Turn an Old NES Controller Into an All-in-one USB Hub, Memory Key, and Portable Emulation Station




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.

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: What You Will Need.

You will need a few parts and tools for this project. 

  1. 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. 
  2. A non-powered USB hub.  The one I chose has three ports on the front and one on the side, which is ideal. 
  3. 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.  
  1. Screwdriver (Phillips).
  2. Rotary tool (aka Dremel)
  3. 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.



    • Indoor Lighting Contest

      Indoor Lighting Contest
    • Make It Fly Challenge

      Make It Fly Challenge
    • Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

      Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest

    13 Discussions


    7 years ago on Step 5

    Next time rather than cutting the hole and putting in the panel from the laptop you could just mark with a ruler and drill 3 holes. Would look a lot cleaner. But great 'ible none the less.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is an excellent way to use your old Nintendo controllers, but if you visit some of the other instructables or take a look at www.nintendorepairshop.com you will find out that these controllers can also be repaired and used to play fun games again.


    9 years ago on Step 7

    I'm thinking about making this, however, I don't want to go and buy too little/ much memory. How much space would you reccomend for a nes emulator, the menu, and all the NES roms I can get my hands on? (that's about 800 for the record)

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 7

    with my opinion go with all the roms you want about 1 gb then get 4 if you do newer games there huge ssbm is 1.36 gb thats big for what the game does

    cancer sucks

    9 years ago on Step 7

    I'm going to make one too. I'm making a nes pc and instead of front usb ports, I can just make this and it might even be easier for me to figure out. Thanks for the Instructable



    9 years ago on Introduction

    I like it.
    You go to your friend house, you plug your nes remote on his computer and you tell him:
    Look, we will play mario!
    Then he grab the controller and say:
    Me first!
    But then you must tell him:
    Oh noes, you use the keyboard to play, the nes controller is just an usb key in a huge casing.

    6 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    It's a bit of a trade-off.  If you convert the controller into a USB controller, only one player can use it at a time.  If you convert it into a USB hub, multiple controllers can be plugged in but it becomes "USB controllers sold separately".  :-)  I prefer to have the games and the ports all right there, and to use controllers that will also work for SNES and other emulators.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Could always just make two USB NES controllers then.  And you can add a usb device inside one that still houses any software you want.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    I think you would need two wires coming out of it, then.  One would be hardwired to the controller, the other would contain the USB key.  (But then, why not just bring a USB key?).  It's two different projects, essentially.  An NES controller you can play, or a port that can use any sort of controllers -- in this case, it has NES on it but also SNES, MAME, etc., and you can't use NES controllers for those.


    Why not just have two wires merged into one? there's already 6 in each NES wire anyways, right? so put in the other 4 and cover it with some parallel cable shielding or something.


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

     Well for most of MAME things you could use an NES controller.  Most JAMMA games used 2 buttons (with the occassional third - C button in which case you would have to remap a bit)....


    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah I seen the point :-)
    It would still be cool to be able to use it :)