Common System Problems, common solutions

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As a collector and as a computer nut, I know that there is nothing more frustrating than electronic equipment that doesn't work. Electronics either break or don't perform as expected ALL THE TIME. During the course of my life, I think I've popped thirty veins in equipment-induced rage.

I don't want you to collapse in a fit - so, let's discuss the problems you're likely to encounter with your video game systems, and how to solve those problems.

As game collectors, we're lucky - consoles are/were mass produced, and they have nearly the same internals (across that product line). That means there is a limited set of things that can go wrong with your system (complete system failure being one of these things, unfortunately!). If something goes wrong with your game system, it's likely that it's gone wrong a thousand times before, and it's also probable that someone has either developed a solution or a workaround. As we all know, prevention is the best medicine - so where appropriate, you'll see a way to avoid headaches altogether.

You'll notice that I've linked to several articles that are off-site. Where available, I've linked articles that have appeared at Stage Select, but in some cases, I'll turn to a reliable third party source for answers to the tough questions. This article serves as a point to consolidate information, as well as to answer my most frequently asked questions. I welcome comments or expansions to this article, as I'd like it to be as authoritative as possible.

Here are the categories and systems covered in this edition of the Repair / Troubleshooting guide. More to come, or as the case may be, more to come in separate articles...

Portable Systems | Console Systems | Odyssey^2 | Atari 2600 | Intellivision | Atari 7800 | TI-99/4a | NES | Genesis | Sega CD | Turbo Grafx | Saturn | Dreamcast | PS2 | XBox | GameCube | GameBoy Advance

Portable Systems:
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Battery Leaks - When alkaline batteries are unused for a long period of time, or if they've spent their charge rapidly, or if they were just manufactured poorly, you could have a BIG problem in your portable system. In fact, battery leaks rank as one of the most common ways you can destroy, damage, or otherwise inflict harm on your portable system.

  • Fixing the problem - Clean up the leak. In all likelihood, the white substance that has leaked into the innards of your has already solidified (nooooo! Not the!! The humanity! ). This substance is a mixture of chemicals - the largest percentage of which is a mixture of potassium hydroxide and zinc oxide. You need to know two things about these chemicals: they are poison, and they're actively eating away at your system. If you can stay away from the leak, you should (if the leak is small, your cleaning cloth could provide you enough shielding from the chemicals). If you can't avoid touching the leak while cleaning, you should wear gloves - better safe than sorry. The majority of the white substance should come off with the careful application of a cloth and a gentle nudge (it should flake right off - while caustic, it's not sticky). That should do it. If there are small flakes still in the system that dropped in while you were cleaning, blow them out with canned air. Don't be a fool - you don't want this garbage in your mouth, so don't blow on it. If this is an especially valuable portable system, such as the Turbo Express, you might be concerned about small amounts of the chemical remaining. There is some concern here, as you have to be careful using water on this substance - when it dissolves, it does so exothermically (it heats up, which of course is bad). However, it does dissolve REALLY well - so, if you're quick, you can probably get most of it right away. By the way, the chemical that will neutralize potassium hydroxide (a strong base) is... acid. And that's not what you want in your system. Frankly, if you can't clean the spill, it's probably best to let sleeping dogs lie.
  • Preventing the problem - never store batteries in your portable system. If at all possible, use an external rechargeable battery pack (there is one that was manufactured for the Sega Game Gear, and there are several different varieties manufactured for every type of Game Boy system). Store this external battery separately from the portable system (or games!).

Scratched "screens" - the screen of a portable system will get scratched pretty easily. There's some good news here, though. It's usually not the actual screen that's been scratched. There is usually a plastic cover over the screen.

