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This article is going to be a fairly brief overview of a mod I recently performed on my “Vader” Atari 2600. I may end up glossing over a few details but this is only because there is already a great wealth of information on the internet pertaining to these mods so I really just wanted to share my experience as a relatively novice solderer in performing these mods.

First off lets take a look at the Atari we will be modifying.

This is my four switch “Vader” Atari 2600. They call this model the “Vader” due to its all black case as opposed to the faux wood grain found on earlier four and six switch models. Personally I’m not a fan of wood grain so I tend to prefer the “Vader” models. This particular 2600 I bought at a Swap meet for something like $5. The guy said he didn’t know if it worked since he didn’t have a power supply. After giving it a look I also quickly notice the RF cord was completely missing and there was a round hole cut into the case where the RF cable would internally connect to the motherboard.

My best guess is that at some point the RF cable was severed so the previous owner cut this hole so they could directly connect a separate RF cable. After getting it home and digging out my 2600 power supply and a spare RF cable I tried this myself and thankfully the Atari powered up and played games fine though with a pretty terrible image quality. Now I’ve been hearing a lot about these $10 Atari RCA mods on eBay that add RCA jacks for superior and more convenient composite video as well as sound out of the a RCA jack for some time and I figured with this machine in the condition it was in it would make a perfect candidate for the mod. I also decided to do an LED power light mod since I was going to be messing around with the Atari anyways.

Finding these kits is super easy and just a simple search on eBay for Atari composite kits or Atari RCA kits will bring up tons of options. There are minor differences in some of the kits but they are all basically the same and sell for around $10. Keep in mind that you can find these kits preassembled for a few bucks more which is the option I went for rather then just getting the parts and assembling it myself. I figure it’s worth the less hassle for about $3-$5 more. The composite mod kit I bought came with its own LED but I opted to buy a second kit. The LED light kit was only about $3 and came with the wires presoldered onto the LED. I went with a purple LED light since I think that looks really slick with the all black 2600.

After getting the kits and assembling them (if you bought yours in pieces) it’s time to open the 2600 which is very easy and only consists of removing four screws on the bottom of the case.

So here is the motherboard to the Atari 2600. Keep in mind your board may look slightly different due to different revisions. This is also the four switcher so the six switcher and 2600 jr. will also look different. A quick Google search for Atari 2600 composite mod will find you many sites with instructions on performing the mod. Many of the eBay listings give links right in the item description.

We will start with the very simple LED light mod. You only need to make two easy solder connections with this mod as well as drill a small hole where you would like the LED light to go. Below is my purple LED light with the wires pre-attached.

Here is the spot on the motherboard your going to need to solder the two ends of the wires.

It should look pretty much the same on all 2600 motherboards. Were going to need to solder the wires to the two bottom legs coming out of that black block.

Most of these kits seem to use the same colored wires but double check your own. the black wire connects to the center leg and the red to the lower. That’s seriously it for the LED mod. I decided to place my LED light next to the power switch. If your also doing the RCA mod though don’t connect the LED to the case just yet. It should be fine just laying off to the side.

Next we need to remove that metal RF shield if you already haven’t.

After this we are going to need to remove a few parts. Namely one resistor and the little black tripod thing I’ve boxed below.

They should be able to desolder relatively easily and fall right off.

Next we need to remove the RF circuit and if your feeling so inclined the box.

The instructions suggest just cutting and/or snapping it off but if you want to be able to reverse the mod the best course of action is to desolder everything. I attempted this at first but the stubborn components would not come off. After awhile of trying and knowing the RF cable was missing off my unit anyways I finally gave in and just cut off the RF circuit and left the RF box in place. Ive read removing the box can help create less signal interference but mine just would not come off so I left it.

After making sure the holes are clear of old solder or broken off pins were going to need to start connecting our RCA video/audio circuits wires. As I said earlier some kits have different colored wires so be aware of this.

The black ground wire goes in the first hole, the red wire which I believe carries the sync signal connects to the third hole from the left and the yellow video wire connects in the hole next to it. Your audio wire, in my case green, connects to the leg of the transistor as seen in the image above.

Lastly were going to need to cut holes in the back of your case, or wherever you may want your RCA jacks and install them. following this your going to need to connect the yellow video wire to your video jack and your audio wire to your audio jack or jacks. some kits like mine come with two audio jacks but since the Atari 2600 is not a stereo system it really doesn’t matter if you use one of two jacks as they both will just output mono. lastly connect the black ground wire to all three jacks as so.

Replace everything carefully and test your system. hopefully if everything went well you should now have a nice looking LED light and composite video which I feel increases video quality greatly as well as makes hooking the 2600 up to more TV’s easy. There are S-video and even RGB mods for the 2600 but with such primitive graphics from these systems I don’t really feel going above composite yields much overall. I really like this mod because it’s very cheap, simple to preform and once done drastically improves playability of the 2600 system. If your just starting out soldering or doing system mods this is a great mod to try out.

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I’ve likely mentioned it before on the blog that I’m a bit of a purist. I enjoy playing my games on original hardware so when clone systems come along I usually turn my nose up to them as a professional wine taster would a cheap wine in a box from the local grocery store. I recoil like a vampire from garlic at the site of Atari, Genesis and intellivision flashback consoles at the local Big Lots and even look on at the upcoming NES Mini console with indifference. Therefore I guess it may come as a surprise that I should endorse and even dare I say like the Atari flashback 2 console.

The Atari Flashback was released in 2005 and what makes the Flashback 2 different from the other Atari Flashbacks and for that matter most of the emulation boxes out there? Well first off it’s not actually emulating and is in fact actually more like a revision to the hardware you would find in an actual Atari 2600. Inside the Atari Flashback 2 is an actual single chip hardware reproduction of the TIA chip from the original console. What this means is that the flashback 2 can play 2600 games as they ran on the original hardware with a few exceptions. This works even to the point that one can modify a flashback 2 with a cartridge slot to actually accept and play original 2600 games, but we will touch more on that later.

So first lets have a look at the console and the packaging.

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The box itself is a little reminiscent of console boxes of the 70’s and early 80’s with alternating images of a few games and people having way more fun they probably ever would with the console. opening up the box we get.

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The flashback comes with the console itself, two Atari replica controllers and a power supply. I do not know if a manual was included. Mine did not come with one.

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The flashback console itself is directly modeled after the original 2600 only smaller. The most obvious change other then the size is the replacement of the toggle switches of the original with large plastic buttons. The buttons look kind of cheap but they do the job well enough.

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On the back of the unit we also have something very similar to the original console. We have the interesting inclusion of a switch to toggle between color and black & white displays like the original as well as the power jack. Instead of an RF coaxial cable wire built in we have a very welcomed composite and mono audio cable. It still looks pretty poor on a modern LCD HDTV but looks much better and is more convenient to set up on an older SD CRT set then RF. It even looks pretty nice on my Samsung HD CRT.

we have two controller ports which are the same standard 9 pin ports found on the original 2600 as well as many consoles and computers of the 80’s and early 90’s. joysticks from the original 2600 can be used without any issues on the Flashback 2 as well as the other way around with Flashback 2 joysticks working just fine on an original 2600. You can even use your trusty Sega Genesis controller if you’d like.

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The controllers feel mostly identical though the Flashback controller seen on the right in the image above has some different branding and seems ever so minutely smaller the original.

moving on to the built in games. We have a 40 games split into various categories.

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Adventure
Adventure II, a sequel to Adventure that is built on its original assembly-based game code
Haunted House
Return To Haunted House, a sequel to Haunted House that is built on the original Adventure’s assembly-based game code combined with graphics from the original Haunted House)
Secret Quest
Wizard (unreleased prototype)

Arcade Asteroids (hack)
Arcade Pong (exclusive to the Flashback 2), a version of Pong which can use paddle controllers if attached
Asteroids Deluxe (exclusive)
Battlezone
Centipede
Lunar Lander (exclusive)
Millipede
Missile Command
Space Duel (exclusive)

3D Tic-Tac-Toe
Aquaventure (unreleased prototype)
Atari Climber (homebrew), released in 2004 as Climber 5
Combat
Combat 2 (unreleased prototype)
Dodge ‘Em
Fatal Run (only released in Europe)
Frog Pond (unreleased prototype)
Hangman
Human Cannonball
Maze Craze
Off The Wall
Outlaw
Pitfall! (originally released by Activision)
Radar Lock
River Raid (originally released by Activision)
Save Mary (unreleased prototype)
Video Checkers
Video Chess
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Caverns Of Mars (exclusive)
Quadrun (originally sold only by mail order through the Atari fan club)
Saboteur (unreleased prototype)
Space War
Yars’ Return (exclusive sequel to Yars’ Revenge built on its original assembly-based game code)
Yars’ Revenge
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There are also two hidden paddle games included
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Super Breakout
Warloads
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Overall this is a pretty good sampling of 2600 titles in my opinion and the list contains some classics like Yar’s Revenge, Missile Command and Pitfall!. The really nice thing though is the inclusion of a few homebrews, unreleased prototype games and even a EU exclusive. Some of the prototypes such as Aquaventure are excellent 2600 games.
Once you pick a category you just scroll down and choose a game.
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One thing is there’s no way that I found to exit a game back to the select menu without powering the system off and then back on again.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that in 2010 a Atari Flashback 2+ was released that was mostly the same console with some games changed around. Pitfall!, River Raid, Wizard, Caverns of Mars and Atari Climber were removed and in their place a sports section was added with several 2600 Sports titles. Circus Atari was also added to the hidden paddle game menu. In my opinion the sports games aren’t worth it for the loss of some classics like Pitfall! but if your unlike me and into Atari sports titles the 2+ may be worth the tradeoff.

