REVIEW: DS-Xtreme homebrew solution for Nintendo DS

REVIEW: DS-Xtreme homebrew solution for Nintendo DS


While the PSP can do a heck of a lot more than the Nintendo DS out of the box, the homebrew enthusiasts on the internet have worked hard to give the touching-is-good machine a little more functionality. There are several solutions out there from a number of different manufacturers, but nearly all of them require two and oftentimes three components. For example, when you consider the EZ Flash family of products, you will need to invest in an EZ Flash IV Lite (a flash cartridge that fits into the Game Boy Advance slot), an EZ-Pass 3 NoPass device (a card that goes in the DS slot), and a microSD memory card (which provides the storage space for the aforementioned EZ Flash IV Lite).

However, the folks at DS-X have come up with something uniquely different. It actually is a complete solution, with no need to purchase any additional components or deal with any messy software. The DS-Xtreme is the same size as a standard Nintendo DS game cartridge and will run just about any DS homebrew app you throw at it (let’s avoid the legalities of illegal video game ROMs, but I’m sure you can guess what this could be used for… and yes, it does that incredibly well). I received a trial unit to test out, and I have to say that I am quite impressed.

The Complete Solution
The biggest appeal to the DS-Xtreme is that it truly is a complete solution. It fits into “Slot 1” on the Nintendo DS (Lite) and does not stick out whatsoever. When you open up the fairly minute box that it comes in, you will notice that it comes with absolutely no documentation. Instead, on the back of box, they point out a pair of websites where you can receive any sort of support (be it technical, customer service, or otherwise) you’d need, not only from the manufacturers themselves, but from other DS-X users via the online forum.

As you can see, the DS-Xtreme has an integrated USB 2.0 mini-B connector. Using the supplied USB cable, you connect to your computer and send over whatever homebrew apps you’d like to the four gigabits (512 megabytes) of on-board memory. There is no messy client to deal with, no patching necessary. The DS-Xtreme is Mass Storage Device compliant, meaning that it is completely drag-and-drop. Nothing could be easier. By contrast, the EZFlash IV Lite requires client software (which you need to update periodically) which patches the app you are sending. This is a huuuuuge selling point, as this — theoretically — makes the DS-Xtreme future-proof.

A Light Show
An added feature to the DS-Xtreme (which I find amusing but totally useless) is a pair of LED lights. You can adjust their relative brightness (on a scale of 0-255) and even their color. In the settings menu, you select varying values for Left Red, Left Green, and Left Blue (with the same for the right). This does draw a little on your battery life, but it certainly is something that sets this homebrew solution apart from the competition. Of course, if you don’t want to attract unwanted attention, you may want to shut these off. It’s just as annoying as those people who have flashing antennas on their cell phones… it’s just irritating for everyone other than the device’s owner.

Menu System
The menu system here is quite attractive, complete with some simple animations and a fairly intuitive interface. It can be laggy at times though, making me think that my touchscreen has ceased working. As I only received an early version of the DS-Xtreme, it is somewhat limited in what it currently offers. From the main menu, you can select from Apps, Music Player, Settings, and About (fairly self explanatory). When you select Apps, the device searches for all of the homebrew applications you have loaded on the DS-Xtreme, regardless of how you’ve organized it. If the program came with a thumbnail icon, it will be displayed in the list along with its name.

The developers reassure me that this early release “only contains the bare backbone of what our device will eventually be able to provide for the user.” The hardware is complete, so it’s only a matter of time before they upgrade the software to add in some extra functionality. Best of all, because it is plug-and-play, upgrading the firmware/OS should be very straightforward and walk-in-the-park easy. I’d like to see expandable memory in future versions, however.

Music Player
The only integrated application right now is the music player. Here is a brief demonstration of me loading a song by Jin Tha Emcee.

Unlike some homebrew MP3 playing apps out there, the integrated player here can read ID3v1 tags. You don’t have to select based on filename, as it will show the song’s actual title, artist, album, and so forth. You can even organize your playlist as such. The player also supports Ogg Vorbis files. There is some notable slowdown during navigation though.

Pretty well any NDS “homebrew app” will run like a dream on the DS-Xtreme. It may take a second or two for it to load, but as soon as it does, there doesn’t appear to be any slowdown. I found this was true both with BeUp (MSN Messenger) and DS Organize (a PDA-like tool).

The DS-Xtreme, however, will not run any program with a .gba extension. This only makes sense, considering that it doesn’t go in the GBA slot, but it is a bit of a pain for those of you who have certain favorite programs. A popular NES emulator is nesDS, which is designed for use with the Nintendo DS but produces GBA files.

At this time, DS-Xtreme is easily one of the easiest homebrew solutions for the Nintendo DS. It’s priced right (between US$100 and US$130, depending on the reseller), considering what it brings to the table: it is a complete solution. The plug-and-play functionality is a definite incentive, as is the ability to keep the GBA slot open for any add-ons like a rumble pack or the Opera RAM booster.

-Ease of use
-Built-in MP3 player
-A complete solution
-Unique LED lights

Cons (both are fairly significant)
-Relatively small (512MB) storage capacity
-Lack of GBA support