Steady Hand Brings GBA Cart Back From The Grave

The flash chips used in Game Boy Advance (GBA) cartridges were intended to be more reliable and less bulky than the battery-backed SRAM used to save player progress on earlier systems. But with some GBA titles now hitting their 20th anniversary, it’s not unheard of for older carts to have trouble loading saves or creating new ones. Perhaps that’s why the previous owner tried to reflow the flash chip on their copy of Golden Sun, but as [Taylor Burley] found after he opened up the case, they only ended up making the situation worse.

A previous repair attempt left the PCB badly damaged.

When presented with so many damaged traces on the PCB, the most reasonable course of action would have been to get a donor cartridge and swap the save chips. But a quick check on eBay shows that copies of Golden Sun don’t exactly come cheap. So [Taylor] decided to flex his soldering muscles and repair each trace with a carefully bent piece of 30 gauge wire. If you need your daily dose of Zen, just watch his methodical process in the video below.

While it certainly doesn’t detract from [Taylor]’s impressive soldering work, it should be said that the design of the cartridge PCB did help out a bit, as many of the damaged traces had nearby vias which gave him convenient spots to attach his new wires. It also appears the PCB was designed to accept flash chips of varying physical dimensions, which provided some extra breathing room for the repairs.

Seeing his handiwork, it probably won’t surprise you to find that this isn’t the first time [Taylor] has performed some life-saving microsurgery. Just last year he was able to repair the PCB of an XBox controller than had literally been snapped in half.

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Restoring A Vintage Tube Tester To Its Former Glory

It can be difficult for modern eyes to make much sense of electronics from the 1960s or earlier. Between the point-to-point soldering, oddball components, and the familiar looking passives blown up to comical proportions like rejected props from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”, even experienced hardware hackers may find themselves struggling to understand what a circuit is doing. But that didn’t stop [Cat0Charmer] from taking the time to lovingly restore this Hickok Cardmatic KS-15874-L2 tube tester.

The good news was that the machine had nearly all of its original parts, down to the Hickok branded tubes in the power supply. Unfortunately it looks like a few heavy handed repairs were attempted over the years, with a nest of new wires and components intermixed with what [Cat0Charmer] actually wanted to keep. The before and after shots of individual sections of the machine are particularly enlightening, though again, don’t feel to bad if you still can’t make heads or tails of the cleaned up version.

Hiding new capacitors inside of the old ones.

As you’d expect for a machine of this age, many of the original components were way out of spec. Naturally the capacitors were shot, but even the carbon composition resistors were worthless after all these years; with some measuring 60% away from their original tolerances.

We particularly liked how [Cat0Charmer] hollowed out the old capacitors and installed the new modern ones inside of them, preserving the tester’s vintage look. This trick wasn’t always feasible, but where it was applied, it definitely looks better than seeing a modern capacitor adrift in a sea of 60’s hardware.

After undoing ham-fisted repairs, replacing the dud components, and installing some new old stock tubes, the tester sprung to life with renewed vigor. The previously inoperable internal neon lamps, used by the tester’s voltage regulation system, shone brightly thanks to all the ancillary repairs and changes that went on around them. With a DIY calibration cell built from the schematics in an old Navy manual, [Cat0Charmer] got the tester dialed in and ready for the next phase of its long and storied career.

We love seeing old hardware get restored. It not only keeps useful equipment out of the scrap heap, but because blending new and old technology invariably leads to the kind of innovative problem solving this community is built on.

Riding Mower Repair Uncovers Miniature Culprit

Most people would be pretty upset it the lawn mower they spent $4,000 USD on had a major failure within the first year of owning it. But for [xxbiohazrdxx], it was an excuse to take a peek under the hood and figure out what brought down this state-of-the-art piece of landscaping gear.

It should be said that, at least technically, the Husqvarna TS 348XD in question was still working. It’s just that [xxbiohazrdxx] noticed the locking differential, which is key to maintaining traction on hilly terrain, didn’t seem to be doing anything when the switch was pressed. Since manually moving the engagement lever on the transmission locked up the differential as expected, the culprit was likely in the electronics.

Testing the dead actuator.

