Re-capping a NES

I’m a low-key video game collector. Mostly because I just like games, and end up holding on to the junk I buy for each console generation. I’ll occasionally venture on to eBay to pick up the random retro title. Plus I worked at a used game store for a while back in college, which helped my collection immensely.

Sometimes, however, I don’t exactly remember where I picked up a particular piece of kit. Maybe it was scrounged from a rando on craigslist, or I found a good deal online. Who can know these things, exactly? Regardless, I have a top-loading NES, and am unsure of the origin. All I know is that recently, it’s the only working NES system that I own. I use the word “working” loosely, here. The system would power on, but would only show static. After leaving the unit running for 10 minutes or so, the video and sound would slowly start working again. Not the worst thing in the world, but kind of annoying.

I’d heard that similar problems could be caused by bad capacitors, so I figured I’d try a DIY fix. Searching around online produced one of many small hobbyist shops that specializes in retro game tech: Mortoff Games. Amid many DIY products, they sell a complete capacitor replacement kit for NES systems. I’ve got rudimentary soldering skills (and it’s only five capacitors), so I thought I’d give it a shot.

The general process is to remove the solder around the existing parts, using solder wick or a solder sucker, then replace each component. My wick was almost completely ineffective in removing the existing solder from the PDB, but I persevered. Trolling YouTube for “howto” videos produced the advice that adding a small amount of additional solder can help trigger the wicking action. I think part of the problem was that the board is so thick, too. Next time, I might try a solder sucker. Putting the replacement capacitors back in place was way easier.

Amazingly enough, after I put everything back inside the case, it worked! The unit powers on with perfect, crisp video and sound. For a beginner-level project, it was definitely a success. I’ve been introducing the kids to some older games, now that the system is working reliably. I just hope this isn’t the start of more re-capping projects…

Narrator: it was!