Things are finally changing, it seems. The New Bittboy and the LDK are both shipping directly from China with OpenDingux/RetroFW pre-installed on them. Thanks in part to the commitment of Chinese developers Steward-Fu and Tony-jih, it seems that we might be at the brink of a new era.
It’s been just over 10 years since the Dingoo A320 was released, a console whose lifespan wouldn’t have been a fifth of what it was without the hard work and dedication of those who brought Dingux and later, OpenDingux to the device. 10 years later it seems as though the penny has finally dropped as we see 2 separate Chinese manufacturers embrace the Open Source OS for what it is – an ever evolving platform that offers endless opportunities for developers and gamers alike.
It’s a surprise that the GCW Zero didn’t trigger this change of tack back in 2013, but it’s easy to imagine that the stifled availability and somewhat shady business practices of Justin were to blame for its lack of widespread popularity. If we had to name a catalyst for this current round of consoles, the credit should probably go to 2018’s RetroGame RS97. Although shipped with one of the worst proprietary firmwares we’ve ever seen, the device hit crazy heights of popularity once OpenDingux, and later RetroFW were ported to it.
But the software isn’t the only remaining stumbling block to overcome. Back in 2009 when the A320 was released, it was powered by an Ingenic JZ4732 – a processor roughly 2 years old at that time. Moving forwards to the RetroGame and LDK (they both contain the same hardware) we’re utilising an Ingenic JZ4760 to do the grunt work – a more powerful CPU but one that’s now 9 years old.
The New Bittboy has bucked the trend of relying on Ingenic and whilst the AllWinner F1C500S is newer, it is still based on ageing technology that offers nothing over the 9 year old JZ4760 in terms of performance.
All that said, the LDK is here and it’s a rather wonderful little device. I picked one up from retromimi.com a few days ago and I’m going to waffle on about it for a bit now.
The LDK comes in a yellow box whether you order a yellow console or not. I did ask for transparent, but they sent me yellow anyway. I can’t be bothered sending it back, so I’ll either paint it, sell it or live with it. It’s OK in yellow I guess.
The unit itself is smaller than it appears in pictures. It is very squat with the controls stuffed on at the bottom.
The unit actually came with an old build of OpenDingux installed, but it took a matter of days from release for the current RetroFW build (for RS97) to be ported over to this thing. They do share the same hardware, however the LDK has a 320×240 LCD instead.
Flashing the new software is easy. Just whip out the battery to reveal the MicroSD card that carries the OS. Take it out, clean the partitions, format it, flash it, and put it back. The latest image and instructions can be found here. It’s worth noting that my console didn’t need to reboot as per the instructions in that link, it just booted straight up and was ready to go.
I’m not going to talk about the software all that much. It’s changing all the time in terms of the UI and the bundled software. Emulators are improved frequently, new games are being ported often and at this point I would expect most of you are familiar with OpenDingux from some other device. It’s still not a particularly polished piece of software, for example certain emulators or programs require a different button or combination of buttons to quit out. A symptom of the fact that these programs have been developed over many years and by many different people.
But to say it’s not polished is a bit of a dis-service. Nowadays it is a very stable operating system. I haven’t experienced a single lock up in hours and hours of play time, compared to the first iterations of the OS on the A320 where people were modding their hard reset buttons so that they could be reset without a needle or paper clip.
The handheld comes preloaded with all the usual emulators. ReGBA, Picodrive, PocketSNES, Temper, ScummVM etc. Basically there’s an emulator for pretty much every system up to and including the Playstation 1. Quake, Quake 2, Cave Story and Open Tyrian comprise some of the ports that come preloaded too.
The build quality of the LDK is fine. It feels very solid, it has an actual lens over the LCD unlike the RS97 and the plastic shell is fairly thick. The buttons do rattle when you shake it, and the shoulder buttons are especially clicky. But the d-pad feels good, none of the buttons stick and overall it’s perfectly usable. The placement of the shoulder buttons is not perfect, but it’s a million times better than the Retromini and is OK once you’re used to it. I have big hands, smaller hands may find the placement ideal.
So the release of the LDK is bitter sweet. It’s great to see China embracing Open Source (whether they’re compliant with GPL or otherwise – one thing at a time!), but I’m sure we’d all really like to see a move towards more powerful hardware. Hardware that can bring us N64, Dreamcast and even GameCube emulation without having to rely on Android.