GBA SP Modding: MicroUSB, Case Swap and Flash Cart

As a child I never got to experience the exciting world of GBA games, and while emulation is a thing I never found GBA games to look that great on a bigger screen. In August 2017 I stumbled across a working GBA SP with charger and two games at a garage sale for only €20 and immediately picked it up. As much fun as this little handheld is I did found its use of a proprietary charger annoying, especially in this day and age where MicroUSB and USB Type C have become the de facto standard for charging mobile devices. Luckily for me however, the GBA SP requires a 5.2V DC input and that’s when it got me thinking: can I fit a MicroUSB port in there?

Adding a MicroUSB Port

gba sp pinoutAs mentioned the GBA SP expects a 5.2V DC input and the original charger can provide up to 320mA. This fits nicely within the USB standard of 5V DC 500mA and as such this mod is an easy one. One thing I did want to keep was the original port however as the GBA SP comes without a headphone jack, innovation at it’s finest as phone manufactures would say in 2018. After looking up a pinout sheet for the proprietary EXT 2 connector on the GBA SP I quickly found pins 3 (V+) and 6 (GND) are what I’ll need to hook up the MicroUSB port to.

Now that we know how to approach this it’s time to take the GBA apart. There’s no point in reinventing the wheel, so I’ll just forward you to this handy guide from iFixit which explains every step in great detail. Keep in mind that as with most Nintendo products you’ll need a triwing screwdriver to remove the screws. You can find these online for a few bucks and odds are your local retro game store also sells them. Also if you’re planning to perform a case swap like I did you’ll instead want to follow the guide on how to replace the screen. With the motherboard removed it’s time to solder on the MicroUSB port using the provided pinouts, both are seen from the back where you’ll be soldering. If you need a real life example you can find one in the gallery at the bottom of this post. After soldering on the MicroUSB port make sure to test it to see if if it works.

Now that we’ve added and tested the MicroUSB port it’s now time to make room for it in the shell. I decided to put it between the EXT 1 and EXT 2 connectors as this is the only spot where it wouldn’t hinder the use of the shoulder buttons. To make the slot I drew an outline of an MicroUSB port on the shell and used my rotary tool to cut it out. I also had to remove a screw hole which sits directly behind that spot to make room for the cables running between the USB port and original connector. Once I managed to fit everything inside I closed everything back up, tested once more and screwed everything back together. The result? A fully functional GBA SP which can be charged in a more convenient way. It really comes in handy when travelling and without it I would had gone insane when I got stranded on Schiphol Airport during a blizzard.

Other additions

Considering I had to take apart most of the GBA for the MicroUSB mod I went ahead and replaced the shell with it. The old shell was heavily scratched up and high quality replacement shells cost as little as €7.50 on Ali Express anyway. Just keep in mind you’ll have to use the old hinges for this as they are NOT included. I also went with an aftermarket 800mAh battery as the original 600mAh battery had aged poorly. With some additional case and battery modding you could also fit a NDS Lite battery inside which grants you over 3 times the original battery capacity, although that felt like overkill for a handheld that already makes it through the week on a single charge.

Finally I also purchased a flash cart from eBay, theEZ Flash IV. It takes MicroSD cards and when updated to the latest firmware you can just drag and drop your ROMs onto the MicroSD card. So far I haven’t had a single problem with games not running of it and a 2GB MicroSD card is enough to store just about every GBA game ever made. The only downside is that my EX Flash arrived with a dead save battery, although replacing it is only a matter of desoldering the old battery and replacing it with a new one.