How to Restore Your Super Nintendo SNES the Right Way
The Super Nintendo is one of the most coveted and collectible consoles to date. It was released in North America on August 23rd, 1991, and despite its age, it still enjoys a considerable amount of popularity.
However, the rigors of age have not been kind to some consoles, and many of them have fallen victim to:
Yellowing of the plastic case.
For many parents, the plan was simple: throw the console away when it no longer works.
Instead of relegating a veritable piece of video game history to the scrapyard, we’re here to give you the tools and knowledge necessary to not only restore your SNES console to a functional state, but to also assist with cleaning/restoring any games and/or controllers that you collect for it, and even touch on some mods that can help your SNES perform at levels you never thought possible.
SNES Repair: The Tools You’ll Need and How to Use Them
Before your restoration efforts can begin in earnest, it’s important to have the tools necessary to get the job done right. These include:
As for a cleaning agent, speculation abounds as to whether denatured alcohol, 91%, 99%, or even submerging and scrubbing the motherboard in soapy water is the best method. Me, personally? I like to use QD Electronic Cleaner. It does exactly what it says it does, and dries quickly after use with no residue.
The screwdriver kit mentioned above will also come in useful when it’s time to repair your games and controllers. Now that we have everything we need, it’s time to get on with the repair!
How to Disassemble Your SNES
The first step is to separate the motherboard from the outer case. Here’s how:
Using the 4.5mm security screwdriver from your kit, remove the six screws on the underside of your SNES.
Carefully flip over the console.
Locate the seam between the top and bottom halves, and carefully lift up.
By now, you should be looking down at the innards of your SNES console, which comprise of a motherboard, controller port, IR shields, eject button, and power switch.
Performing a deep clean on the top portion of the case is highly recommended, but includes the removal of multiple screws, springs, and tiny, moving parts. This repair would be useful for those who may be experiencing the dreaded Black Screen of Death due to a stuck Reset or Power button.
Watch this amazing video by Adam Koralik for details.
Simply follow these steps or the following ones in reverse to reassemble your console after repair, and get ready to get your game on!
How to Replace SNES Internal Components
Starting from the front of the disassembled console, we’re going to take a look at the various parts that can fail over time, starting with the controller port.
SNES Controller Port Replacement
Before accessing and removing the SNES controller port, you’ll need to remove the Eject button, which is held in place with a metal bar and spring. Carefully pull the metal bar out through the right side of the eject lever while keeping an eye on the spring located on the opposite side of the Eject button assembly. The spring is under pressure and may shoot off during disassembly!
(Reassembling the Eject button with the spring correctly placed may be difficult, and it may be necessary for one person to hold the spring in place while another slides the metal bar back into the left housing before sliding the Eject lever back onto the bar.)
With the Eject button out of the way, accessing the Controller port is a snap. The assembly itself simply sits in place in front of the SNES, and is connected to the motherboard via a ribbon cable. Carefully remove the ribbon cable, and either clean your existing controller port with electronic cleaner or replace it entirely.
RetroFixes has an original SNES controller port assembly available for purchase should you need one, as well as any of the other aforementioned parts.
SNES Power Switch Replacement
Having a gummy power switch can cause all types of problems with an SNES, including the dreaded Black Screen of Death.
Short of cleaning it with electronic cleaner, you may opt just to replace it entirely. Replacement SNES Power Switches can still be found on eBay, with stock in RetroFixes and iFixIt being more fluid.
Removing the SNES Power Switch is fairly straightforward if you already have the outercase disassembled:
Remove the two Philips screws that secure the Power Switch to the motherboard.
Disconnect the Power Switch from the motherboard.
(One note of caution: do not remove the Power Switch from the motherboard by pulling on the wires! Doing so could remove the wires from the connector. Apply pressure at the connector instead using the tweezers from the kit above or one specifically designed for use on electronics!)
Once it’s out, you’re free to either clean it or replace it. Your call.
62-Pin Connector Replacement
Unlike replacing a 72-pin connector on a NES, the cartridge connector of an SNES is much more elegant than simply wedging it onto the motherboard. The connector itself rests on its motherboard pins, and is held in place by two Philips screws.
Before removing the connector, you’ll need to remove the front shield from the motherboard, which is held in place by two Philips screws. These are sized differently from the ones that hold the connector to the motherboard, so don’t forget which ones go where!
Once the 2 Philips screw that hold the connector in place are out, simply lift the connector straight out and proceed to clean it and the motherboard pins beneath it using your preferred method.
SNES Sound Module Replacement
If you popped open your console and noticed a large, square silver box in the upper right hand corner of the motherboard, that means you have an older model SNS-001. For those keeping track at home, Nintendo manufactured three different versions of the same console:
Original model SNS-001 with separate sound module.
Newer model SNS-001 with integrated sound module.
SNES Mini, or SNS-101, with integrated sound module.