So lets take a look at the inside of the Flashback 2. Opening the console up is a simple matter of removing a few screws on the underside of the case.

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As you can see in the image above the majority of the case is just and empty shell. Its really pretty amazing how small the motherboard has been refined to.

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Now as this is more or less a revision of the original hardware there is a modification available for the Flashback 2 that allows a cartridge slot to be added allowing the user to play actual 2600 carts. Originally the cart slot was going to be built in but was cut as a supposed cost savings measure. If your interested here is a link to a very good guide on performing the modification

http://portablesofdoom.org/?p=244

I have read that due to some changes with the revised motherboard not all games will work with the cart port so your not exactly getting complete 100% compatibility.

So what is my opinion of the Atari Flashback 2? I don’t think it’s necessarily a good replacement for an original 2600. If your serious about getting into the 2600 library of games get an original model. They still aren’t very expansive and your assured full compatibility that you won’t quite get even with a Flashback with a cart mod. Also unless your good with soldering and electronics your likely going to have to pay someone to do the mod which is money that could be used to get a composite, S-video or better yet RGB mod done to an original 2600. If you do happen to find one cheap for under $20 though I would recommend picking one up. Not as a replacement for a original 2600 but for its collection of games you cant otherwise get such as the hacks, unreleased prototypes and Flashback 2 exclusives.

The Turbografx-16, a personal console favorite of mine has seen a recent resurgence of mass popularity as well as a ridicules and dramatic increase in the value of its games. This in turn has also lead to a renewed interest in importing from its Japanese version the PC Engine. Turbografx and PC Engine games came in two basic flavors, Hucard and CD. Hucards acted as standard carts but looked more like credit cards with game data on ROMS while CD games came on…well…CD ROM’s. You also had several options for acquiring a CD attachment but it seems the most popular and one of the more expensive is the “all-in-one” units known as the Turbo Duo in North America. Japan saw three versions of this all-in-one system called the PCE Duo, Duo-R and Duo-RX. I’m not going to go over all the various versions of consoles for the PCE family but I do want to show an import unit I acquired that seems to be at once very common in Japan but in my experience not a method many importers seem to take. this option would be the IFU-30 unit or the “briefcase” setup as its known. Keep in mind the CD units for both Japanese and American consoles are region free so you can play CD games from any region on any machine with the correct RAM card (I won’t go into that in this article) but also keep in mind the Hucards ARE NOT and you will require a region mod, adaptor or Everdrive to play US card games on a Japanese Hucard based console.

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The IFU-30 unit is basically an interface that allowed buyers of a PC Engine, Core Grafx or Core Grafx II to add a CD-ROM unit. the IFU-30 interface could be bought as a stand alone or in packages that included the CD-ROM add-on. It was sometimes referred to as “the briefcase unit” because it came with a protective cover as well as a built in carrying handle for easy transport to perhaps a friends house for some gaming. Remember this was before the internet and online gaming when you both had to actually be physically in the room to play a game together.

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There are two bays in the IFU-30, one for your Hucard system (PC Engine ect..) and the other for the CD add-on. one really nice thing about the IFU-30 is it added composite and stereo A/V options for the PC Engine which alone only could output RF. I have a later Core Grafx attached to my IFU-30 which could output composite but it is a really nice touch for those that had an original PC Engine. Another nice thing is you only need one power supply that attached to the IFU to power both the Hucard system and the CD-ROM unit so you don’t have to worry about multiple power supplies. This also is the case with the all in one turbo duo but I wanted to point it out since systems like the Sega CD which also add a CD to a main cart based console require an extra power supply.

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The IFU can also be modded to allow the output of S-video, Component and RGB and in turn allow any system attached to it to also output these signals. I had mine modified to output RGB which looks absolutely stunning on a PVM monitor.

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In my opinion there are a couple benefits to the “briefcase” route over importing an all-in-one system like a duo-R or such.

  1. Initial cost – unlike a duo system you don’t have to pay the full price up front which can be about $300 for such systems give or take. With a “briefcase” setup you can take your time and buy the three individual parts over time and look for deals on each separate piece. PC Engines and Core Grafx can be found for fairly cheap if your patient and frequent classic game forums and sometimes can be had for under $50. Once you have one of these you can wet your teeth on import Hucard games and pick up an IFU-30 and CD-ROM attachment (both of which individually tend to be under $100 at the writing of this article) at your leisure and as your budget allows
  2. Repairs and break downs – with something like the duo if either the CD drive or card slot (or both) stop functioning and you cannot make repairs yourself you need to send the entire unit off to be fixed. Compare this with the IFU-30 based setup where you can simply detach the defective part and either easily and comparatively cheaply replace it or send it off for repair for cheaper. If your CD unit breaks which is more likely then the card slot you can simply detach the CD unit to ship for repair while still enjoying your Hucard based games. A catastrophic failure of a duo motherboard leads to the possible death of an entire expensive console while if the IFU-30 becomes unrepairable it can be replaced sub $100.

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I’m not entirely sure why the IFU-30 route seems to be less popular among importers despite its potential benefits. There is a “cool” factor with the “all-in-one” duo machines of which I do own two but on the flip side there’s also a something really neat and unique about an IFU-30 based setup. If you think you may be interested in importing don’t count this setup out.

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The Sega Master system. A much maligned console during the 8-bit console wars between Nintendo and Sega in North America. Despite being more powerful then the NES and having a broader color palette the Master System just couldn’t break Nintendo’s strangle hold on the American market and it faded into the background. I remember seeing them off and on growing up, mostly the model II. My cousin ended up having one and I remember playing Shinobi and not wanting to stop. Eventually a bit after the 8-bit consoles prime my mom ended up buying one second hand off a Electronics Boutique (remember that place) employee at the local mall. She paid $50 for the loose console and a handful of loose games including Shinobi and I finally had my Master System although a little late in the game so to speak.

Little did I know at the time that like most times a console from Japan came to North American shores we got screwed. Much like the scenario with the North American NES having less sound channels the North American Master System lacked FM sound that the Japanese equivalent the Mark III had built in. Even the older styling of the Japanese Master System could equip it as an add on peripheral. I would eventually import a Japanese Master System at some cost and effort just to sample these FM tunes in games that which in many cases were superior to the PSG tunes we got outside of Japan. When I moved cross country my Japanese Master System was one of the many items I had to leave behind in storage but as time passed I began to feel the urge to game again on Sega’s 8-bit system and finally I decided to buy a Master System from a local game shop. About this time is when I discovered an awesome site called retromegabit.com and one of the articles detailed how to add an actual FM sound unit to your North American SMS giving it true FM sound just like the Japanese version. I debated even writing this article since the process is already covered so well over at RetroMegabit but I felt that if I could help get a few more people to discover this mod it was worth the effort.

First off you need to order the FM module from etim.net.au. The module is about $75 Australian dollars but it worked out to be about $52 US dollars (exchange rates vary and can change all the time though). This is an Australian site so keep that in mind as far as currency conversion and what not but they do take Paypal and for me shipping only took about one week for the module to arrive. My module is version 2.2 which feature a three position switch to choose between PSG, FM and Japanese/FM.

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This is the module and you can see the Yamaha FM chip on board. The three prongs are for a switch that allows you to switch the system’s FM module on and off so if there’s any games where you prefer the PSG soundtrack you still have that option. The card plugs into the rear edge connector on your Master Systems motherboard and the wire running off the board ends in three wires that will require soldering to the board so please keep this in mind when buying the module. To be completely honest the soldering job is extremely easy and even a novice should be able to pull it off.

Other then a soldering iron I would recommend one of these.

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The mod requires desoldering a capacitor and soldering two wires where the capacitor legs previously went and this little iron will help with that as you just apply it to the back of the board at the capacitor solder points and use the bulb pump to suck up the melted solder. My capacitor fell right off the board leaving two clean solder points for my wires.

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First stop obviously is taking off the top cover of the Master System and then the RF shield under that via a few easy to find screws. I felt the Master System came apart far easier then the NES, especially with no spring cart insertion system to bother with. The area in the red rectangle is the spot on the board we need to work with. The blue rectangle is your edge connector on the motherboard you need to install the FM module on. To make things way easier remove the entire motherboard from the plastic bottom so you can fully remove it and easily desolder the capacitor.

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First thing you want to do is scrap off a little bit of the green on the motherboard on the area to the left as seen above in the image. This where our ground wire is going to be soldered on. The capacitor we need to remove is at C37 on the right side of the image. The best method is to flip the motherboard around and desolder it from the rear solder points and it should fall right off the board. Keep in mind if you back out now unless you resolder the capacitor onto the board you will have no sound.

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The white wire goes into the point where the + symbol is and the red wire in the lefter solder point close to the C37 label. Note that on the official installation instructions these wires may be accidentally reversed. This image above is the correct orientation. If soldered opposite of this way you will have no sound.

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I added a dab of hot glue to each wire end just to help everything stay in place and to put less stress on the solder points. At this point test your Master System with a FM capable game such as Miracle Warriors just to make sure the module is properly installed and your soldering job made a good connection. The sound from both FM and PSG should be clear and strong. A full list of FM sound compatible games can be found here.

