January 3, 2012

Opening Sega Genesis Cartridges

As a retro gamer, it is important to me to clean and maintain my aging collection of cartridge based games. Here I will outline what you need to do in order to clean and open your Sega Genesis games. As a legal warning: you cannot sue me for the information contained in this article or website. I am not responsible if you melt your soldering iron into your arm. With that out of the way...

Regular Sega Genesis Cartridges

Regular cartridges, and carts in general accumulate a lot of dust when they are moved around and played with. The technology of the day included golden tabs (pins) that made contact with the connector inside the console. If one pin was dirty or broken, a distortion would appear on the screen, or the game would not work at all. Genesis games and NES games are notorious for this.

You will need 1x 4.5mm security bit to open most Genesis carts. There are some carts with different screws, but we will get to them.To begin, lay the cartridge down on a flat surface. Locate the two screws on the back and verify they are security bits (a inverted hexagon shape). Simply remove the screws (if they are rusted or tight, apply a low amount of torque "twist" to get them moving) to gain access to the inside of the cart.

Remove the backing and you will have access to the PCB (printed circuit board). NES PCB's are roughly this size too- they needed to design the cart to fit the cart loader. Weird design, but let's get back to the Genesis. At this point, ground yourself to avoid any static transfer. I touch my computer case, which is in contact with materials that are in contact with the ground. The PCB includes IC chips (integrated circuit), which may or may not be of the CMOS variety. Still, ground yourself to be safe than sorry.

Lift the PCB and flip it over. This is the true game. You will see the gold pins on the PCB, and if you are intuitive, you may see that the PCB does not use all of the pins. This is OK. I highly suggest not touching the IC chip unless you have the experience of working with them. You may also see a capacitor on the inside. On my Ecco the Dolphin cartridge, I see two. Some carts, which games contain save files will contain a watch battery of some sort. Record the type and buy a new one roughly every 5-7 years.

You can use two cleaning agents for the job: Windex or Isopropyl Alcohol. I have both, but like to use the alcohol for cleaning contacts. Take a q-tip and moderately scrub the dirt off of the contacts, on both sides. Throw away your Q-tip and let the contacts air dry for a little bit. Do not overdouse the Q-tip.

When complete, close her up and have a good time playing! Remember to flip around the PCB so that the IC chip faces the FRONT of the cart. You don't need to clean the PCB board itself because the cartridge plastic protects it, but not the contacts. Do not over-tighten your screws.

Miscellaneous Carts
Misc carts are cartridges that appear like normal carts, but have different screw heads. If you have a driver set, you should be able to find your corresponding bit. So far, the companies that use non-security bits include Majesco/Konami/Microprose.

Electronic Arts Carts
EA used to be pretty cool back in the day- they had ok games. Today... I can't stand them. With their policies towards customers and their push to censor the internet... they bring my piss to a boil. So do these carts!

EA carts have yellow tabs on their left side. They were designed this way because Sega did not have time to give EA the design plans for a Genesis cart, so they reverse engineered their own. They are ass. Fortunately, I have not ran into one yet that does not use security bits. You can open them like normal, but not fully. Either break the clip or don't. I choose not to, and repositioning the PCB is a pain in the ass, and it is time consuming. Go old school and leave these things shut if you can.

Next time, we'll look at the gut of a Sega Genesis...

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