Another IC that apparently can fail in Super Nintendo consoles

Is the S-APU in SNS-CPU-APU-01 and all 1-chips boards

Is the S-APU in SNS-CPU-APU-01 and all 1-chip boards

I mostly repair the older SNES revisions with 2 PPUs, but sometimes I do get 1-chip and Mini consoles. But basically my repair knowledge about those is nothing much beyond “clean the cartridge slot with alcohol, look for broken traces and if it still doesn’t work, toss in the parts box”.  Since they don’t have a CPU or PPU that’s prone to failure (to my knowledge, at least), it’s not like there’s much of anything I can replace on them.

Eventually I accumulated a small pile of 1-chip boards that all would freeze at the publisher splash screen. This is a common issue on all boards and is caused when the system fails to communicate with the sound hardware for whatever reason. You can easily cause this problem in SHVC consoles by simply removing the sound module. On other boards it’s usually due to broken traces somewhere.

When I find this issue on consoles without a removable cartridge slot and I can’t find broken traces anywhere else, I don’t waste my time and just toss them atop the heap. Among those boards are about a half dozen 1-chips, most of which I found inside housing that was full of roaches and had lots of liquid damage and broken traces. Though I had fixed all the broken traces I could find on the boards, they would all still hang on the publisher splash screen, so I made the assumptionwhich seemed reasonable at the time considering the condition in which I acquired themthat there were more broken traces that I simply hadn’t found, probably under the cartridge slot, and gave up on them.

Years ago when I first started repairing SNES consoles I had, in fact, tried replacing the DSP and S-SMP chips on some GPM consoles with this problem. Of course, it didn’t fix the problem and I later found the broken traces on them that were really causing the issue. Ever since then I’ve always assumed the audio chips are pretty much okay and don’t just die for no good reason like the CPU and PPUs.

But I was digging through my parts boards pile today and found those 1-chip boards I had tossed aside. Earlier in the day I had fixed a Mini when I removed the VRAM and found broken traces beneath. Inspired by that success I decided I should check underneath the APU on a few of them that had rust in that area to see if the traces that ran beneath it had breaks in them. So I removed the APU from a few boards and walked away while they cooled.

When I came back I looked for broken traces, didn’t find any, and then soldered the APUs back onto the boards. But just for the heck of it I decided I would replace the APU in one of them with an APU I had salvaged from a trashed board. To my great surprise the problem was solved when I tested the board.


The donor board on the right was totally beyond repair.

The donor board on the right was totally beyond repair.

To be sure this wasn’t a fluke, I grabbed another board that would freeze at the splash screen and removed the APU from it. I then soldered in the APU from a console that had a totally unrelated video problem. Once again, the problem was totally fixed.

This is both good and bad news to me. The good part is that now I can fix an issue with the later SNES revisions that few people probably realize is so easily fixable. The bad news though is that it may mean all of our 1-chips are probably prone to the APU failing and may be ticking time bombs, just like the older revisions. Heck, maybe even the Mini could be prone to this.


My SNES troubleshooting workflow for “black screen of death” systems

SPOILER ALERT: They ALL have dead CPUs.

SPOILER ALERT: They ALL have dead CPUs.

I have dozens of these black screen systems. I have a basic flowchart for troubleshooting all SNESes in my head. It’s simple and progresses from the easiest fixes to the most difficult. But I’ll spoil it and reveal ahead of time that they almost all have dead CPUs that need to be replaced. It’s never the easy stuff.

The first steps are disassembly and cleaning the housing. Of course, the latter doesn’t fix anything, but time is money, and by cleaning the housing first I can leave it to dry while I work on the motherboard itself.

Step one is to clean the cartridge slot with a toothbrush and 91% alcohol. 99% is better but it’s more expensive and harder to find. 91% is good enough. Most folks recommend wrapping a credit card in a cloth, dipping it in alcohol, and then inserting and removing it repeatedly to clean the cartridge slot, but I’ve never understood this method at all. I don’t understand how that could possibly be very effective. A toothbrush seems like the obvious answer to me. For one thing, with the credit card and cloth method you’re only cleaning the removable top part of the connector, which is completely pointless if you don’t also clean the pins beneath it that are soldered directly to the board. For RGB, APU, and 1CHIP models I suppose the credit card method may be all right, since you can’t just lift the connector off on those. But a toothbrush just seems like a far better method to me. You need to use serious elbow grease when cleaning these things, and there’s no way to put the kind of force necessary behind your scrubbing if you’re just using a credit card wrapped in cloth.

Of course, rather than clean it, it’s faster to just grab a known working cartridge slot connector to test the system quickly. Keeping one handy saves time.

