Last updated: 03JAN2023 (updated links to JELOS)
It’s no secret that the Anbernic RG552 is an expensive device. At its starting retail price of $227, it can be disappointing that it’s not powerful enough to run GameCube or PlayStation 2 at acceptable levels. However, there are some aspects of this device that really shine — namely its screen and overall feel when it comes to d-pad-centric gaming — and so in this guide I’m going to walk you through all the little tweaks and tricks I use to get the most out of this device.
At the end of the day, the Anbernic RG552 is my favorite console for RETRO (i.e. 32-bit and below) gaming, and with these tweaks, I think you might agree.
Who should avoid the RG552?
Before we start discussing why I like the device so much, let’s put out some words of caution. If you only plan on buying one device, this may not be a good fit compared to other devices on the market. Let’s go over some of its downsides first:
- Price vs competition. At $227 retail, this is a sizable investment (note that it will often go on sale for $199 if you shop around). If you are most concerned about high-end performance, then you can find options that will give better performance for your money. At the absolutely lowest budget point, the Retroid Pocket 2+ starts at $99 before shipping, and will play about 25% of the GameCube catalog. Its larger sibling, the Retroid Pocket 3, has the same performance as the RP2+ but with a nicer form factor and larger screen for $120 before shipping. And at $199 before shipping, the AYN Odin Lite will play the majority of the GameCube catalog and a good amount of PS2 games, too (just note that shipping times for the Odin Lite are exceptionally bad; I ordered mine in July 2021 and as of this writing it still has not shipped).
- Higher-end gameplay. The RG552 can play a good amount of Dreamcast, N64, Saturn, and PSP titles, but it will take some tweaking to get just right, and you will have to switch between the Android and Linux operating systems to find the best fit (in general, Android will fare better). And even then, those systems won’t play as well on the RG552 as the cheaper devices I mentioned in the previous bullet.
- Not great for FPS or 3D games. The shoulder and trigger buttons on the RG552 are linear, as opposed to a stacked configuration you will find on modern controllers (and the handhelds mentioned above). This means that accessing the trigger (L2 or R2) buttons can be an uncomfortable stretch for most hands. Additionally, the analog sticks rest low on the device, making it very difficult to use a combination of the analog sticks and the trigger buttons at the same time. So when it comes to playing first-person shooters or other games where you rely on that style of controls, it will not be a pleasant experience.
- Not great for streaming. The device comes with a 2.4GHz internal WiFi chip, which is suitable for features like RetroAchievements or downloading updates for the custom firmware. However, that WiFi speed is not sufficient for game streaming. You can use a 5GHz WiFi USB dongle to provide that connection if you’d like, but that will be an added expense.
- No bluetooth. If you are hoping to connect an external controller to the device, or stream music to wireless earbuds while gaming, this device does not have an internal bluetooth chip. Instead, you’ll have to use that 5GHz WiFi dongle that I mentioned in the point above, because it also has BT capability. Side note, you can actually pull the chip from this dongle and solder it to the RG552 board; instructions on how to do that are found in Black Seraph’s Patreon page.
- Battery life with certain systems. When playing high-end systems like PSP, Dreamcast, or Nintendo 64, I would expect only about three hours of battery life, which is quite a bit worse than the cheaper devices I mentioned in the earlier points. This is because the Rockchip RK3399 CPU that runs the RG552 has a tendency to generate heat under a heavy load, which then will cycle on the fan, and then reduce battery life.
- Android update required. The Android that comes with the RG552 lacks a lot of features found in the custom Android image that I feature in this video and guide. So in order to get the best performance in Android, I would recommend updating the image, which will take some time and effort, and will also cost $10 to sign up for the developer’s Patron account in order to access the tool.
- Hand warmer. The device can get warm even under a light load, so if you are prone to sweaty hands, that may drive you bonkers.
Okay, so if I haven’t scared you off yet, let’s talk about why I think the RG552 is an excellent device in the right context.
What gives the RG552 potential?