At this point before you reassemble the Master system you need to modify your RF shield to accommodate the newly added module.

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Just snip away and then either cut off or fold up the excess metal. After this the shielding should go right on.

I decided to drill a small hole in the rear of my unit to install the three way switch. I used a small power drill and then carefully widened the hole with an Exacto knife until the switch fit snugly.

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Overall I’m very happy with this mod. The installation took less then an hour and it all looks and works very well. I considered posting some videos with audio examples of the difference between PSG and FM soundtracks but these are easily found on YouTube or better yet make your way over to RetroMegabit and check out his article on the FM mod and sound examples.

As a final note I spied this on the motherboard.

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I’m pretty sure a switch to choose between PAL and NTSC can be wired up at this point since many Master System games were PAL exclusive. After further research and talking to NTSC owners of PAL games it seems a mod of this type is unnecessary and PAL games play just fine on NTSC systems. If I can find any examples that prove this false though I’ll be sure to post them here.

I’ve personally never been a huge fan of portable systems. It was never that I hated the games or felt many of the systems were bad per say I just always preferred to do all my gaming in the comfort of home on a big screen. I always realized the utility and need for gaming on the go it just simply wasn’t for me and if I was on the go that generally meant I was doing something that required my attention. Even in car rides I usually was quite content to look out the window and watch the world zip by rather then bury my face in a mobile game. I remember even on family trips I would take my entire NES to hook up in the hotel room rather then bring a trusty Game Boy. That’s not to say I disliked the Game Boy and ironically I played it very often and have fond memories of many games, the thing is I was usually doing that gaming at home. Then one day came the Super Game Boy. I remember seeing it first at Walmart and I was smitten. All my Game Boy games on the big screen TV? and in color?!?! I had to have it.

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What the Super Game Boy did basicly is use the Super Nintendo as a pass though A/V device. Inside the cart is basically a fully functioning Game Boy like you would find in the actual handheld stuffed into a SNES cart so as to interface with the console. Use is extremely simple. You put you Game Boy game in the top slot and then insert the SGB into the SNES, turn the power on your SNES just like it was any other game and voila you would get a splash screen and then your Game Boy game would start.

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Since the SNES only acted (in most cases) as a pass through to feed the video and audio to a TV as well as take care of the additional coloring and as an input device for the controller, compatibility was as far as I can find is 100%. The Super Game Boy allowed you to play your game boy games in black and white or with most games, choose from predefined color palettes. This was accessed by hitting L and R at the same time on the SNES controller which gave you access to a menu. In this menu you could also change the borders to your screen from a selection of nine as well as a tenth border that acted sort of like MS Paint where you could doodle your own border.

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The available borders were the Game Boy border, black, windows with clouds, one that looks like those bulletin boards you stick pins into, a meadow with tree, theater, sleeping cats, a table with pencils to the side and an M. C. Escher looking border. I played a lot of RPG’s on my SGB so I liked the Meadow cause it was sort of foresty and forests make me think of RPG adventures….

The Super Game Boy only works with original monochrome Game Boy games and black cart Game Boy Color games that have a monochrome compatibility mode for the Super Game Boy. Some games took advantage of the extra hardware in the Super Nintendo and had extra effects and sound. Wikipedia lists Contra: The Alien Wars, Donkey Kong, Kirby’s Dream Land 2, A Bug’s Life, Animaniacs and Toy Story as games that took advantage of the SNES. Some other games such as Killer Instinct also allowed the second  SNES controller to be used to allow for two player mode. Some Game Boy games also had special Super Game Boy features such as improved custom color palettes and custom borders such as Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

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One major issue that’s seldom discussed with the Super Game Boy is the timing issue. Games played via the Super Game Boy play at 2.4% faster due to the clock in the Super Nintendo. This can be corrected with a mod. I never really noticed the timing issue growing up but it does result in higher pitched sound as shown in this video.

In 2003 the Game Boy Player came out for the Game Cube which played Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advanced games at 480P with the correct cable. Its an awesome little device but I’ll list a few reasons that you may want to hold onto your old Super Game Boy for original Game Boy games

  1. Super Game Boys are way cheaper/simpler if you already have a Super Nintendo. Even at retail game stores I see them for $13 – $15 while the Game boy Player goes easily for $50. The Super Game Boy also does not require a disc unlike the Game Boy Player which on most occasions is missing when found “in the wild”.
  2. Compatibility with SGB enhanced games. This includes games with custom borders and custom effects that relied on the Super Nintendo hardware. When played on the Game Boy Player these games fall back to regular Game Boy mode.
  3. Color Palettes, The Super Game Boy has a selection of 32 color palettes plus the option to make your own where as the Game Boy Player only offers 12 built in color palettes for original Game Boy games.
  4. Getting the best A/V signal is actually easier on the Super Game Boy when paired with a Super Nintendo. both the original Super Nintendo and Game Cube output S-video but if you want the best video quality the original Super Nintendo outputs RGB natively but only the PAL region Game Cubes output RGB. Early NTSC Game Cubes in the US do have a digital output port that allows for component at 480P but Game Cube component cables are crazy rare and expensive and easily go for over $150 where as an RGB capable PVM monitor can be had for $75 – $100 and you can use that with all your retro consoles.

 

Unknown to many outside of Japan a second version of the Super Game Boy was actually produced that corrected a few issues with the original. This was the Super Game Boy 2 and it was released only in Japan.

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I picked my SGB2 off Ebay for about $25 but the price fluctuates. As you can see it’s more in the style of a Japanese Super Famicom cart and is in a translucent teal case which personally I don’t care for. It will function just fine in a US Super Nintendo and with US Game Boy carts but you’ll have to remove the tabs to allow the cart to insert just like you would to allow for any Super Famicom cart. The compatibility is just like the original Super Game Boy though there is a common misconception that the Super Game Boy 2 allows for the use of Game Boy Color games. Let me stress to save some of you money and effort. The Super Game Boy 2  DOES NOT work with Game Boy Color games!

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So now I’ll point out some of the added features and fixes introduced with the SGB2.

  • Timing bug with slightly increased speed has been corrected in the SGB2. This alone makes it the superior player despite its rather unappealing shell.
  • LED power light added. Its not a big deal but I guess it is nice to know its receiving power.
  • Link cable port added to side of cart to allow two player and Pokemon trading

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There are also games such as Tetris DX that have a special border only when played on the SGB2.

The Super Game Boy 2 has a different set of nine choose-able borders. Supposedly there is a code to unlock the original nine but I could not find it (Edit: thankfully someone in the comment section left a comment with the code to unlock the original boarders ” L L L L R while you have the black background set”).

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The Super Game Boy 2 borders are a Game Boy border, black, circuit board, tropical island, Aztecish looking art, gears, a swamp, under water dolphins, a coliseum. I prefer the original border selection but that’s probably nostalgia talking.

So that’s the two Super Game Boys and although I prefer the look of the original I would definitely recommend the Super Game Boy 2 since it offers some extra features as well as the timing bug fix.

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Before wrapping things up though I wanted to talk about a nice custom controller that is really highly recommended if you use either Super Game Boys a lot and that’s the Hori Super Game boy commander controller.

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The Super Game Boy Commander was exclusive to Japan but of course works just fine on an American Super Nintendo. Its styling is very similar to the original Game Boy which is pretty neat. The SGB commander has some very interesting features. In the center is a switch that you use to go between SFC (Super Famicom / Super Nintendo) mode where the buttons operate as they would on a regular Super Nintendo controller as labeled. In SGB (Super Game Boy) mode though the L, R , X,and Y buttons take on new functions. On a regular Super Nintendo controller you would need to press the L and R shoulder buttons at the same time to access the menu but in SGB mode you only need to hit the R button also labeled Menu. The color button shifts through the different palettes while the Speed button acts as a de-turbo button slowing the game down. There are three speeds with the first button press slowing the game down and the second adding a little speed while a third press returns the game to normal speed. Some games may have issues with the speed button. Finally the last button is a mute button to well, mute and unmute the audio. Overall its a really nice controller that mimics the look and feel of an original Game Boy while adding some features.

If you have a Super Nintendo by all means pick up a Super Game Boy since they are so cheap and available. I think it may be the very best way to play and enjoy original Game Boy games. If your very serious about the Game Boy shoot for a Super Game Boy 2 and of course the very handy Hori Super Game Commander.

Usually when  a gaming console comes out it goes through several revisions in its life. Sometimes these revisions are all internal but many times they are also external. Sometimes the early version of a console are most desirable because of extra features or abilities that were later cut to save costs and sometimes later revisions with more refined internals and bug corrections are the models to get. In this series I’m going to pick a console and examine the different versions released and try to decide on the best one overall. For the first console I’m going to look at in this series I’ve picked one of my all time favorites, the Super Nintendo.

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I’ll be covering the North American systems here since there’s really no significant difference except for form factor and the NA SNES seems to be the best “universal” system. So first we should go over the SNES consoles available before we compare. The most common is the model pictured above. This was the model sold in NA from 1991-1997 and the one most retro gamers are familiar with. Its fairly easy to find and can be had for about $50 or under depending. Many of us may even still have one laying around from the 90’s. This model is pretty capable, it supports a wide variety of A/V outputs via the rear multi A/V  and RF port from RF to RGB. It has a nice little red LED power light and is pretty durable. The original model SNES is also fairly easy to modify. The inner tabs can easily be removed to allow the use of JP game carts as demonstrated here. Its also fairly easy to find someone online to perform a lockout switch disabling mod and a 50/60mhz switch mod to allow one to play European PAL games on a North American SNES. The one negative thing I can think of off the bat is its kind of ugly. I’m full of nostalgia for the thing so to me the site fills me with fond memories but to be realistic its not the sleekest looking machine especially when you compare it with the look of its Japanese and European counterpart.