It's pointless only cleaning the removable top part of the cartridge connector if you don't also clean beneath. How would you possibly clean a system like this with the credit card method?

It’s pointless only cleaning the removable top part of the cartridge connector if you don’t also clean beneath. How on earth could you possibly clean a system like this with just the credit card method?

Cleaning beneath the connector is very important. If someone spilled something on the console long ago, you have to consider where gravity would have taken it. Soda spilled on top of the console wouldn’t have just sat on the top removable piece of the connector for all those years, so it’s rare to find much corrosion on the removable part. Any liquid spilled on top of the system would have run down through the connector and settled on the pins beneath. That’s why you tend to find rust and corrosion on these pins. Sometimes they look all green, like the Statue of Liberty. I scrub these with a brass brush to remove any corrosion, then clean them off with a different toothbrush and some cotton swabs. Deoxit is also good to use here.

Knowing how gravity works allows you to predict this before you even fully disassemble the console.

Knowing how gravity works means this kind of result is predictable.

At this point you can test the system. If it works, great. You’re done. But the premise here is that these simple things usually don’t work. Most consoles don’t have so much corrosion, so, while cleaning is always a good idea for sanitary reasons, it rarely actually fixes anything. Ordinary dust and dirt won’t stop the console from reading games. So let’s move on to the next step in my flowchart.

If you hold the reset button on a working console while powering it on with a game inserted, you get a black screen until you release the button. The idea here is that if the reset button is very dirty (again, think spilled soda) then it can be stuck in the activated position, causing the same symptoms as if it were actually being held down. I’ve never actually seen this personally, but it’s an explanation that makes a lot of sense to me, so it has a place in my flowchart and I always first try cleaning the reset button with a toothbrush and a bit of alcohol. If it seems sticky I temporarily desolder and remove it just for testing. It never turns out to be the culprit, but it’s pretty quick to remove so it’s not much of a waste of time.

C62 and the reset button.

C62 and the reset button.

C62 is a small 2.2µF capacitor right above the CIC chip, near the reset button. I’m told that if this is bad it has basically the same effect as holding the reset button down, resulting in a black screen on all games. Again, I’ve never actually come across a system where this had happened, but it’s an easy thing to replace, so I sometimes try replacing it if it looks funny. It has never fixed anything for me though.

I’ve seen this next thing once and only once. Since it happened once though, it does have a place in my flowchart, since I suppose I could come across it again.

I flip the board upside down and do a visual and tactile check of the solder joints on the bottom of the cartridge slot. When I say “tactile” what I really mean is that I press on them one at a time with my fingers to see if they’re cracked. It doesn’t hurt to quickly reflow them all. It almost never fixes anything, but it can help you eliminate the cartridge slot completely as a possibility. If you are an insane person you can get a multimeter, connect the top removable connector, and then check each pin on the bottom of the board for continuity with the corresponding pin inside the removable connector. This is a colossal waste of time though and you should only do this if you are a masochist. Even with a third hand tool, you’ll nudge the board constantly, your hand will slip, you’ll drop one of the probes, you’ll lose count of which pin you were at and have to start over and you will want to off yourself in no time. Besides, you really don’t need to test. It’s never the cartridge slot that causes these issues. When it comes to the cartridge slot, if everything looks good, it is good. The one time I had a system where this sort of thing was an issue, the solder joint was so badly cracked on the underside of the board I could wiggle it with my finger. If something is wrong it will be obvious.

Next is to check for broken traces. There are no shortcuts here. You just need a jeweler’s loupe and a lot of time on your hands. What I’ve learned from experience though is that you shouldn’t waste your time on this step unless you have good reason to suspect there will, in fact, be some broken traces. Basically that means if you have a system that had liquid damage or was in a very damp, wet, humid, or dirty environment you may want to spend some time looking at it carefully under magnification. So if you open it up and find lots of rust or dead bugs, it may actually have some broken traces. But if you open it and it’s nice and clean, don’t waste your time. Unless, of course, someone else worked on it prior to you. If that’s the case, you should absolutely check for broken traces, scratches, lifted solder pads, and that sort of thing, since you never know what the last guy may have done to it.

If the system is an SHVC model, yes, you can try swapping out the sound module. Some games will give a black screen if the sound module is disconnected or bad. But many games actually load to the first screen and freeze when the sound module is bad or disconnected, so if you’re using a game like that and you get a black screen, don’t waste your time, since it’s not the sound module. An Everdrive will load and display the contents of your SD card even with a bad/disconnected sound module. If you try to run a ROM, it’ll freeze.