Now, despite its shortcomings, the Anbernic RG552 can really shine in certain areas. And if those areas are critical to you, then the device might be a good fit for you — warts and all.
- Ideal aspect ratio. The screen on the RG552 is a 5:3 aspect ratio, which makes is a little wider than the traditional 4:3 display, but taller than the standard 16:9 aspect ratio we see today. What this means is that 4:3 games AND 16:9 games (and everything in between) will all look excellent on this screen, with minor black bars on the top and bottom depending on what system you use. This is ideal because no matter what retro system you play — NES, SNES, GBA, or PSP — they will all look well-proportioned.
- High resolution screen. In addition to having a nice aspect ratio, the RG552 screen resolution is 1920×1152. This high resolution allows you to use integer scaling (when you increase pixel scaling by a whole integer) to get beautifully balanced image quality for just about every retro game system. Your home console, arcade, *and* handheld systems will look fantastic with their original aspect ratio and integer scaling. If you’d like to test the aspect ratio and resolution yourself, I recommend checking out this handy tool from Shaun Inman.
- Premium d-pad and buttons. Shoulder/trigger buttons aside, the d-pad and face buttons are very good on the RG552. The d-pad is smooth and responsive, and the face buttons glide easily and bounce back with a classically-retro amount of force. So when playing retro games that rely on a d-pad and face button setup, your gaming experience will be outstanding. Additionally, using the left analog stick for arcade titles is decent — not exceptional, but still definitely enjoyable.
- Decent battery life with retro gaming. While playing high-end systems will only give you an average battery life of about 3 hours, when you do the tips and tricks below on retro (32-bit and below) systems you can expect much better returns. For example, playing the most demanding SNES game (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island) with my recommended adjustments will yield 4 hours and 45 minutes of game time. Additionally, the device is capable of fast charging, so you can be up and running with a full battery in about an hour.
- Android and Linux dual-boot. This is one of the few devices on the market that can natively boot into either Android or Linux operating systems. While this can be annoying when switching between the two in order to find the right emulation setup, the fact that you can do this in the first place effectively doubles your options. With Android you can flash a new clean ROM image to the device, and you have multiple Linux-based custom firmware options, to include JELOS, AmberELEC, and Batocera.
- Linux PC ports. Developer JohnnyonFlame and others from the community have been hard at work porting over PC games to work on Linux-based retro handhelds, and while they will run on other devices, all of these ports look best on the RG552. And it’s no contest, these games are breathtaking on this screen. Some examples include Celeste, TMNT: Shredder’s Revenge, Super Mario 64, Shovel Knight, Timespinner, and Iconoclasts.
So in the end, I’m not trying to convince you to buy the Anbernic RG552. Instead, this guide is meant to show you that in the right settings, this can be an exceptional retro handheld gaming experience. I’ve had the device for about eight months as of making this guide, and it’s still one of my most-played devices.
So with all that out of the way, let’s set up the device.
Use the JELOS custom firmware
I typically don’t like to take sides when it comes to the many custom firmware options that are available for Linux-based devices, but for this guide we are going to make an exception. Currently the JELOS custom firmware provides a number of options that aren’t found elsewhere. All told, this custom firmware will allow us to:
- Set custom overclock profiles on a per-system or per-game basis
- Reduce the number of used CPU cores to improve battery life
- Adjust the fan profile on a per-system or per-game basis
- Adjust the CPU governor to further improve battery life
- A “WiFi PowerSave” features
So the first thing we need to do is flash the JELOS custom firmware to a new microSD card (I recommend a 16GB card like these):
16GB cards: SanDisk Ultra SanDisk Industrial (more reliable but pricey)
Additionally, I recommend a high-quality second SD card to hold all of your ROMs and BIOS files:
128GB cards: SanDisk Extreme Samsung EVO Select SanDisk Ultra 256GB cards: Samsung EVO Select SanDisk Ultra
JELOS configuration recommendations
By default, JELOS uses a lot of really solid configurations for your retro systems. However, there are a few settings I like to tweak in order to maximize battery life and image quality.
