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How to Refurbish Your Nintendo Entertainment System
by Dan Mahlendorf

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a great system that was plagued with one small problem: cartridges didn't always want to work right away.  While this problem was remedied with the top load NES 2, most everyone has the original front loading model. For many people who own a NES (or for those who just bought one from stores, E-Bay, or where ever), the typical solution of cleaning the cartridges or the deck may not seem to be working anymore.  What this document intends to show you is how to breathe life back into your NES so you may be able to actually enjoy playing it, rather than cursing at it when a game doesn't load.

NOTE: This document describes how to recondition the original (Front Load) NES deck and the original controller pads.  While the methods shown in this document are tried and tested, the author and Good Deal Games are not responsible for any damages you may cause to your equipment and cartridges.  Proceed at your own risk!


CARTRIDGES: Before we begin ripping apart equipment, let’s start with the basics: cleaning you cartridges.  Most of your problems are almost always dirty cartridges.  Like your mother always said when you brought a stray animal home or perhaps spied a candy on the floor that you wanted to eat: “You don’t know where it’s been”.  When you buy ANY used cart, clean the contacts really well as the dirt can rub off onto the deck’s cartridge connector.  You can use the instructions for cleaning the cartridges (located in the Articles section) or you can use swabs and solution from a game cleaning kit (I recommend Nintendo brand cleaners, which can be found at various places including Nintendo).  Make sure the contacts are dry before you shove the game into the system. 

Another way to clean the cartridges is to take them apart and wipe the contacts with a cloth dipped in isopropyl alcohol/water mix.  Usually cotton swabs work, but they sometimes can leave cotton bits that get snagged by the plastic or metal.  The only way you can get the carts apart though is by using a .38 mm Security Bit.  They are available and you can find them on auctions or electronics parts catalogs.  Game accessory companies did release things called “game keys” that are basically the same thing as the Security Bit.  If you do have such a tool, please perform the following:

·        Remove the 3 (or 5) screws from the back of the game cartridge.  Put them aside where you won’t lose them.

·        FOR 3 SCREW CARTS: open the cart from front to back (like a door), as there are two tabs at the top (where the game title is shown) that act as a “hinge”.  FOR 5 SCREW CARTS: just pull the back off.

·        Remove the circuit board from the cartridge and place it on a stable surface (like a table).

·        Lightly wet a dish cloth (or a cloth that isn’t really fluffy to reduce snagging on the metal of the board) with a 50% isopropyl alcohol/50% water solution and rub the contacts, making sure to travel in the same direction as the contacts.  Then with the dry part of the cloth, rub the contacts again.  Repeat until dirt no longer appears on the cloth.

·        Flip the board over and repeat the cleaning process as shown above.

·        Place the board back into the front piece of the cartridge case (the side with the full label) with the chips facing the casing (so all you see are a bunch of little prickly points facing you).  In fact, there is really only one way the board fit will fit, so you should have no problems.

·        FOR 3 SCREW CARTS: hook the tabs on the top of the back piece of the cartridge case into the two slots on the front piece of the case (which are also at the top) and close the cartridge as you would a book.  Replace the screws.  FOR 5 SCREW CARTS: Line up the screw holes and replace the screws.


            DECK: If cleaning the cartridge doesn’t seem to work, then the next thing you can do is clean the deck.  The easiest way is to use a cleaning kit, which looks like a NES cart but it has a cleaning piece where the contacts would be.  From personal experience I STRONGLY recommend using the Nintendo brand cleaning kit.  I used 3rd party cleaners and it sometimes seemed to make things worse while I had never had problems with the Nintendo brand.  If you like other brands, hey, that’s fine.  Just passing along the experiences.  You can also opt to remove the connector from the machine and give it a good scrubbing, but I’ll cover that in the Refurbishing section.

            CONTROLLER: There’s not much you can really do to clean the buttons without taking the thing apart.  If the outside is dirty, you can lightly spray a rag or paper towel with common kitchen cleaner or even window cleaner and then wipe the controller off.  Don’t saturate the cloth or get the chemicals inside the controller, though.