An Everdrive, by the way, is something that can be very helpful when you’re not quite sure of the extent of the problem. Some systems may give a black screen on most games, but display garbled graphics on another. Still others give a black screen on 9 out of 10 games but might play one specific game just fine. Those consoles may have hope. To help understand the extent of the problem a bit better I see if it’ll read an Everdrive. If it reads the Everdrive and loads the burn-in test rom, I run it and see what it says. These black screen systems may not read any retail games, but sometimes they do read the Everdrive, though it doesn’t always actually load up fully. It often crashes when trying to display the contents of the SD card. But if it does load and I can get the burn-in test rom to run, it usually is very straightforward and simply says, “CPU —— FAIL”. That’s about as clear-cut an answer as it gets. Almost all the failures are CPU-related, but occasionally you do see some VRAM problems. Those are nice since you can easily grab the VRAM from another console. There’s also plenty of space between the pins so soldering them in is easy. But I’ve only seen bad VRAM two or three times and those had all been worked on previously. I don’t think the VRAM is typically prone to failure. Normally it’s a CPU problem.

At this point the only thing left is to replace the CPU. That’s not as hard as it sounds if you have hot air rework equipment. It’s very easy to remove the old CPU, but you do need to be moderately good at soldering to put in the new one. I usually end up with a few solder bridges at the end that need to be fixed. The hardest part though is locating a good CPU. The reason I have dozens of dead black screen SNES boards is because I have no good CPUs to put in them. Most, I’m sure, would work fine with a new CPU, but the trouble is that there’s nowhere to get them. I found a few IC dealers online that claim to have a small quantity in stock, but they are asking such high prices it would actually be cheaper to buy working SNES consoles for the CPUs than to buy from those bloodsuckers. When I get really badly water-damaged or otherwise screwed-up boards I take the CPUs. Sometimes they’re bad, too. But occasionally they’re good and I can revive one dead system from my stack. It always feels good. Plus I end up producing some unique SNES consoles like 1990 SHVC boards equipped with the later (and much more resilient) “S-CPU B”, which was normally only found in the GPM-02, RGB, and APU motherboard revisions.

Don't worry. I didn't cannibalize a working RGB board. It had been eaten up by roaches and was totally beyond repair with broken traces all over and the solder mask peeling up on the back.

Don’t worry. I didn’t cannibalize a working RGB board. It had been eaten up by roaches and was totally beyond repair with lots of broken traces and the solder mask peeling up all over the place.

Unusual original Nintendo 3DS motherboard revision: CTR-CPU-40


I received a 3DS console today that had been cracked in half at the hinge. As I opened it up to remove the motherboard I immediately noticed that the tiny little IR board that normally connects to a plug next to the P7 connector was missing. The IR module on this motherboard was integrated and not removable. Also strange was the fact that the little piece of tape used at the factory to secure the touch screen connector was black, rather than the typical white. I’ve seen a few boards with black tape rather than white, but in the past I always assumed this was because they had already been worked on before I received them and the last technician had used black tape. Now I know I was probably wrong. This was an entirely new motherboard revision.

The back of the board

The back of the board

Integrated IR

Integrated IR

There are some minor yet consistent differences I’ve noticed from one console to the next, such as the color of the mainboards, color of screws, slight variations in the labeling on the WiFi board, and the fact that most special edition consoles and consoles bundled with a game have the charge ports soldered much more securely to the board than the original black/red/blue models. Normally, however, the motherboard itself is basically the same. This is different from those types of minor variations because it’s a completely different motherboard revision from what I’ve seen before. Though it’s not something I normally pay attention to, I don’t think I recall ever seeing anything other than CTR-CPU-01 and the occasional CTR-CPU-20 boards.

Big blobs of solder secure the charge port in place, unlike the weak connection in earlier models

Big blobs of solder secure the charge port in place, unlike the weak connection in earlier models

The label on the WiFi daughterboard differs slightly from most models, but the board itself is the same DWM-W082 as all 3DS consoles.

The label on the WiFi daughterboard differs slightly from most models, but the board itself is the same DWM-W082 as all 3DS consoles.

In any case, this board does look more or less the same as any other model besides the fact that it has integrated IR and some silver screws in a few locations that normally have black screws. The color of the screws does differ from model to model, but I’ve never seen silver screws in these locations before. It’s fairly common for the external screws for the housing to be silver on special edition or bundled consoles, but I’ve never seen anything other than black for the screws beneath the SD card slot. Additionally, some special edition and bundled consoles have only two, rather than three, screws securing the L button in place and only three, rather than four, screws for the R button. This console follows that pattern but it also replaces the normal black screws for the shoulder buttons with silver ones.

