Quick and easy fix for a Super Nintendo suffering from “black screen of death”

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One of the most common problems people seem to have with Super Nintendo consoles is they find that the console powers on but only displays a black screen with no audio, even with known good games. I don’t have a tremendous amount of experience repairing Super Nintendos, but it is something I do occasionally for fun and because I find that I usually learn something in the process. I generally stay clear of consoles with this type of problem though, since it could be caused by just about anything. Determining the exact cause can be next to impossible. Normally these boards look perfectly fine visually, so figuring out where there’s a broken trace can take forever. They’re usually not worth repairing. Sometimes, however, you get lucky and there’s something very obviously wrong that you can see visually. It still may take some careful inspection with a magnifying glass, but if there are any signs of corrosion or other damage, it’s always worth trying to fix it, even if it doesn’t look that bad visually or strike you as something that’s likely to be the cause of your problem.

You can see here I've put down a bit of solder along a trace running near U15. This trace had a lot of corrosion on it and appeared broken visually. It is so tiny that, rather than fix it with a wire, I just lay down a bit of solder along the broken length of it to repair it. In the end I determined that it was not, in fact, the cause of the problem

You can see here I’ve put down a bit of solder along a trace running near U15. This trace had been broken due to corrosion, but it was so tiny that, rather than fix it with a wire, I just lay down a bit of solder along the broken length of it to repair the problem.

I wish I had taken a photo prior to the repair, but the opening photo up above shows the area where I found damage on this GPM-02 board. There are two audio RAM chips in the opening photo. U15, shown here to the left, is the one where there was a problem. Pin 12 of U15 had a bit of corrosion on it. I checked for continuity between it and the via it was going to and the connection was not totally broken, but it wasn’t exactly sound, either. If I fiddled with the multimeter probes I would get continuity, but it wasn’t consistent. Something told me to try using a wire to connect pin 12 directly to that via, just to see if it would help things. I put a bit of flux in the via, insert the tinned end of a small wire into it, crossed my fingers, and hoped that the solder would flow into the via and secure the tip of the wire in place. Fortunately it worked out as I had hoped and I was able to solder the other end of the wire to pin 12.

Without really thinking there would be any improvement, I went ahead and tested the console. To my surprise my test game worked fine. I then tested with about a dozen other games and they all worked. I was very surprised that this broken trace would cause a black screen for all games. Since mostly audio-related stuff goes on in this area of the board, I would have expected that symptoms of this type of damage might have been games playing but without any audio.

It's not pretty, but it works.

It’s not pretty, but it works.

In the end, I’m not sure if the damaged trace running near U15 actually had anything to do with the black screen problem. It was the first thing I noticed though when I opened the console, so I thought scraping away the corrosion and patching it was worth a shot. Fixing it alone didn’t solve the black screen problem though. Before reassembling I tested the console without the wire from pin 12 to the corresponding via and was able to reproduce the black screen problem, so a bad connection to/from pin 12 was clearly responsible for the issue. The other damaged trace may not have even been bad enough in the first place to cause a problem.

Though it looks pretty sloppy, when reassembling the console I simply placed a bit of electrical tape over the blobby length of solder on the patched trace. The console has been working fine for some weeks now, so it seems nothing is shorting.

Even Nintendo repair technicians make mistakes sometimes


I bought this Year of Luigi special edition console on eBay for $40 shipped. The seller listed it for parts or repair, but had no further information about what was wrong with it. The photos weren’t particularly informative either, but I decided to buy it mainly because the screens didn’t appear to be cracked from the photograph, so I figured that even if I couldn’t repair the system, I’d still have at least $40 worth of good parts, since the housing also appeared to be in good shape.
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I spotted the listing after sorting the search results page by “newly listed” in descending order. Since the item was listed BIN, I bought it immediately, since if I waited around to read the listing carefully someone else would have bought it. Only after buying it did I notice that the retail box was mismatched and had a sticker on it indicating the item was refurbished.

I’ve always wanted to disassemble a 3DS system refurbished at an authorized Nintendo repair center. I’ve disassembled numerous consoles that have been professionally refurbished by other companies and then subsequently broken once more, but never one that has been done by an authorized Nintendo repair center. It’s always interesting to see the techniques others use. For example, I’ve noticed that there’s one repair company whose consoles I’ve re-repaired numerous times with an idiosyncratic method of routing the cable for the WiFi antenna such that it serves to hold the microphone in the proper position, a technique that differs a bit from the way the cable is routed normally. It’s fun learning these kinds of tricks and shortcuts that others have discovered.

When I received the above console I was slightly hesitant to open it up, since there was a possibility it was still under warranty. I generally don’t work on anything that’s still under warranty, since I feel it’s a shame to void it. Nintendo have removed their warranty status check tool from the NOA website, however, so I decided I would go ahead and open it. The first thing I noticed was that the head of one of the screws was actually a bit stripped. It seems inconceivable to me that they wouldn’t have the proper size screwdriver at the repair center, so it’s possible that the owner of the console may have been responsible for this by attempting to open it on his or her own. I also noticed that the adhesive that holds the two rubber feet that hide a couple of screws on the underside of the console was weaker than normal, as though the feet had been pried off and then replaced without applying new adhesive beforehand.

The malfunction, by the way, was that when the power button was pressed the blue light would come on but the screens remained black. Neither the backlights nor the WiFi LED came on. If, while the console was in this state, I opened the ZIF connector for the speaker cable, the console would shut off, but it did not make the typical popping sound.

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Inside the console looked beautiful. It was incredibly clean and looked very nearly like a brand new console. Just one thing was out of place: the connectors for the lower screen were loose. This really gave me a good laugh, because after opening the connectors for the lower LCD and the lower LCD backlight, cleaning each with a tiny bit of isopropyl alcohol for good measure, and then reinserting the ribbon cables, the console booted normally and now works flawlessly. The screens don’t have a single scratch on them and, contrary to the numerous complaints I’ve heard about Nintendo refurbished consoles, there is not even the slightest bit of dust underneath the plastic upper screen display lens. I just think it’s so amusing that such meticulous attention to detail went into this repair in order to ensure that not even a single speck of dust was trapped beneath the display lens, but then, at the very end of the repair process, some technician accidentally failed to push a couple of ribbon cables in all the way. It’s always the simple stuff that gets you.

In any case, I’m keeping this one. I could probably more than triple my money if I were to resell it, but it’s actually in nicer condition than my personal 3DS XL console, so it’ll be a good upgrade for me.