Super-Famicom-Console-SetJapanese Super Famicom taken from Wikipedia commons under fair use

Another not very well documented issue with the SNES is the “middle light bar” or “vertical line issue”. Its a little hard to capture and explain but basically its a sort of distortion that sometimes can be seen running down the center of the screen. This is especially prevalent in dark scenes. I first noticed it when playing the game Robotrek. In the workshop sections of that game a large portion of the screen is black and you can notice a sort of “band” running down the center of the screen that I found a little distracting. I’ve read that early Japanese models do not have this issue and later production NA models have it to a lesser degree. If you want to see an example of this there’s an image at RetroRGB here.

The original model did go through several small internal changes through its life cycle and these changes did have a small effect on the machine. These changes were mostly just small refinements of the internal motherboard design. As these changes happened A/V quality, especially if your using RGB improved. The last version of the original SNES’s are known as 1chip motherboard SNES’s. The 1chip design consolidated several of the chips and is the same layout used in the SNES Mini. This redesign improved picture sharpness but introduced some other issues such as minor graphical glitches to some games. There’s no sure way to tell what motherboard revision your SNES has unless you open it up and look inside. 1chip SNES’s tend to have serial numbers starting with UN3. The serial number can be found on the underside of the unit.

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Here is my machine opened up. As you can see my serial number starts with UN1 and inside my motherboard is labeled SHVC-CPU-1. this is NOT a 1chip motherboard. 1chip boards should actually have “1chip” printed on the board.

and here is another non 1-chip board from my other version 1 SNES

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A second cost reduced version of the SNES came out in 1997 and was known as the SNES Mini, SNES Jr. or SNES 2.

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Unfortunately the yellowing of the plastic shell is a problem all SNES consoles suffer from due to the nature of the plastic used. The SNES mini is not quite as well known and I still encounter many casual gamers around my age that have never heard of it. As far as I know works with most add-ons for the original model. This model may also  be harder to mod with a lockout disable switch and a 50/60htz switch for PAL games due to smaller chips but I have not confirmed this yet. It’s a much smaller and sleeker machine much more in the style of the Japanese and PAL models then the NA version. Removing the tabs as in the original model to allow JP games to be played is achieved largely the same way. Unfortunately despite its new look and less shelf space needed this is a cost reduced machine and many capabilities were omitted. First it lacks an eject button of the original model requiring slightly more force to remove games. The SNES mini has the best A/V quality output of any former SNES, even the 1chip motherboard models *unconfirmed*. Unfortunately this is almost completely negated by the fact this model has had support for S-video and RGB disabled. This model also lacks a power LED light when the machine is on. A minor thing next to the reduced A/V options but still a minus. The mini is also slightly more expensive due to its relative scarcity and usually goes for $60+. On the positive side S-video and RGB output can be restored via an internal modification and a power LED can be easily added. there are notches next to the power switch to indicate on/off position which make excellent drill holes for a small discreet power LED.

compared to the model 1 SNES the SNES mini AKA Jr. has a sharper image, especially after a RGB mod. Also the RGB mod tends to reduce the vertical line issue present with the SNES. Unfortunately recent information indicates that this model has several incompatibilities and graphical issues.

1) the white levels are overly bright compared to the original

2) “ghosting” of images may occur with certain backgrounds on certain monitors that have poor filtering

3) a number of games appear to have minor graphical glitches on the SNES mini though none of these seem to make any game unplayable but usually consist of random white dots appearing, upper screen visual glitches, missing shadows or warped text boxes. These games include but are not limited to

  •  Air Strike Patrol
  • Treasure of the Rudras
  • Aladdin
  • Final Fantasy Mystic Quest
  • Demon’s Crest
  • Soul Blazer
  • Magical Pop’N
  • Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts

.

Here’s an example I captured from Air Strike Patrol of the shadowing issue. Both SNES’s had the images captured via S-video.

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SNES MINI

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SNES “standard”

Notice you can barely make out the shadow of the fighter on the SNES Mini but it is very noticeable when played on a standard SNES

more.

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SNES Mini

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SNES “standard”

Or if you would like to view the two versions in motion I captured some video.

4) games that use add on chips like the Super FX chip (Star Fox) seem to run slightly slower (unconfirmed ATM). I’ve captured the intro and some game play from both Starfox and Stunt Racer FX and played them side by side.

The SNES mini has been S-video/RGB modded but has a diagonal line issue in S-video not present in RGB. I tried to sync the games best I could in the video but its still a little inconclusive. Star fox does appear to run slightly slower, Stunt Racer FX is inconclusive.

5) first version of Game Genie will not run on SNES mini

more information on these issues can be found here

to compare models.

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In the picture below you can see the SNES mini (on left) has had the RF port and channel select removed requiring an external RF selector if using RF.

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so which is the better model, well that depends.

BEST MODEL STOCK (out of the box, no modifications)

original SNES with non-1chip motherboard

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  • Eject button
  • Power LED
  • ability to output RF, composite, s-video and RGB easily
  • cheaper
  • full game catalog compatibility and compatibility with all peripherals
  • correct white levels

BEST OVERALL MODEL

SNES mini (with A/V and LED modifications) I’ve changed my mind after learning about the issues with the mini and 1chip units.

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  • small sleek look
  • LED easily installed
  • with s-video/RGB restoring mod has the absolute best A/V output quality of any SNES model

Almost all the major shortcomings of the mini can be overcome with modifications. Full A/V can be restored and an LED added. I think I paid under $50 to have someone perform the needed mods for me. Yes the mini lacks an eject button but is that really such a loss for getting the best awesome A/V output in return. The price is also a little higher but its sometimes only a matter of $10-$20 dollars. If you want the best SNES I defiantly advise tracking down a mini and at least getting the A/V restore mod done. Its worth it for the S-video alone and if you have an RGB monitor the difference in quality is very noticeable.

after the new information I think overall even compared to a modded SNES mini that the original non-1chip SNES is the overall best version. With the right monitor or TV the “ghosting” isn’t much of an issue with the mini and even though a lot of people seem to find the overly bright whites to be a major negative it never bothered me to much but the graphical glitches and possible speed issues with games that use add on chips is just a deal breaker for me. Even with the sharper image and lessened vertical lines if it cant play the games correctly that’s a huge downside. The best possible solution would be to have a original as well as a modded mini for games that have no graphical issues but if you could have only one go with the compatibility of the original and besides RGB on a non 1chip is still pretty good, especially on a quality TV or monitor.

I got a lot of information from this very awesome site. I recommend you check it out as he has quite a few comparison images of the RGB quality of the various models. RetroRGB.com

Much like in my Ultimate guide to buying, restoring and modding the NES article were going to take a look at The Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Unlike that article though the scope of this one is going to be much smaller. There are a few reasons for this. first is that the cleaning procedures are largely the same as they were with the NES so we need not go over that ground again, just refer to the previous link. Second is the Modifications that can be done to the SNES are slightly more complex then those for the NES. the pins on the chips are much much smaller then the chip pins in the NES thus I prefer to pay a modest fee to have someone more qualified perform these things. In this article we will go over two very simple modifications though those being the tab removal to allow Japanese Super Nintendo games to be played as well as a simple LED light change.

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Like the NES I used in a previous article I picked this SNES up at a Goodwill for $14.99. I didn’t find a power adapter with it but it did come with a controller. The condition is typical for a used SNES with some marker marks, some yellowing of the plastic and what appeared to be a few paint drops.

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After a go over with the magic erasure.

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The small blobs of white paint I gently scratched away with an Xacto knife and as for the top section of the SNES I removed it and thoroughly washed it with soap and water followed by the Retrobright treatment that I went over in my NES article.

If you want to play European games on more accurately any games from PAL territories (Europe, Australia, New Zealand and others) your going to need to do a few modifications I’m not going to go over here but a very simple modification does allow the playing of Japanese Super Nintendo or Super Famicom games. Since both the USA and Japan use the same NTSC video standard the lockout in place to prevent you from playing JP territory games is a simple physical lockout in the form of a few tabs in the cartridge slot.

snesg4Here we have the four tabs that will need to be removed.

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Simple cutters and pliers that can be found at any hardware store, Walmart or dads garage are all that’s needed. Just cut away and twist off the sections of the SNES that have the tabs. I recommend doing this with the top part removed.

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Very simple. With these tabs removed you should have no issues playing any Japanese games you wish.

Next we need to do the LED change. The red LED looks fine but I prefer blue, unfortunately I did not have any blue LED’s on me so I’ve used a green one here. The SNES does not use standard screws like the NES so your going to need a 4.55mm gambit screwdriver for this. I got mine cheap off eBay. There are six screws you will need to remove from the bottom of the console.

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Here’s what your going to initially see. The white power strip connecting the PCB on the controller and the motherboard should easily disconnect with a few gentle tugs. You should now be able to remove the PCB with the LED light on it but if you want to take a look at the motherboard and perhaps clean it of dust or dead (hopefully dead) bugs the eject assembly should also easily come out. The metal RF shield will need to be unscrewed and removed. It used regular Phillips head screws. You will also need to unscrew the power switch on the left.

