It's an endless struggle; an epic, no-holds-barred wrestling match: Man vs. NES in a fight to the death. Or at least, in a fight to get your NES games working on that old front-loading NES. You push, it blinks. You pull, it blinks. You blow, you sneeze, you use q-tips, cleaning kits, and wow…it works? You see the title screen, but it's still a little flaky. Things might be a little garbled, so you hit reset and it looks OK. Then an hour into playing, you accidentally tap the console and the game freezes, forcing you to start your Metroid game all over again. Blast! It's hard to remember that your NES ever worked on the first try. There's a fine art to actually getting a game running on an old NES. It takes a lot of patience and a certain flick of the wrist. I used to impress people at parties with my NES-charming abilities, and boy did the ladies love it.
The crux of this classical problem is a special connector inside the unit that wears out from repeated usage over the years. It was designed in such a way that a game cartridge can be inserted at a slight angle with little resistance, then pushed down in the spring-and-latch loading tray inside the NES, bringing the cartridge's contacts in full contact with the connector's pins. It's sort of like a cartridge port version of a ZIF (zero insertion force) socket (Hmm.. Zero Insertion Force sounds like it would have been a good title for a Japanese NES game). This mechanism seems like a great idea on paper — there's no brute-forcing the game in, and it's easy to pull the game out of the slot when you're done. But this delicate dance between cartridge and machine repeats it self over and over again throughout the years until the the pins in the internal connector start to lose their flexibility and springiness. And when they get slowly bent down from repeated usage, the physical contact made between the connector and the cartridge itself suffers, making it hard for the NES to read the data on the cartridge. On top of that, you have years of dust, dirt, and corrosive build-up on both the internal connector and the game itself. As a result, you get…Dum Dum Dum…The Blinkies.
Back in the day, we just threw up our hands and suffered with the problem, never really thinking there could be a solution — other than buying a later model top-loading NES (released in 1993), which eschewed the high-class ZIF mechanism for a more plebeian (and low cost) approach. And as we all now know, recent attempts at NES replacements just don't cut it. But a few years ago, enterprising young lads on Ebay started selling replacement 72-pin connectors (the cartridge port on the NES has 72 pins) for afflicted front-loading NES systems. The concept is this: you buy a new connector, you disassemble your NES and replace the old one, and supposedly the blinkies will be gone. So about three months ago, I finally decided to buy one and try it out. Sellers want anywhere from $7 to $12 (!) a piece for these things, which is a lot of markup considering they're probably being churned out by Chinese factories at a cost of a cent a piece. However, they are quite unique in the world of connectors and I (in my limited experience) know of no other device that has ever used such a component. So until we find out who these sellers are smuggling these things from, the gaming public will have to put up with the high prices.
I took a dive and went with a $7 connector from HitGaming.com. I bought it through Ebay, although HitGaming has its own online store too. The choice of a vendor for these things probably matters very little. I highly suspect that all of them come from the same manufacturer somewhere in the Far East. Just go for the cheapest price. HitGaming.com's 72-pin connector arrived in a little plastic baggy with a cheaply done single-sheet print out of NES disassembly and connector installation instructions. Having disassembled a number of NESes before, I didn't have any trouble with the installation — it's very easy as far as console fixes go. But for those who are not experienced in taking anything apart, the operation might be a tad tricky. HitGaming.com also has extended installation instructions online with more pictures, which is definitely handy for the inexperienced. I'm not going to go into detail about the assembly and installation instructions myself, since the method to do so has been repeated many times over on the web.
I took everything apart — first the main chassis, then the RF shield, then they tray mechanism, then unplugged the old connector from the mainboard, hollowed out some incompletely drilled screw holes in the new connector, and plugged it in to the mainboard. Then I screwed only the tray mechanism back so I could test it before completely putting it back together. If I had to give one tip for the process, it would be this: there is a black plastic lip/slot on the bottom of the black spring-loaded tray that is designed to go under the front, bottom edge of the main board. Make sure you slide the tray mechanism in parallel to the mainboard and that the lip goes under the board, or else the tray will stick up too much and the spring-locking mechanism won't work properly. After successful testing, reassemble everything else in reverse order, taking care not to mix up which screws go where.
The new 72-pin connector in my NES succeeded in eliminating the confounded blinkies. It should be heavily noted that your game cartridges need to be cleaned before inserting them into your newly refurbished NES, or else you'll still have trouble getting them to work (and you'll get your new connector dirty).
There was only one problem with my connector, though. The whole ingeniously-designed ZIF feature of the tray-loader was somehow negated by the new connector. It requires a strong force to push the cartridge in, and a Herculean effort to remove the cart from the system. The sheer gripping power of the new connector will surely lessen over time and use, but it's definitely inconvenient to have to struggle to pull a game out. It's a disappointment, but at least a cleaned cartridge works on the first try. Also, you can practically throw the NES across the room and not have the game lock up on you; the contact is that strong. Still, I wouldn't try it on purpose (although it might happen spontaneously while trying to get past the first stage of Ghosts 'N Goblins).
Note: Below, I am reviewing my particular connector, not the whole concept of replacing your old one.
|HitGaming.com Replacement NES 72-Pin Connector|
|Good Features:||Seemingly good quality construction, same dimensions as old connector. Eradicates the blinkies if installed correctly and used with clean carts. Installation instructions provided on paper and online.|
|Bad Features:||Overpriced. Skimpy installation instructions. Grabs on to your carts for dear life and won't let go. Requires disassembly and possible breakage risk in the process — not a good option for the technically unexperienced.|
(10 Being Best)
|[ 6 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles|