flascart after Bung canceled the production of a multi-rom menu project for the Pocket Linker.

About thel reviewer
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My nickname is usually Aleomark, in some webpages of CR I am also known as Sousuke, but internationally and officially I prefer Aleomark, and I want to add in this section that I have already done several reviews in the past, both in English and in Spanish, about flashcarts for different companies and retro scene accessories, so you can take for sure that in my analysis you will find a broad perspective about comparison and, most importantly, neutrality when it comes to analyzing and writing my reviews, I thank those who sponsored my reviews sending me samples, but when doing the analysis I am as objective as possible, so that you, the readers, can make sure you are reading a good review which you may use to base a decision of acquiring the product.
What is the Flashmasta/Linkmasta?
The Flashmasta is a device that consists on a PCB with chips and flash memory encapsulated in a cartridge case, with the purpose of loading roms and playing them as if they were the original games. This cart has a friendly user setup, you only need to copy in the flash memory (by using the Linkmasta through a USB cable and a client program) the roms of your backups, insert the Flashmasta into the console and turn it on, immediately the game will show up on the screen ready for playing. You can burn 2 separate small roms (2 MB each) or 1 big rom (4MB); in addition, you can play homebrew games and translation, in case they are available.

Why should you buy this flashcart instead of playing with emulators?
Because if you like retro consoles and videogames, you will know that there is no comparison between the sensation of playing a game in the actual console (with the actual joysticks and accessories) and just playing it in a PC emulator or modern console emulator. In short, it is playing the game accordingly to the conditions in which the manufacturer thought that the game was going to be played. Besides, you get a very special feeling when you play today the games that you once played in your childhood.

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How does the Flashmasta look like?
One of its best features is that the cart is factory completed and ready to use. The Flashmasta consist on 2 separate pieces, the first piece is the flashcart itself which is a PCB with chips and flash memory encapsulated in a cartridge case with a sticker that says: "NEO POCKET FLASHMASTA" and http://www.Flashmasta.com in a silver gray background. It also has a 0.5cm hole in the upper side with a switch for shifting between the slot 1 and the slot 2 in case you have 2 rom saved in the cart (for reaching this switch you will probably need to use a needle since the access is limited).

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The second piece is the Linkmasta, which is an interface device that communicates the Flashmasta with the PC via USB. It is a PCB with a Neo Geo Pocket cartridge female port and a USB terminal encapsulated in a transparent blue color custom case, when you open that case you will see that there are two buttons in the PCB, near the USB port, for updating the firmware in the Linkmasta.

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When I received the cart, this is what I got:

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The shirt is a bonus that can be bought separately. The product is well protected within the package, it comes in a bubble wrap envelope. I received the Linkmasta, the Flashmasta, a USB cable and some papers with advertising, you just need to install the software (I recommend you to go to http://www.flashmasta.com/software-downloads/ for downloading) in the PC and everything else is ready to use.

I recommend to download all the needed software from the official website: http://www.flashmasta.com/software-downloads/

What does the product include?
The product includes: Linkmasta + Flashmasta + cable USB.


Manufacturer’s Specifications

This unit has been created to connect Neo Geo Pocket cartridges and modern PCs via USB; therefore, first of all you have to connect the Linkmasta and the pc with the USB cable and then insert the Neo Geo Pocket cartridge, Neo Geo Pocket Color cartridge or Flashmasta in the Linkmasta unit. In the computer, use the software to do something like:
-Back upping game save data.
-Restoring previous game/emulator backup save.
-Recording a rom onto a recordable cartridge (you have to use Bung, Mr. Flash, UFO, etc, to do so) or flash cartridges such as the Flashmasta.
- Back upping cartridge data; in other words, creating a rom from a cartridge (this is useful when trying to play a game that you have in an emulator) and more!!
This units are “handmade”, the cartridge slot is hand cut in order to fit the Neo Geo Pocket. This is not a mass produced device.

Updates and Support
The Flashmasta has its own official forum http://forum.freeplaytech.com/forum-6.html, where you can ask for tech support and learn how to properly use the software http://www.flashmasta.com/software-downloads/.

