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This has always been something I was curious about, but now as I'm researching building circuits for use as game pieces it's actually a professional curiosity. Specifically swappable, interlocking pieces, so connections akin to how cartridge games worked.

Why were NES cartridges unreliable? By which I mean, why did they take so much effort to get working? SNES and Genesis cartridges by comparison rarely required reseating or odd efforts, like using the another controller to hold it in place.

Is this just a matter of a bad design in the NES that was corrected with the SNES? And if so, how was it solved? Even the NES v2 (top loading version) seemed to suffer from these problems, albeit less frequently.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have never had any problems with both of my NES. \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Sep 25 '15 at 15:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PlasmaHH I'm honestly not sure if that's sarcasm or not. Have you really never had to blow into the cartridge, or reset over and over, until the game would start? If so, I may found a new religion based on the divinity of your NES systems. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Sep 25 '15 at 15:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, blowing into the cardridge is a superfluous superstition I never practiced anyways. I can imagine bad contacts due to single wipe contacts, where reseating helps. I would just guess that mine was cleaner than that of the people that had countless problems. \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Sep 25 '15 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm trying to find the EE question but I'm tending to favour just setting up a geek-alert warning for anyone reading this LOL. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy aka Sep 25 '15 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PlasmaHH - Arqade agrees: blow-jobs were superstition. I got mine to work by carefully bending the 72 pins by hand. \$\endgroup\$ – Mazura Sep 26 '15 at 2:04
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AFAIK, it's not the fault of the cartridges themselves.

The original NES-001 had a zero-insertion-force scheme which traded off ease of insertion for (what was later discovered) reduced effective life of the contacts. The lack of scrubbing action combined with everyone 'blowing' on the edges of the cartridges (plus lower tolerance for bent pins due to the wide insertion angle) led to the redesign that you cited. I've replaced the ZIF socket inside an NES-001 and after that, it worked like new for the rest of the time I kept it, with virtually no bad contact issues.

I would speculate that since so many NES carts were blown on, they would show a higher propensity of oxidation which may lead to problems even with a straight-on connection. Also, since the system was on the market for so long, the number of 'old' cartridges out there would be high, and they would likely also have some oxidation issues just due to age. When I built up my Atari Flashback 2 system with a cartridge slot, I had to manually scrape many of my old cartridges with an X-acto knife to get the contacts clean enough to actually connect.

I can certainly recall occasional seating/contact issues with my Sega Genesis system after a number of years of usage, so your observation may not reflect the population.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Excellent article! I think the 10NES chip issue is even more specifically something I had absolutely no clue about. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Sep 25 '15 at 15:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Indeed. The 10NES was a real pain at points. Sega had a similar lockout scheme in later Genesis models, but mine was a first-gen so no issues there. \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Lawrence Sep 25 '15 at 17:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know much about NES, but from a different, more common experience with DC barrel connectors, metallurgy can play a significant role in the long run, even though the average Joe user lacks any immediate way to quantify its quality. I've seen 20-years old equipment with such DC jack is like new... and same age (by different) equipment where the jack got horribly corroded. All kept in the same office environment. \$\endgroup\$ – SX welcomes ageist gossip Sep 25 '15 at 19:11

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