Dan, aka Citrus3000psi (with the help of meneerbeer) has just announced an Optical Drive Emulator (ODE) for the GameCube. No action replay required, this is just a direct ODE! The boards are due to arrive in December and will sell for $80; No pre-orders, just plenty available for purchase once they arrive: https://shop.dansprojects.com/gc-loader.html
The GCLoader is a mostly plug-and-play device, with only a bit of soldering required. A flex cable is provided that sits on top of pins, then you just need to add a bit of solder to each pin. I’d say this is a “beginner-friendly” mod, that’s even a bit easier than a SNES Mini or (basic) N64 mod, since you only need to solder the pins, not via’s. MAKE SURE TO USE THE CORRECT TEMPERATURE WHEN SOLDERING THOUGH!!! Many beginners use iron’s that are far too hot and will ruin the flex cable…but other than that, it looks easy (click for full-size):
It’s recommended that the GCLoader is used with the amazing Swiss software to launch games, which is homebrew I’ve always referred to as an essential tool all GC users should be aware of! Swiss isn’t required, but ads so many options that I’d never use GCLoader without it. Full audio streaming is supported, making this the most compatible solution available today. Also, any size SD card should be compatible, provided you format it FAT32.
The GCLoader is noticeably faster than original disc drives and was tested by speedrunner CarcinogenSDA (as shown in the tweet below). Overall performance seemed great and the GCLoader seems like a must-have for serious GameCube enthusiasts. If you’re just a casual GC user, or on a budget, Dan also sells SD reader boards that, combined with an action replay kit can provide a great experience as well.
The bottom line is there’s now choices for every GameCube, at multiple price points!
— SmokeMonster at RetroCreate (@SmokeMonsterTWI) November 2, 2019