This section will go over the various methods available to interface directly with Game Boy Game Paks. Cartridge readers are useful as they allow you to back up the ROM and RAM (save data) or restore the RAM of nearly any game. This is useful because some games use a battery for save data retention and when this battery dies or is replaced, the save data will be wiped. With a cartridge reader, you can backup the save before this happens and restore the save after the battery is replaced. All Game Boy and Game Boy Color games that save use battery backed RAM (with two exceptions -- Kirby Tilt 'n' Tumble and Command Master) but only a handful of Game Boy Advance games use a battery backed save.
Another useful feature of a cartridge reader is that if you backup the ROM of your game, you can then play this game on an emulator on your PC or other device (but this is outside the scope of this wiki). Finally, some modified or custom games may reflashed with other ROMs or even common bootleg or reproduction games may be reflashed (though compatibility with these varies depending on the specific revision and cart reader and reliability or save compatibility can be lacking). Bolded devices are standalone readers whereas the rest of the devices are typically modified consoles.
Keep in mind that most cart readers listed here are more sensitive than original Game Boys when it comes to the quality of the game interface. This means that cleaning the edge connector of your game, usually by swabbing with IPA, can greatly increase the reliability of any cart reader. This is important because a bad connection between the game and the cart reader can result in bad data being read from the cart or, worse, being written to the cart. Losing your save because of 20 years worth of built up saliva inside your game would suck (and, unfortunately, has happened several times so stop blowing into your carts!).
If you are reading this list and faced with decision paralysis, the GBxCart RW from insideGadgets is widely regarded as the best bang/buck reader for GB. Some other readers have more specific or niche functionality but even those readers come at a premium.
More devices to copy save files to/from original GB/GBC carts can be found here: https://savefileconverter.com/#/original-hardware?sort=gb and to/from original GBA carts here: https://savefileconverter.com/#/original-hardware?sort=gba
This table is a work in progress
|Epilogue GB Operator
|BennVenn Joey Joebags (Gen3)
|BennVenn Joey Jr (Gen4)
BennVenn's Joey Gen 3: Joey Joebags - This is the cart reader that really got the scene moving. It was not the first cart reader and it will not be the last but while it was supported, it featured the best compatibility with all Game Boy cartridges, including support for reflashing bootleg cartridges, and even supports Windows, Linux, and Mac computers. Unfortunately, BennVenn has dropped support for this model and discontinued it in favor of the gen 4 reader, the Joey Jr but you can pay BennVenn an additional fee to get custom gen 4 firmware to install to your gen 3 device though you'd be required to pay for every additional update if new carts are released so getting the gen 4 hardware is recommended over this. Discontinued but page still up for support reasons.
BennVenn's Joey Gen 4: Joey Jr. - This is BennVenn's "ultra rugged" and "ultra portable" cart reader. Unlike the gen 3, this unit does not require installing custom software and using unsigned drivers (on Windows PCs) and thus makes setup and use even easier. When plugged into a computer with a cart inserted, the Joey shows up as a removable drive with the game files on that drive. From there, you can just add or copy files to backup ROM/RAM or to restore RAM. Recently, flashing support has been added to close the feature gap between gen 3 readers and gen 4 readers. See the listing for currently supported carts. When in stock, you can grab one from BennVenn's website here.
insideGadgets' GBxCart RW - This is functionally similar to the Joey gen 3 but with a few extra bells and whistles and significantly better software support. Compatibility is probably the best among all other options listed on this page. Originally, the software was written in C++ and has pre-compiled executables for Windows but the software may be compiled easily for Linux or Mac devices (though the CartBoy software may be a better option for Macs) though officially FlashGBX replaces the original software. Introduced with hardware v1.3, the "Pro" formfactor version of the hardware changes the layout and shape slightly to allow the cart reader to be installed into a Game Boy Advance GamePak housing after cutting a hole for the USB port. Recently v1.4 was released that uses slightly different hardware for expanding support and much quicker read and write operations. Newer bootleg carts may not receive support on v1.3 devices or older. You can buy one from the insideGadgets store here.
Submodule GB01 - This device is rather unique compared to the others as its claimed biggest strength is the ease of operating. The software (that only works with this reader) is designed from the ground up and is very straightforward. Unfortunately, the device only supports reading ROMs and reading and writing saves on GB and GBA carts. Bootleg/repro support is minimal at best (but the GB01 should still read just fine -- check the FAQ). Flashing bootleg/repro games is not currently supported. Software is supplied as executables for Windows, Linux, and Mac devices. Now officially discontinued/abandoned. You can find more info from the Submodule store here.
