Serial Data Transfer (Link Cable)

Communication between two Game Boy systems happens one byte at a time. One Game Boy generates a clock signal internally and thus controls when the exchange happens. In SPI terms, the Game Boy generating the clock is called the “master.” The other one uses an external clock (receiving it from the other Game Boy) and has no control over when the transfer happens. If it hasn’t gotten around to loading up the next data byte at the time the transfer begins, the last one will go out again. Alternately, if it’s ready to send the next byte but the last one hasn’t gone out yet, it has no choice but to wait.

FF01 — SB: Serial transfer data

Before a transfer, it holds the next byte that will go out.

During a transfer, it has a blend of the outgoing and incoming bytes. Each cycle, the leftmost bit is shifted out (and over the wire) and the incoming bit is shifted in from the other side:

1 shifto.6o.5o.4o.3o.2o.1o.0i.7
2 shiftso.5o.4o.3o.2o.1o.0i.7i.6
3 shiftso.4o.3o.2o.1o.0i.7i.6i.5
4 shiftso.3o.2o.1o.0i.7i.6i.5i.4
5 shiftso.2o.1o.0i.7i.6i.5i.4i.3
6 shiftso.1o.0i.7i.6i.5i.4i.3i.2
7 shiftso.0i.7i.6i.5i.4i.3i.2i.1
8 shiftsi.7i.6i.5i.4i.3i.2i.1i.0

FF02 — SC: Serial transfer control

SCTransfer enableClock speedClock select
  • Transfer enable (Read/Write): If 1, a transfer is either requested or in progress.
  • Clock speed [CGB Mode only] (Read/Write): If set to 1, enable high speed serial clock (~256 kHz in single-speed mode)
  • Clock select (Read/Write): 0 = External clock (“slave”), 1 = Internal clock (“master”).

The master Game Boy will load up a data byte in SB and then set SC to $81 (Transfer requested, use internal clock). It will be notified that the transfer is complete in two ways: SC’s Bit 7 will be cleared (that is, SC will be set up $01), and also a Serial interrupt will be requested.

The other Game Boy will load up a data byte and can optionally set SC’s Bit 7 (that is, SC=$80). Regardless of whether or not it has done this, if and when the master wants to conduct a transfer, it will happen (pulling whatever happens to be in SB at that time). The externally clocked Game Boy will have a serial interrupt requested at the end of the transfer, and if it bothered to set SC’s Bit 7, it will be cleared.

Internal Clock

In Non-CGB Mode the Game Boy supplies an internal clock of 8192Hz only (allowing to transfer about 1 KByte per second minus overhead for delays). In CGB Mode four internal clock rates are available, depending on Bit 1 of the SC register, and on whether the CGB Double Speed Mode is used:

Clock freqTransfer speedConditions
8192 Hz1 KB/sBit 1 cleared, Normal speed
16384 Hz2 KB/sBit 1 cleared, Double-speed Mode
262144 Hz32 KB/sBit 1 set, Normal speed
524288 Hz64 KB/sBit 1 set, Double-speed Mode

External Clock

The external clock is typically supplied by another Game Boy, but might be supplied by another computer (for example if connected to a PC’s parallel port), in that case the external clock may have any speed. Even the old/monochrome Game Boy is reported to recognize external clocks of up to 500 kHz. And there is no limitation in the other direction: even when suppling an external clock speed of “1 bit per month,” the Game Boy will eagerly wait for the next bit to be transferred. It isn’t required that the clock pulses are sent at a regular interval either.


When using external clock then the transfer will not complete until the last bit is received. In case that the second Game Boy isn’t supplying a clock signal, if it gets turned off, or if there is no second Game Boy connected at all) then transfer will never complete. For this reason the transfer procedure should use a timeout counter, and abort the communication if no response has been received during the timeout interval.


On a disconnected link cable, the input bit on a master will start to read 1. This means a master will start to receive $FF bytes.

If a disconnection happens during transmission, the input will be pulled up to 1 over a 20uSec period. (TODO: Only measured on a CGB rev E) This means if the slave was sending a 0 bit at the time of the disconnect, you will read 0 bits for up to 20 μs. Which on a CGB at the highest speed can be more then a byte.

Delays and Synchronization

The master Game Boy should always execute a small delay after each transfer, in order to ensure that the other Game Boy has enough time to prepare itself for the next transfer. That is, the Game Boy with external clock must have set its transfer start bit before the Game Boy with internal clock starts the transfer. Alternately, the two Game Boy systems could switch between internal and external clock for each transferred byte to ensure synchronization.

Transfer is initiated when the master Game Boy sets its Transfer Start Flag, regardless of the value of this flag on the other device. This bit is automatically set to 0 (on both) at the end of transfer. Reading this bit can be used to determine if the transfer is still active.