  • Fixing the problem - buy and install a new screen for your portable system from eBay. They should come with instructions for installation, and they should be fairly inexpensive. If the scratches are very minor, I've heard of people using CD Repair kits to buff out the scratches on their screens. I'd say that with both methods, you should show some caution.
  • Preventing the problem - don't be so rough! That was easy, wasn't it? Actually, another solution is the "peel and stick" covers that Franklin and a few other folks sell for PDAs that are on the market. They are essentially a plastic "static sticker" that you can apply to your screen, which won't damage the screen when pulled off, or leave nasty goop.

Console Systems: (back to top)

Bad picture - If your console's picture is fuzzy, grainy, or filled with static, you can use a few techniques to make the picture better.

  • Fixing the problem - If your system is an older system (Atari 2600 era), check to make sure that the TV-Game switch is set to the correct position (Game). Make sure that the switch is pushed all the way up. If you're using a push-type F connector / converter, try pinching the connector slightly to increase contact with the coax input from your TV. All 4/8-bit and 16-bit era machines: make sure you pick a channel (3 or 4) that is not receiving a television signal. All 8-bit and 16-bit systems with an Auto RF box: Try replacing your RF switch with another one from another system. If your picture is better, your switch is probably bad, or getting there.
  • Preventing the problem - upgrade to the best possible connector for your system. For recent systems (GameCube, XBox, etc), the answer is the component video connector (this will have many plugs, one of which is green, unlike other connectors). Your TV must support this connection, but this will enable a better picture on HDTV systems, as well. For older console systems, you can often upgrade from using an RF switch to AT LEAST using a composite video signal. In some cases, you can work some magic with an advanced signal, from SVideo to VGA - these specifics will be discussed below. In cases where you can't upgrade the connector, you can at least get a better connector than the one you're using.

Cart Reading and Disc Reading Errors - If your console OR game is dirty, it probably won't work right. In the case of a cart based console system, it will either blink or won't produce any picture when turned on. If you're using a CD or DVD based system, it might give you a disc read error message.

  • Fixing the problem - Use a cart or disc cleaner first. These can be purchased from virtually any game store, or heck, even Target. Follow the instructions enclosed to clean your system and games. Some general rules that I follow: for every 50 hours of game play, use a system cleaner, and for every 20-30 times you play a game, use a game cleaner. If the problem becomes too great, or if disc / cart cleaners and system cleaners have lost their effectiveness, you may have a hardware failure (in your game or in your system). Below, I'll list some system specific fixes for each of these issues. Check your discs to make sure that they aren't scratched (this may be causing the problem) - if they are, get a CD/DVD scratch repair kit.
  • Preventing the problem - Do not expose your games to dirt, dust, or other environmental influences.In other words, do like mom always says, and PUT YOUR GAMES AWAY when you're done using them. Don't blow on cartridges. Be careful in cleaning discs - do NOT use a radial motion to clean discs. Clean from the center out in a straight line. As tempting as it is, and as much as you know that it works, don't blow on a cart to make it work. You're adding to the problem by blowing on the cart, because particulate matter from your spittle (say it, don't spray it!) will gather on the connectors, and will increase the rate at which you have to clean your games.

Atari 2600: (back to top)

Bad Video Quality - The 2600 was / is limited to an RF connection. This produces poor quality video, which can be seen as static or color bleeding on the screen. Fortunately, there are are a few ways that you can get around this issue. The first is to ditch the "switch box" type RF connector that you got at 20 years ago at Radio Shack, and go with a more modern F-type adapter (part number 278-276).

Alternatively, you could modify your Atari to output a signal to "composite" or "SVideo", both of which provide a far superior picture. Here is an article at Atari Age about adding composite video to your 2600 Jr, and is offering a relatively easy to install SVideo board (for about $60).

Broken Controller - This one is simple. If you don't have a 2600 controller handy, just grab a Genesis controller, and you're all set.

Odyssey2: (back to top)

Replacing the O2 controllerBroken Controller - If you're browsing to this topic, it's very likely that you have an Odyssey2 with a hardwired joystick. That's right, later models of the Odyssey2 did not have a visible plug-in for the controller. Don't worry, this won't render your system useless. Scoots has created an article which describes exactly how to replace a hard wired controller for the Odyssey2.

