Creating New Nintendo 3DS Hardware

For the last five years or so, Nintendo has been selling the 3DS, the latest in a long line of handheld consoles. Around two years ago, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS, with a faster processor and a few other refinements. The new 3DS comes in two sizes: normal and XL. You can buy the XL version anywhere in the world, but Nintendo fans in North America cannot buy the normal version.

[Stephen] didn’t want the jumbo-sized New 3DS XL, both because it’s too large for his pockets, and because there are no fancy cases for the XL. His solution? Creating a US non-XL 3DS with god-like soldering skills.

In manufacturing the XL and non-XL versions of the 3DS, Nintendo didn’t change much on the PCBs. Sure, the enclosure is different, but electronically there are really only two changes: the eMMC storage and the Nintendo processor. 3DS are region-locked, so simply swapping out the boards from a normal 3DS to an XL 3DS wouldn’t work; [Stephen] would also like to play US games on his modded console. That leaves only one option: desoldering two chips from a US XL and placing them on the board from a Japanese 3DS.

With a board preheater and heat gun, [Stephen] was able to desolder the eMMC chip off both boards. Of course this meant the BGA balls were completely destroyed in the process, which means reballing the package with solder bits only 0.3mm in diameter. With the US eMMC transplanted to the Japanese board, [Stephen] ended up with an error message that suggested the processor was reading the memory. Progress, at least.

[Stephen] then moved on to the processor. This was a nightmare of a 512 pin BGA package, with 512 pins that needed a tiny dot of solder placed on them. Here, sanity gave way and [Stephen] called up a local board and assembly house. They agreed to solder the chip onto the board and do an x-ray inspection. With the professional rework done, [Stephen] assembled his new US non-XL 3DS, and everything worked. It’s the only one in the world, and given the effort required to make these mods, we’re expecting it to remain the only one for a very long time.

32 thoughts on “Creating New Nintendo 3DS Hardware

      1. For the sake of simplicity I was referring to the European and North-American releases (as I assumed Brian was), of course Japan gets all the fancy Nintendo hardware a bit earlier.

    1. I bought a New 3DS, love it. The 3D is stable because of the eye tracking, most everything loads up faster. I can play out of regions games just fine via Gateway or via Region Four hack.

      And pokemon.

  1. I would love to have one of these at some point; I’m not a huge fan of the XL. As a point of interest, how does one go about finding a good firm to do this sort of thing? I’m pretty much a novice at soldering.

  2. Why do companies continue to insist on treating the global marketplace as if it was still the 1970’s instead of taking advantage of much broader demand for products? Shouldn’t matter *where* someone wants to buy a product, every sale should be welcomed no matter where the thing is bought. Deliberately losing sales with a fractured marketing scheme ought to have shareholders frothing mad.

    1. Taxes and tariffs, certifications, lack of “free trade”, licensing restrictions, protection of the respective markets and copyrights are just a few of the many reasons I’ve heard cited.

      Are they legitimate reasons? It’s arguable indeed. Does the whole thing suck? Hard to say….

    1. So it would be enough to swap just the processor IC (which has the unique key required to decrypt eMMC contents) and simply dump and restore the eMMCs with a “hardmod”. Clever.

  3. I hear nintendo is going android for their next console.
    Bit sad I think, it feels like they are giving up.
    But anyway, I wonder if that applies to mobile devices too. Which makes you wonder how that would look.

      1. Ah, I see you are right and Nintendo told the WSJ that Nikkei’s rumor was false.

        Now to wait and see if they dont’ suddenly turn around and do it anyway. That kind of thing happened before with tech firms where a rumor was shot down only to have it turn out to become true anyway.

  4. >I placed these balls one by one with tweezers

    HOLY CRAP this guy is insane! :) :D reballing with no stencil :O ($5 free shipping for emmc)
    Im the first in line to appreciate reusing garbage in order to save few bucks, but not if it means aligning 150 solder balls one by one :D

    You sir deserve a cookie!

    1. Yep, it’s doable without a stencil. The probability of something going wrong when you reflow it just increases as the pin pitch decreases. I initially thought that the flux would be tacky enough to keep things in place.

  5. [Stephen] – If you read this I want to say, the task you performed in master Re-Engineering and base level Rev-Engineering you performed is of paragon level.

    More importantly the documentation and detail is without reproach! Fuk-amaz-ing.

    I’d be very much be interested in meshing a second pcb board/layer traced out to various points to be connected to a chip whisperer.

    Just rocking the digital jazz now so…meh

    The rational thought I have is twofold: 1 – A bunch of these old 3DS XL logic boards out there. (per article it’s AES encryption) 2 – This are considered more “powerful” then the processors in the standard Wii.

    Considering those two things, ROP’in the bios and bypassing the firmware itself probably wouldn’t be trivial without getting the right setting on the target for the kernel but the consideration that they may match or exceed the raw computational power plus battery life of most Droid devices or EEEpc’s it would be worth taking a poke at to run a lean Linux variants.

    The number of breakouts/expansion might be an issue unless one would endevour to merge/manage the mic/speakers, the 2 slots for mem cards, and well 2 screens with “3d” what might indicate 4 LVDS signals channels? I don’t remember but I know it has a WiFi built in, also a “local” meaning it’s a bluetooth, as well as a camera. (maybe even a gyroscope as well?)

    Not bad for $200 minus the man-hours.

      1. Sorry. I forgot what site we were on. AH YES, one pertaining to forward utilization of existing technologies. You mentioned something about coherency? Again sorry – I didn’t hear. Additional Extrapolation, Definition or Innovation in your comment so I just > /dev/null it.

  6. Such a long write-up and it all went well and then he injected “Not sure If I would have went with this method

    ”would have went’, tisk tisk.

    But hey, what would we be babbling when doing all that maddening precision stuff? If even able to speak at all at that point.

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