Overall GAMES SETTINGS:
- Aspect Ratio: Core Provided
- Bilinear Filtering: OFF
- Cores Used: Little
- Rewind: OFF
- Integer Scaling: ON
- RGA Scale: OFF
- Auto Save/Load: Show Save States if not Empty
- Shader Set: NONE
- Filter Set: NONE
Beyond the system wide settings, some specific consoles have tweaks that can improve the experience. These can be adjusted in one of two ways: a) enter the games list for a system, press SELECT, and choose “Advanced System Options” for the options that can be changed in EmulationStation (ES), or b) enter a game, press SELECT + X to bring up the RetroArch (RA) Quick Menu, and make adjustments here. If making Core Options changes (most likely), they will save themselves every time you make an adjustment, which is handy.
Per-System GAMES SETTINGS:
– (ES) Shader Set: HANDHELD/LCD3X.GLSLP
– (ES) Colorization: SPECIAL 1
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Interframe Blending > LCD Ghosting (Accurate)
Game Boy Color:
– (ES) Shader Set: HANDHELD/LCD3X.GLSLP
Game Boy Advance:
– (ES) Shader Set: HANDHELD/LCD3X.GLSLP
Nintendo Entertainment System:
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Video > Mask Overscan (Horizontal) > ON
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Emulation Hacks > Remove Sprite Limit > ON
– (ES) Emulator: Genesis Plus GX Wide
– (ES) Aspect Ratio: Core Provided (default is 4:3)
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Video > Extra Columns to Draw in H40 > 2 to 8 (I prefer 2)
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Emulation Hacks > Remove Per-Line Sprite Limit > ON
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > Emulation Hacks > CPU Speed > 150% (for games with slowdown)
– (ES) Cores Used > All
– (ES) Overclock > All – 1992/1512/900/933
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > GPU Plugin > Enhanced Resolution (Slow) > ON
– (RA) Quick Menu > Core Options > GPU Plugin > Enhanced Resolution Speed Hack > ON
Note that when entering the Quick Menu with the XMB RetroArch Menu Driver, there will be some overlapping text at first. To fix this, I press B then A to enter and exit the Quick Menu and that resolves the issue.
Set up a clean Android ROM image
While it’s outside the scope of this guide, you can still definitely set up the Android side for improved performance. To start, I would recommend upgrading to Android 9 or 11 using Black Seraph’s custom solutions. This will give you a number of improvements over the original image, like overclock, proper streaming controls, and more. Note that in order to access those files, you will need to be a $10 Patron for at least one month (so, $10 altogether).
Although there is an Android 9 or Android 11 build option, I recommend the Android 9 version. The Android 11 version has increased security restrictions that won’t allow you to use the SD card interchangeably between Linux OS (like JELOS) and Android. Here is a video where I set up Android 9 (and here is the written guide with links to everything):
In the end, if you want to play the higher-end systems on this device, I would recommend setting it up in Android. Here is my Android emulation starter guide which will help you really dial in the best Android performance. See the video above for expected emulation performance in Android after everything is set up properly. In a nutshell, this is what I would expect:
Make some upgrades!
If you are looking for the 5GHz WiFi and Bluetooth module that will work with all three firmware options, this option is about $15 and has been tested thoroughly. You can even pull the chip from this dongle and solder it to the RG552 board; instructions on how to do that are found in Black Seraph’s Patreon page.
However, if (like me) you are not quite ready to start soldering chips to an expensive handheld device, one of the perks of joining the “Premium” ($10) tier of the Retro Handhelds discord server is that it entitles you to a free hardware mod from Thor. So for $10 plus the cost of shipping your device to/from Thor, you can have him install the chip (which is what I did). The membership tiers also unlock exclusive channels and a free copy of the Reset Collection frontend for Android ($5 value).
The options above aren’t the only way to enjoy the Anbernic RG552. For example, both Batocera and AmberELEC have custom firmware options available for the device: