Pushing Buttons
The musings of a coder
 A Gameboy Restoration - My Summer ProjectPosted by Incineroar on 2019-02-02 08:13:33
So this a quick migration of a write-up I did after restoring a Gameboy back in summer 2017. Just moving it here to keep things consolidated. Anyways... In my spare time I usually am not doing a whole lot besides working, chores, or trying to play games. However, last spring, someone near to me passed away, and many years prior to that they gave me an original Gameboy. It worked, but it was fairly well-used. I decided to sit down, last summer, and try cleaning it up. That didn't work out too well initially, but I decided to finally get the ball rolling and I did the work that I wanted to on it, plus a little bit more. So this is where I started. I purchased a kit containing all sorts of screwdrivers and security bits for various game systems from work, and it was solid - it had all the Nintendo bits I needed as well. This is how it looked when I started. It was quite yellowed, although it worked. The screen lens was also missing, so the screen was subject to dirt, dust, and lots of fingerprints. It's evident that this would need some work. There was also a lot of dirt and grime in where the speaker slots were as well, and there was a lot of dust in the crack between the A and B buttons. So at this point, I removed the six tri-wing screws holding the unit together, and then undid the ribbon cable (On the right-hand side, top-center) that held the two together. That cable is the main data transmission line - it connects the CPU board (The back half) with the input/ouput devices (The front half). It was the one major gotcha that the Gameboy has - damage this cable and you'll have to get a replacement board - which don't come along fairly easily. Note how dirty the inside of this case is, especially where the speaker is situated. It was subject to a lot, it seems. On the right-hand board, as well, is the contrast wheel, strangely it's the only other input device aside from the buttons - the rest are on the CPU board. This is the CPU board when removed. The black box in the middle is the cartridge slot - it's fairly dirty! On the left side, from the top down, is the link cable port, and the wheel underneath is the volume adjust. On the right at the very top corner is the power switch, and underneath is the 6V input for wall plugs. The board hanging off at the bottom is the power regulator board, and not pictured (You can see it in the photo above though!) is the headphone port, hanging off the black and white wires heading towards the bottom. This is the entire amount of parts when laid out. All of the screws and smaller metal parts (The gamepak shield, the battery terminal connectors, and all the screws that I had) went into the bag, and then the plastic parts were the shell halves, the D-Pad, the A/B buttons, and the power switch. In addition, there were some soft rubber button pads that established contact with points on the front board so that it would know what you're pressing. Those were fairly dirty, and there was a slight tear in the one for the D-Pad. At this point you can truly see just how dirty this unit is. It'd need a lot of love and work. Here's a closer look at the A/B button holes. There's... Something in there... I'm not sure what it is but I'm inclined to say it's juice maybe? You can also see the settling of other bits and pieces of dirt and grime along the side of the case too. If it didn't look bad then, it certainly looks bad now! Here's a bit of a better preview of the speaker hole. It's certainly disgusting! And here's one of the D-Pad. The inner corners of the D-Pad seem to be blackened because of the wear from pressing the buttons I think? It may also have a little bit of juice in there too, but I'm not entirely sure. Here's one of where the screen lens used to sit! It looks like adhesive was used to try keeping the original one on, but it didn't seem to work out too well... I can safely say this glue was one of the most stubborn things I've had to attempt to remove. Because of the type of plastic that it was made of, anything with acetone in it was a no-go as it would eat the plastic and essentially destroy it. This is what happens when a Gameboy shell is submerged in pure acetone. It's not pretty. So last Saturday, I was able to get that off work. I decided I'd start work on this since I had gotten a plastic container and a whole boatload of peroxide. This was a scrub of the plastic components in some warm water and some mild dish soap, just to get rid of the grime. In all honesty, it already looked a ton better, especially since the embedded text on the outer part of the shell had bits of dirt in it. Not any longer! I had some oxiclean sitting in the hallway closet where the chemicals are stored, and I had already purchased a bunch of hydrogen peroxide 3% - both ingredients are the key components of a product called Retr0bright. By mixing 1 litre of peroxide to about 1 teaspoon of oxiclean power, you can create a solution that, when put in sunlight, creates a chemical reaction. What happens, basically, is over time, the plastic gets yellow because of a fire retardant added to the plastic when it's formed. This retardant reacts with sunlight, and traps bromine inside the plastic, giving the highly undesired color. When submerged in pure peroxide, over the period of a few days, the bromine can be removed. However, you can speed up this process by adding a little bit of oxiclean and giving it some kind of UV source - a lamp or even direct sunlight works. The oxiclean and UV light speed up the reaction to remove the bromine from the plastic, and it can be done in under a day. Anyways, I made my mixture, and soaked all my parts in it. It took about 6 hours, although the front wasn't as nice as I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I worked Sunday, so I had to delay the work for a bit, but I did manage to get some more peroxide as the solution had reacted completely by this point, and made a fresh new batch to soak the front. This is the results of the first soaking. The back looks immensely better! In the meantime, since the back was done and clean, as well as the power switch, I decided to reassemble the back half and run a few tests to make sure there was no damage to the system. This is the back half of the shell fitted with the CPU board. It looks much better in the cleaner plastic! I threw the two boards back together (That ribbon cable is tremendously difficult to reinsert since you have to do it half blind!) and put some batteries in, then threw the power switch. The Gameboy came back to life and the speaker also worked! There's no issues despite sitting in a box for half a year! We're on a roll here! Since I had to wait a day before I could get anything done with the front half of the shell, I decided I'd try and fix the screen. Over time, the connectors that provide a video signal to the Gameboy's screen can have their connections sever because the material holding them in place can fail. This is a fairly common issue on these systems. There's two ways you can fix it. In the photo above, you can see a small line of adhesive at the top where the brown film is - that's a pressure point that you can put something on, and it can push these wires back into place. However, that's more of a temporary fix and may eventually cause more damage than good down the road. The better alternative? Use a soldering iron, and GENTLY AS FUCK go over them in small circles. Do it too long though, and you'll burn a hole and it will be forever damaged. This video shows what to do to fix it. Protip: Use a wall plug to do this, and turn on the screen and just set the contrast to complete darkness. That way, it's not heavy to hold if you need another angle with your soldering iron. Just be sure to not burn anything! So after about 15 minutes, I almost thought some of the columns were actually dead and I'd have to order a replacement screen, but some persistence paid off as I managed to get the screen completely working again! Not bad since I hadn't used a soldering iron in almost 5 years! At this point, I had to just finish cleaning the front half, and reassemble the device! Here it is in all its glory! I had made a thread on Reddit about not being able to get the glue off, and of all things I wanted to do, they recommended gently sanding the glue away, as it'd be rendered hidden when I put on the new screen lens. Good advice - it looks amazing now! So the first game I had to play in it was Game & Watch Gallery. It was given to me a long time ago with the Gameboy, however, it never worked. The save data was corrupted because of a dead battery and had a ghost Interrupt Save on it, so the game would crash whenever I tried selecting a game to play. I got a replacement for it, and put it in this time and sat with it for a few minutes. It worked really nicely! Another image of another game playing - Pocket Monsters Gin (Pokémon Silver). It's handling up quite nicely! Restoration complete! I honestly had a lot of fun with this, and it gave me a lot of hands-on experience with repairing these units. Now that I know what to do, I can probably do them for friends that have these units and clean the up - hopefully better than I did for my first attempt! This isn't an expensive restoration to do either, you just need peroxide, the right bits, oxiclean, soap, water, and some time. If you have a soldering iron, then that's a big plus, otherwise you can get one for not too much if you go to the right electronics store. You don't need a fancy one either, but if you're spending more than $40, you're paying too much.