Intellivision (back to top)

Some Cartridges Don't Play, or Sound Problems - This is a common complaint from those folks with the Intellivision 2, and guess what? It was an intentional lock out scheme! Coleco games, such as Carnival, Donkey Kong, Mouse Trap, and Venture do not play on an Intellivision 2. Likewise, there are known sound/play issues with Shark! Shark!, Electric Company Word Fun, and Space Spartans. In Super Pro Football, the quarterback does not appear onscreen until the ball is hiked.

You can read more about this fiasco here. While there is supposedly a mod available that will fix this issue, I'm not sure if it really works, and it seems like it could be a bit risky - you connect pins 38 and 40 of the cart slot momentarily when the system boots.

Atari 7800: (back to top)

Can't Find a Power Supply - This is the most common complaint with the 7800. The connector for the power supply is a very odd configuration, and they are both difficult and expensive to find. The alternative here is to FORCE your system to use a different power supply. Since the 7800's power supply is a 9V power supply (1 amp), with the leads to + and - readily exposed, you could use a Radio Shack power supply with a little effort (facing the connector, positive is on the right). Making this mod is far easier than you might expect, and several sites have tutorials (perhaps this one will too, some day!).

Broken Controller - This is ANOTHER system which will accept and use a Sega Genesis controller with very few complaints. I've used the Genesis controller with many games successfully, although I will make a note that Choplifter doesn't seem to support both of the buttons.

TI-99/4a: (back to top)

5 pic dinBad Video Quality, Can't Find RF Adapter - The TI-99 used a proprietary RF adapter, which was monstrous, and didn't give a very good picture. Out of the box, the TI supports a composite picture, which makes me wonder why in the WORLD anyone would choose to stick with the RF adapter that came with the device. Using a 5 pin DIN plug from Radio Shack and a standard audio cable, you can construct your own A/V cable for the TI-99/4a. Check out this article for a tutorial.

NES: (back to top)

"The Blinkies" - Everyone that has owned a toaster-style NES has run across this problem. You put the game in, turn your Nintendo on, and the screen alternates between blue and white. The cause of this problem is simple - the game isn't making good contact with the cartridge slot. The solution here is two-fold. The hope here is that you can solve the problem with a good cleaning. If you have access to a universal cart / slot cleaning kit, use that - the plastic bits that come with the kit are custom sized to the NES, and it will provide you with the most effective cleaning solution. If a commercial kit isn't available, take an old credit-card (or discount card - something relatively durable), and place some lint-free cloth over it. Coat with isopropyl alcohol, and give that cart slot a good cleaning. You will also want to clean the contacts on the cart itself. This can be done in a few different ways. The first is a QTip and some alcohol. If this still isn't getting the cart clean, you could try a pencil's eraser. That's right, you can erase the corrosion off the contacts. Now, bear in mind, this is going to be a bit more harsh, and you'll definitely want to clean off all the excess eraser when you're done.

If the above has not solved your problem to your satisfaction, there is one more alternative, which is to replace the cartridge contacts altogether. This isn't a costly operation (it should cost in the neighborhood of $10), and we provide instructions on how to do the NES pin replacement here.

Bad Video Quality - Did you notice the composite video jacks on the side of your NES? Plug those in, instead of your RF switch (the grey blob that screws into the TV). Composite video is far, far better than the RF video that most people use, and it requires nearly no action on your part. If you have a "top load" NES, you can add composite video to it. Click here for this tutorial.

Genesis: (back to top)

Games Won't Play - Later versions of the Sega Genesis would not play Budokan, Zany Golf, Ishido, Populous, or Onslaught. Certain Asian (pirate) games won't play, either. The Genesis costs next to nothing, getting a first generation model will alleviate this problem. Alternatively, I've found that the Game Genie works wonders as a way around the problem. Likewise, I've been able to play the occasional imported game through the Game Genie. Give it a shot. Virtua Racing and the Sega Channel Modem are not supposed to work on a Genesis 3 (the tiny version of the Genesis).

32X Won't Work - Sega's 32X peripheral is one of the most commonly broken pieces of crap I've ever seen. I've personally been through 2, and my treatment of this system borders on coddling. That said, there are a few things to look for -

  1. Is the 32X plugged in? As shocking as it sounds, a fully decked out Sega Genesis actually requires 3 power supplies (Genesis, Sega CD, and the 32X). The 32X uses the same power supply as the Game Gear and later models of Genesis, so if you don't have an adapter, you won't have much trouble finding one.
  2. Is the 32X connected properly? The 32X needs to be connected to the Genesis - not JUST with the cartridge slot, but with a cable as well. In one of the most retardo design decisions I've ever been witness to, you even need ANOTHER "adapter cable" to connect the 1st generation Genesis to the 32X - connect the 32X to a cable, connect that cable to another cable, connect that to the Genesis, and make sure that the 32X is plugged securely into the cart slot. Good luck finding this additional cable, without buying the whole 32X system all over again. On some varieties of Genesis, the 32X isn't spaced properly. It juts out of the system, looking a bit giraffe-like. It can wiggle out of place. The 32X comes with a "spacer" which makes this less of an issue, but if you don't have one, you could make one out of cardboard, or forego the spacer altogether.
  3. Is the cart slot on the Genesis AND the 32X clean, AND is the blade connector on the 32X clean, AND is the cart itself clean? Don't worry, I'll still be here next year when you're done cleaning the 32X.
  4. Do you get one layer of graphics and not the other? In the case where you get graphics on the screen, but big chunks are missing, you've likely connected the cables incorrectly. You must disconnect the Genesis from the TV - remember, Genesis to 32X, 32X to TV.
  5. Are you using a Genesis 3 (hockey puck Genesis)? I do not know if the 32X works with this system, but the manual says that it does not. If you have successfully run a 32X on a Majesco Genesis 3, I want to hear from you.

Suppose that the above didn't help you. You're not out of luck quite yet. Take apart the 32X - unscrew all the screws found on the bottom of the system. Take the top plate and shielding off. Look for two ribbon cables that are plugged in near the cartridge slot. Pull those cables out, and reseat them.

Sega CD: (back to top)

Out of Backup RAM, Game Refuses to Play - You can access the Sega CD RAM menu in two ways. The first is to press Start+A+B+C. The second is to insert an audio CD, and choose the Options menu when the CD begins playing. From there, you can clear the RAM.

Turbo Grafx: (back to top)

Bad Video Quality - You can enhance the Turbo Grafx's video quality using either the Turbo Booster or by getting a Turbo CD-ROM. The video output will be composite, rather than RF. Although you can mod the system to display composite video, I do not recommend it - some of these mods have you soldering wires to the expansion port (or leads coming to the expansion port), which you may regret later, should you choose to acquire a CD-ROM.

Some Turbo CD Games Won't Play - Some CD games are made only for the "Super CD", or the Turbo Duo. The Turbo CD was only out for a little while before it became apparent to NEC that they needed more RAM. They released the additional RAM in the form of the System 3 card. You originally had to order this card directly from NEC / Turbo Technologies. Today, you can occasionally find the card on eBay, or through different collector resources. This card is well worth the money that you'll spend on it.

CD ROM Has Power, is Clicking Constantly, and Won't Play - A wire has become disconnected in the CD-ROM. To fix this issue, you'll need to disassemble the CD-ROM, and splice additional wire onto the disconnected wire. I have made this repair, and can say two things about it - it's a bit tricky, and I am looking forward to publishing a more detailed tutorial (this tutorial is a bit out of the scope of this article).

