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Cleaning old game cartridges

#1 User is offline Toasty 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 03:58 AM

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I recently bought an NES, which I changed out the 72 pin connector Saturday. I only had like two games for it originally, then I struck gold at Goodwill and found a bunch of games for $2 each like Mario 2, Mario 3, Double Dragon, etc. I bought as many as I could afford and was disappointed when they weren't working correctly in my NES with the new pin connector. None of them worked, which seemed strange to me. I happen to have the correct gamebit for opening the cartridges laying around, so I opened Mario 2 up. The pins were covered in dirt and gunk that alcohol wouldn't even touch. I tried Brasso and Mario 2 works every time now. Mario 3 is fugged up, there's a piece of plastic missing inside the cart so if super glue doesn't work I'll have to find a donor cart due to the fact that the game board will not stay in place.

Anyway, I'm starting to have regrets, a few of the games (Sesame Street and R.C. Pro AM) are loading with garbled graphics and I'm worried the brasso may have stripped some of the coating off the pins. I've used brasso with success for SNES games, but now the internet is telling me it's dangerous to use with NES games. How would you have cleaned them? Alcohol doesn't remove the dirt like brasso does, it takes about 5-6 qtips to get these games clean. I just find it strange that some of the games work perfectly while others just load with glitches graphics. Maybe the new pin connector is dirty from trying to load these dirty games?

I just want to play some Mario 3. Who manages to bust the plastic inside the cart? :(

#2 User is offline Ravenfreak 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 05:37 AM

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I use windex to clean my cartridges. I was having some issues with some of my Genesis carts, and after I cleaned them they started to work fine. (All but Animaniacs, I think the cart is dead... :( ) I don't own too many NES games, and I don't even have a NES, I use my Retron 5 to play them. But I don't think I'd ever use brasso to clean my carts. And the pin connector could be dirty, since the carts were in really rough shape the pin connector could have gotten dirty from them. Also it sucks about Mario 3 being damaged... :\

#3 User is online Overlord 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 12:22 PM

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It's also worth noting after a pins swap that your NES might not work the same way anyway. Post-swap, I only have to push a cart in and it'll work - it won't if once in I push DOWN on it as well to load it. *shrug*

#4 User is offline Shadow Hog 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 02:02 PM

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Generally, all I do is dab a Q-Tip in some rubbing alcohol (apparently expired rubbing alcohol, at this point, but whatever, it works - also, the higher %/less water, the better) and rub it on the contacts, repeating (with further Q-Tips, as necessary) until I'm not turning up any gray or brown from rubbing. Give it some time to dry, and then it usually works flawlessly after that.

Only have two games that this didn't fix - Tonic Trouble for the N64 and Little Mermaid for the Genesis, and in the case of Tonic Trouble, the mainboard looks like it has a subtle crack going across it that's probably the culprit.

#5 User is offline JaredAFX 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 04:19 PM

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I use rubbing alcohol on a Q-Tip and then use the other side to clean it (if it's really bad it may take multiple sides of Q-Tips until it's done, then use a remaining dry side). I've been pretty fortunate with how good condition my older game carts are; one time Banjo-Kazooie was unplayable until I cleaned it, but not many other games needed anything.

Also, like Overlord mentioned, my NES also doesn't need for the carts to be pushed down. I stick them in and they work just like that. I'd rather it be hard to take them out due to the new connector than having to bend the pins by pushing them down anyway.

#6 User is offline Toasty 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 07:11 PM

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View PostOverlord, on 30 May 2016 - 12:22 PM, said:

It's also worth noting after a pins swap that your NES might not work the same way anyway. Post-swap, I only have to push a cart in and it'll work - it won't if once in I push DOWN on it as well to load it. *shrug*

This is definitely true, it isn't working like it did before, but admittedly it does work much better now. I'm pretty pissed, I paid top dollar for this NES because I was told by the shop owner that it had a brand new pin connector installed, but this wasn't the case. The pin connector was definitely original, all he did was clean it and attempt to bend the pins back. I never push the games down anyway, they always seem to work better in the up position.

Is there any benefit from snipping the pin for the lock out chip functionality wise? Like will it help stop the garbled graphics thing? I'm wondering now if I installed the pin connector wrong. I made it to level 3-1 in Mario 2 and the graphics glitched.

#7 User is offline Billy 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 08:06 PM

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View PostToasty, on 30 May 2016 - 07:11 PM, said:

Is there any benefit from snipping the pin for the lock out chip functionality wise? Like will it help stop the garbled graphics thing?

Probably not. When the 10NES doesn't detect the chip in the cartridge, it simply resets the console repeatedly.

#8 User is offline Toasty 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 10:00 PM

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View PostBilly, on 30 May 2016 - 08:06 PM, said:

View PostToasty, on 30 May 2016 - 07:11 PM, said:

Is there any benefit from snipping the pin for the lock out chip functionality wise? Like will it help stop the garbled graphics thing?

Probably not. When the 10NES doesn't detect the chip in the cartridge, it simply resets the console repeatedly.

I figured, I'm probably going to snip it anyway. I don't know if I'll ever get any pirates/Famicom games, but in case I do, I want to be prepared. I still have my old Gyromite cartridge with an official converter.

