I love the Gameboy Advance. It's the only system I've ever preordered and stood in line for. I love the form factor of the original model, with the controls on either side of the display. But I hate the fact that it's not back-lit and that it takes AA batteries. So when the owner of the local game shop offered me a stack of "broken" DS Lites for $15, I knew what I needed to do: I was finally going to build the Gameboy Macro I've been lusting over for some time.
Things you will need for a basic build:
1. Nintendo DS or DS Lite. This cannot be done with a DSi, as it has no GBA slot.
2. Tri-Wing screwdriver. You can get these from various on-line shops, I got mine from Amazon.
3. Small Phillips head screwdrivers. Can be acquired from many places. I got a set from the 99 Cent Store, among other stores.
4. A soldering iron and solder. Find at your local hardware store.
5. Tweezers. Not required, but will help very much with the resistors.
6. Resistors. We'll talk about these in their own step.
The above covers everything that we need to make this mod work. If you want it to work and also want it to look good, Then you will need the following as well:
7. A rotary cutting tool. I have a basic Dremel tool, available at hardware stores.
8. A set of files. I bought a set of smaller files and larger rasps at my local hardware store some time ago for a different project.
9. Bondo. I bought my can of bondo at WalMart, of all places. I'm sure you can find it at any auto part store.
10. Your choice of paint. I'm a fan of white with black accents, so I used a white primer topped with a few coats of a clear enamel, since that's what I had in my garage at the time.
Step 1: Disassembly
Disassembling the DS Lite is rather straight-forward. You remove the battery cover and battery, remove all the tri-wing screws, and open the case. There are a few screws on the inside that secure the main board, and you'll need to remove them. You'll also need to disconnect all the ribbon cables inside. A few notes:
The ribbon cable for the touch digitizer of the lower screen is tiny, and it's connector is very fragile. I ripped one apart on accident once, but it's not important since we won't need the touch screen for GBA games.
The WiFi antenna cable is small and black, and runs under the DS slot. If you can't work it out, go ahead and clip it. We don't need WiFi where we're going.
On the original DS, the DS Phat, the WiFi board is soldered to the main board and cannot be removed. On the DS Lite, the WiFi board is plugged into a slot. Don't lose it! The DS Lite will not boot without it! However, the cable attached to it can be removed and left off.
The ribbon cable for the top screen can sometimes be difficult to remove. If you tear it or it's been torn already, don't worry. Despite what other tutorials might say, we don't need it.
The one ribbon cable we need to be careful with and not ruin is the one which attaches the lower screen to the main board. Don't screw it up. On the DS Phat, it runs through a hole in the board to its' connector on the back of the board. On the DS Lite, it runs to the left on the same side of the board. The small black bar on the connector hinges up to allow the cable to be removed and reinserted.
Step 2: Regarding Resistors
You will need a source of resistors to make this work.
I've seen tutorials saying that you just need to jump (connect two points with wire or solder) the test pads marked LEDA2 and LEDC2, but I've tried this on two DS Lites and a DS Phat, and I can tell you that it will not work. I've also seen tutorials suggesting that using a LED will work. This has not been true in my experience. My second test, after discovering that jumping the test pads doesn't work, involved attaching a series of LEDs to the test pads. I got to 5 before I ran out of LEDs and gave up. While it might work for some, it's not a reliable method, and LEDs combined with the attached wires makes for too much wasted space inside the DS' case. The one thing that will give a reliable result 100% of the time is a resistor of the correct resistance.
I've seen tutorials which say that you need the ribbon cable from the top screen to solder your resistor to. While it might work, it is dumb, and adds useless bulk inside an already cramped case. What you need to do is solder a resistor between the test pads LEDA2 and LEDC2. On the DS Phat, these are in the upper right part of the front of the main board. On the DS Lite, these are to the right of the D-Pad on the front of the main board.
The two main types of resistors you are likely to encounter are Leaded Resistors and Surface Mounted Resistors. Leaded Resistors are small, cylindrical, typically brown, have leads coming out of each end, and have a number of colored bands on them. The bands will tell you how many ohms of resistance that resistor has. Surface Mounted Resistors, or SMD Resistors, are small, black, have numbers printed on the top of them, and are soldered directly to the surface of a circuit board. The numbers on SMD Resistors will tell you it's resistance.
I used SMD Resistors for two reasons:
1. SMD Resistors are small and take up no space whatsoever inside the case, while leaded resistors will take up a much larger amount of space if mounted correctly, and even more space if done poorly.
2. SMD resistors are much easier to come by these days. My source for SMD resistors was the main board of an old, broken, Gameboy Color.
The reason that we need to use resistors is because at boot the DS checks to see if power is being drawn from the top screen. If it doesn't detect power being drawn from the top screen, the DS knows the top screen is disconnected and that something is wrong, and it aborts the boot. When this happens you'll see the power light turn green, then the lower screen will flash white once, and the DS will shut down.
