Cleaning old game cartridges

Discussion in 'Technical Discussion' started by Toasty, May 30, 2016.

  1. Toasty

    Toasty

    BulbaSAUR! Member
    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. Ravenfreak

    Ravenfreak

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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. Overlord

    Overlord

    Aros gartref, diogelu'r GIG, achub bywydau Moderator
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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. Shadow Hog

    Shadow Hog

    "I'm a superdog!" Member
    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. JaredAFX

    JaredAFX

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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. Toasty

    Toasty

    BulbaSAUR! Member
    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. Billy

    Billy

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

    Toasty

    BulbaSAUR! Member
    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. Lilly

    Lilly

    Muffin Taste Tester Member
    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.
     
  10. Caniad Bach

    Caniad Bach

    is a peanut Member
    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. Overlord

    Overlord

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    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. Billy

    Billy

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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. Toasty

    Toasty

    BulbaSAUR! Member
    I'm going to look into this, thank you so much for the link!
     
  14. Lilly

    Lilly

    Muffin Taste Tester Member
    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.
     
  15. Mecha Sally

    Mecha Sally

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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)?
     
  16. Toasty

    Toasty

    BulbaSAUR! Member
    Have you opened the cartridge? I got a nasty surprise when I opened my F-Zero X cartridge up a few months ago, the chips were corroded so badly it couldn't be saved. :( It's pretty rare for that to happen, but it has happened to me a few times.
     
  17. Mecha Sally

    Mecha Sally

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    That sucks. >.< I wasn't going to open it except as a last resort. I decided to do that just now though, and it seems like the board and the chips are all ok. I did notice some rather stubborn dirt (at least I *think* it's dirt...) on the inner metal plate that the game board sits on. It's a pain in the butt to rub off, I'll say that. Was going to run out and get some other things to try that might help get it off. I can see now there's still some stubborn dirt on the contact pins too.
     
  18. Lilly

    Lilly

    Muffin Taste Tester Member
    It wouldn't happen to be rust, would it? I had that problem on an NES cart of Super Mario Bros once, but it didn't stop the cartridge from working as long as the pins were otherwise clean.

    As a last resort, do you have a multimeter handy? If there are any capacitors on the PCB, it couldn't hurt to check those. In my experience, I could be wrong, caps are sometimes the first kinds of components to die, get damaged, or explode.

    I recently had to deal with the same thing for my iBuffalo SNES controller. It's an awesome, nostalgia-inducing USB pad, but the connector is a really tight squeeze into the USB port, so I plug into a USB hub instead. Don't want to wear down my internal ports!
     
  19. Mecha Sally

    Mecha Sally

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    Don't have a multimeter, and I wasn't sure if it was rust or not. It didn't have that reddish tint to it, and some of it was coming off, so I thought it was dirt. The whole outside of the cart was pretty dirty, actually, so I wasn't too surprised that the inside had some grime as well.

    But that doesn't matter much now as I'm proud to say I got it working! I picked up some 91% isopropyl alcohol and used that on the dirty part of the frame (which didn't do much) and then on the contact pins (which seemed to work better than the 70%). Dried the pins with a dry Q-tip, reassembled the cart, waited a bit, plugged it in, turned the N64 on... success! Now I just need to get a box for the game, and possibly a new cart label too (the one on there now is kinda dirty and faded).
     
  20. Lilly

    Lilly

    Muffin Taste Tester Member
    I'm glad everything on the PCB was okay, in that case! 91% alcohol is great stuff. I use it to clean a lot of my electronics, even used controllers.

    My cousin had similar problems with his N64 carts years ago until I cleaned them, which I thought was odd. I never had as much trouble with SNES or Genesis carts a console gen before that.