Replacing the sound module on an older SNS-001 is pretty straightforward. It’s held in place by a pair of Philips screws and connects directly to the motherboard. Replacement SHVC Sound Modules can be found at RetroFixes, and may even help with fixing that dreaded Black Screen of Death we’ve mentioned several times.
Speaking of which…
Fixing the Black Screen of Death on an SNES
At some point, every collector has experienced it: the SNES powers up, and the LED burns bright red, but there’s nary a sound or video to indicate that there’s any sign of life.
Many of the steps that we’ve covered so far can have the fortunate side effect of curing The Black Screen of Death, but if none of those have resulted in curing your No Video or Sound problem, try following this troubleshooting workflow by SmileCitrus to check out the more technical causes that can cause a black screen.
Solutions range from replacing a capacitor near the CIC chip to replacing the CPU, so tread with caution.
In most cases, following the steps we outlined above will get your SNES running like new, whether or not you were experiencing a black screen prior to repair.
Repairing SNES Controllers
A lot of things can happen to a video game controller over time. Sweat, soda, juice, smoke, and other disgusting excretions can find their way inside a controller, reeking all kinds of unintended havoc. Even worse, the wires can work their way loose from their moorings or the pads inside that create that satisfying button press can break down, causing sponginess or even stuck buttons.
Luckily for us, controller repair is fairly simply. Five screws (typically Philips screws, but can vary between 3rd party controllers) hold the unit together, and cleaning the non-electronic parts is pretty straightforward. Simply use a mild detergent to clean the plastic parts, and perhaps some Goo Gone for the more yucky ones like D-Pads.
This approach also works with the spongy rubber pieces that allow the button to contact the circuit board. If you find these cracked or otherwise in bad shape, replacement SNES Controller Silicone pads are easy enough to find (these can also work on 3rd party controllers with less-than-stellar pads).
Use the electronics contact cleaner (or preferred medium) and some Q-Tips to clean the grime off of the circuit board, and follow the steps below if you find that your wires are damaged, or are separating either from the circuit board or at the console connector.
How to Clean SNES Games
Sometimes, you just can’t say no to a time-tested classic. Finding games like Super Castlevania IV or Chuck Rock (lol) at either a swap meet or retro store can be thrilling, but you can almost guarantee that those games are absolutely filthy.
Years of frustrated spittle, soda, skin cells, and what-have-you can gum up a game’s connectors and leave you in the dark. But as with most retro game cartridges, getting them running like new again is, at most times, as simple as cleaning the contacts.
The best way to do this is to:
Use your 3.8mm security bit to remove the two screws on the front of the cartridge.
Gently press down the two tabs at the top of the cartridge.
Separate the cartridge at the seams.
At this point, you now have access to the game’s circuit board and connectors. Carefully lift it out, rub the cleaning paste onto the contacts, allowing it to dry. Once dry, clean the contacts off with a lint-free towel, spray the cleaning polish, and allow to air dry before reassembly.
Unless you happen to have a bad chip or burst capacitor, your game should be ready to play in your freshly cleaned SNES!
Awesome SNES Mods
Are you ready to move your SNES experience up to the next level? If so, we have a few console mods that we’d like to mention that range from insanely easy to brain-bustingly difficult.
Remember that video by Adam Koralik earlier? After disassembling the top half of the case, he shows us the tabs that prevent North American players from running Super Famicom games on their console. Technologically speaking, both Japanese and North American SNES consoles are the same, and the plastic tabs are a means of regional lockout.
Watch the video here to see where these tabs are located, and how to remove them. If the timestamp doesn’t work, the tutorial begins at 3:38. Region-free gaming? Sign us up!
Over at iFixIt, they have an article that discusses how to perform a 50/60Hz Switchless Mod + LED Mod. If properly done, the mod will change the color of the LED to indicate the region of each inserted cartridge. Wanna play a PAL version of Castlevania: Dracula X? You can do so without having to flip a switch, and the LED will shine a pretty green to indicate you’re doing so on your North American console!
For those who collect SNES games across regions, this mod is a definite win!
But…But What About Yellowing?
Nintendo’s questionable use of bromine as a flame retardant for ABS plastic has effectively put the curse of yellow death on these splendid machines. Not only is it unsightly, but it also makes the plastic brittle and highly susceptible to cracks and breakage.
Luckily for us, later model SNESs probably aren’t as susceptible to the oxidation that causes this yellow nightmare, as Nintendo may have been able to fix the manufacturing process as to why the top half of a console would likely degrade before the bottom half would.
So how do you fix yellowing? Some will tell you to clean it with hydrogen peroxide, while others suggest a product like RetroBrite. However, speculation and recent research have shown that this isn’t so much “cleaning the console” as it is “stripping off layers” until it looks new again.
This guy uses hair care products, which may be a milder way to approach the RetroBrite method.
We’ll leave it up to you. We personally find a yellow, yet fully functional SNES endearing.