Silver, rather than black, screws beneath the SD card slot.

Silver, rather than black, screws beneath the SD card slot.

Silver, rather than black, screws for the shoulder buttons as well

Silver, rather than black, screws for the shoulder buttons as well

Unfortunately, the previous owner used super glue in a misguided attempt to repair the cracked housing and even glued the battery cover in place, leaving no possibility of salvaging it. But the serial number sticker inside was still legible:

For now I’m keeping this board. I put it inside one of my own consoles and sold the motherboard it replaced. I’ll probably keep it around for a while to tinker with and maybe I’ll eventually sell it.

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

DSCF7636 - Copy

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.

Black and pink Nintendo 3DS made of spare parts

black and pink 3ds 02
I repair a lot of 3DS consoles, mostly for fun. But unfortunately I also fail to repair a lot of 3DS consoles. For every 10 consoles I repair, there may be two or three that get tossed into the graveyard box. Eventually, I accumulate enough parts in the box to assemble a working console out of them.

Recently I was surprised to find that I had a good upper LCD, speakers with a good ribbon cable, and a few camera modules. I always have a surplus of lower screens and touch screens for some reason, so I had what was more or less a full console in individual parts. I decided that I would try once again to repair a heavily corroded motherboard that I had given up on recently. Fortunately it turned out all it needed was some elbow grease. Nothing was permanently damaged from the liquid it had been exposed to.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a full housing set. I didn’t want to wait though until enough housing fragments found their way into my spare parts box, so I combined two different colors into what turned out to be what I think is a very sharp-looking console. Even though there’s only two colors, the parts actually came from at least four or five different consoles with varying degrees of wear and tear. Since it was assembled from parts that I had rejected in the first place as unsuitable for individual resale, I didn’t expect it would turn out quite as nice as it did.

3ds parts graveyard boxblack and pink 3ds 01black and pink 3ds 03black and pink 3ds 04black and pink 3ds 05black and pink 3ds 06

Liquid-damaged 3DS consoles

This entire entry is about why I no longer avoid liquid-damage auctions as much as I used to, but even I wouldn't mess with this shit.

This entire blog entry is about why I no longer avoid liquid-damage auctions as much as I used to, but even I wouldn’t mess with this shit.

One of the greatest things I’ve recently discovered about repairing 3DS consoles — and any small electronic gadget in general — is that I really don’t need to be avoiding “liquid damage” items as I once thought. Now, with mobile phones there’s the ick factor involved, since we’ve all seen people who use a mobile phone while in the restroom and, of course, when you see a liquid damaged mobile phone in an auction you can’t help but wonder if it fell in the toilet. That’s something I’m still not sure I would want to mess with. When it comes to 3DS consoles, however, the risk of the item touching shit or piss is far less since I think that the number of people who use a 3DS while on the toilet is far less than the number of people who use mobile phones while on the toilet. In other words, it’s not zero, but it’s a relatively low risk.

With mobile phones you more often have damage caused by the phone becoming completely submerged in a liquid (such as toilet water or a puddle in the street). However, because of the nature of a 3DS it’s more likely that liquid-damaged 3DS consoles experienced spillage, rather than submergence. It’s easy to imagine a clumsy person sitting, let’s say, on the couch with a beverage on the coffee table. Maybe this clumsy person sets the 3DS down next to the beverage and the beverage somehow spills. Spillage means that it’s often the case that the screens are not damaged and that there is less time in contact with the liquid , which means less widespread corrosion.

I have repaired six or seven heavily liquid-damaged 3DS consoles and, contrary to the warnings I see all the time, I haven’t yet seen one with any blown fuses. I’ve read warnings all over the place about liquid damaged consoles where people cry wolf, “It’s a waste of money because they all have blown fuses which are too hard to replace so you end up replacing the whole motherboard instead”. That’s hogwash.

When I get a liquid-damaged console I first take some WD-40 and spray a bit into each external screw hole. I let the console sit for about 45 minutes before attempting to open it. This is because the screws rust easily. I sometimes have to use WD-40 even for non-liquid-damaged consoles, but in the case of liquid-damage it is especially important because if you try to remove those small screws when rusty you can very easily strip them.

99% alcohol and a soft toothbrush are the main tools here. Yes, it’s pretty low-tech, but you often don’t need much of anything else. I take out all the internal screws, remove the WiFi board, SD card slot, analog stick, IR sensor, camera, and speaker ribbon cables. I take the motherboard out and scrub it clean with the alcohol and toothbrush. It’s fine to be rough on the board. Nothing will come off the board. It’s all soldered on there well. The key is to get every nook and cranny. The fuses are most likely fine. Let it dry and hold a battery to the connector. If it works, great. Connect screens and speaker and try to power on. If it works, reassemble. If no power, keep scrubbing. If still no power after cleaning the board very well, then get out a multimeter and do a continuity test on the fuses.

