There are several how-to guides available for turning old NES controllers into USB hubs or flash memory keys, and even some for making a plug-and-play emulator gadget. As such, I don't claim originality for any of the components of this how-to, only the fact that they have all been merged into one. In this guide, I'll show you how I turned an old NES controller into a combination USB hub, 4Gb memory key, and all-in-one emulation station that will work on any PC.
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Step 1: What You Will Need.
- First, and obviously, an old NES controller. If you don't have one that you are willing to modify, try a thrift store. The one I used here cost $3 or so.
- A non-powered USB hub. The one I chose has three ports on the front and one on the side, which is ideal.
- A USB memory key, as small as possible. The Verbatim Tuff N' Tiny key is perfect. I got a 4Gb key on sale for $15.
- Screwdriver (Phillips).
- Rotary tool (aka Dremel)
- Glue gun
Step 2: Take Apart and Gut the NES Controller.
Disassembly of the NES controller is straightforward. Undo the six screws at the back and separate the two halves of the controller.
Take out the circuit board and rubber padding beneath the buttons. You won't need these.
Next, use your rotary tool with a cut-off wheel to clean out all the plastic bits that are sticking up on the inside of the controller. You can keep most of the pillars for the screws, or you can remove everything and just glue the unit back together.
The photo shows a partially cleaned out controller. I went on to smooth out the insides a bit more.
Step 3: Cut Holes for USB Ports and Glue Down Buttons.
Use your rotary tool to cut out holes for the USB ports at the back of the top and bottom halves of the controller.
You won't be using the buttons, but you'll need them for looks. Just glue them in place.
Step 4: Glue Down the USB Hub With Memory Key.
Put the small USB key in the internal port, and glue the whole thing in place. You may also want to stick the cable down in a couple of places inside just to make sure it doesn't get pulled out by accident during use.
Step 5: Accessorize! (Optional).
The USB hub I used happened to have a blue LED on it. To make the gadget just a little more interesting, I cut a hole in the side of the controller where the LED sits and glued in a panel with three round windows that I got from an old laptop. This is totally optional.
Step 6: Reassemble the Controller.
Reassemble the two halves of the controller using whichever screws will still fit, or just glue it closed. I used the glue gun again because I had a few spaces that I wanted to fill in where I had cut away a bit too much plastic. Excess glue can just be trimmed or sanded off, so you don't need to be precise with it.
At this stage, the controller is a functional three-port USB hub and 4Gb memory stick. But we're not finished yet.
Step 7: Add Emulators, Games, USB Controllers, and a Menu.
If you have emulators for your favorite retro game consoles you can add them to your USB key. Just plug it in like any other USB key and transfer the files. If you have a USB extension cable, you might want to use it to extend the reach, but this is optional.
You can plug in whatever USB controllers you want to use. You could get a USB adapter and use NES controllers themselves, though I recommend something that will work with other consoles as well and are a bit more comfortable. The advantage of using a hub is that you can plug in multiple controllers for two-player games.
Next, you can create an autorun menu that lets you choose your console. As a demo, I made the example below using a trial of SamLogic's CD Menu Creator. The background image I made in an image editing program. This is optional -- you could simply make shortcuts to the various emulators if you prefer.
That's it! Now you can take your games with you wherever you go and play them on any computer.