Sometime in the late 80s, the vast collective consciousness of 8-year-olds discovered a Nintendo Entertainment System could be fixed merely by blowing on the cartridge connector. No one knows how this was independently discovered, no one knows the original discoverer, but one fact remains true: dirty pins probably weren’t the problem.
The problem with a NES that just won’t read a cartridge is the ZIF socket inside the console. Pins get bent, and that spring-loaded, VCR-like front loader assembly is the main point of failure of these consoles, even 30 years later. You can get replacement ZIF sockets for a few bucks, and replace the old one using only a screwdriver, but this only delays the inevitable. That ZIF socket will fail again a few years down the line. Finally, there is a solution.
The Blinking Light Win, as this project is called, replaces the ZIF connector with two card-edge slots. One slot connects to the NES main board, the other to the cartridge connector. There’s a plastic adapter that replaces the spring-loaded push down mechanism created for the original ZIF connector, and installation is exactly as easy as installing a reproduction NES ZIF connector.
If you’re wondering why consoles like the SNES, Genesis, and even the top-loader NES never had problems that required blowing into the cartridge connector, it’s because the mere insertion of the cartridge into the slot performed a scrubbing action against the pins. Since the ZIF socket in the O.G. NES didn’t have this, it was prone to failure. Replacing the ZIF with a true card-edge slot does away with all the problems of dirty contacts, and now turns the NES into something that’s at least as reliable as other cartridge-based consoles.
[Morten Overgaard Hansen] has a cheap EPROM programmer which he uses to program chips for retro gaming (among other things). He was surprised that although the device includes a 40-pin ZIF socket it seems to lack the ability to program 16-bit chips. He figured he could get it to play ball if he put in a little effort. Above you can see that a few add-on parts enabled 16-bit programming on the device.
If you look inside the case you may be surprised to find it uses an FPGA. [Morten] searched around and found a few others online who had been looking to stretch the functionality of these types of programmer. Specifically, he came across a Python program for this programmer’s bigger bother that already implemented the functions necessary to program the larger chips. He used it as a guide when writing his own programming application.
On the hardware side of things he needed to feed a higher voltage to the VCC pin, which is done with the boost converter seen to the right. He also added some jumper wires to manage the output enable signal. To make the whole thing modular he ordered a ZIF socket with long pins and soldered the alterations in place. Look closely and you’ll see two levers for ZIF sockets. The one on the right is for the original socket, the one on the left is for the adapter.
Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has updated their business card AVR breakout boards to version 1.1. We suspect the changes will probably make them even more popular. The boards are designed for the ATmegaXX8 family of microcontrollers. The center has all 28 pins labeled while either end has a prototyping area. An in-system programming header is also provided. For the new version, both prototyping areas have been increased to accommodate DIP14 packages. The holes for the microcontroller are now larger so that they can hold a ZIF socket. Finally, the power and ground traces have been expanded. We’ve always like the versatility of these boards, as demonstrated in the Tennis for Two project, and can’t help wondering if these updates were made to facilitate another project.