Power supply for CD player difficult to find - It sure is. The CD power supply is 11 V. I have heard two solutions to this, but have tried neither. I cannot promise that this will function for you. The first solution is to use a 12V power supply with the same Amp rating. The second solution is to use the Turbo Grafx power supply to supply the entire unit with power. I'll seek clarification on this, but I think that the power supply for the Turbo is too weak to power the Turbo AND the CD.

Saturn: (back to top)

Game Needs More Save Space / RAM - One of the best games available for the Sega Saturn is XMen vs Street Fighter. The game requires the 4MB RAM Expansion cartridge. You can also get the 4-in-1 expansion cartridge, or the smaller "Save Cartridge" for the system. All of these options will give you additional space to save your in-progress games.

Constantly Loses Date / Time - The internal battery is dead. Replace with a CR 2032. The console has a hatch on the bottom for you to get at the battery. The battery needs to be pushed down slightly and you'll slide it out of its socket.

Dreamcast: (back to top)

Controller Doesn't Work - If you know that your controller is fine (it works in other ports), then the problem here is that you've blown a resister for the controller port. This is the best controller port repair tutorial that I've seen.

Console "Screams" When Powered Up - This usually indicates that the battery in your VMU is either dead, or nearly dead (or you're using a third party memory card with no battery). Replace the battery, and the noise should stop. The batteries used here are CR 2032.

Constantly Loses Date / Time - The internal battery is dead. The Sega Dreamcast uses an internal rechargeable battery to store its settings. You should try to leave the Dreamcast on for at least two hours to try to recharge the battery. In my experience, the rechargeable battery should last about a month. I have not seen a tutorial about replacing the battery in the Dreamcast - it probably isn't user replaceable. Sega indicates that repair centers will still look after your Dreamcast, so look into having an official Sega rep repair or replace the battery.

PS2: (back to top)

Disc Stuck in System - there are a couple of different ways that a disc can get stuck in a PS2 - and hence a couple of solutions to your problem. Rule 1: I'm not responsible for damage you may do to your system by following my "advice". Rule 2: If you're not comfortable with disassembly/assembly of electronic things (small parts), don't do it - give it to a professional to repair. Rule 3: IF YOUR PS2 IS UNDER WARRANTY, CALL SONY FIRST! Never surrender your warranty through foolish acts like opening a case! Those rules in mind, let's go through a few scenarios:

1. Your PS2 "ejects" just fine, but the game isn't in the tray. Cause: There is likely something sticky on the game. Solution: There are two ways that you're likely to be able to get your game back, one of them is to open the system (I'll cover this in a second!), and the other (not as recommended) is to use a grabbing tool to get the game (warning, this will trash your game!). You could use a tweezers or an electronics tool (typically, these have pincers at one end, and a plunger at the other - the pincers extend from the body of the tool).

2. Your PS2 ejects part way. Cause: 2 possible causes here - the game has jammed against the side of the case, OR the CD tray has become misaligned. Solution: Does the game jiggle on the tray at all? Yes? Thought so. Darn - that means you have a misaligned tray. Ouch, you're next step is to take apart your PS2 (I'll cover this in a second!). If you're lucky enough to have your game jam the system, you'll just need to take apart the machine, get the game out, and you're good to go. Like I said, I'll get to that!

3. Your PS2 couldn't be bothered to respond to the eject button. Cause: Again, 2 possible causes. The first is that the tray is misaligned (say you drop or jostle the machine), and it's the most likely. The second is that the stupid machine is really broken, and the drive needs to be replaced. You've probably got a 90% chance this isn't the case, assuming you don't use your PS2 as a TV tray... Solution: You'll need to take the machine apart, and realign the tray.

