NES Cartridge External Hard Drive




About: I am a Game Design graduate from the Cleveland Institute of Art.

Turn your old NES cartridge into an external hard drive, just like this guy did, except with better step-by-step instruction.

I altered the built-in LED so that I could have custom red lights coming out the bottom. This is an optional customization; if you aren't comfortable with cutting some wires and adding your own stuff, don't do it.

Necessary supplies:

NES cartridge (one that you can bear to open up to take away its playability)
External hard drive - a SMALL one (4.5"x2.75" bare, about 5"x3.5" with the case on)
Screwdrivers, of various sizes, philips and flat head
Dremel or other multi-tool
Electrical tape

Might-need supplies:

Pencil & paper
Tin snips

Optional supplies:

2 small LEDs, I chose red to fit with the NES color pallet
Hot glue gun
Soldering iron
Hookup wire
Wire clippers
Helping hands (not your little brother's hands, a stand with clips for holding things while you solder)

Oh yes, and I am so NOT liable if you screw up your hard drive. Perform the operation at your own risk.

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Step 1: Open Her Up

Older cartridges have flat head screws. "Newer" ones have custom screws which probably require a "socket wrench" type thing to remove. I do no have this "socket wrench" type thing, so I decided to open up the old, crappy cartridge.

I've heard that melting the tip of an appropriately-sized plastic thing with a lighter and sticking it in the hole to let it cool will result in a little tool that you can use to unscrew the custom screws. I'm not responsible if you end up melting a Knex piece to your hand.

Anyways, unscrew the thing, whichever way you need to do it.

And remember to save ALL of the screws!

Open the cartridge and take out the little circuit board. Smaller than you thought it would be, huh? Keep the cartridge; you might use it in some wacky art project some day.

Step 2: Open the Hard Drive

Now is a good time to stop yourself and ask, "Am I really going to do this?"

The answer should be, "Yes."

If it isn't, then you just aren't cool enough to have a NES cartridge hard drive. It's ok. Not everyone can be that cool. Uncool people are necessary for cool people to exist.

Now then, CAREFULLY begin to tear your precious hard drive open. All hard drives are not made equal, so I cannot tell you exactly how to go about doing this. Hopefully, common sense will guide you. Here's a tip: look for screws; if you don't see any, start prying things up. If there are stickers covering important joints, cut them.

Step 3: Prep the Cartridge

Set your hard drive in the cartridge and mark the parts that need to be cut off. Use the dremel to make the necessary changes. I used a conical sanding tip, but use whatever is comfortable for you. Make sure you sand it all nicely.

It may also help if you trace the cartridge and where the drive fits in it to use as a guide for drilling any other holes if needed. My drive had two screw holes that I used to secure it to one half of the cartridge.

Step 4: Make Sure It Fits

Now make sure that your drive isn't too thick. In my case, the end that housed the USB adapter was too thick. What to do...

I decided to chop off part of the metal housing. If yours is built a similar way, look at the pictures to see how I did it. Not particularly eloquent, but it worked. I hope you've got some tin snips. Or maybe something better. That stuff was REALLY hard to cut.

Step 5: Optional LED Customization

I noticed that the LED/button thingy was too thick to fit in the cartridge. I COULD have just made it fit inside somehow (in this case I could remove the button from the mini circuit board and just let the board sit inside the cart) but I decided to make a custom glowing effect.

Well, it didn't turn out to be particularly awesome at making it look like it was glowing from the inside (though maybe I could have used more LEDs) but I did get custom red lights to fit with the NES theme.

If you don't want to get into cutting wires and soldering, continue to the next step. Otherwise, continue reading.

I figured out which wires went to the little LED on the board and which ones went to the button. I never use the button, so I decided to nix it and focus on the LEDs. obviously, the red wire was carrying the positive current, and the one next to it was the ground for the LED, so it was those I separated from the rest.

I hot-glued my two LEDs in, but I moved them later when they didn't give the right effect.

The pictures are pretty self-explanatory, but basically I soldered 1. red wire to resistor, 2. resistor to positive leg of LED, 3. negative leg of LED to hookup wire, 4. wire to positive leg of second LED, 5. negative leg of second LED to another wire, and 6. other wire to ground wire.

Remember that when soldering, do NOT melt the solder directly with the iron, because that will result in a cold solder. You want the solder to melt onto the wires, so heat up the wires until you see a little smoke, then touch the solder to the wires and it will flow onto them.