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Here’s the PCB that as the LED as well as controller ports attached. your going to need to remove the green PCB board from the controller ports so first thing you want to do is desolder all 14 of the controller solder points. Once that is done you can squeeze the plastic tabs and it should easily come apart into two parts.

I recommend one of these for this job.

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Its a solder remover and it works great for unobstructed pins. While squeezing the bulb you just place the tip on the pins and it melts the solder on it. Then let go of the bulb and it sucks the melted solder away.

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At this point take notice of the LED and how it is oriented. Desolder the two points on the rear of the PCB and remove the old LED and replace it with any LED of 5mm and 3.7 volt .

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Here’s my green LED after being soldered onto the board. Now simply solder the PCB back to the controller ports. make sure you reattach the power strip correctly between the ports section with your LED and the SNES motherboard and power it up. Make sure to reconnect and test to see if the new LED comes on as well as if your controllers are working before completely reassembling. Sometimes if your not getting the LED to come on or the controller is unresponsive you may need to resolder and make sure you have a good connections on the solder points and that the solder is not touching adjacent points.

These simple mods should cost you nearly nothing and take an hour at most to preform. Again if you want to play some great games from PAL territories that never made it to the US I would recommend paying an experienced modder but if you have a pile of SNES systems around or feel your good with a soldering iron there are plenty of great guides available via a Google search with further advanced modding instructions. Enjoy.

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Yhea, I did forget to clean that eject button…….

If you would like to read about what I think is the best revision of the SNES console continue reading here.

*Since I do not currently have with me or own some systems mentioned in this article I have used images from wiki commons. these images are used under public domain or by permission under license agreement*

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The Nintendo Entertainment System or NES is one of the most beloved classic gaming machines in the USA. There are already a slew of fan sites on the web describing its attributes and reviewing its massive game catalog. In my opinion It is also one of the easiest systems to modify for a beginner. Its durable construction and simple design aid in this respect. It is usually extremely simple to repair and maintain. The NES also tends to pop up time to time at outrageous prices mostly due to nostalgia or a market fueled by the idea of “OMG its old so it must be worth its weight in gold” but remember, literally millions of these machines were made and due to there simple design many are still working just fine. With this guide I intend to help those looking to claim a NES system by finding one for a reasonable price as well as restore and if so desired modify their NES to maximize enjoyment.

THE VARIOUS MODELS

First I want to briefly go over the various models available of the NES in Japan and the US. The European NES is cosmetically and functionally the same as the US model but is designed to work on the PAL video standard and really an American has no benefit from importing an EU model. I also want to point out to anyone that’s read my article on Choosing the right TV for classic gaming in the US That the NES is one of the few systems that DOES NOT (with a few rare exceptions) output RGB but I’ll get into that detail more at the mod section. I’m just going to go over the models very briefly so I recommend doing more research if any particular model catches your eye.

THE JAPANESE MODELS

Many Japanese units are superior in design to their US counterpart. There were also many games released in Japan and not the US. Also of note the Japanese NES has extra sound channels meaning more sound effects, this sound channel was left disconnected on all US models. Many JP games also have features or effects that were left out of their American releases. Japanese games can be played on US systems and vise versa via cheap converters.

SONY DSC

This is the Japanese NES known as the Famicom or Family Computer. Japanese NES games are much smaller then their US counterparts and the machine also loads from the top. That big red box under the Famicom is the Famicom Disk Drive, an add on disk drive. some NES/Fami games were only released in this format. The disk system was never released in the US and the disk system is incompatible with the US NES.

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This is the Twin Famicom made under license by Sharp. Its basically just a Famicom and disk system combined.

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This is a really weird one. The Famicom Titler. Basically one day some exec in Japan said “hey I know! lets combine that popular video game machine with a machine that adds subtitles to VHS movies!” And that’s what it is, a Famicom combined with a Titleling machine used to add subtitles to movies. One very notable thing to point out about this unit is that it actually has an S-video out and internally outputs RGB. No other NES of any region does this without massive modification making this a very sought after and usually pricey system.

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The A/V Famicom is really the “to have” import NES. It resembles the US NES 2 but is far better. This unit is top loading but unlike its US counterpart has composite video out as well as being compatible with the Famicom Disk System.

THE US SYSTEMS

There were two NES models released in the US. The first model everyone is familiar with but a later model the NES 2 was released late in the NES’s life and has both good and bad attributes.

Consola_NES_2

This is the US NES 2 released in 1993. Its much smaller then the regular NES. It is also top loading making it very reliable compared to the slot loading NES. A few negative issues though are the lack of a power LED, No composite out (without modification) and the hump makes the unit incompatible with importing a Famicom Disk System. The NES 2 did come with “dog bone” controllers which most feel are a lot more comfortable then the stock controllers. Of course you can use either controller with either system.

CLONES

I’ll also take a minute to address the clone systems. They are basically “rip-off” systems that for the most part emulate the NES. Some are very well made and cosmetically appealing like the Generation Nex and the Retro Duo but most also use a “NES on a chip” which emulates the NES. Some games and peripherals will not work on these systems, especially games that may use special chips like Castlvania III. Personally I would stay away.

So now with that out of the way we will focus on the NES most of us know and grew up with, the NES-001. DISCLAIMER *I am not responsible if you mess up your own system doing anything described here. Perform any cleaning, repairing or modding at your own risk*

800px-NES-Console-Set

FINDING AN NES AND NOT OVERPAYING

Despite what eBay and other sources may lead you to believe the NES is neither rare or expensive and if you have a little patience and know where to look you can snag one for next to nothing. Many times resellers will attempt to sell NES units at outrageous prices claiming there rare vintage machines. Let me help enlighten you. From what research I did it appears Nintendo sold 34 million units in the US. Think about that number for a minute….that’s A LOT. Take into account the system is fairly durable and you can bet a lot of those 34 million units are still out there. Even if half were to be gone that’s still 17 million machines. In short regardless of what anyone may tell you the NES is NOT rare.

The trick then is where to look. eBay is probably a bad choice though sometimes you can snag a rare deal. Craigslist I’ve found is even worse at times with people asking absolutely ludicrous amounts of money. Quickly checking my local Craigslist I came up with three adds selling NES systems. the first one is a loose system for $85, way more then anyone should pay even for one in perfect shape but not insane, $225 for a complete boxed system, insane……and a somewhat but still not reasonable $50 for a loose system with no power supply. In my opinion you should never pay more then $30 for a good condition loose console with power supply and controller. I mean even the rare import Twin Famicom and Famicom Titler only go for between $300 and $500 give or take a hundred. If I can import a kinda uncommon Turbo version of a Twin Famicom complete in the box for about $300 (and I did) I sure as hell am not paying that amount for a boxed common US system.

If your lucky enough to have a classic video game store in your area you can always try there. I have several where I currently live and it seems the price for an NES at these places is around the $60 mark. In my opinion that’s still a little much but at least you usually have the benefit  at these places to knowing the system is in good working condition and can return it if its busted. usually if its a half decent shop the pin connector has been replaced with a new one.

So with eBay and Craigslist as poor options where do you look? local Thrift stores, Goodwill’s and yard sales are a decent option but can be a real crap shoot. The yard sales are really the best bets as flea markets are usually full of resellers. Goodwill’s prices vary by store and you need to be their at the right times. I was very lucky and happened to be at a Goodwill when the NES I used for this article was brought out from the back room. I paid $12 for mine and that’s including the controller, light gun, power unit and RF box. The best option I think for quickly getting a NES at reasonable prices are online Video game forums such as The Digital Press or the Neo Geo Forums. These forums are full of Video game enthusiasts and collectors that know the actual value of the units and usually have NES’s and are willing to sale them at reasonable prices.

Do not be discouraged if you cant find one right away, they are out there and please try to not overpay as they really are not worth more then about $30 in my opinion. As i said I found one at Goodwill for $12. I also frequently saw them at a local flea market loose for $20 and also at that same flea market picked up a complete boxed NES for $30. Ask friends and relatives who may have one sitting in the closet collecting dust and maybe you will get one for free, I have. The later NES 2 does go for a higher price due to its slight rarity and top loading function. Expect to pay $50 to $80 as a reasonable price for a loose NES 2 unit.

WHAT YOU SHOULD GET ALONG WITH YOUR NEW NES

They’re a few things you want to look for that should come with your NES in order to use and connect it to your TV. The first is the AC adapter.

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The AC adapter is on the right and is what you use to plug your NES in, I know ridiculously basic and hardly worth mentioning but an important piece of your system none the less. The official power brick is 9V AC 1 amp. If you don’t have an original NES AC adapter a Genesis AC adapter should work okay. An SNES AC adapter is not recommended as the ma are a bit low for the NES, it may work but perhaps not for to long and you may get all kind of weird issues from lack of proper voltage.

The grey box on the right is an RF module that seems to almost always come with an NES when I find one. That’s how myself and most people I knew hooked their NES up back in the day because we didn’t know any better or gamed on an ancient TV. The NES is capable of composite so use that for a better picture.

The next essential thing we need to enjoy our NES is a controller.

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Most NES systems your going to find will come with at least one but probably two original style controller (on right in above image). If your lucky you’ll also come across an NES advantage controller (on left). These arn’t rare by any means but make a nice addition to an NES set up. The NES advantage is more like an old school joystick and it great for the more arcade like games. It also has a built in turbo feature as well as slow down feature.