#9 User is offline .Luke 

Posted 30 May 2016 - 11:44 PM

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Sometimes I've seen games boot more easily with the chip snipped, but the effect seemed too marginal to be worth it to me. I'd only do it for pirate/Famicom games, like you mentioned wanting.

Back to cartridges, in my experience, it's easier to be more thorough when the cartridge is opened; you have full access to the pins. (Using a q-tip doesn't remove everything, mostly because you either can't see any gunk in the corners, or the q-tip doesn't have enough room inside the cart's shell to reach it.) ShadowHog is right on the money about using the stronger rubbing alcohols to clean with. Windex didn't remove half the grime that I've wiped away with 91% rubbing alcohol before.

Bending back the pins on the NES cart reader is a 50/50 chance of improving things as well, (I've tried it before.) so that guy who sold you the NES was pretty sleazy. Thankfully, brand new 72-pin connectors are fairly cheap on Ebay and they do the job. Cheap enough that it makes his pointless hack job all the more surprising.

EDIT: And if you're going to open the cartridges for cleaning or replacing SRAM batteries, it's better to get a 3.5mm security screwdriver bit, if some of your games aren't using ordinary Phillips screws. (My Metroid cart was like that.) I've done the brush-tip melting technique before and nearly damaged a few cart shells that way; not worth it.
This post has been edited by .Luke: 30 May 2016 - 11:47 PM

#10 User is offline Caniad Bach 

Posted 31 May 2016 - 09:29 AM

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I'm in the rubbing alcohol/Q-tip camp. It might be a chore and use up a bunch of buds, but something abrasive like Brasso can damage contacts and should generally only be used as a last resort. Generally the problem with the front loading NES is that the pins get bent after repeated use, and it can often be better to just bend them back into place rather than replacing the whole thing. Usually new NES pin connectors can be quite stiff, so be sure to push in your cartridge from both sides and the middle to make sure it's definitely in.

I'd open up the NES, give the pins a good clean (putting in dirty carts can clog up the console) and snip the region lock out. It gives you a little more functionality, and in my experience makes booting games more successful. For example, my legit and correct region copy of Snake's Revenge refused to boot at all, but now boots fine with the lockout disabled. It's also not too hard to reverse should you ever want to.

#11 User is online Overlord 

Posted 31 May 2016 - 12:36 PM

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View PostToasty, on 30 May 2016 - 10:00 PM, said:

View PostBilly, on 30 May 2016 - 08:06 PM, said:

View PostToasty, on 30 May 2016 - 07:11 PM, said:

Is there any benefit from snipping the pin for the lock out chip functionality wise? Like will it help stop the garbled graphics thing?

Probably not. When the 10NES doesn't detect the chip in the cartridge, it simply resets the console repeatedly.

I figured, I'm probably going to snip it anyway. I don't know if I'll ever get any pirates/Famicom games, but in case I do, I want to be prepared. I still have my old Gyromite cartridge with an official converter.

I need to do this mod on my own system actually - I have a few Yank carts that won't work in my EU NES without doing so.

#12 User is offline Billy 

Posted 31 May 2016 - 06:45 PM

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Also, there is another (more expensive) option in the form of blinking light win. I've not tried it myself, but it seems like it'd be nicer than most aftermarket 72-pin connectors; The one I got grips the carts like a sunnuvabitch, meaning I have to wiggle the shit out of them to get them out. My solution to that was to keep a game genie in at all times.

#13 User is offline Toasty 

Posted 31 May 2016 - 09:17 PM

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View PostBilly, on 31 May 2016 - 06:45 PM, said:

Also, there is another (more expensive) option in the form of blinking light win. I've not tried it myself, but it seems like it'd be nicer than most aftermarket 72-pin connectors; The one I got grips the carts like a sunnuvabitch, meaning I have to wiggle the shit out of them to get them out. My solution to that was to keep a game genie in at all times.

I'm going to look into this, thank you so much for the link!

#14 User is offline .Luke 

Posted 02 June 2016 - 02:06 PM

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Wow, that would take away all the frustration of maintaining an original NES system! (And it doesn't look like an alien harmonica in the back.) I bet the carts still need to be kept clean like with any other console, but anything beats taking apart the NES itself simply to brush off the 72-pin connector in the sink with liquid soap. I've done that to multiple NESes for relatives and it's a chore.

So I second that. If I find myself getting an NES of my own any time soon, I'll be looking into one of those too.
This post has been edited by .Luke: 02 June 2016 - 02:07 PM

#15 User is online Mecha Sally 

Posted 05 June 2016 - 01:17 AM

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I've recently (as in today) tried to use rubbing alcohol and Q-tips to clean the contact pins on the copy of Harvest Moon 64 that I got. I plugged the game into my system and turned it on... and nothing happened. Tried a different game to make sure it wasn't the console, and it worked fine. Used three different Q-Tips on the HM64 cart and it looked like a lot of dirt had come off, but alas, still nothing when I turn the console on. I'm debating on getting stronger alcohol (91% as opposed to the 70% I used today) and/or that Brasso stuff to try, but I'm nervous... and also kinda pissed since I paid like $60 for it.

Anyone with experience cleaning N64 carts have advice to offer? Should I keep trying or return the game and get my money back (and hope to God they don't try to re-sell it to some poor soul)?

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