            BEFORE WE START: You will need the following tools in order to take apart your NES deck:

·        Medium Phillips screwdriver: the shaft of the screwdriver should be roughly 3 inches in length, just so long as the handle doesn’t butt up against the bottom of the NES deck.

·        Precision Flat-Head screwdriver: It usually comes in a five pack of precision screwdrivers. 

·        Open working surface: kitchen table, desk, etc.


·        Non-metal scrub brush: the kind you use to scrub your nails or dishes or something.  CANNOT BE METAL!

·        Towel: to, well, help dry it.


DECK: Perform the following to take apart the deck to clean and/or refurbish the system.  Disconnect the power supply, controllers, and TV connections from the deck.

·        Remove the screws from the bottom of the deck.  After the screws have been removed, flip the system over and take the top off.  Place the screws in a pile.  I like to put them in the top cover so I don’t get them confused with the other screws we will be removing.  You will now see the guts of your NES.

·        Remove the screws that hold the silver RF shielding to the system.  Place the metal shield and screws on the table off to the side (again, I usually put the screws in the shield).  Now your NES is practically naked.

·        You will see the cartridge tray (the thing that lowers and raises when you insert a cartridge) and the pin connector.  Remove the two screws from the front of the tray (front meaning where the power button is).  Set the screws aside in their own pile and remember where they are from.

·        Next remove the middle pair of screws from the tray.  Again, put them aside in their own pile.  Finally, remove the last pair of screws and put them aside as well.

·        Grab the tray, lift the front up a bit, and slide it towards the front of the deck and place it off to the side somewhere.

NOTE: This is where it gets tricky, be careful!

·        With the front of the deck facing you, grab the LEFT side of the main board and lightly pull it upward.  With your other hand, push the left side of the connector off followed by the right side.  If the right side doesn't come off, pull the board up a little higher.  Just pull on the board GENTLY and take your time.  The connector will eventually come off.


o       Take the connector and with warm soapy water (I recommend soap that doesn’t have lotions in it) and scrub the connectors.  Rinse and then shake the connectors over a sink to get as much water as you can out of the connector.  Then dry with a towel and then let it sit on the towel (preferably connectors facing down) to dry for a couple of hours.

NOTE: This too is a little tricky.

·        The pins that are going to be adjusted are the upper part of the connector, where the cartridge actually connects.  It is also the largest end, so you can’t mistake it for the connectors that hook up to the main board.  The pins that touch the cartridge also have splits in them (kinda like a hoof), so you can't mistake them.

·        As you look at the connector, take a mental note on the gap between the pins and the plastic at the top of the gap.  You will want to bend the pins so that pin takes just slightly half of the gap.  Take the precision flat head screwdriver and place the head under the first pin on the right.  Ever so gently, lightly pry the pin up until (as said before) it takes up just shy of half the gap.  It’s really hard to measure, but you will be able to see the difference between the other pins and the one you just bent (I couldn't take a good picture of it).  You don’t want to bend the pins too far or you will have a really hard time inserting and pulling out cartridges.

·        Repeat for each pin, raising it to the same height as the first pin until all of the pins have been bent.

·        Hook the connector back up to the main board.  Again, gently lift the main board and slide the connector back on.  You may have to rock the connector to the left and right to help slide it on. 

·        Take the tray and slide it back onto the main board and over the connector.  You may have to slide the tray and wiggle it while press down on it so that the tray "snaps" into place.  The screw-hole tabs will then be flush with the main board.  If the tray seems to be “floating” above the main board, rock the tray left and right until it snaps into place.  Do not force it.

·        Replace the screws for the back, middle, and front pairs of screws for the tray and connectors.  Be sure you put the screws back in the same holes you pulled them from.