The original box controllers generally work great and hold a lot of nostalgia value for most people but I do tend to prefer the “dog bone” style controller that came with the later NES revision. Its just a more comfortable controller to use overall. Unfortunately they can be a little hard to find “in the wild” and official ones can be pricy for just a controller.

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Personally I use this replica controller manufactured by Tomee. It claims to be a 1:1 replica of the official controller and although it feels a little light and “cheap” I’ve been using one for awhile now and it works very well. The buttons feel solid and responsive which is an issue I’ve had with some other replica controllers. They’re also cheap at under $10 and available at many local retro game stores.

RESTORING YOUR NES

So you finally got a hold of your shiny (or not so shiny) NES unit for hopefully a reasonable price and you cant wait to hook it up but you notice cosmetically its not in the greatest shape. It’s dirty, smells and the plastic is faded and yellowed from smokers or sun exposure and little Casey has drawn all over the case with his sharpie. Don’t worry as we can have that NES looking like it practically rolled off the assembly line in…well not no time but not to long.

The NES were going to use here for the example is a unit I lucked into as it was being carted out from the back room at a Goodwill. I bought it for $12. The guy bringing it out was even awesome enough to go back and price the games for me and give me first crack at them. The unit had no apparent cracks in the case but was obviously used and slightly faded.

nesr2Here’s the bottom view and as you can see some red marker as well as tape residue. The tape can be easily peeled off. First thing you do want to do if your restoring your unit is separate the top and bottom. You can do this by unscrewing them via the 6 screws on the bottom. A normal Phillips head will work fine.

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Here is the top half of my NES. As you can see its pretty scratched up. The top half should come off easily after the screws are removed and its completely plastic so the first thing you want to do is give it a good cleaning with water and soap. As for the bottom of the board mine wasn’t to dirty so I didn’t go through the trouble of removing the motherboard completely from the shell to wash it. It is also a darker color plastic that seems more resilient to fading or tar.

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The tape residue was easy enough to peel off. The trick for getting rid of stubborn marks on your unit or in this case magic marker is any kind of cleaning pad. Nothing to coarse though. I used Mr. Clean magic erasure here and it worked perfectly at removing marker and stains without damaging the plastic or leaving hideous scratches. So now your case is clean of dirt and marker but The top plastic is still yellowed from time and tar. Many systems from the time used ABS plastic. ABS helped retard the plastic from fire but had the side effect of turning a gross kind of yellow or tared color over time. Fortuitously some smart people came up with a concoction called Retrobright that you can make yourself that reverses the yellowing effect!

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Retrobright requires a few cheap and easy to obtain materials. The two main ingredients are Hydrogen Peroxide available at any pharmacy for $1 and Oxy which can be found in a variety of cleaners. Here I used Awesome Oxygen cleaner. Some recipes call for Glycerine as well. I forgot it here and my Retrobright still worked but in the future I intend to add glycerine as well (also found cheap at any pharmacy). Here is an official page for the compound Retrobright. You also want to use common corn starch as a thickening agent. All together the materials cost $5-$10 and this works on any ABS plastic (good bye horribly yellowed SNES systems). Note the Hydrogen Peroxide though. I used the common 3% solution but ideally you want a 10%-15% concentration. Peroxide in these levels is a little harder to find and costs more. They can commonly be found as a hair bleaching component and you may need to ask around at beauty saloons. Also note that Peroxide at that high a level is hazardous so gloves and goggles may be a good idea.

I didn’t strictly use a measured amount of peroxide but I did use a few cups since it was a lower concentration followed by about 2 spoon fulls of corn starch. after this I put the concoction in the microwave and heated for 10 to 30 seconds or until it reached a gel texture. After it reached a gel state I added the Oxy.

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After adding the Oxy it should start to fizzle and bubble at this point as well as give off heat from the chemical reaction. This is when I applied the gel to the plastic top half of my yellowed NES. I used a small paint brush for this task. You really want to paint it on and get a good coat on every part. At this point you want to expose the gel covered plastic to UV light. If you live in a sun deprived area a UV light should work fine but for me the blazing Arizona desert sun does the job nicely.

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Here we have the coated unit sitting outside. I used tin foil to help reflect more light back onto the unit and get at areas that were not receiving direct sunlight. After awhile the coating will dry and can be washed off. Usually this requires several reapplications to significantly reduce yellowing and return the plastic to its normal color. The weaker the Hydrogen Peroxide concentration the more reapplications it will take. I did a good 6 or 7 applications and my unit wasn’t even badly yellowed.

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So here is my unit all cleaned up (except for that speck I missed on the right in that crevice). But seriously, In person it looks practically new and much better then the state I bought it in.

Okay, So you finally have your NES looking near new and your gushing with nostalgia. You plug it in and hook it up to your TV (hopefully via composite to an SDTV, read ), insert your favorite game cartrige close the lid and hit the power button and…….flashing grey or blue screen and a blinking power LED. You pull out the cart, blow in it, reinsert it and…same issue.

DON’T PANIC!!!

This is a made up statistic but I would estimate that about 90% of NES’s can be fixed for $0 to $10. I’ve never came across an NES where the reason it wasn’t working was not a bad pin connector. Maybe I’m just really lucky but to me it seems the bulk of the time an NES will power on but not play any games is the Pin connector. The problem stems from a design flaw with the front loader NES. In most models the game cartridges load from the top so there is no issue but on the US NES-001 front loader system the game cartridges load from the front and are then pressed down to make contact with the pins. Over time these Pins bend and get dirty creating a bad connection and thus the blinking power light. Fortunitly this problem is easily and cheaply fixed. My NES from Goodwill had this very problem in a very bad way.

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Once you have the top cover removed from your NES this is what you should be looking at. The metal covering is the RF shielding to prevent RF interference. There’s really not a lot of delicate parts inside an NES so don’t be scared of breaking things. Another thing is there are a lot of screws. I really need not point them out as most are obvious but working inside an NES your going to be doing a lot of screwing (hold your snickers) and unscrewing. All the screws use a regular Phillips Head driver so no worries. Once you remove the metal RF shielding there is a black spring thing that the game carts go into. Unscrew it and pull it gently toward you and up till it slides out.

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Now you should see this. The green board is the main part of the NES. All the chips are on its opposite side. The black plastic thing to the top of the board is the pin connector and also our problem. Its gripping a pin connector on the motherboard. Simply unscrew it and pull it off the board. You may need to apply some light force. At this point you can either spend some money on a new pin adapter or try and repair the old one. Sometimes it can be fixed with a simple cleaning. I usually try to clean all the metal connectors on the motherboard and the adapter with a  cotton swab and rubbing alcohol. Let everything dry before attempting to reassemble and test. Another method is boiling the adapter in water and adding dish washing liquid. Ive had fairly good results. You can also use a safety pin to careful bend the pins on the adapter back up but I’ve had terrible luck with doing this. Sometimes despite all the cleaning The old connector just will no longer give a suitable connection. This is when you need to find a new connector. Again luck is with us since they are both fairly cheap and easily available. In this situation I do turn to eBay where they can be easily found new for about $7 – $10. Sometimes you can even get a deal on multiple connectors/adapters…whatever you want to call the thing. This is what I had to do with mine after attempts to repair the connector failed.

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After a short wait my new connector arrived in the mail. I installed it and low and behold my NES not only looked but operated like new. The only problem I have sometimes with the new connectors is they need to be “broken in” and can be very tight at first and for some time afterwards. This makes it a little hard to insert and especially remove carts and sometimes it takes a good pull to remove a game cart.

MODIFYING YOUR NES

So at this point you have a nice looking fully working NES that hopefully you paid little to or nothing for. Now you need to ask yourself the question if your willing to go a little further and modify your system. Mods can be done for several reasons such as increasing playability, expanding available games library by eliminating region lock out or simple cosmetic mods like a new color power LED. In my opinion the NES is a good system to start modding on. The mods themselves add a lot to the experience and are relatively easy to perform. You could also send out your NES to a more seasoned console modder who could do the mods themselves for a price but if you think you have the skills and want to keep costs down as well as eliminate the shipping and waiting period you will need a few items.

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The most important things you will need is solder and a solder gun. I also have a solder removing thing…the thing with the bulb on it. A scalpel, wire cutters/strippers. wire is also needed. I am no professional modifier nor did I invent these systems mods but I found the modification simple enough for the most part and those with little experience should not have much trouble. Before doing any mods its surely helpful to look up soldering techniques and perhaps watch some how to solder videos on YouTube. Practicing on any junk electronic boards before doing any real soldering work would also be helpful.

LED COLOR CHANGE/REPLACEMENT MOD

The first modification/repair you may want to try is either replacing a dead/dim LED or replacing the LED with a different color. I for one am sick of Red power LED’s so I decided to replace my NES’s LED with a nice bright blue one. The specs for my LED and for that matter any LED you want to use to replace even if its red are 5mm, 3.7 volt – 20mA – 2600mcd. You can use an LED with a lower mcd number if you prefer a dimmer light but I like mine nice and vibrant. I got my blue version at Radio Shack for a highway robbery price of about $5 but I’m sure a bulk amount of them can be found on eBay for $1 shipped from Hong Kong. I though decided to pay a premium to avoid the wait. The LED can be found next to the power and reset buttons in the lower left corner of the case.