As [xxbiohazrdxx] explains, the switch on the dash is connected to a linear actuator that moves the lever on the transmission. The wiring and switch tested fine with a multimeter, but when the actuator was hooked up to a bench power supply, it didn’t move. Even more telling, it wasn’t drawing any power. Definitely not a good sign. Installing a new actuator would have solved the problem, but it was an expensive part that would take time to arrive.

Repairing the dead actuator seemed worth a shot at least, so [xxbiohazrdxx] cracked it open. The PCB looked good, and there were no obviously toasted components. But when one of the internal microswitches used to limit the travel of the actuator was found to be jammed in, everything started to make sense. With the switch locked in the closed position, the actuator believed it was already fully extended and wouldn’t move. After opening the switch itself and bending the contacts back into their appropriate position, everything worked as expected.

A tiny piece of bent metal kept this $4,000 machine from operating correctly.

As interesting as this step-by-step repair process was, what struck us the most is [xxbiohazrdxx]’s determination to fix rather than replace. At several points it would have been much easier to just swap out a broken part for a new one, but instead, the suspect part was carefully examined and coaxed back to life with the tools and materials on-hand.

While there’s plenty of folks who wouldn’t mind taking a few days off from lawn work while they wait for their replacement parts to arrive, not everyone can afford the luxury. Expedient repairs are critical when your livelihood depends on your equipment, which is why manufacturers making it harder and more expensive for farmers to fix their tractors has become such a major issue in right to repair battles all over the globe.

Repairing A Vintage HP 9825 The Hard Way

[CuriousMarc] is at it again, this time trying to undo the damage from a poorly designed power circuit, that fried the internals of his HP 9825 computer. (Video, embedded below.)

The power supply on this particular model has a failure mode where a dying transistor can lead to 13 V on the 5 V line. This causes all the havoc one would expect on the internals of a 1970s era portable computer. This particular computer is rather rare, so instead of calling it a lost cause, our protagonist decides to replace the faulty transistor, install a proper overvoltage protection circuit, and then start the tedious hunt for which chips actually let their magic smoke out.
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Orphaned IoT Sleep Tracker Resurrected As An Air Quality Monitor

If you have a Hello Sense sleep tracking device lying around somewhere in your drawer of discards, it can be brought back to life in a new avatar. Just follow [Alexander Gee]’s instructions to resurrect the Hello Sense as an IoT air quality data-logger.

In 2014, startup “Hello” introduced the Sense, an IoT sleep tracking device with a host of embedded sensors, all wrapped up in a slick, injection molded spherical enclosure. The device was quite nice, and by 2015, they had managed to raise $21M in funding. But their business model didn’t seem sustainable, and in 2017, Hello shut shop. Leaving all the Sense devices orphaned, sitting dormant in beautifully designed enclosures with no home to dial back to.

The original Sense included six sensors: illumination, humidity, temperature, sound, dust / particulate matter on the main device, and motion sensing via a separate Bluetooth dongle called the Pill. [Alexander] was interested in air quality measurements, so only needed to get data from the humidity/temperature and dust sensors. Thankfully for [Alexander], a detailed Hello Sense Teardown by [Lindsay Williams] was useful in getting started.

The hardware consisted of four separate PCB’s — power conditioning, LED ring, processor, and sensor board. This ensured that everything could be fit inside the orb shaped enclosure. Getting rid of the LED ring and processor board made space for a new NodeMCU ESP8266 brain which could be hooked up to the sensors. Connecting the NodeMCU to the I2C interface of the humidity/temperature sensor required some bodge wire artistry. Interfacing the PM sensor was a bit more easier since it already had a dedicated cable connected to the original processor board which could be reconnected to the new processor board. The NodeMCU board runs a simple Arduino sketch, available on his Git repo, to gather data and push it online.

For the online data display dashboard, [Alexander] found a nice solution by [Nilhcem] for home monitoring using MQTT, InfluxDB, and Grafana. It could be deployed via a docker compose file and have it up and running quickly. Unfortunately, such projects don’t usually succeed without causing some heartburn, so [Alexander] has got you covered with a bunch of troubleshooting tips and suggestions should you get entangled.

If you have an old Sense device lying around, then this would be a good way to put it some use. But If you’d rather build an air-quality monitor from scratch, then try “Building a Full-Fat Air-Quality Monitor” or “An Air-quality Monitor That Leverages the Cloud“.

