Last updated: 16MAR2021 (see Changelog for details)
Back in November, I wrote my first Starter Guide for the RG351P. Since then, there have been a few changes to the device: a new model, and custom firmware that simplifies the setup process.
So in this guide I will show you what to do during your first 20 minutes with a new RG351P or RG351M. This entry-level walkthrough will show you how to boot up games, back up your files, flash the 351ELEC firmware, and more!
Table of contents: Choose the right device for you Before the RG351P arrives Unboxing Save the BIOS folder Flash 351ELEC onto a new card Load games onto your device Understanding the interface Take your device online More fun to be had Changelog
Choose the right device for you
First things first, you need to decide which device to buy. Check out the video above for a deep-dive comparison between the two devices. If you haven’t bought one yet, check out my Retro Gaming Buyer’s Guide where I rank the various online retailers for handheld devices.
Before the RG351 device arrives
The RG351P and RG351M will come bundled with a single microSD card, but it is from a generic brand and is prone to failure. Since all of your games AND the software is stored on that single card, your safest bet is to replace it with a microSD card from a well-known brand (don’t worry, I’ll show you how to do that below). I recommend you store that original card somewhere safe in case you run into any issues in the future, and buy a new SD card from a reputable brand like SanDisk or Samsung to use in your device.
In general, I recommend the cards listed below, in order or preference. The prices fluctuate all the time, so keep an eye out for deals. In general, I would expect to pay $20 for a 128GB card and $30 for a 256GB card. A 128GB card will allow you to load EVERY 8-bit and 16-bit game out there, all of the arcade games that work, and quite a few PS1, Dreamcast, PSP, and Sega CD games (those systems have the largest file sizes). A 256GB card will allow you to store even more of those larger games.
128GB cards: SanDisk Extreme Samsung EVO Select SanDisk Ultra 256GB cards: Samsung EVO Select SanDisk Ultra
The RG351M comes with built-in WiFi, which is very handy, but the RG351P does not have built-in WiFi. So what this means is that there are several really awesome networking features in the RG351P and you won’t be able to access them. Luckily, many sellers will bundle their RG351P with an OTG adapter (basically a USB-C to USB-A adapter) and a USB WiFi module. Together, these two adapters will allow you to connect your device to your home network and take advantage of its NetPlay, media scraping (image/boxart downloading), cheats, and Retro Achievements functions. So I recommend you check with the seller to see if your device is going to come with an OTG and WiFi adapters; if they aren’t I suggest you buy them so they’re available as soon as you open up your device. I have personally tested the WiFi adapter linked above and can verify that it works well on the RG351P; it also has a nice (subtle) blinking light to let you know when it is accessing data.
One more accessory to consider: if you don’t have a nice microSD to USB adapter, you might want to think about getting one. A nice adapter like this one from Anker will give you the fastest transfer speeds possible, and won’t cause any corruption issues with your card.
Finally, I would recommend that you build your ROM library now, if you haven’t already. Make a folder called “Retro Games” or something like it, and make distinct folders for each of the systems you would like to play on your device. I recommend naming your game folders after the “Rom Path” names found in this guide, because that’s how they’ll be organized on your device once we flash the custom firmware later in this guide. Also be sure to load the folders with ROMs of the correct file extension, which is also found in that guide. For example, NES games can be in .7z, .fds, .nes, or .zip format. As a reminder, here are some of the many systems that play on the RG351 devices:
Atari 5200 (and 800)
PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16)
PC Engine CD (TurboGrafx-CD)
Nintendo Entertainment System
Famicom Disk System
Sega Master System
Sega Saturn (poorly)
Neo-Geo / CD
Game and Watch
Nintendo Game Boy
Nintendo Game Boy Color
Nintendo Game Boy Advance
Nintendo Virtual Boy
Sega Game Gear
Neo-Geo Pocket / Color
Wonderswan / Color
Commodore 64 (and C16/Plus4, C128)
Final Burn Neo
Neo-Geo / CD
Now that your device has arrived, let’s make sure everything is working. Unbox the device, and do a quick hardware check. Confirm that all of the buttons work/click as expected, look for any noticeable damage or cracks in the screen. Power on the device, and try booting some games. Verify that you have no dead pixels (they’ll look like little dots). To power off the device, I recommend you do a system shut down instead of just holding down the power button. Think of it like powering down a PC. To do a system shutdown, press START then select Quit > Shutdown System.
