Introduction: Ultimate Game Boy Refurbishing Guide

So, it has been a long time since I uploaded an Instructable. Therefore today is going to be a special day. I am going to show you how to refurbish an original 1989 Game Boy.

This guide will have 2 parts:

  1. Disassembling and cleaning of the console
  2. Fixing and replacing the electronics

The original DMG has one of the easiest repairs from the Nintendo handheld lineup. This could be a great beginners project. You can get a faulty Game Boy for around 15-20$ on Ebay.

DISCLAIMER: Some knowledge of electronics and advanced soldering skills are required for this project. We are going to work with PCBs, fragile cables and old soldering points that can brake easily. I am not responsible for anything that you will do to your Game Boy.

So grab your game carts, bust open a brand-new pack of AA batteries and lets get started!

Step 1: Tools and Equipment

Here is the list of tools we're going to use in this project:

  • Philips-head screwdriver
  • Flat-head screwdriver
  • Tri-wing scewdriver
  • Soldering station with variable temperature
  • Soft grid sandpaper or sanding brick
  • Tweezers
  • Multimeter
  • Needle-nose pliers

Some more equipment:

  • Q-tips
  • Some kind of knife of scraper
  • Paper towel
  • Small cup of pure white vinegar
  • Small cup of distilled water
  • Double-sided tape (optional)
  • Solder (optional)
  • Rubbing alcohol (optional)
  • Hydrogen-peroxide (optional)
  • Replacement parts or even an other broken Game Boy with rougher conditions (screen, buttons and pads, housing, front plexi...etc)
  • Small container for the screws (something like a bigger bottle cap will do)

Step 2: Part 1/a Unscrewing the Back Panel

First of all, take out the game and the batteries from the unit. Then take of the battery cover, if you are missing one, congratulations you have saved a step. Then unscrew the 6 labeled screws with your tri-wing screwdriver. Save these for later, they are quiet important.

There is a high chance of a previous battery leakage or some screws maybe just rusted on their own. Don't be impatient, to unscrew them, use some force but not too much, because you might end up breaking your case. Remember you are dealing with 29 years old plastic.

Finally unplug the white cable from the lower part to separate the two halves. Be very gentle with the cable it can break very easily, and if it does you have to replace the whole screen construction.

Step 3: Part 1/b Cleaning the Bottom Half

To get access to the bottom half of the motherboard, you need to unscrew 4 Philips-head screws. Then take out all 3 parts of the board at the same time. If you are having trouble with the one on the side, feel free to use your tweezers. After that, place the board on a non-conductive surface (like paper, cardboard, anti-static bag...).

If you have to clean the back, metal part of the cartridge slot, remove the other 4 Philips-head screws holding it in place, then wipe it of with some paper towel and a small amount of rubbing alcohol.

To solve the "The old batteries leaked, therefor no contact is made by the new set of batteries" problem, take out the remaining 3 connectors from the shell and put them in some pure white vinegar for around 5-6 minutes. It is normal if the vinegar begins to bubble after you put in the pieces. After the bath, soak them in the distilled water and dry them with some paper towels.

To clean the on-board connections take a toothbrush and wipe them off with some rubbing alcohol.

If all metal parts are removed from the shell you can dip it in some warm soapy water and clean it out using q-tips and paper towels. Make sure not to lose the little plastic ON-OFF switch.

Step 4: Part 1/c: Cleaning the Top Half

To begin remove the 10 screws holding the board in place. After that, make sure that there is no adhesive on the speaker (if there is a little remove it with your scraper). Now you can lift up the motherboard. If your Game Boy was took apart previously it will be very easy to lift up the board, this is also true if you don't have front glass. If you have an unopened unit with the front glass intact, wiggle it around a bit, and it should come right up.

When I lifted up the board all the button pads were stuck to surface of the main electronics unit. There was so many gunk all over the place, that I still have nightmares because of them.

To clean it out, do the same as to the other half, put the buttons, the pads, and the half shell in warm (but not hot,very important) soapy water and let it soak for a few minutes. Meanwhile you can clean the button contacts with some rubbing alcohol.