The actual resistance that we need to fool the DS into thinking that the top screen is connected is up in the air. Too little and it knows there's a problem and shuts down. Too much and it again knows there's a problem and it shuts down. I've seen claims that it'll will work with a resistance as low as 330 Ohms, but I tried it with a 350 ohm resistor and could not get it to boot. I also tried it with a 2500 (2.5k) ohm resistor which did not work. In my three Gameboy Macros, one complete and two in progress, I've used three different resistances. A 750 ohm resistor, a 1000 (1k) ohm resistor, and a 1500 (1.5k) ohm resistor. All three of those worked for me.
Attaching the resistors can be tricky, since SMD resistors are VERY tiny. The first one that I removed from the Gameboy Color main board got dropped on the speckled top of my work bench and was lost forever. The second one I had sitting on a white piece of paper so it wouldn't get lost, but I sneezed and it blew away. You'll need to use tweezers to hold and position the SMD resistor for soldering. The only way I could get it to work is by first adding a drop of solder to the pads, then holding the SMD resistor where it needed to be with the tweezers, and then melting the solder with the soldering iron.
Step 3: Making Room for the Speaker
Once you've soldered your resistor in place and tested that the DS boots up, you can move on to the speakers. You'll find the speakers in the top screen area of the DS. You'll need to take apart the casing to remove them. You'll have to desolder the speaker wires from the ribbon cable. On the front of the DS mainboard, you'll find the test pads SPL0 and SPR0. On a DS Lite you'll also see VGND, and on a DS Phat you'll find U1-GND. SPL0 is for the left speaker channel and SPR0 is for the right channel. VGND and U1-GND are both ground. You'll need to solder one speaker wire to one of the speaker channel pads, and the other wire to the ground pad. I opted for mono sound in my first Gameboy Macro, but I'll be trying to make stereo sound fit in my next two. If you only want mono, you just need the one speaker, either channel will do. If you want stereo, you'll need to solder one speaker to the left channel and ground, and the other speaker to the right channel and ground.
Since we won't be using this to play DS games anymore, we can remove the DS card slot. I tried using my solder sucker to desolder the connecting points, but that didn't work too well due to the tight spaces. I ended up using wire clippers to cut the mounting points. This will work, but be careful when you do this. You don't want to accidentally shear off a SMD component or gouge through traces on the board. One speaker sits nicely where the DS card slot used to be. I used hot glue to affix one speaker there, and I drilled holes through the back of the case to allow sound to come through.
Step 4: A Word on Repairs
If, like me, you got your project DS used and broken, there's likely a few things wrong with it, and you'll want to fix these things to make your DS usable.
My first Gameboy Macro has good parts from several different DS's, and it needed no repairs. My next two needed a little TLC to bring them back from the grave.
On my DS Phat, the main fuse was blown from the battery being inserted backwards. I fixed this by jumping the fuse with a sliver of wire and some solder. This is probably dangerous, and should the DS be misused in some way and there is another short, then the whole thing will fry, and there'll be no coming back this time.
On my second DS Lite, the button for the left trigger had been removed from the board somehow. I used a spare microswitch I had laying around from another project and soldered it on and attached it with hot glue. Due to it's larger size, adjustments will need to be made to the shell of the left trigger to accommodate it.
On all my DS's, and especially my DS Phat, the screens were very scratched up. The part of the screen that gets touched and eventually scratched is the touch screen digitizer. Since we won't be using touch for any of the GBA games we'll be playing, we can remove it, and the scratches along with it. I don't know for certain, but I suspect that doing this will make the screen more vulnerable to damage down the road. The digitizer is attached to the screen along it's edges with a light bit of adhesive. You can peel it up with your fingernail. On DS Lites, make sure to keep the raised border around the edge of the digitizer. It can also be prized off with your fingernail. You'll want to place it back on the screen after you've reassembled your DS. Doing so earlier will guarantee that you attach it off-center and the screen won't fit into the case.
Any other kinds of repairs will need to be done on your own, as these are the only problems I encountered and I know nothing else about repairing a DS.
Step 5: Done?
If you don't care about the looks, you can stop now and reassemble your new Gameboy Macro. If you want to make it look nice, continue on.
Step 6: Making Her Pretty
This is where the rotary cutting tool and files and bondo and paint comes in. This is what I did, but feel free to do something different for your own project if you so wish.
I used my Dremel to cut off any protruding bits on the front case, and then used my files to make everything level. There's a bit of lip on the top of the front of the case, and I filed that flat too.
I used bondo to fill in the holes left behind, and to fill in the DS card slot, the stylus slot, and the holes for the X and Y buttons. You might need to work the bondo on the inside of the case once it dries, it might get in the way of components and prevent the case from closing.
Then I painted it.
That's all there is to it.
Enjoy your new Gameboy Macro!