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Unscrewing those two screws on the right and left frees the section from the case and allows you to get to the underside where the solder points are. What you want to do in unsolder the two points on the back where the LED is then gently pull the led out of the LED holder. Once this is done its only a matter of replacing the LED you just removed with the new one and soldering the new LED in. Keep in mind LED’s can be inserted incorrectly and they have a – and + leg called Anode and Cathode. Make sure to look this up if needed and take note on how the original LED was inserted.

The LED mod is really as simple as that and if you have a good hand and patience its pretty hard to screw up. The next mod is completely optional and depend on if you own or intend to own and NES Powerpak.

NES POWERPAK FAMICOM SOUND MOD

As I mentioned earlier the Japanese versions of the NES has extra sound channels and several games took advantage of this in either enhanced music via special added chips or extra sound effects. The extra channels were left disconnected from US NES systems. The problem happened when Nintendo changed the pins from 60 in the Famicom to 72 on the US NES. How the information traveled between the game cart and the NES was changed and rerouted and in that process those in the US and EU lost the extra sound channels. Now there is a slightly complicated way to reinstate those channels in general I find the easiest way is with a simple mod and by using the super useful NES flash cart the Powerpack. The Powerpack allows you to load ROMs onto a flash cart then play them on an actual NES. This saves wear and tear on your actual games. Please note this mod only reinstates the extra Famicom sounds when playing games that support the extra sounds through the NES Powerpack.

At this point you may want to completely remove the motherboard from the NES case. after unscrewing everything gently disconnect the three cable bundles from the board.

Here’s the board removed

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And here’s the case without the board.

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Ok, now keep the motherboard face down.

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The circled part is are the solder points to the expansion board and also the points we need to look at for this simple mod. All you need is a 47k resistor available in a pack at Radio shack for a few dollars. Then all you need to do it trim the legs down and then solder the resister to pins 3 and 9 on the above circled expansion port points.

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And that’s seriously It. With that quick mod you just enabled the extra sound channels on Famicom games that support it when using the Powerpak. This does not interfear with other games that do not use the sound channels at all so you cant harm your compatibility by performing this modification. One notable game that uses the extra sound is Castlvania III which most believe to have far superior music in its Famicom version. Interestingly The US version of Castlvania III does not function on the Powerpak at the time of this writing but the largely regarded as superior Japanese version does work. One thing to note is some sound effects are more quiet on games that support the extra sounds when using this mod but this is a minor thing.

Here’s a video of the opening and a small bit of game play from the Japanese Castlvania III on my modded NES so you can hear the extra sound.

ADDING A RESET BUTTON TO YOUR CONTROLLER

With this modification we are going to add a reset button to to the standard NES controller. This is a mildly helpful mod for certain instances in a game when you just want to reset but are to lazy to get up. It actually becomes very helpful when you have a NES Powerpak in use since saving to the Powerpack requires hitting the reset button. You also need to hit reset in order to go out of a game and back to the main menu. I can take some personal credit for fine tuning this mod. When I originally seen it done on the internet a larger 1/8 jack was used as well as no button on the controller, just a loose wire so i refined it a little. There also seems to be a wireless mod out there that allows you to reset the NES by a certain button combination. I believe this is a rather professional mod that needs an extra circuit board installed. I could be wrong but if your interested look it up. This mod though works fine and is more in the spirit of easy “do it yourself”.

First off were going to need to install the jack for our new connection. I find the most convenient spot is the front of the case nest to the controller ports. The part your going to need is a 1/4 stereo headphone jack, available online or at Radio Shack.

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Looks like that. so what we want to do is drill a small hole next to the controller ports. I use a small drill then widen the hole as needed with a scaple testing now and then if the jack will fit. Once it does I secure it with a healthy application of super glue then hot glue to the sides.

It should look like this now.

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Now we need to connect the solder points of the reset button with the two metal prongs of the headphone jack. I use a slightly thicker gauge of wire for this.  First go back to the piece where we did the LED change. Take out the little piece that holds the LED, power and reset button, turn it over.

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Here I have illustrated where the LED and reset button solder points are. In between are the solder points for the power button. I’m assuming you can hook up a second extra button for a controller power switch as well but I’ve never attempted it. Anyways you want to take your two strips of wire and solder them from the two reset points to the two looped metal prongs on the headphone jack. Give a light tug to make sure its connected securely and your all done with the NES internal part. Very simple.

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It should look something like this.

Now that we have a port for the new line we need to modify an NES controller. First we need a stereo 1/4 jack about of 6ft. At the end the two lines need to be split and preferably “tinned” or covered with a little solder. I simply cut the cord off an old pair of $1 headphones. Now we need a small (preferably smallest you can find) push button with two prongs. Again these can be found at Radio Shack or online. Solder the button onto the two exposed wires.

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Here is a button closeup.

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Ok, now we need to modify the NES controller itself. On the back of the controller are six small Phillips head screws. Your going to need a smaller + head screwdriver to get at them like one made for eyeglasses or a jewelers screw.

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Inside the NES controller is pretty cramped. Before I modify the controller I like to take the pieces apart and clean the plastic button parts.

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Now we want to do two things. Make the existing hole where the wire leaves the controller a little wider to allow room for our second wire as well as make another small hole for the new button next to the existing hole. You may need to snap off any plastic legs on the controller to make room. Try to trim down the button if you can as there is not much room at all.

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Mine looked something like this afterwords. So now position the new button and close up the controller. You may need to attempt this several times widening the hole and trimming the button if you can before you get a fit. If the controller is bulging sometimes this has no effect but other times it makes the control pad very had to press to get a response so keep trying until you get an acceptable fit.

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And here we have our extra reset button. With a little more time you can make this look as clean and professional or half-assed as you like. Screw it all closed and now you have a modified NES controller for your modified NES. Also note this effects nothing if you decide to not plug the jack in you simply will not have a reset button but the controller will function normally as well as the NES. You can still you regular unmodified controllers as well.

DISABLING THE NES REGION LOCK-OUT

This is another simple mod that disables the lock out chip in your NES. This allows you to play NES games from any region. You still need a pin adapter for Japanese games though since they are physically different. A side effect of this mod is that you no longer get a blinking power LED when a cart isn’t making contact but instead a solid screen. I prefer this to the slightly epileptic seizure inducing blinking screen. This modification will require us to flip the motherboard and cut a pin on a chip. fortunately even if you mess this modification up (like I actually did) it still sort of succeeds.

Here is the flip side of the motherboard with all the chips. I’ve circled the three main chips will be working with for the next two mods so refer back to this picture if needed. The lockout chip that we need to be looking at now is the smallest circled chip in the lower right corner with CIC labeled above it.

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Now that we have identified and located the Lockout chip all we need to do is snip pin four. Its a tight fit but usually a combination of wire cutters and a scalpel works. You can try desoldering as well. So disabling the chip is as easy as snipping the lower fourth pin from the left and either pulling it off or raising it away from the board so it does not make a connection. Preferably you would want to take a thin wire and solder the raised pin to a ground but you don’t have to and I’ve never heard of any ill effects of not doing this step. Even more preferably you would want to make a switch to be able to turn the lockout chip on/off. A switch is preferable because there are supposedly a handful of unlicensed games that actually need the lockout chip enabled to work but I have never come across any game that refused to work with the lockout chip disabled on an NES. Unfortunately for me I was planning to show you how to make this switch but the pin is very small and I was impatient at the time and the entire leg was pulled off hence disabling the lockout chip but disallowing me to perform a switch mod. It still can be considered a success though since the lose of a few most likely terrible unlicensed games is a small price to pay for enabling many many excellent Japanese and European NES games.

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There is my lockout chip with the pin removed hence disabling the NES lockout. Remember pin four or forth pin from the bottom left. as the board faces you and the writing is not upside down.

NES CPU OVERCLOCK

The CPU overclock modification to the NES is both the hardest of the mods here and the one most likely to kill your NES if you screw it up. That being said I am no modding expert and I succeeded on my first attempts. First thing is you defiantly are going to want a switch for this mod in order to enable and disable the overclock. Overclocking the NES helps with areas in some games that may bog down because of a lot going on in the screen. The good think about overclocking the NES is that it does not throw off timings in games and only boosts frame smoothness. On the negative the Overclock does create extra heat and stress on the CPU as well as raise the pitch of sounds and music and for this reason its best to build in a switch so you can enable the overclock at only parts that would benefit from the speed boost. I originally got the idea for an overclock as well as described directions here.

We first need a switch for our Mod. Your going to want an SPDT or single pole double throw switch which are available at Radio Shack or online for a few dollars. These switches have three connectors on the reverse side.

Here’s a picture of my switch installation. Its not a very clean looking install and I think I just wanted to get things done at the time. If you take more time or are better at such things you can get a very clean professional looking switch install.

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I used a small drill and scalpel to cut out the holes for the switches. I placed them on the lower side of the NES case. Accessible yet out of the way and not spoiling the NES classic look much. These switches usually have small holes you can use to insert holding screws. You can also use super glue and hot glue. You can also notice in the picture I have two switches installed. One was for the previous lockout chip which I bungled on by snapping the pin off so its basically useless on this system.