I recently had a console with only slight liquid damage near the battery connector area and it exhibited strange symptoms. I had scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed the board front and back to pristine condition, but the trouble persisted. The symptom was that the instant you pressed the battery to the connector the orange charge light would immediately turn on and one to two seconds later it would boot on its own. Once powered on it both charged and functioned totally normally and you could press the power button to turn it off. However, once you turned it off, the only way to power it back on was to remove the battery and then re-connect it, at which point the orange light would turn on again and it would power on one to two seconds later. I had no idea what was wrong, so I set it aside for a while and worked on some other consoles. A few days later I decided to turn it on to check all the other functions to make sure they still worked. When I tested WiFi I got the “An error has occurred. Press and hold the POWER Button to turn the system off. Please refer to the Operations Manual for details” message. This was strange, since WiFi had worked when I first tested it after cleaning the board. Nevertheless, I took a Post-it note, wrote “check wifi board” on it, and stuck it to the console and set it down for a few more days. Eventually I had some spare time one day and decided to open the console back up and check to see if the WiFi board was loose. I popped it off and just as I did so, I noticed the tiniest bit of corrosion just peeking out from beneath the metal frame on which the WiFi board rests. I took a spudger and lifted up the metal frame and, sure enough, there was some sludge under there.

Just this tiny amount of corrosion was enough to break WiFi and cause weird power and battery problems.

Just this tiny amount of corrosion was enough to break WiFi and cause weird power and battery problems.

Thirty seconds of scrubbing cleaned the area up. I bent the metal frame back into place, popped the WiFi board back on and, sure enough, this fixed all the problems with the 3DS. Yes, it fixed the battery and power issues, too. The charge light no longer turned on when I connected a battery. It no longer booted automatically as soon as the battery was connected. WiFi worked. I could turn it on and off reliably using the power button. Just this small amount of contamination can mess your system up. The good news though is that, once you find it, it’s generally very easy to clean and fix the problem.

Changing gears here, another reason that people avoid liquid-damaged consoles is because, there’s a widespread belief that a liquid-damaged LCD must be replaced. It’s common to see mobile phones that the owner put in rice or something after getting them wet to save the motherboard. And sure, those phones work, but if you look at the LCD you see those drying marks that get left behind. Even quickly putting a device in a bag of rice doesn’t necessarily save it from those drying marks, often described by unscrupulous eBay sellers as “cloudiness” of the LCD. “Cloudy LCD” means “device dropped in the toilet” in eBay doubletalk. It’s like how “genuine” means “it is tangible” and not “it is made under license from the IP owner”. Anyway, those LCDs don’t necessarily need to be replaced. You can remove those drying marks. While you can’t restore the LCD to like-new condition, you can make it good enough for resale in many cases.

Now, I don’t know the proper terminology or even how exactly an LCD works, but it doesn’t really matter for my purposes. The LCD has several “papery” layers behind it. There is a reflective layer, then a backlight, then a slightly transparent white layer, and then some others that I forget the order of. We need to wipe all of those papery layers clean, since that’s where the drying marks are. When the backlight shines, those drying marks are made visible on the screen. In other words, it’s like taking the greasy wrapper that a burrito came in and holding a flashlight in front of it. If you do so, all the grease marks become more prominent on the semi-transparent burrito wrapper. But unlike a burrito wrapper, the papery layers behind the LCD can be cleaned with tap water. I use about 50% alcohol and 50% tap water. I originally used 99% alcohol but I found that it was too strong and left streaks. Tap water on its own will work fine though. I just use the 50% alcohol to help it dry faster.

Open the metal frame of the LCD and the backmost layer is this shiny one. On the left is the the metal frame.

Open the metal frame of the LCD and the backmost layer is this shiny one. On the left is the metal frame.

In this picture the LCD is on the left. On the right are the various layers and backlight that must be cleaned.

In this picture the LCD is on the left. On the right are the various layers and backlight that must be cleaned.

Anyway, just remove the metal frame in which the LCD is held. On the 3DS there are some clips that you can open using your fingernails. Above is what it looks like when you open up the top LCD of the 3DS. The first (backmost) layer is the shiny one. The easiest way I’ve found, so far, to clean these things without getting any marks or fingerprints on them is using a combination of one pair of microfiber eyeglass cleaning cloths and a pair of rubber-tipped tweezers. We must clean both sides of each layer, so it’s important to make a plan of action before we start. I put the microfiber cloth over my fingertip and hold the layer down as I clean it using a cotton swab and a half tap water half alcohol solution. I then dry it using a second microfiber cloth (while holding it down using my fingertip covered by the first microfiber cloth). I flip the layer over using the rubber-tipped tweezers and repeat on the back. After doing this for each layer I close the screen up and test.