After the cleaning, if you want to make sure your contacts are a 100%, grab a piece of paper and rub the connections coating on the pads. Be gentle with the button pads, they can rip very easily. In fact I ripped one, during this process. :( That is why it is a good idea to have replacements on hand.

Step 5: Part 1/d: Whitening the Case

Personally I don't really recommend doing this. This method uses hydrogen-peroxide, a very effective and therefore dangerous chemical. It is way easier and cheaper to buy a new case if yours is yellow. But if someone still want to do it here is how.

Take some gel based hair blonder, that has hydrogen-peroxide in it. Apply a reasonable amount to a small cotton pad, and rub it on the shell. If there is a nice and even coat on the outside (but not the inside) take some clean wrap and pack it in. After the wrapping is done, place it outside, preferably to nice dry place with lot of sunlight. Sunlight is the key to this process. Leave it for around 3-3,5 hours, constantly checking on it. After that, take of the clean wrap and wash the gel off with some distilled water.

Be very careful, everything that touches the peroxide will lose it's color, so don't wear your favorite shirt while doing this. Also were gloves, and a mask with some kind of safety glasses, because the fumes are very nasty.

If you ordered a replacement front glass, place the grey piece with the included adhesive, after you cleaned the surface with some window cleaner. If your replacement does not include the stock glue, you can use some thin double sided tape.

Step 6: Part 2/a: Reinforcing the Existing Solder Joints

So, before firing on the soldering station, you should test all features of your DMG. Make sure you tested the followings:

  1. Screen (possible problems: vertical or horizontal lines of pixels missing)
  2. Battery connectors (possible problems: leaked battery, broken spring, corroded contacts)
  3. Headphone jack (possible problems: no sound outputted)
  4. Power jack (possible problems: no power is entering the unit)
  5. Sound and contrast dials (possible problems: the dials don't work as intended)
  6. Game cartridge slot (possible problems: games do not start because of bent pins, rusty pins, bad motherboard connections)
  7. Speaker (possible problems: no sound, sound interrupted by static noise)
  8. Buttons (possible problems: buttons do not respond or false trigger)

After you checked the things listed above, write down the non functioning bits on a piece of paper or your phone. If you are here because of the hardware fixes, not the cleaning, it is now a good time to open housing as shown in Part 1/a.

Problems 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 could be solved by simply heating up the existing solder, if possible removing it, then replacing it with some new solder. That basically it. If the things you re-soldered still doesn't work, order a replacement and switch out the original.

Moving on to problem 1, 2 and 8.

To fix problem 2 and 8 please see part 1 of this Instructable!

Step 7: Part 2/b: Lines on the Screen

The are two kinds of missing pixel lines on the original Game Boy, horizontal and vertical. If your unit has horizontal lines I've got some bad news for you. You can fix them, but the fix is very risky and time consuming. It is way easier to order a replacement.

If your DMG has vertical lines, take apart the housing, take of the front half of the shell then, place a piece of paper or better yet some cardboard between the two boards and power it on. Turn the contrast to the maximum, so the full screen is black. Now you can see the missing lines. At the bottom of the screen there is a little rubber strip, stuck to the ribbon cable of the display. Remove that all the way with your tweezers or your pliers, but be very careful not to damage the ribbon. It is totally normal if more lines are starting to appear after you remove the strip.

Now turn on your soldering station to about 300°C. Make sure there is no solder left on the tip of the soldering iron, and slowly run it along the ribbon cable under problematic parts of the LCD. Do not touch the LCD with the soldering iron. It is a slow process, so take your time and don't be impatient. Never leave the tip of the iron on the ribbon for more than 20 sec. Now that all of your lines has disappeared let it sit for 10 minutes, then check again and if no lines are appearing, it is time replace the rubber strip with the help of some double sided tape and reassemble the two half, after powering down the Game Boy.

Step 8: Congratulations Now You Have a Fully Working Game Boy From 1989

The whole process will take up to 3 hours. It is a good weekend project I suppose.

Thanks for reading my Instructable :) Hope you liked it.


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