Putting The Magic Smoke Back In A Cooked Scooter

When [Vitor Melon] found out there was a custom firmware (CFW) available for his Xiaomi Mijia M365 Pro electric scooter that would increase his top end speed, naturally he installed it. Who wouldn’t want a little more performance out their hardware? But while the new firmware got the scooter running even better than stock, he does have a cautionary tale for anyone who might decide to ride their Mijia a bit harder than the fine folks at Xiaomi may have intended.

Now to be clear, [Vitor] does not blame the CFW for the fact that he cooked the control board of his Mijia. At least, not technically. There was nothing necessarily wrong with the new code or the capabilities it unlocked, but when combined with his particular riding style, it simply pushed the system over the edge. The failure seems to have been triggered by his penchant for using the strongest possible regenerative breaking settings on the scooter combined with a considerably higher than expected velocity attained during a downhill run. Turns out that big 40 flashing on the display wasn’t his speed, but an error code indicating an overheat condition. Oops.

Results of the PCB repair.

After a long and embarrassing walk home with his scooter, complete with a passerby laughing at him, [Vitor] opened the case and quickly identified the problem. Not only had the some of the MOSFETs failed, but a trace on the PCB had been badly burned through. Judging by the discoloration elsewhere on the board, it looks like a few of its friends were about to join in the self-immolation protest as well.

After a brief consultation with his graybeard father, [Vitor] replaced the dead transistors with higher rated versions and then turned his attention to the damaged traces. A bit of wire and a generous helping of solder got the main rail back in one piece, and he touched up the areas where the PCB had blackened for good measure.

A quick test confirmed the relatively simple repairs got the scooter up and running, but how was he going to prevent it from happening again? Reinstalling the original firmware with its more conservative governor was clearly no longer an option after he’d tasted such dizzying speeds, so instead he needed to find out some way to keep the controller cooler. The answer ended up being to attach the MOSFETs to the controller’s aluminum enclosure using thermal pads. This allows them to dissipate far more heat, and should keep a similar failure from happening again. You might be wondering why the MOSFETs weren’t already mounted this way, but unfortunately only Xiaomi can explain that one.

With their rapidly rising popularity hackers have been coming up with more and more elaborate modifications for electric scooters, and thanks to their wide availability on the second hand market, it’s likely the best is still yet to come when it comes to these affordable vehicles.

Repairing 200+ Raspberry Pis For A Good Cause

If somebody told you they recently purchased over 200 Raspberry Pis, you might think they were working on some kind of large-scale clustering project. But in this case, [James Dawson] purchased the collection of broken single-board computers with the intention of repairing them so they could be sent to developing countries for use in schools. It sounds like the logistics of that are proving to be a bit tricky, but we’re happy to report he’s at least made good progress on getting the Pis back up and running.

He secured this trove of what he believes to be customer returned Raspberries or the princely sum of £61 ($83 USD). At that price, even if only a fraction ended up being repairable, you’d still come out ahead. Granted all of these appear to be the original Model B, but that’s still a phenomenal deal in our book. Assuming of course you can find some reasonable way to triage them to sort out what’s worth keeping.

To that end, [James] came up with a Bash script that allowed him to check several hardware components including the USB, Ethernet, I2C, and GPIO. With the script on an SD card and a 3.5″ TFT plugged into the Pi’s header for output, he was able to quickly go through the box to get an idea of what sort of trouble he’d gotten himself into. He was only about half way through the process when he wrote this particular blog post, but by that point, he’d found just 40 Pis which wouldn’t start at all. He suspects these might be victims of some common issue in the power circuitry that he’ll investigate at a later date.

The majority of Pis he checked were suffering from nothing worse than some bent GPIO pins or broken SD card slots. Some of the more abused examples had their USB ports ripped off entirely, but were otherwise fine. Another 10 had dead Ethernet, and 4 appear to have damaged traces leading to their HDMI ports. While we’re interested in hearing if [James] can get those 40 dark Pis to fire back up, so far the results are quite promising.

Donating hardware is always a tricky thing, so for now [James] says he’ll be selling the repaired Pis on eBay and donating the proceeds to the Raspberry Pi Foundation so they can continue to develop hardware that will (potentially) accomplish their goal of giving students all over the world a functional computer.