Yes, that's a coffee maker in the upper left. The kitchen is the only place with the right lighting for this type of cleaning. Checking for smudges or specks of dust is important and good lighting is indispensable.

Yes, that’s a coffee maker in the upper left. The kitchen is the only place with the right lighting for this type of cleaning. Checking for smudges or specks of dust is important and good lighting is indispensable. There’s nothing worse than screwing a console back together only to find that you have overlooked a speck of dust remaining under the LCD.

To test we need to connect the lower LCD, speakers, and upper LCD to the motherboard. The two little ribbons cables from the upper LCD must be connected to the appropriate connectors on the speaker/3D/brightness ribbon cable.

To test we need to connect the lower LCD, speakers, and upper LCD to the motherboard. The two little ribbons cables from the upper LCD must be connected to the appropriate connectors on the speaker/3D/brightness ribbon cable. It’s a tough balancing act connecting all those things, holding the battery in place, and taking a photograph all at the same time!

We check for streaks, dust, or any other blemishes at this point, since it would be a colossal pain in the ass to install the upper LCD, camera, speakers, WiFi antenna, and reassemble the housing only to find afterwards that there was some schmutz left under the LCD. Yes, this has happened to me before and no, you would not have wanted to be in the room at the time.

In the end this screen was 100% fixable. Sure, replacing it would be less work, but you can save money by cleaning it instead.

In the end this screen was 100% fixable. Sure, replacing it would be less work, but you can save money by cleaning it instead.

To connect this to my earlier point, it is far easier to clean these LCDs and get them in excellent condition suitable for resale when the liquid damage was of the spillage variety, rather than submergence. I’ve had some LCDs that I tried this process on that were just not salvageable because there was so much dirt in there that I couldn’t clean it all off without leaving streak marks. But if there are just some drying marks here and there on the LCD there is a good chance that you can clean them off well enough that you would never be able to tell there was liquid damage afterwards. Although 3DS screens are rather inexpensive, this can save you some money on parts, especially if both screens are liquid-damaged.

Frankenstein 3DS XL (my adventure in housing and LCD replacement)

When I saw this I knew saving the console was worth my time.

I bought this console with no information about it other than a picture. When it arrived and I saw this I knew saving the console was worth my time. God, I love eBay.

So Halloween just passed and I’ve graverobbed together a nice GW3DS compatible 3DS XL for myself out of two broken consoles. I had first bought a console with a broken hinge, thinking I might fix it. However, I quickly realized that, if I could play my cards right, I might save a bit of money and a whole lot of time by combining two broken consoles together to make one functional console, instead of buying replacement parts separately. The other reason I chose to go this route is that replacement 3DS XL parts are few and far between. There are no Chinese companies that I’m aware of that make replacement housing parts yet, and the only time that official Nintendo replacement housing comes up for sale is when somebody is parting out their own console, which is not an everyday occurrence even on eBay. There are some companies that make aftermarket replacement LCD screens, but they’re usually quite expensive.

When I received the console the first thing I did was check that there was nothing else wrong with it besides the lower LCD. This was a risky move, since you never know what sorts of problems sellers will leave undisclosed on eBay auctions. They may mention one thing that’s wrong with the console but neglect to mention several other larger issues. Fortunately, when I got the above console the only thing wrong with it was that the lower LCD had some slight damage that caused those vertical lines in the picture. There were also cracks in the front housing. Luckily the uupper housing was not broken so I didn’t have to go through the trouble of rolling the ribbon cables through the hinge. I took a good lower LCD and digitizer from another console I had purchased with smashed up housing and bought a replacement front housing section for $15.

3ds xl lower lcd3ds xl replacement front housing

The first step, of course, is disassembly. The best method, by the way, to remove those two little rubber things on the bottom of the console without damaging them is to use a sewing needle to pry them up.

3DS XL disassembly is only very slightly different from a normal 3DS. Once you remove the battery cover, battery, and back housing the motherboard is revealed.
3ds xl motherboard

We then remove all those little tiny screws on the right, left, and bottom center of the board. There are 10 in total. We also remove the two very long screws that hold the analog stick control mechanism in place. There’s a round, papery thing beneath the analog stick control mechanism that you’ll want to put aside so it doesn’t fall out and go missing. You also need to remove the WiFi board (it pulls right off) and disconnect the antenna cable from it. Finally, disconnect the bottom LCD and digitizer, the speakers, and camera ribbon cables from the motherboard. Use your fingernail to open up the clips and gently pull the ribbon cables out.