Setup
The first step is to download the drivers and then install them correctly in the PC, in the following video Flavor will show you how to do it using windows vista (I followed the same steps for Windows 7 without any trouble):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbV8O4jG2T0

Instructions
1-Download the “libusb” controller and save the file in your computer’s desktop.
2-Minimize all windows, so you can have a clear view of your desktop. Right click on the “libusb driver Win – Neo Linkmasta PID_4178.zip” file and select “Extract all”. The program should ask you where do you want to store the extracted files, so you have to click on “Examine”, then on “desktop”, then on “Accept” and then click on “Extract”.
3-If you have not plugged the Linkmasta yet, you can do it now. A box might pop up automatically requesting for the drivers, if not (or if the devices has been connected previously), you might need to use the Windows device manager; In short, this step focuses on allowing windows to locate the controller that you just downloaded and decompressed.
In the device manager you have to look for the "Neo Linkmasta", right click on it and select “Properties”. In the “Controller” tab you should find a button that says “update controller”, after clicking on that button you should select “Look for controller software”, then a little box that says “look for controller software in this location” must pop up. Click on the “Examine” button, look for the option that says “libusb driver Win – Neo Linkmasta”, then click on “accept” and this is going to auto-populate in the box:
" C: \ Users \ erm \ Desktop \ libusb controlador Win - Neo Linkmasta"
Check the box that says “Include subfolders”
Do not check the box that says “choose from a list of devices”
Click on “Next” and follow the instructions to complete the controller installation.
Now you should be ready to use the Neo Linkmasta program to read/write your Flashmasta cartridge.

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Firmware updating

It comes already updated, a firmware update is not necessary unless a new version is launched.

1-Install the Atml FLIP. The last download can be found in the website.

2-Hold the HWB button (nearest to the screw hole) down then press and release the RESET button (next to the HWB button). You should hear a sound similar to plug/unplug a USB device. This should initiate the Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode on the Neo Linkmasta. You can release the HWB button now.

3-The first time that you use the DFU, windows will prompt you to install a device controller. Type in "C: \ Archivos de programa \ Atmel \ flip 3.4.2 \ usb” (or whatever the proper path is for your system) in order to find the INF file and the device controller.

4-Execute FLIP, open a USB connection to the ATMEGA32U2 device.

5-Program with the most recent firmware version.

6-At the end, unplug the USB cable from the Neo Linkmasta, plug back in and that is all!

Compatibility
This is the flashcart’s best feature since presumably there is 100% compatibility, including homebrew and translations.

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Videos in operation
Video playing Sonic
http://youtu.be/IZNIGYTGgoE

Tutorial video on how to have two different roms in the same Flashmasta.
http://youtu.be/m4JChOAFJXU

Conclusions
This Flashcart has come to make thousands of users happy because there are no other good flashcart options in the market nowadays; in addition, the turbo Flashmasta offers several extras to take into account such as cart partition and the chance to create roms for your original games. In my experience, the initial setup took a few minutes and it went smooth, the only thing I do not like about the cart is that it doesn’t work with a mini-SD and that it requires a client software PC, in other words, it is not plug and play; however, the firmware and the software are pretty efficient and free of bugs, as a matter fact, you don’t have to cross fingers hoping they will work properly as it happens when using Chinese product clients (AKA NeoTeam); also, I would like this flahscart better if the it could have been made to play more roms. Even though there are no other flashcarts for this console in the market and practically you do not have any other choice than buying it, I think this is a really good option for the retro gamers that like this system.

Pros
-High compatibility, 100% of the games.
-Progress is saved.
-Region free.
-Updates and support.
-Immediate loading speed.
-Stable software.
-Saving and restoring progress from original cartridges.
-Creating rom from original cartridges.
-Case and labels.

Cons
-No mini-SD compatibility.
-Requieres PC software.
-No cheat manager.

Where to buy:
http://www.flashmasta.com

LINK WITH SPECIAL PRICE FOR Aleomark’s READERS

http://www.flashmasta.com/purchase/aleom...hase-page/
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#2
It's important to note that while the cartridge is compatible with all of the games, there can be some save issues. Cotton is one such example.

I'm not sure how many people bought this cartridge, but I'm pretty sure no one has tested all of the games to check for possible save issues. I came across the Cotton problem entirely by accident, but the fact of the matter is that the game does not save, and there's no compatibility list to tell you whether or not other titles do.

As far as the pros and cons go, I'd list no save handling as a con. While many other flash cartridges have some sort of straightforward [or complicated, in most of the Neo Flash products] procedure to back up the save data, there is no simple way of doing it here. You have to back up the entire contents of the cartridge. Ok, maybe it's not that complicated to back up the entire game, but it adds to the process of flashing and re-flashing each time you want to change the game. The whole save thing might not be that big of a deal to some, but to me it's definitely a bigger issue than lack of cheat support.

