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opa
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N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by opa Tue Oct 12, 2021 10:31 am

I've been selling a good chunk of my collection and cartridge games I usually take apart so buyers get to see the actual board. Too many bootlegs out there these days. I've noticed that many N64 games have a capacitor on them. There was a thread about the Star Fox carts needing capacitors to be changed. Kinda curious if there's gonna be a bunch of N64 games damaged or destroyed by leaking caps in the future.
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by Ziggy587 Tue Oct 12, 2021 8:29 pm

I wouldn't really worry about it. Not yet, at least. Pretty much all carts for retro home consoles have a small electrolytic capacitor inside of them. NES, SNES, N64, Master System and Genesis. The Star Fox cap is more of an isolated thing. It's not all Star Fox carts, just specifically the glop top version. The glop top version is the first release of the game, and generally you use glop tops to reduce cost, and being that they were using a (probably at the time) expensive Super FX chip they were trying to cut costs on that cart. And so they used a cheap capacitor that in 2021 has a good chance of leaking. The later releases of Star Fox, the non-glop top versions, don't have caps that are prone to leaking. Just like pretty much every other retro cart, the caps aren't prone to leaking. At least not yet.

If you want to be cautious though, it would definitely be worth checking the cap on carts that were budget releases. For example, the Majesco re-releases of SNES and Genesis games. Those labels always fade, they used B&W manuals, I once found one with a bad ROM. So it wouldn't be a stretch to say they probably used cheap caps.
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by opa Wed Oct 13, 2021 8:14 am

Ah, okay. I didn't notice any bad or leaking caps but after opening the fifth or sixth cart I thought to myself "I can see these caps being an issue down the road." Granted, I sold them all so it won't be my problem if/when they go bad in the future.

However, I may have to open up my Genesis carts. I have experienced carts that fail to load but I usually return those games and get a different copy (if I got them at a game store).
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by Ziggy587 Wed Oct 13, 2021 9:43 pm

opa wrote:However, I may have to open up my Genesis carts. I have experienced carts that fail to load but I usually return those games and get a different copy (if I got them at a game store).


So the thing about Genesis carts is that they're not all produced by Sega. Some of them are known to have issues. Like I said, I've seen a Majesco Genesis cart that had a bad mask ROM. And I recently repaired a Tengen Genesis cart for someone, apparently they're known for having issues with their PCBs.

Most carts will load and work fine even if the electrolytic cap is removed. So if you have a Genesis cart that isn't working, the issue is most likely something else. That said, it can't hurt to replace that cap if you want to and they're cheap enough anyways.
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by opa Fri Oct 15, 2021 10:24 pm

Okay, thanks for the info!
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by Reprise Mon Oct 25, 2021 7:59 am

Ziggy587 wrote:And I recently repaired a Tengen Genesis cart for someone, apparently they're known for having issues with their PCBs.


Yeah, what is with those? I have bought Gauntlet IV FOUR times now and every single time the cartridge has been dead. The closest I have come to a working version is one that boots up and plays ok for the most part, but has a tendency to crash (and that was a version I bought specifically because the Ebay seller had claimed it was a cartridge they repaired and tested it). I ended up keeping that one in the end.

How hard are they to repair? I have a soldering iron, but haven't done any soldering in over 15 years.
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by marurun Mon Oct 25, 2021 10:35 am

What needs to be repaired in them? Just caps, or is there other stuff wrong?
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Re: N64 cartridge capacitors... ticking time bomb?

by Ziggy587 Mon Oct 25, 2021 5:42 pm

Reprise wrote:
Ziggy587 wrote:And I recently repaired a Tengen Genesis cart for someone, apparently they're known for having issues with their PCBs.


Yeah, what is with those? I have bought Gauntlet IV FOUR times now and every single time the cartridge has been dead. The closest I have come to a working version is one that boots up and plays ok for the most part, but has a tendency to crash (and that was a version I bought specifically because the Ebay seller had claimed it was a cartridge they repaired and tested it). I ended up keeping that one in the end.

How hard are they to repair? I have a soldering iron, but haven't done any soldering in over 15 years.


marurun wrote:What needs to be repaired in them? Just caps, or is there other stuff wrong?


The problem is with the PCB, specifically the vias. The one that I had repaired was in fact Guantlet IV. The PCB is actually repairable, but it was quicker (and in turn less money someone had to pay me for the work) to replace the PCB. It's a simple PCB without any save RAM, and they can be had for cheap. All you have to do is desolder the mask ROM from the old PCB and solder it into the new PCB. Then solder in 2 caps. You can get the caps from the old board, but you might as well use new caps since they're dirt cheap anyway. The PCBs can be purchased from a variety of places. Just be sure the PCB has the correct specs. Board thickness should be 1.6mm, the edge connector should be hard gold (and not ENIG, which is fine but will wear out a lot faster) and the cart edge should be beveled. If the cart edge isn't beveled, you can easily fix that yourself with some sand paper, so it's not the end of the world.

Here's the exact PCB that I ended up using: https://www.ebay.com/itm/333725888712

There's plenty more available from a number of different websites, I only went with the above because of the price and availability at the time.

If you want to repair the Tengen PCB, it's really not hard. Just time consuming. If you're doing it for yourself, then that isn't an issue. If it's your cart, I would recommend trying to repair it first. Worst case scenario the repair doesn't work, and you're in no worse shape then when you started. You can still always transfer the mask ROM to a new PCB.

Anyway, the repair would be fixing the vias. No point on testing the vias to figure out which are bad and which are still good, you might as well fix them all since ones that are good now may go bad eventually. IIRC, what I would have done is scratch the solder mask off of the trace and around the via. Then use jumper wires (probably 30 AWG) to basically "replace" the vias. You may be able to scrape away the solder mask on both sides of the via and then bridge a blob of solder on both sides without a jumper wires, that may work, but I didn't test that theory. I'm not sure in what way the vias fail, just that they do. If the vias are large enough, you may be able to snake a jumper wire down through them, so that you can solder it to the trace on both sides. If not, then you would have to run the jumper wires elsewhere. Either method, just test it with the continuity setting on a multimeter to confirm that it worked.

You will have to remove the mask ROM in order to repair the board. Luckily, those Tengen PCBs are easy to desolder the mask ROM from. It has solder pads on one side for the mask ROM, and not through holes that would require a vacuum desolderer. So you can get away with using just a cheap desolder iron, such as this one: https://www.amazon.com/ECG-J-045-DS-Ele ... 00068IJSG/
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