Now we can lift the motherboard free of the lower housing.

Now we can lift the motherboard free of the lower housing.

The top LCD ribbon cable is still connected in the upper right of the above picture. Disconnect that. Now the motherboard is completely free.

This is the ugly, cracked piece of the housing that I wanted to replace.

This is the ugly, cracked piece of the housing that I wanted to replace.

To replace the front section of the housing it’s necessary to open up the top housing. Remove the four square rubbery pads surrounding the top screen. Again, if you use a sewing needle for this you can probably manage to remove them without any damage so that you can later re-use them. They were already damaged on my console so I wasn’t particularly careful and ended up destroying one and losing another. Remove the four screws beneath.

Once you remove those four screws you need to push hard on the back part of the top shell. It’s hard to explain, but if you put the console on your lap with the back of it (i.e. the side with the charge port) against your torso and push forward on the top housing using your two thumbs it’ll slide upwards and off. I looked at these pictures to figure it out at first, but contrary to what the photographer writes, you definitely don’t need to use a screwdriver or anything else to pry it open. You can easily do it with just your thumbs. You push forwards, not upwards, and it slides off.

Here's the big mess I made out of two consoles. It all works out in the end though.

Here’s the big mess I made out of two consoles. It all works out in the end though.

I’m not proud to say it but I couldn’t figure out how to slide the left hinge inside of the top housing in order to cleanly separate the top and bottom sections of the console. On a normal-sized 3DS you can stick a small screwdriver or a pair of tweezers into the top leftmost section of the bottom housing and push the hinge inside the upper housing, allowing you to separate the two halves of the console. I couldn’t figure out how to do this for the 3DS XL though. So, in the end, I used a pair of pliers to crack open the upper left corner of the lower housing since it was already cracked a small bit. This revealed the hinge. I then pushed it into the top housing using a small screwdriver. This allowed me to separate the two halves. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it made no difference since I was destroying a part that was already broken anyway. Below is the hinge position that will let you separate the two halves. The hinge is in the same position in both photos; they’re just taken from two different angles.

Hinge pushed inside the upper housing.Second angle.

Once separated we simply slip the ribbon cables and WiFi antenna cable out through the slit in the original lower housing and pull them through. We then slip them into the slit in the replacement housing.

Top screen assembly installed in the replacement lower housing.

Top screen assembly installed in the replacement lower housing.

Before replacing the back of the top housing make sure the 3D slider is in place. It’s very likely to fall off. Also make sure the speakers are in place. When you’re ready to replace the back section of the top housing make sure you push the hinge back inside the lower housing. When you first push the hinge into the lower housing it will slide in and feel like it’s in place properly, but it most likely isn’t. Don’t be fooled! You need to push it quite hard once more after that and will go in a bit farther so that it’s nearly completely hidden inside the lower housing. Here are comparison images of the hinge in different positions:

Hinge open. Top half can be separated from lower half when in this position.

Hinge open. Top half can be separated from lower half when in this position.

Hinge not fully inside lower housing.

Hinge not fully inside lower housing.

Hinge fully inside lower housing. Halves cannot be separated. The console will now "click" open and closed like normal.

Hinge fully inside lower housing. Halves cannot be separated. The console will now “click” open and closed like normal.

Now you can replace the back part of the top screen housing. Just push the two pieces together. It’ll click into place. At this point reassembly is just the opposite of disassembly. There are guides for the ordinary 3DS and the 3DS XL isn’t much different. I would recommend that, before closing the console up, you test it by simply holding the battery in place, flipping the motherboard over, and pressing the power button with your finger.

If you hear a popping noise then double check that both screens are properly connected. Also check for debris on the connectors. You don’t need to connect everything to do the test. You just need both LCDs connected. You can leave the WiFi module and analog stick disconnected when testing and the console should still power on.

Once I confirmed that everything was connected properly, I screwed the thing back together and gave it a test. I had noticed before the repair that there were parental controls on the console because when I had tried to format it I got the following screen:

oh no! what i do now?

oh no! what i do now?

The last two times I bought a locked 3DS console on eBay I had to call Nintendo and pretend to be a morbidly forgetful parent who not only forgot his PIN but also the answer to his secret question in order to get a master code. Well, that was all before neimod cracked parental controls earlier this year. No more embarrassingly bad acting! This time I was able to remove the parental controls easily and quickly in my own home. Now all is right in the world. Eventually I’ll get around to replacing the battery cover and the top housing since they’re scuffed up pretty damned badly. But for now I’m satisfied with the console being 100% functional and Gateway compatible. I put my own parental controls on it to make sure I don’t accidentally update it!

