I recently puchased a few Nintendo Entertainment Systems (NES) together with some games. These were sold “as-is”, and the seller(s) reported problems such as the consoles were just blinking etc. In this post I will summarize what you can do to get your NES games running again: from simple cleaning measures, to more advanced solutions, which require you to disassembly your NES.
Clean the cartridges!
This is the first thing you should do, no matter what. Dirty cartridges will not only not run, but they will make the problem even worse by transferring that dirt to the NES 72-pin connector. To clean a cartridge, follow the instructions on this page: how to clean a NES cartridge. The erasor + isorpropanol alcohol combination does wonders, and this is the primary solution you should try if some of your games work, and some don’t.
Is it a good solution? YES! You should perform this step even if you have no problems with your games. Keep your games in a healthy state!
Clean the connector
Even if the cartridges are clean, it won’t help much if the connector inside your NES is dirty. To clean it, follow the instructions on this page: clean the NES connector. You can also remove the connector, and cook it in boiling water, which is very efficient!
Is it a good solution? YES! Clean equipment = healthy and functional equipment!
Raise the metal springs on the connector
This step is a little more advanced. In time, the tiny metal springs that connects between the NES and the cartridge will get exhausted. To fix this, use a thin blade and raise the springs upwards a bit. This will make the cartridge slot tight and snug again, at least until the pins wear down again.
Is it a good solution? Maybe. If the problem really is that the contact between the connector and your game is suffering due to the pins being exhausted, then this step would help.
Disable the lock-out chip
The lock-out chip on your NES is designed to only make games from your region (e.g. PAL / NTSC / JAP) run on your console. It may also cause the NES to be more sensitive to a bad connection, causing “blinking”. To disable the lock-out chip on a PAL NES, locate it near the RF/AV port, and cut the fourth leg as seen below (it would be more neat to actually cut the leg next to the board, but in my case I used a small screwdriver and bent the whole leg away). Be careful when performing this since you could potentially destroy your NES! Also, if you plan on running many unlicensed games, don’t perform this step since it may cause the console / unlicensed cartridge to overheat. There are also more elegant solutions to disable the chip, than simply cutting the leg. Note that after you have disabled the chip, your screen will not “blink” anymore: if there is a problem with the connection between the game and the connector, the screen will be solid white instead.
Is it a good solution? Well, not really. The lock-out chip is not the root of your problem, so this step is unnecessary if you have clean, functioning games and a 72-pin connector in good condition.
What about buying a new connector then? Yes, you can buy an aftermarket connector, but these are reported to come in so-so quality and really puts a tight jaws-of-death grip on your cartridge.