·        Now, hook the deck back to the power supply and the TV.  Place a CLEAN non-battery save cartridge (don’t use a game like Zelda) into the deck (like you would normally) and press Power.  DO NOT TOUCH ANY OF THE INTERNAL COMPONENTS WHILE THE POWER IS ON!!  The cartridge may slide in kinda tight, so you may have to push harder.  You will encounter a varying degree of tightness as not all cartridges are made the same (some carts have thicker connectors than others).  This will ease up with time. 

o       If you get a picture right away, you have done a great job.  Disconnect the power and TV connections and continue putting the deck back together.

o       If you get flashing, clean the cartridge again.  If you still get flashing, turn the power off and remove the cartridge.  Insert the cartridge again and power the deck on.  NES decks can be touchy, even with refurbished or new connectors.

o       If you still get flashing, try a different cartridge.  If after four cartridges you still get flashing, push DOWN on the cartridge itself.  If you see the title screen appear, that probably means the tray is not seated right.  Power off the deck, disconnect it from the power and TV, and remove the screws holding the tray down.  As mentioned above, move the tray around until in snaps into place.

·        Replace the RF shielding and screw it down.

·        Place the top cover on the deck and then flip it over and replace the screws.

Your deck has now been refurbished.  As mentioned above, this method will usually get the games working again, but NES by nature can be a testy little beast.  Just be patient and insert/reinsert the cartridge again.  If the majority of your CLEANED games don’t work, try them on a friend’s deck to see if they work.  If they work on other decks and not on yours, there may be something more wrong with your system that may require a parts replacement or you may need to get a new (different) deck.

CONTROLLER:  You’ve probably noticed that at times it seems as though the timing when hitting a button to making the character onscreen react is off.  While some of the time it’s just imagination, the controller may be getting some dead skin build up under the buttons. As you probably know we shed the dead layers of skin everyday and in the case of NES controllers, the skin gets inside and over time builds up.  It forms a barrier between the button and the contacts inside.  While a connection can still be made, there is a slight delay, hence why it seems to always work when we try to push the button through the controller.  The following will show you how to take apart your NES controllers and how to clean them.


BEFORE WE START: You will need the following tools:

·        Precision Philips screwdriver: it can be the largest size in the pack they usually come with.

·        Something small with scraping ability: a flat head precision screwdriver, a small knife, even a toothpick will work.

·        Lightly moistened cloth: to wipe anything off the rubber contacts if need be.

·        Dry cloth: to dry off those little contact thingies.


Now we can take the controller apart:

·        Remove the screws from the back of the controller.  Remove the back casing and set that and the screws aside.

·        Carefully lift the circuit board from the controller.  You will probably have to pull the wire from the front casing to do with.  Set the board aside.

·        Remove the rubber contacts from the front of the controller.  Check to see if they have any dirt buildup and if they do, wipe them off.  Be careful not to tear the rubber.  While these are usually sturdy, years of use might weaken some parts of the rubber.  Just be cautious.

o       If you see any tears in the rubber, you may want to either seek out new controllers or perhaps a replacement kit.  The controllers themselves are probably easier to find, however.  If you want to do the replacement, I know a company called Game Doctors released a pad replacement kit.  But that was a long time ago.

·        Remove the plastic A and B buttons and scrape any dirt/dead skin off of its bottom edge.  Wipe the button clean with the cloths afterwards then place them back in the controller.

·        Remove the D-Pad and wipe it clean.  Place the D-Pad back into the controller.

·        Replace the rubber pieces on top of the buttons.  They should only go on one way, so there shouldn’t be any problems.

·        Take the dry cloth and wipe the front of the circuit board.  Then place it back into the controller.  Again there is really only one way it goes in.  Take the wire that connects to the circuit board and carefully snake it through the two pegs that lead to the hole where the wire sticks out.

·        Replace the back panel of the controller and replace the screws.

·        Now do the same to the other controller.


That’s all there is to it.  By doing this you can add life back into your deck.  By keeping the cartridges clean and then by regularly cleaning your deck, you should be able to enjoy your NES for quite some time.


Copyright © 2012, GOOD DEAL GAMES