One of the BEST articles on the net for taking apart your PS2 can be found HERE. It has great pictures, etc. While it talks about disc read errors, you'll want to follow the article to the point where you can see the disc tray. Don't adjust the lens, that's specific to another problem (disc read errors). Once you take the machine apart, you'll be able to get the game out of the system. From there, you'll need to look at a few things - make sure that the ribbon cable to the lens is connected properly (on the DVD side of the mainboard). The misalignment of the tray MIGHT be taken care of thusly: Take the tray out, then when you put it back in, slide in the right side first - when the tray is almost all the way back, put the left side down, and it should lock into place (the correct place, hopefully). Turn on the system and try the ejection, see if it works. If that doesn't work, and get ready for a technical term... Fiddle with it till it does.

Disc Read Errors - Disc Read Errors are most frequently the result of a dirty laser lens, a dirty disc, or both. Get a CD and lens cleaning kit ($10), and use it to clean both the disc and the game completely. The PS2 is known for having DRE problems, even if the discs are clean, however. The answer to these problems is, as above, to take the machine apart, and manually adjust the laser lens. This is a delicate operation. You should only attempt this if your machine is unrecoverable otherwise. Again, I'll refer you to the Ars Technica article for instructions to get this project done.

XBox: (back to top)

Demo Discs (XBox Magazine) Don't Play - I wish I was joking about this, but here's the solution. Boil the disc for 20 seconds (or less). It actually works. I've tried it, and I swear on my life it works. I heard this originally on Penny Arcade, and can attest that it works. I think they use some cheap manufacturing process on these, and that this process gives the disc a chance to adhere to itself. And hey, if that doesn't work (or you don't want to try it), call up XBM and demand a new game disc. This has also worked for me.

Doesn't play DVDs - The XBox needs the DVD playback kit to play DVDs. Unless you hack the XBox, this is the only way to get the system to play DVDs.

Disc Stuck in System - This happened to me. The least harmful thing to do is to send it to Microsoft for repairs. Alternatively, you can take the machine apart, but you risk crashing the hard drive or otherwise increasing the damage to your system. There are many tutorials on the Net for taking your XBox apart - proceed at your own risk. Many of these tutorials describe installing mod chips, and hence aren't linked here (for philosophical and legal reasons - I prefer not to discuss XBox mod chips).

GameBoy Advance: (back to top)

No Back Light - Well, you have an older version of the Game Boy Advance. Buy a Game Boy Advance SP, and you'll get a backlight. There are alternatives to buying a new system, with varying results. You can buy a clip on flood light. This is what I have on my GBA, and let me tell you - it's glare city, man. It's not that great at all. The other alternative is the AfterBurner - this is an internal light that you install into the GBA. Notice- Lik Sang seems to be perpetually out of stock - they might not make the Afterburner any more. You may have to venture out on eBay to find the actual kit. At any rate, the cost of an Afterburner (30-50) plus the value of your GBA on trade-in really makes the SP an attractive alternative.

GameCube: (back to top)

Wavebird Controller Doesn't Respond - I get this question quite a bit. The solution is SHOCKINGLY simple. First, check your batteries. Second, make sure the receiver is plugged into the joystick port all the way. Third, there is a dial on the bottom of the Wavebird, and on the bottom of the receiver. Make sure your Wavebird is on the same number as the receiver.

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Sort By:  
Anonymous, 10/3/2006 4:59:58 AM
Score: 1  
how to open your xbox visually
lycanpitt, 3/7/2007 6:20:57 PM
Score: 0  

im looking for a playstation2 fomatting disk can yall help

basscomm, 3/7/2007 7:48:48 PM
Score: 0  
Formatting disk?
Anonymous, 12/16/2007 5:20:10 PM
Score: 0  
My PS2 won't turn on at all--
It was playing just fine, then turned itself off--no power at all. I have replaced the power cord as well as the video cord, and still nothing. Any suggestions, other than throw it as far as possible?
Anonymous, 11/21/2011 9:17:00 PM
Score: 0  
system wake up
hey i have an lg cpu and i have kept it in sleep after a long wake up it was telling that your system resume failed you need to reboot the system erasing all the data or continue with resume i know to press continue with system resume but my systems keyboard dosenot work without starting windows any body help me please ??????????????????????

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