Sega Game Gear Refurb

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As opposed to my Game Boy Pocket Refurb this one is going to be a bit more involved. My GB Pocket was fully functional, it just needed a quick membrane replacement job.

The Sega Game Gear is a different story. Game Gears of original vintage have a long-known problem. Sega used low quality capacitors in them, and as a result they tend to fail and leak out over the years, especially when stored in unfriendly environmental conditions (i.e. a hot attic). This means that you could have packed away your Game Gear in perfectly working form in a box, pulled it out years later, and found it dead. Much was a similar situation for my father-in-law’s Game Gear. I was a full-on Nintendo kid growing up, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that really wanted a Game Gear. I mean, how could you not? The color backlit screen blew away what the Game Boy was doing!

My FIL got this out and tried to play it, but found it dead. It would power on, the screen powered on, but there was no video output and no audio output happening. He showed me what it was doing and I knew it was a capacitor problem as I’d known about their failures from watching some retro gaming channels on youtube (big shout-out to The Retro Future!). I told him I could fix the system but that it would be a while as I needed to get a better soldering iron. The one I had was cheap to begin with and already on its last legs, barely having the oomph to get hot enough to melt solder.  Well, that was over a year and a half ago and I honestly kept putting off getting a new iron because this job intimidated me. My soldering skills are pretty amature-level as I only solder things a couple of times a year, and a Game Gear re-cap is a big job. When my wife got me a nice Weller iron for Christmas this year, I knew it was time to tackle this beast of a job.

A couple weeks ago I ordered a new cap kit from RetroModding. I selected that kit because it was cheap and came with enough caps to handle any revision of the Game Gear motherboard, as well as the sound board (different revisions have different caps). I did not order the power board recap kit as this unit still turned on, and from what I read these caps were far less likely to fail. I think because it had to do with higher voltage stuff and being UL listed, Sega actually used decent caps in those. Once I had my bag of shockingly tiny caps in hand, I grabbed a capacitor list and capacitor layout diagram from the Console5 Wiki. Their extremely helpful diagrams make it easy to identify which caps go where, as well as the polarity of each location. I printed them out and laid out each cap in each spot so that I could just hammer through them back-to-back. This took some times to set up, but I’m glad I did it before I fired up the iron, because after the first couple caps, I hit a pretty good stride with pulling the old one, trimming the new ones, and replacing.

This motherboard had 12 caps on it and I replaced all 12 as there was no way to know exactly which ones had failed, and even if a cap was still good, it couldn’t really be trusted to last. This took me over an hour of soldering, but I got through it with no issues, aside from some tight squeezes in some places. After I had them replaced I carefully put the unit back together for a quick test.  I powered it on and I had video! YES! However, as I feared, I still had no audio. I was kind of hoping I wouldn’t have to do the sound board, but no such luck.

The sound board was much more difficult mainly because it’s very small and has 5 caps on it that need to be replaced. Once I removed the sound board from the shell it was easy to see the caps had all leaked out. I removed the old caps and gave the board a clean since it was covered in smelly cap liquid. I followed the same method for this one. I printed out a cap diagram, laid out all the caps in the right locations and got to work.

The 5 caps on this board took me a while to get right, probably a good 45 minutes. The board is small, the caps are close together, and my hands were definitely starting to get fatigued from all of the very delicate soldering work. I eventually made it through the sound board and started reassembling everything. I had to carefully bend some of the new caps down to get the Game Gear’s shields back in place, but I managed it with out breaking any of the new caps.

I got it all screwed up tight, put a cart in and nervously fired it up.

It’s alive! Video and Audio working like brand new!

Overall it wasn’t that bad. It took a while to do, but a good soldering iron made it pretty easy to tackle. This was certainly the biggest soldering job I’ve ever done and I’m ecstatic with out it turned out. I can’t wait to give it back to my wife’s Dad, he probably thought it was dead for good! I think I’m going to get a little play time in on it first though. This is making me want to take on some more soldering jobs. Those modded Game Boys with color backlit oled screens in them look pretty nice… I might need to find a worn out Game Boy on eBay though as I’m not messing with my great condition Game Boy!

I’ll leave you with the capacitor graveyard, 17 caps replaced and a Game Gear gets new life breathed in to it. SEGA!