The first step to many Gameboy tutorials, is taking one apart. If you've never seen the inside of a Gameboy, it can be a bit daunting. Fear not, brave warrior. I shall guide you through this perilous quest! Luckily, Gameboys are sturdy little bastards and their strength lies in their simplicity.
How to start?
Before you go any further, make sure you have all the necessary tools to open up a Gameboy. It's a lot more fun to have everything you need within reach, when you start this.
A word of caution
Needless to say, be careful, you're dealing with electronics here. Unplug the Gameboy from any outlets or remove the batteries before you continue. By following this Instructable, you take full responsibility for your own actions.
(Update 11th of July, 2019: cleaned up the guide a bit)
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Step 1: Gameboy Anatomy and Required Tools
As mentioned before, a Gameboy unit is a strong little machine. There's been units that survived bomb blasts, 20 years ago, that still work. This is because a Gameboy build is quite straightforward.
See the attached image for reference on each individual part. Don't worry, there's not that many. When we're completely done with this Instructable, these are the components we'll be having. For future reference, I'll be using the same names, as mentioned in the image, to refer to specific parts.
This is the list of tools you'll need to get started:
- Tri-Wing screwdriver
Right off the bat, this is one the more “exotic” tools you’ll need. Most Gameboys were assembled by using a Tri-wing screw, meaning they’re different from ordinary Philips screw heads. The necessary screwdriver can be found mostly through online stores, but I’ve found that the cheapest way to get these, is from a starred reseller on aliexpress (non-referral link!). Do take into account that the quality might not be up to par. For those that have a specialty electronics store in the vicinity, you might wanna look there. I got my own set straight out of a store, where a tri-wing bit was included in a set. If you’re lucky, your unit might be one of the few rare ones that were screwed together with standard Phillips screws.
Standard Philips jewellers screwdriver set
Some of the screws in a Gameboy are tri-wing screws, but if you ever need to remove the display, you’ll need a Phillips jewellers screwdriver set. Also, as mentioned above, it’s possible you have a unit that exclusively has Phillips screws. Get these at your local hardware store, or scout around on aliexpress or whatever wholesale website you might get a good deal on.
(optional) Cutting mat/cutting board/placemat
Not necessary, but it's always good to rest your Gameboy on something that can take a scratch.
(optional) Small container for screws
Also not necessary, but you're gonna want somewhere to store the screws in.
Step 2: Check-up
Before continuing, it’s a good idea to check the unit’s overall health.
- Pop in some batteries and a cartridge and turn on the unit, check if the LED turns on and the Gameboy gets past the Nintendo intro. Check for leakedbattery acid on the battery contact springs.
- Turn the volume all the way up and down and check if the speaker still works and if it does, there’s no distortion or hum. Turn the contrast all the way up and down and check if there are any verticallines in the display.
- Plug in a set of earbuds and check if the sound card still works for the audio jack.
- Check the buttons, especially the right arrow on the D-pad. There’s a rubber template behind those buttons, that suffers from intense wear, especially the right button, which makes sense, since that’s the direction you mostly advance in.
- Inspect the nooks and crannies for built up dirt and gunk. Beating R-Type's last boss sure had my fingers all sweaty. Ew.
Don't just assume the device is fine by just looking at it, and not trying the above steps. Vertical lines, faulty speakers or battery acid are commonplace. For reference, the Gameboy used in this Instructable, had never been opened up before, but at face-value, it looks like a very well-maintained and clean device.
Step 3: Separate Front Shell From Back Shell
Turn your Gameboy around and rest the front on a paper towel, so the battery cover is facing you. Use your tri-wing screwdriver to unscrew all 6 screw from the indicated spots in the picture. Have a separate container at hand, store the 6 screw but keep them somewhat separated.
All other screws from here on out are Phillips screws.
Step 4: Carefully Turn the Unit on Its Side
Now turn the Gameboy on its side, so the volume control and link port are facing you. We can now remove the front and back panel, BUT!
Use caution! The front and back part connected with a video cable. Gently separate both halves until you see the cable. Don't pull both halves apart just yet and leave it, like shown in the picture.
Step 5: Remove the Video Cable
With the cable exposed, gently pull the cable downward, as indicated in the picture. It’ll require a bit of force. It’s a sturdy cable reinforced with a bit of plastic, so it can handle some force, but as with all things, don’t overdo it.
There are no tabs, the cable can simply be slid downward.
Step 6: Inspect Both Shell Halves
There we go! Now we the front and back half of the unit neatly separated. Inspect the inside of the device. Expect some dust, dirt and probably some gunk, especially near the speaker.
No need to clean now, we’ll do that later.
Step 7: Remove PCB's
It’s time to gut the Gameboy’s internal organs! (we might as well pretend we’re evil scientists, right?)
Switch to your Phillips screwdrive and remove all screws from the indicated places, on the boards.
Step 8: Store the Screws Separately
Store the screws, but keep them separate from the Tri-wing screws. Both types of screws are fairly teeny-tiny, although the tri-wing screws are slightly longer.
Step 9: Lift Out the PCB's
Now that the screws are out, we can lift the ciruit boards from both halves. Use a screw driver to gently nudge the circuit board loose, as it might be tightly tucked in there.
Use caution! Front circuit board: The speaker is connected to the circuit board by two wires, careful when lifting this!
Use caution! Back circuit board: The audio board is also connected to the top board with a few wires, careful when lifting this!
Step 10: Check for Dirt/dust/grime
After some prodding and poking, you’re now looking at the innards of the Gameboy. Now, take a closer look at the picture. Remember how I mentioned I bought this unit because it looked well-groomed?
Well, if you look closely, you can see a lot of gunk and a even a mold build-up on the speaker area. This device is clearly in need of a good bath. Yuck! You’d be surprised what you find in there.
So far I've come across:
- Pubes. Lots of pubes. Were kids on steroids in the nineties?
- Leftover, scraped debris from a pencil sharpener
- Filth. Just, ffffffffilth!
Step 11: Remove the Rubber Button Pads and the On/Off Slider
Now remove the rubber button templates and buttons.
Use caution! Be careful removeing the d-pad rubber pad, as its a component that usually suffered the most abuse and might be worn. When removing, you might further damage the rubber pad and unless you have replacement around, a ruined d-pad rubber pad, will render the directional buttons useless!
You won’t have to look any closer, as you’ll see that the buttons are also home to built-up gunk clusters.
Step 12: Remove Battery Contacts
Lastly, take the back half and remove the battery springs, by pressing the small, metal clip that keep the small metal plates in place.
Step 13: Done! Scrub-a-dub-dub
All done! You've successfully taken apart a unit that is older than I care to remember. Now that you have all components aside, you might have some plans for it. Maybe you're going to repair something. Maybe your going to to install a backlit kit. Or maybe, you're just curious and wondered what makes a Gameboy tick. Either way, it might be a good idea to give your Gameboy a nice, hot bath! In another Instructable, I'll share you my secrets to get your Gameboy all squeeky clean again :)
Thanks for reading! If there's any interest, I might make a video tutorial out of this Instructable. As always, I look forward to reading your thoughts and hearing your feedback.