Fixing the NES

Box ‘o’ NES, copyright 2020

So, for quite a while, I’ve wanted to get my Nintendo Entertainment System up and running. There are a lot of classic games for this system, and while emulation is now practically perfect, I still like the feel of original hardware. Besides, I now had three non working units.

By far and away the most common fault on the NES relates to a decision very early on in the design cycle of the unit to try and make it less “game console” like. (Thus the name doesn’t contain “game” or “console”). To this end, Nintendo made the system “front loading” to evoke the increasingly popular “VCR” units flooding the world. Unfortunately the connector that this system uses gets a LOT of wear and tear and is prone to failing. It’s a bad long term solution. (The Famicom, that the NES is directly based on, is a top loader like almost every console before and since, and thus avoids these problems). To make matters worse, the “standard” advice at the time was “blow on the cartridge and reinstall”. This did two things:

  1. Reinserted the cartridge, which is probably what was needed in the first place and
  2. Got a whole lot of corrosive spit in there with the delicate cartridge connector, making the problem worse.

I had replaced the cartridge connector on one of my machines already and got about 6 months of additional life out of it, I’d tried the “bending the pins” trick, and I’d even boiled the connector, but this was not a game I wanted to continue to play. I’d done my research and knew there WAS a better solution out there. It wasn’t too expensive, but once I’d added shipping, the price basically doubled. Oh well. Bite the bullet.

I bought an Arcadeworks BLW.

These are a complete rebuild of the entire cartridge slot of the NES, making it have a “top load” connector, but inserted sideways into the cartridge. I placed the order, after determining there is no no Australian distributor, and waited. And waited. And waited.

Arcadeworks had shipped practically the next business day, and my package was being tracked, so that I could see that it sat in LA for nearly a month. Another thing we can “thank” the current pandemic for. Eventually, after over a month, it finally arrived. (I’d contacted Arcadeworks after a month and they were responsive but couldn’t do much about it.)

So this weekend I dug out my box of opened NES and prepped and assembled the first NES. It. Didn’t. Work. Not a lockout issue, which would manifest as a flashing screen and a blinking power light. Just a grey screen with a lit power led and no further activity.

At this point I got up, ate dinner then came back. This machine had been reworked (by me) at one point and I was uncertain about the lockout chip at all. I knew it may have been killed in the process, so I put it aside and dug out the second NES.

Reassembly followed… and it worked! It was flashing that it was in “lockout” mode, but I was prepared for that. A power off and power on in quick succession programmed the BLW onboard chip to be a PAL system and we had video. Success!

The NES is now in my cabinet with all the other consoles. There seems to be an issue with sound, but that may be an issue with cabling. I’ll pull it out again in a few days and plug it into my test TV to double check. I have two “spare” units so I’m not too stressed. I figure, worst case, I’ll need to swap a sound chip. Best case it’s just a loose cable in the console setup somewhere.

Big thanks to Arcadeworks for their excellent support!

Published by ilike8bits

I collect old computers and consoles

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