Also, I was hoping that eventually we'd get some sort of a menu, like the one in, say, EMS Game Boy cartridges, but there's been no new developments or upgrades. I know that Flavor is swamped with work, but it would be nice to know that this could eventually happen.
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#3
(03-29-2014, 07:26 AM)Morden Wrote: It's important to note that while the cartridge is compatible with all of the games, there can be some save issues. Cotton is one such example.

I'm not sure how many people bought this cartridge, but I'm pretty sure no one has tested all of the games to check for possible save issues. I came across the Cotton problem entirely by accident, but the fact of the matter is that the game does not save, and there's no compatibility list to tell you whether or not other titles do.

[...]

Hi Morden, the compatibility list is easy to get : all game under 16 mbits have save issue.
As already discussed, it's because of the cartridge structure. They are split in "blocks" whose size depend of the overall size of the cartridge.

32mbits is basically 2x16mbits, but all lesser size have a different layout.

That means that most of the games have save issues. I've created patches for 2 of them.
To handle saves, it requires to have a patch for each game, relocating save block of every 'small' games, and add a database driven handler to the backup software.

Loïc.
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#4
(04-08-2014, 08:11 PM)Loïc Wrote: all game under 16 mbits have save issue.

That's less than ideal, to say the least. Is there anything that could be done on the cartridge side? Creating a patch for every single game seems like a lot of work. I know nothing of the cartridge inner workings, so I hope that Flavor can shed some light on the matter.

We did talk about Cotton before, but was there anything said about all games under 16 megabits having save issues?
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#5
(04-09-2014, 06:45 AM)Morden Wrote:
(04-08-2014, 08:11 PM)Loïc Wrote: all game under 16 mbits have save issue.

That's less than ideal, to say the least. Is there anything that could be done on the cartridge side? Creating a patch for every single game seems like a lot of work. I know nothing of the cartridge inner workings, so I hope that Flavor can shed some light on the matter.

We did talk about Cotton before, but was there anything said about all games under 16 megabits having save issues?

That wasn't discussed here, but on flashmasta website, in the comment section.

It's technically possible to handle that hardware side, however it's not easy. Cartridge have to somehow 'emulate' different physical layout.
One way could be to add a switch on cartridge to set it in 4/8/16+ mbits compatibility mode. As I've nearly no hardware skill, I've no idea how hard it is to do that.
Other way could be software only, given the flash process could trigger 'automatically' the correct size, but it would be harder to achieve.

To handle savegame backup/restore, there's no 'simple' way. Real game cartridge have a small number of unprotected blocks. Game data are stored there.
Flash unit (Bung or Flashmasta) don't have any protected block, so savegame cannot be retrieved this way.
Some time ago, I did a dump of all the games I have (I'm still missing a few, but hey are too expensive for me ^^), with a list, for each dump, of unprotected blocks.
Backup software needs to be modified to handle those informations and write/save only unprotected blocks, but once again, this would work only for 16/32 mbits games.

Actually, I think the easiest way to handle savegame backup for all games should be software :
- use database to identify save data blocks for 16/32 mbtis games.
- patch other games on the fly at flash time, so they all write/read data on the same block (one of the last block of the 16-32 mbits range). Thus, every game not in database list could be handled the same way (maybe except for homebrew... but that's a minor problem, those can also be relocated)

Ed can correct me if I'm wrong.

Loïc.
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#6
(04-09-2014, 06:34 PM)Loïc Wrote: Actually, I think the easiest way to handle savegame backup for all games should be software. Use database to identify save data blocks for 16/32 mbtis games.

I have exchanged a couple of emails with Flavor about this. This was back when I realized there's no easy way of backing up saves from the flash cartridge, and the database solution came up.

I also suggested it should be possible to choose between a dump of the full writable save section, or just the "difference data". I don't remember the details, but I came across a problem while playing around with savestates from different emulators. One of them dumped a slightly larger file, which I assumed was the whole unprotected section, while another [NeoPOP?] dumped only the essential data, or rather the difference between the original game image, and an image with some information saved [much like a small patch].

The Flashmasta client really needs an overhaul and some new features. Not to mention a multirom menu, which would be so great!
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#7
Special Price only for more one week
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