Epilogue GB Operator - This device appears to be a sort of spiritual successor to the Submodule GB01 with similar goal but a better fit and finish (and case) and better compatibility. Units have shipped over a year ago (early 2022) and current software ("v0.9.1beta") is still considered a beta release. This means that the vendor does not consider the device stable or the software is not feature complete. Initial documentation (and the FAQ) hinted at being able to flash supported carts but the listing only makes vague mention of the feature so compatibility is still unknown. One of the biggest selling points for this reader is the emulator integration, even though all other cart readers support similar functionality. The idea is that you plug the reader in, pop a cart in, then just boot the emulator pointed at the cart reader. Unlike the Retron SQ, this device appears to support save write-back so using this device with an emulator means you can play your games on any supported hardware and your save will always be updated on the cart. Unfortunately, the packed in emulator does have some bugs and the settings are locked out though recent updates seem to have addressed some of the bigger issues. A work around is to just use this device to dump the rom and save data and then just load that into your own emulator (and don't forget to write the save data back to the cart). This cart reader seems to prioritize form and ease of use over function. Epilogue store
GAMEBANK-web.com Original "GBA Damper" - It can read and write both GBA and GB/C carts. Can write to some flashcarts (specifically the MBC3 and MBC5 carts from the same company along with flash modified MBC3 carts) but does not work for most (all?) bootleg carts. This reader may be used entirely without the software to read game ROMs and to read and write game saves. If you open the software, however, you may use some additional functionality such as rewriting some flash carts or bootleg hardware. Software is in Japanese and English and is relatively easy to use but definitely not as visually polished as some of the alternatives (function over form but the function is all there). The USB Mass Storage mode where it will present it self to the file explorer (similar to Joey JR) is extremely useful for emulators so can be run directly off of the device without having to dump the cartridge and then write back the save later. This feature also makes ROM and save management with your physical carts pretty easy to handle. Outside Japan, it can be pretty pricey to get and support will be almost nonexistant, but if you're still interested, you may be able to buy one here on amazon.co.jp.
Sanni's Cart Reader - This is a fully open source reader that supports both Game Boy (Color) and Game Boy Advance cartridges. Compatibility with OEM games is near 100%, just like the other readers above, but this reader actually supports a few other systems as well like N64, SNES, Megadrive, etc. Sanni is constantly updating the software and hardware to add support for more devices. Beyond the support for more systems (which is outside the scope of this wiki), this device has a few more things that set it apart from the other readers. The biggest difference is that it is not officially sold anywhere. If you want one, you'll have to DIY it or buy a home made reader from a third party. Another big difference is that this device does not interface with a PC for reading and writing carts. It stores games and saves on a (micro) SD card attached to the reader. Because of the modular design of this reader, you can also add a battery, buttons, and screen to it and eliminate the requirement of a PC altogether. This reader has the worst bootleg compatibility out of the above readers but it does still support a lot of the common bootlegs. You can read more about the device on the sanni's Github repository for the cart reader.
Retrode + GBx Plugin - This is another third party home console that may be used to interface directly with the carts. Well, it's less a console and more a Joey Jr style device that also supports controllers. It's basically an interface for emulators to interact directly with original controllers and cartridges. It supports SNES and Megadrive out of the box but an adapter allows Game Boy cartridge compatibility. See this guide from u/Slinky64 for the process. You'd need a Retrode and the GBx plugin for the retrode.
Nintendo GameCube + Game Boy Player + Game Boy Interface - If you have a GameCube and a Game Boy Player installed, you may have heard of Game Boy Interface, or GBI. GBI is homebrew that runs only on GameCubes with Game Boy Player hardware attached. It is a replacement for the software that comes with the Game Boy Player and it includes several enhancements over the original software. This software requires a method to run homebrew on your GameCube (perhaps, PicoBoot?) but it can also be used to dump games and saves. See this quick guide for more info.
insideGadgets' GBxCart Mini RW - This is a Game Boy and Game Boy Color only version of the regular GBxCart RW. The lack of Game Boy Advance support comes at a reduced price. Features are identical otherwise. Reader has been discontinued in favor of the non-mini v1.4 iteration.
HDR's GBFlasher-Micro - This device is built using a modified schematic of the original cartridge reader from the early 2000s made by Reiner Ziegler. JRodrigo also made (and sells) a cart reader based on these schematics but HDR has added a few extra features that over the other readers. This device only support OEM Game Boy and Game Boy Color cartriges and a few homebrew cartridges made with AM29F016/F032 or MBM29F033C chips. HDR's firmware and PC software will work with JRodrigo's devices if you already have that device but the primary change in hardware is that HDR has made his readers physically smaller and is using parts that are much easier to hand solder. HDR's software itself has quite a few features, including full Windows 10 (64 bit) compatibility, support for 4 MB MBC30 homebrew games, and even firmware updates via USB for the reader. Check out HDR's github repo for the hardware here and the software here. These devices are not currently sold.
Altane - This device is very similar to the Reiner Ziegler based flashers above and has similar compatibility and features. Does not support bootleg or repro cart flashing but will flash homebrew carts like the device above. See this site for more info or you can buy one from retromodding.
Nintendo 64 + GB Transfer Pak - Using the Nintendo home console, you can manage save files on Game Boy (Color) cartridges and even save or dump ROMs. You'll need a way to run homebrew on the N64 (like the 64drive or an Everdrive) but otherwise, here is a guide.
While there are no stand-alone readers that work on Game Boy Advance only carts, there are a few methods using game console hardware that does only work on GBA carts.
Nintendo DS (Lite) + SLOT-1 Flash Cart - If you have a DS console that has a GBA slot and if you have a SLOT-1 flash cart like an R4 device or Acekard, you can use the homebrew software GBA Backup Tool to save the ROM or RAM of a Game Boy Advance cartridge to the internal memory card of your SLOT-1 flash cart. This device only supports reading ROMs and reading and writing RAM for most game carts.
Nintendo GameCube / Wii + Game Boy Advance Cable - This combination uses GameCube homebrew software to run multiboot software on a connected Game Boy Advance that will allow you to read and write RAM and dump ROMs. This method requires a GameCube that is capable of running homebrew or, more likely, a Wii that is capable of running homebrew and has GC controller ports. Do note that dumping a game can be very time consuming due to interface limitations. See this github repo for more information.