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.
[Alexsoulis] needed to burn the Arduino bootloader to a slew of ATmega328 chips. Instead of sitting there and plugged the chips into a programmer one at a time, he build a robotic microcontroller programmer.
It starts with the DIP package microcontrollers in a tube, with a servo motor to dispense them one-by-one. An arm swings over and picks up the chip with a fish pump powered vacuum tweezers similar to the pick-and-place head we saw recently. From there the chip is dropped into a ZIF socket and programmed by an Arduino. Once the process is complete it is moved to the side and the process repeats.
We’ve reported on using an Arduino as an AVR programmer but we’ve never actually done it ourselves (we use an AVR Dragon programmer). Take a look at the video after the break and let us know if you think the actual programming seems incredibly slow.
Continue reading “Automated chip burning”
We looked at [Gerry’s] PLCC based programmable Game Boy cartridge back in May and mentioned that he was working on a how-to video. He did quite a bit more than that. He’s made a PDF version of the instructions but went into deep detail with a collection of four videos on his YouTube channel. We’ve embedded all four after the break. They include an introduction and background about the cartridges, desoldering the ROM chip, preparing sockets and wire, and making the solder connections. Whether you’re interested in this particular hack or not, seeing [Gerry’s] soldering practices make the videos worth watching.
Continue reading “Programmable Game Boy cartridge walk through”
We love our AVR Dragon programmer. It is a small board with a lot of functionality: in-circuit serial programming, JTAG, debug wire, and high voltage serial programming. Unfortunately, out of the box it is not quite ready for action. The Dragon ships with an unpopulated prototyping area and missing a pin header for the HVSP. For most people this means soldering on pin headers and a ZIF socket then jumpering between the various programming headers and the header for the socket. Tired of working with jumper wires, [Jussi] designed a small PCB to make the connections (original link in Finnish). Continue reading “AVR Dragon wiring alternative”
Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories has put out this nice tool. It’s a Zif socket for Arduino. If you’re doing a lot of flashing, this could be a nice addition to keep from having to pry your chip out every time. Plus, it looks cool in a soviet era technology kind of way.
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.