3ds xl repaired

All in all, the two consoles and the replacement housing piece probably cost me about $180 so it’s not like I saved much money. I could’ve bought a brand-new 3DS XL from 2012 with firmware ~4.3 for not much more than that. But it’s so much more fun and satisfying playing a console when you know you’re the one who saved it from the trash bin.

Extracting Wii save files from a BootMii NAND dump

My water-damaged Wii. Believe it or not, this image has a happy ending.

My water-damaged Wii. Believe it or not, this image has a happy ending.

So other than all my furniture and my apartment itself one of the various items that was destroyed in Hurricane Sandy was my Wii. Replacing the hardware is easy since a Wii is only about 60 to 70 USD these days and will presumably just continue to drop in price since the Wii U came out. The thing that’s impossible to replace is the save data. That’s why I wanted to see if there was some way of recovering my save data and copying it to my replacement Wii.

My Wii console, AV cables, and power brick were destroyed. My controllers and WiiMotes were in a box on a high shelf so they were fine. This includes a Gamecube controller, which I found out was necessary for this process.

My place was not safe to enter for months and still isn’t. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a chance to retrieve some stuff though. I took the Wii, placed it in some bubble wrap, and put it in a box that went straight to a storage facility along with everything else that was in the apartment.

It was just about a week ago that I had my first opportunity to see if it had been damaged. I disassembled it to check and found that it was absolutely covered in rust on the inside. I went ahead and tried cleaning it up a bit with cotton swabs and some alcohol and actually succeeded in getting it to boot. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a WiiMote with me at the time so I turned it off. That was the last time it ever boot normally.

Every time I tried to boot it afterwards it would show the green LED, the blue LED on the front panel would flash once, and the fan would spin up, but there would be no audio or video on the TV screen and no WiiMote would sync to it. The TV did detect a signal but the screen would just stay black.

Fortunately, I had Priiloader installed on it. I held the reset and power buttons at the same time to boot to Priiloader. I inserted an SD card prepared with Bootmii and used the option in Priiloader to launch Bootmii as IOS (since I hadn’t been able to install it as boot2 when I first got the Wii). I needed to use the Gamecube controller for this since no WiiMote would sync.

Once in Bootmii I made a NAND backup. It was from this backup that I was able to extract my saves. I used ShowMiiWads to extract the files from the nand.bin. I was then pointed in the right direction by this thread on WiiBrew. In the “title” directory of the extracted NAND dump there’s another directory called “00010000” with a bunch of directories inside containing the saves for each game. I copied all of these directories into a folder called “savegames” on the root of my SD card.

Once copied, I added “00010000” to the beginning of the name of each folder that I copied to the “savegames” folder. Then I moved the files inside the “data” and “content” folders into their respective parent directories.

For example: SDroot://savegames/00010000534e5445/

Inside the “00010000534e5445″ folder are the actual save files such as “save.dat” and “banner.bin”. I’m not sure if the “title.tmd” files from the “content” folders are necessary, but I put them in there anyway. This whole process of dragging and dropping was a bit of a pain in the neck because I had saves for something like 30 different games.

I then used Save Game Manager GX from this link on the Wii to install the save files from the SD card to the Wii. It took many attempts because I kept having to try different versions of the program since I kept getting one error or another. This is the one that worked for me. Of course, you do have to already have a save game on the Wii for each save you want to restore. So I just started up each game and made a save before trying to restore my saves from the old Wii.

Ultimately I was able to restore somewhere in the area of 200 gameplay hours worth of save data to my replacement Wii from the old one. It did take me a few hours of research and trial and error to figure out how to accomplish this, but I think it was worth it, especially considering that there’s nothing much to do around here while I wait for the co-op board to get off their asses and hire someone to do repair work. They won’t let us hire our own people. Pfttt…

For the record, I think the problem with the water-damaged Wii is that, though the motherboard itself is fine, either the Bluetooth module, the WiFi module, or both were damaged by the water. The DVD drive may also be bad. I read that a Wii will boot properly without a DVD drive, but it will refuse to boot if either the Bluetooth or WiFi module is damaged or missing. This means the system could actually be fixed if I replaced those two boards but I don’t think it’s worth it now that I have a replacement Wii and my save games so I’ll probably just see if I can sell it on eBay. The reason Priiloader worked, I suppose, is that it must load before the Wii checks to see if the BT or WiFi modules are damaged.