How Game Boy Advance Works

The Game Boy Advance is Nintendo's first horizontally aligned handheld game.
The Game Boy Advance is Nintendo's first horizontally aligned handheld game.
Photo courtesy Amazon

Here's a good trivia question to ask your friends: Besides the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, can you name one other handheld video game system on the market today? You will probably hear mentions of the Atari Lynx and the Sega Game Gear, portable video games that faded into video game obscurity in the early to mid-1990s. But the truth is that Nintendo has, for all intents and purposes, a very firm grip on the portable video game market. Nintendo estimates that it holds a 90 percent share of the portable game market, though some analysts believe that percentage to be even higher.

The Game Boy Advance is a major leap for the Game Boy line. It is the first to have a horizontal alignment, and it is 17 times faster than the Game Boy Color, which was released in 1998. Read this edition of HowStuffWorks to find out what's under the hood of the Game Boy Advance system.

Inside Game Boy Advance

Game Boy Advance
Game Boy Advance

Since Nintendo launched the Game Boy in 1989, the unit has always had a vertical alignment, meaning that the screen is on the top and the buttons are on the bottom of the unit. The Game Boy Advance is turning the handheld unit on its side -- for the first time, Nintendo is using a horizontal alignment for its handheld game. The screen is in the middle of the device, with the A and B buttons on the right side of its face and the start and select buttons on the left side. This design is similar to Nintendo's competitors and was first used on the now-obsolete Atari Lynx in 1989.

Game Boy

Also new on the Game Boy Advance are Left (L) and Right (R) shoulder buttons, placed on the top of the device. It has a six-button directional pad on the left side of the unit. The device is slightly bulkier than the Game Boy Color. The Game Boy Advance is 5.6 inches (14.2 centimeters) wide, 3.2 inches (8.1 cm) tall and 1.06 inches (2.7 cm) thick. As is Nintendo's usual marketing style, the Game Boy Advance is available in several color patterns, including:

  • Indigo
  • Arctic
  • Glacier
  • Fuchsia
  • Platinum (limited edition)

The Game Boy Advance's screen is also slightly larger, at 2.9 inches (7.37 cm), compared to the Game Boy Color's 2.3-inch (5.84-cm) screen. The screen is a reflective, thin film transistor (TFT), color liquid crystal display (LCD). Nintendo has also boosted screen resolution from 160x140 pixels on the Game Boy Color to 240x160 on the Game Boy Advance.

The exterior of the Game Boy Advance is not the only thing that sets it apart from its predecessors. The internal components have been ramped up to support more complex games and allow for more interactivity with other Game Boy users. Let's take a look at the components of the Game Boy Advance:

  • All Game Boy devices made today have an 8-bit central processing unit (CPU). The Game Boy Advance generates computing speeds up to 17 times faster than its predecessors, with a 32-bit CPU developed by ARM Ltd. Game Boy Advance is capable of displaying 32,000 colors in bitmap mode or 511 simultaneous colors in character mode. It has a palette of 65,535 colors that it can potentially display.
  • The device offers 32 kilobytes of Window Random Access Memory (WRAM) and 96 kilobytes of Video RAM (VRAM). It also has 256 kilobytes of external WRAM.
  • Game Boy Advance is equipped with a PCM stereo sound generator.
  • The game's power comes from two AA disposable batteries or rechargeable batteries, which allows up to 20 hours of playing time -- that's twice as long as the Game Boy Color's battery life. An AC adapter is also available.

Games and Peripherals


The Game Boy Advance is backward compatible with the Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. Here's a look at a few of the games that are available for the Game Boy Advance:

Tony Hawks Pro Skater 3
Super Mario Advance

Click here to check out more of the Game Boy Advance games.

There are tons of peripherals for the Game Boy Advance, allowing it to do more than the Game Boy or Game Boy Color. Here's a list of some of the peripheral devices:

  • Game Boy Advance/GameCube Communication Cable - Using this cable, you can hook your Game Boy Advance to your GameCube. The cable allows for communication between the two consoles.
  • e-Reader - One of the most exciting accessories for the Game Boy Advance, this device reads data stored on special paper cards. It uses Scan Talk technology developed by Olympus Optical to scan barcodes containing data about characters, including stats, evolutions, sounds and more. Users will be able to use this e-Reader for tutorial information about the characters' attacks and effective ways to battle. Click here to learn more about the e-Reader.
  • Game Boy Advance Communication Cable - Allows up to four Game Boy Advance players to link up and play the same game with just one copy of the game. However, not all games will enable four-player action. Previously, players had to have two cartridges, and that still didn't allow four players to play together.
  • Game Boy Advance Power Sources - The Game Boy Advance has multiple power options, including an AC adapter, rechargeable battery PowerPak, recharging dock, and even regular old AA batteries.
  • Mobile Phone Adapter - Originally designed for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, this adapter allows users to connect to mobile phones and thus to the Internet. Users can use this device to trade data and download games.
  • Game Boy Advance Infrared Communication Adapter - This adapter is designed to enable low data rate transfers, for activities like trading items and sharing custom characters.

For tons more information on the Game Boy Advance, as well as other game consoles, check out the links on the next page.

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