Step 6: Close Her Up

Now go find those screws you set aside and close it all up. If you made custom holes, make sure to line them up with the drive and set those first, then screw the rest shut.

And, of course, hook it up to your computer to see if it still works..........

Step 7: NES Drive

The finished product! (Or a useless chunk of plastic and metal, depending on how careful you were)

Now you can use your new NES drive to hold your NES emulator and all of your illegal NES roms.

Or Art School project work, in my case...

Comments are welcome!


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    32 Discussions


    11 years ago on Step 6

    i bet thats not the smallest external HD u could find... would be cooler with a small enough to fit inside the cartridge and still not take too much space so u could still have the NES game in it !! then just put the usb port on top of the whole cartridge...

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Step 6

    Like a Hitachi ZIF Drive 1.8" they are the hardrives used in the old 80gigs ipods


    8 years ago on Introduction

    RIP my Mario HD. It bit the dust a while ago. I'm considering doing a "NES Catridge Ext. HDD 2.0" some day, keeping all of your great suggestions in mind. This time around I won't mess with any LEDs, and I'll get the correct components to go into it instead of cannibalizing an existing external HDD.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Radioshack was selling enclosures for $6.00, so I snagged one. I think it might be thin enough to do this with. (With just the inards and the drive of course)


    8 years ago on Step 7

    I made something very similar before finding this instructable and made a vid - A "portofino" drive fit much better inside the cartridge. The next step would be finding a way to store the USB cable inside as well.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    This kinda sucks cause thats the game iv been tryin to find for a long time, cool idea tho. :>}

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Go to fleamarkerts. I have doubles of all my favorite NES games, 3 systems, and all but the original system were bought at fleamarkets. Made sure I can play them the rest of my life XD

    Grand Old Drummer

    9 years ago on Step 1

    There are places online where you can order the security bits nintendo is notorious for using.  I bought a couple a while back.  Man, they are a lifesaver for jobs like this or for general maintenance of games.  I got mine from

    1 reply
    XialGrand Old Drummer

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    One thing I've done for interesting screw heads like the trigram screws (and a few others) is I take an ink pen that I don't mind sacrificing (super cheap BIC pens come to mind), pull its cartridge out of the pen, leaving just the barrel and the plastic tip there.
    With a lighter or another heat source (AH! Fire HOT! :O), I gently heat up that tapered tip until it's slightly soft and malleable (and not dripping plastic goo. Plastic goo that can cling to your skin hurts).  The first time, I tend to pinch it together to make that narrower and ready for shaping. Then I heat it a little more, and press it down against what I need to unscrew, hold it a few seconds, and then lift up.
    Let the plastic cool!
    Have a refreshing drink or something, give it a few minutes, and come back.

    And there you go, impromptu 'screwdriver' of sorts. :)
    Good for when you can't afford the 2 week wait for the part to be shipped. :)

    This is almost like "inserting a cartridge" into your computer, especially considering the possibility of accessing ROM images for NES (and far more complex consoles consider multi-gigabyte storage) for use on emulators.

    I think its time we start making cartridge-like flash drives on console-like computers, and devise new plug shapes for USB to give the retro console aesthetics; thereby creating a new market for gaming PCs in a new form.


    10 years ago on Step 7

    You could also use a CF card and appropriate adapter to get this setup. If I manage to get hold of a cartridge I can bear to part with I may pull this off. Get really creative and you can make the NES multi card reader!!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    nice instructable - last pic of the led's working.. are those your tin snips in the bones cup in the backround? stalking us with their menace.. lol


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I was just wondering how hot this type of enclosure will get. I really want to make one, but most of my external hard drives are on most of the day and I don't want to burn down my house.

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    I'm not promising anything. I only use it for the occasional data storage, so my drive is not on for days on end. I will say that I have not noticed much heat at all.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    This is a fun mod, and I totally think that if you could make this compatible w/ an NES PC it would be awesome. As for leaving the cartridge chip in it, I think the new Solid State HDs are pretty small aren't they? SD chips are also pretty big now too... Has anyone made something that uses the NES card itself as an interface so you have like an HD/external storage for an actual NES?


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Pretty cool mod. If someone made a nes pc that still could use the cartridge cage (or maybe not even go down since that takes up space) with this that'd be awesome. (Have a usb male poking where the usb port is on the cartdrige/hard drive)