Save the BIOS folder
This device comes pre-loaded with thousands of games, and a modified version of the EmuELEC firmware. Anbernic’s intent with this device is to allow you to just power it on and start gaming — but it’s not that simple. You’ll find the the games loaded onto the device are poorly organized, from the wrong region, or just plain don’t work. This is why I recommended earlier to build your own library, so you can load your own game files onto the device, and have more control over the details.
But there is one very useful part of that initial SD card that comes with your device: it is loaded up with BIOS files, which are the system files necessary to run certain consoles (like GBA, PS1, and Dreamcast). Remove the microSD card from the device. It’s on the bottom, underneath a sticker. That sticker is a pain to remove, but use your fingernail and maybe a bit of isopropyl alcohol to clean it all up. Put the SD card into your computer, then navigate to the GAMES partition on the card, and copy the contents of the “bios” folder somewhere safe on your computer. You’ll need these later.
Flash 351ELEC onto a new card
The most important thing you can do for your device is to load up a custom firmware like 351ELEC or ArkOS onto the device. This will unlock optimized performance, new games/ports, and features such as online updates. In the video above we will install 351ELEC, because I think it’s best suited for new users, but if you’re familiar with emulation and what the flexibility to tinker, then ArkOS is a better bet.
To install 351ELEC, head over to their Releases page and download the most recent .img file that is available (it will be compressed as a .gz file). Unzip this .gz file and then use one of these software apps to flash the .img file onto your new SD card. The video above will show you how to flash using Rufus.
Load games onto your device
You’ll notice that when you plug your microSD card into your computer, two partitions will appear: “351ELEC” and “Games”. If you’re not seeing the “Games” partition, be aware that only Windows 10 (or MacOS) can see multiple partitions on a single SD card; so if you’re running something older than Windows 10, you won’t see the partition at all.
If you look at the Games partition, you’ll see all of your ROM folders. It is here that you want to add your game files. Note that for multi-file games (like .bin and .cue files for PS1 games), you don’t want to put them in subfolders — just throw everything into the PS1 folder itself.
There’s no special trick to adding games — just make sure you’re putting them in the right folder, and that they are the correct file extension (you can check the accepted file extensions here).
Note that if you transfer files using a Mac, you may find mysterious files on your device that start with a “._” prefix in addition to your regular game. So for example you’ll see both Sonic.bin as well as “._Sonic.bin”. These are files created by MacOS to aid in their QuickLook function. You can delete these files from your device by pressing SELECT > Edit game metadata > Delete. Or, you can also clear them from your SD card while on your Mac, using this method:
- Open the Terminal app and type “sudo dot_clean -mn /Volumes/SD/” where “/Volumes/SD” is the path to your SD card.
Now that you have your games loaded, let’s put the card into your device and have a look.
Understanding the interface
When you first power on the device, you will be greeted with a sleek user interface that will allow you to scroll through systems, and select games. You’ll also notice that the systems that appear on your device are only the ones that have games loaded — how convenient is that?
This main interface is something called EmulationStation, which serves as a frontend interface for the user, while the games themselves are mostly loaded from an emulation system known as RetroArch. In general, the easiest way to think of this is that when you launch a game from the 351ELEC interface, it’s actually booting up into RetroArch, and everything you do within the game is within RetroArch until you quit it and go back to 351ELEC.
Note that some emulators don’t use RetroArch at all: Nintendo DS and PSP use standalone emulators that won’t follow the same configuration requirements as RetroArch.
Take your device online
There are many nice features of this device that can only be accessed via WiFi. For example, you can “scrape” (download) box art and other media for all of your games, or add new themes to your EmuELEC frontend, or even get achievements for classic games.
To get started, you’ll need an OTG adapter and a USB WiFi module, which I recommended at the beginning of this guide. Plug the WiFi module unto the OTG adapter, and then plug the OTG adapter into the device. You can find more details in the video above.
More fun to be had
There is a lot more to the RG351P and RG351M devices, and the 351ELEC firmware, but I think this is a good stopping point. Once you’re ready to branch out some more, I recommend you check out my RG351 Guide here on this website, or the RG351 YouTube playlist, to check out even more fun tips and tricks.
– published guide