Now we want to decide how much we want to overclock the NES CPU. The stock speed for the NES is 1.79mhz and even a modest speed boost helps in many games. As my first time doing this mod I wanted to choose a modest overclock and decided on an overclock of 2.08mhz. If I do this modification again though I may try for 3mhz. at about 4mhz overclock the NES begins to become very unstable so I would suggest an overclock of between 2 and 3mhz. Once you have decided on the overclock speed your going to need to buy a crystal oscillator. The speed on the oscillator determines the overclock. The NES CPU divides the speed of the oscillator by 12 so this is how you determine your overclock speed. For example I needed a 25mhz crystal oscillator to get an overclock of 2.08 (25 / 12 = 2.083333333333333. basically 2.08) so for a future 3.0mhz overclock my oscillator will need to be 36mhz.

Here is said oscillator. It has four legs and I bought it off eBay for a few dollars. Look for one that mentions it can handle 5V in the description.

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So now that we have our oscillator we can start. I would also recommend you use very thin and small gauge wire for this mod. Now that we have the new oscillator and wire its time we do the actual mod.

Like the lockout chip modification we are going to need to lift two different pins, one on the CPU and one on the PPU (reference image above). Unlike the lockout chip mod if you break the pins you have effectively killed your NES, unless you can somehow reattach the pin which I assume would be difficult but I don’t care to find out. TAKE YOUR TIME cutting and lifting the pins and DO NOT break them off.

It really doesn’t matter what pin you lift first but I would start with the CPU. The CPU is the large chip to the left labeled RP2A03G. The pin you want to lift is pin 29. Its the 9th pin from the right on the top of the chip as the board faces you. The second pin you want to lift is on the PPU which is the large chip in the upper right labeled RP2C02G-0. The pin you want to lift on the PPU is pin 18. It is the 3rd pin on the right on the bottom row as the board faces you. These pins are both small and very hard to get to. This is the hardest and riskiest part of the mod. Take you time here. Gently snip with a small pair of cutters and if needed saw the bottom of the pins away with a scalpel then very gently lift the legs up and away from the board. If you accomplish this congratulations as this is the most difficult part.

Now what you want to do is solder a wire on each lifted pin. Next solder the wire from the CPU to the middle prong on the switch then solder the wire from the PPU to one of the other side poles on the switch. Doesn’t particularly matter which one.

Here is a terribly blurry image of the wires soldered onto the two lifted pins.

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It should look like this at this point.

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Now we need to attach the oscillator. The oscillator should have four legs. Leg one is in the corner that should be marked with a small dot. The legs then go in order counter clockwise so to the right of leg one is leg two. Above leg two is leg three and to the right of three is leg four. Now you want to take the third prong on the switch and solder a wire from it to leg three on the oscillator.

Now we need to solder a wire from leg four on the oscillator to a +5v DC source. I used the voltage regulator on the NES. Make absolutely sure your connecting to the right spot or you could potentially fry everything killing the NES. There should be three solder points on the voltage regulator (the big metal square on the motherboard. If the board is facing you you want to solder the wire to the point to the far right. Here is a blurry picture as an example.

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Finally you want to solder a wire from pin two to a ground point. This can be any metal part of the case such as the metal borders. Pin one on the oscillator doesn’t need to be connected to anything.

After its all done it should looks like this.

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And that’s it. All that’s left is to put your NES back together and test to see if it all works. At times I have found that if you flip the OC switch during game play it can glitch the system and end your game so just be aware of that.

Here is the unit mostly reassembled. You can see I used that glob of solder at the ground for the oscillator.

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I would also advise securing the oscillator down, maybe with some electrical tape.

Here is a video of the overclock in action. In some parts of Super Mario Three if there are several enemies on screen at one time it can really bog the game down but the overclock eliminates virtually all slowdown. this video starts out with the game in overclock mode but it becomes very evident when switching back to stock speed.

SYSTEM MODS I DID NOT DO

NES Stereo sound modification – I gave doing this mod a lot of thought but in the end I decided to pass on it at least for now. What it does is allow your NES to output its sound in a (sort of) simulated stereo or really split mono. The NES usually takes all its sound channels and routes then through the RF or audio out in mono. A mod can be done to effectively split these sound channels into two channels effectively giving you a sort of stereo. Ideally you want a knob to adjust the split as different games will require adjustments. Some games sound very good like this but others not so much. You also want some kind of dials to adjust the sound output. No game was ever made for the NES to take any advantage of stereo sound since the NES was never made to output audio in that matter. That being the case I decided to pass on the mod at least for the time being. If you want to try the stereo mod here’s a link to a how to guide here.

If you want a “quick and easy” fix you can always invest a few dollars and buy a simple RCA Y splitter, this though won’t give you any sort of “simulated stereo” as a modification would but it will give you duel mono output from both speakers.

NES RGB mod – The NES is one of the few systems that does not natively output an RGB video signal. Contrary to what the port says or anyone else French NES units also do NOT output RGB. This is a shame since it means the best you can get is composite, with two exceptions. First is the Famicom Titler that was mentioned earlier. This unit has a special RGB video chip and an S-video port. Since this unit does output RGB it can also be modded with component out or an RGB port. The other option to mod your existing NES requires a complicated and expensive mod. At some point Nintendo put out Playchoice 10 units which were Nintendo arcade machines that played NES games. Since arcade machines used RGB monitors Nintendo made a special RGB PPU for these arcade units. That said, doing a RGB mod to a stock NES requires tracking down said Playchoice arcade board, extracting certain RGB PPU’s then finding someone with the correct expertise to install that PPU into your NES. The results are beautiful as I’ve seen screenshots but the effort and cost involved have kept me from having the modification done.

And that’s it. I will be updating this post if i decide to perform any other modifications or go back and perform some “cleaner” mods. As i said earlier I think the NES is a great system overall and It can be very rewarding to restore and/or enhance them if you so choose.

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CLEANING NES CARTS

Many times Its not the fault of a faulty NES connector for a game not working but many times its the contacts on the carts themselves. Heres a real brief guide to some simple cleaning meathods for your NES carts. Note that these also work with pretty much any cart based games from SNES to Genesis.

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Here are two NES carts I happened to have close by. There may be more variations then here but this is what I’ve found. The cart on the left with three screws is a later manufactured cart and the screws require a gambit screwdriver to remove. The cart on the right with five screws is an earlier cart and these can be removed with a small flat-tip screwdriver.

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Here’s what you see on opening up a cart. Not much going on inside there, more then fifty percent just wasted space. Keep in mind that the original Japanese Famicom (NES) carts were very small. I’m thinking the larger sized carts are to accommodate the front loading NES units.

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Here on the left is the innards of an NES cart and just for comparison I have the inside of an SNES cart on the right. What you want to clean are the gold colored contacts on the bottom. My first cleaning method is usually just a q-tip and some rubbing alcohol. Just dip one end into the alcohol and rub the contacts firmly. if their dirty your probably going to quickly notice the grim on the q-tip. after cleaning both sides I like to give it some time to dry and perhaps use a dry q-tip to help. This seems to usually do the trick as far as cleaning but if it fails you can also use a regular pencial erasure. just firmly rub the erasure on the contacts wiping off any erasure bits afterwards. Most of the time this works for me in getting a game to play though in a few cases the contacts seem just to far gone and no amount of alcohol or erasure rubbing seem to help.

I wanted to start a series for modded consoles. The point of these articles is to give the reader an idea of the practical modifications that can be done to an older console to give the widest range of international compatibility and audio/visual options. Most of these modifications have not been done by myself but others whom are far more skilled. I wanted to start out with my (almost) completely modded genesis. I believe this unit has just about every practical modification done with the exception of a component jack. I’m not going to explain how to perform these modifications as that information is widely available but I simply want to make people aware of what can be done to expand their consoles. Also, yes, i know my system could use a cleaning and more professional labeling.

The first thing you should identify is the “best” model of the Sega Genesis. Over the years there were many versions and revisions of the overall design. The later units are more compact but also use cheaper components as cost cutting measures. The model you want is the earliest models. these models are widely regarded as having the best sounding sound chip producing superior sound to the later model 2 and 3 as well as even some later model 1’s. It also lacks the lockout chip. Sega started making the genesis with lockout chips to prevent unlicensed games. some early games like populous from EA will not play on a chipped system. Later models also force you to view a 4 to 5 second copyright screen before your game starts. The first thing to look for is the “high definition graphics” on the top. If its their its an earlier unit. Next to be sure flip it over and check the FCC-ID code on the bottom. If it reads FJ846EUSASEGA your good to go. Later revisions lack the 46E part and contain the start up screen as well as lockout chip.

first of all this is first generation genesis so it lacks the lockout chip as well as the start up copyright screen. It also contains the higher quality sound chip.

1) tired of looking at red LED lights for the past 20 years so this unit is modded with a nice green power LED.

2) the cartridge slot has been gently cut wider to accommodate Japanese cartridges.

3) CPU overclock switches. 3 for 3 OC settings, 8, 10 and 12mhtz. The Genesis uses a Motorola 68000 CPU with a stock speed of 7.67mhz. This helps in certain games that stress the system at stock CPU speeds. for example a mild overclock setting eliminates the slowdown in games like Sonic the Hedgehog when you get hit and your rings go everywhere.

4) 50htz and 60htz switch to allow European games to play correctly

5) US/Japan switch to allow Japanese games to be played correctly.

6) RCA stereo jacks

7) S-video jack for improved video output. keep in mind the original a/v jack still works so a standard Genesis composite cable or (YUK) RF connection can be used. the genesis can also natively output RGB video if you have the right cable and a SCART TV or RGB monitor.

and there you go. if there is any practical modifications i missed please let me know.

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