NES 72 pin connector Fact or Fiction?

Plastic and metal, no magic here.

We’ve all seen the overwhelming amounts of tutorials to help you change your crusty worn out 72 pin connector for that old NES, not to mention the copious amounts of retailers willing to sell you the new 72 pin connector. But is it just a farce or are there real benefits to doing this simple “upgrade”? It was 7 years ago when I dusted off my original Nintendo Entertainment System and as always the games were temperamental, giving me the standard light display show on my television or teasing me with a alphabet riddled title screen. I did the standard blowing inside the game and cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol, jamming it into the game and rubbing it down like a lottery ticket watching as the cotton turned from a pure white to a greenish black.

I also own a console cleaner which I used as well to make sure the system itself was clean and prepared for vintage gaming goodness. After the 5 minute cleaning the game and system both lit up and the television was flashing nothing more than the title screen of my favorite NES title. Overjoyed I spent hours playing that game until it was time to take a rest. Upon awaking the next day I tried to fire up the NES once more and to my dismay the system hadn’t had it’s cup of coffee that morning and again refused to work. The internet is filled with wondrous things so I did a search for how to fix this and immediately I was bombarded with the notion that I could change out the 72 pin connector and my wildest fantasy would come true! My NES would NEVER give me that light show ever again! My games would always work like they were suppose to! Woodland creatures would bow to my will and do my bidding…ok well you get the point. After searching into the difficulty of installation and finding the least expensive replacement, my order was placed and now it was time to wait!

Once I received it in the mail it seemed so simple to just open the NES and change them out, yet right away I noticed that the old connector didn’t look anywhere near as bad as I was being told it would from the internet. Infact, if I hadn’t kept track of which were which I might not have known which one was brand new and which was the old one. I decided to install the new one in hopes it was something beyond what my eyes could see that was holding me back from sweet, sweet NES bliss. I managed to get the new one installed and packed the old one away for the fun of it and tested the system. I was amazed! The brand new 72 pin connector worked beautifully, as if my NES were brand new and I was back in 1985 (where I would have been 2) all my games were cleaned and worked great! The system started up like clockwork I was excited that I would never see that light show ever agai…what? Flashing screen? AARRRGGHHH!!!!! Just a few short weeks later the brand new 72 pin connector didn’t make good on it’s promises, it had lied to me and went the way of the old connector. Now the only different between the 2 connectors was the new one was extremely stiff so pushing in and pulling out games became a finger hurting experience, even today this NES still continues to hurt my fingers pushing in and pulling out games.

I now own 2 NES decks, the one still has the same “brand new” connector and the second one is unmolested and I can honestly say I enjoy the untouched NES much more than I enjoy the one I changed the connector out in. I never noticed just how painful it was to change out a game in that system until I acquired the system that was already broken in. I’m sure there are some who have had success in their connector swap and likewise I’m sure many would agree with me that it was a waste of money. I personally believe nothing will help keep your system running the way it was meant to more so than cleaning your games properly. If you blow into them (I’m guilty of this as well!) you shoot spit down on the contacts inside and I’m sure that can speed up a corrosion process. Let’s face it, the NES is closed up pretty well so most of the dirt that gets inside is through the games you insert into it. If you clean your games properly, the inside connector shouldn’t have any reason to fail you.

Posted August 4th, 2010

About the author

Samuel Floyd first fell into video gaming with the Atari the mid-90s! Always late into the system wars, Samuel enjoys that as he acquires them when they're cheap and the hot titles of yesteryear are bountiful. Samuel loves RPGs, his favorite being Crystalis for the NES.


akute October 12, 2010

Samuel I'd pretty much agree on you, don't blow in your games for moisture/corrosion reasons…

Though I wouldn't say replacing your 72 pin connector was as bad of an idea that you make it out to be.

You also stated that you cleaned your carts with alcohol…I like to use tweezer and make sure that cotton swabs didn't leave behind any lint, as well as using tweezer on the 72 pin connector to make sure that it didn't have any carpet fiber collection, either.

Still, good to hear people out there appreciating NES and NES carts the same way an archeologist would treat findings from a latest dig ;)

killface kid November 22, 2010

im about to get my 72 pin connector tomorrow or the next day. ill let you know how it goes! keep your fingers crossed!

Matteo November 25, 2010

Probably the 72 pin connector you bought, being a cheap one, wasn't actually new. It was just a refurbished spare part that the seller took from a broken NES system. It was so tight because the seller flexed the contacts with a screwdriver to avoid them not touching the cartridge connectors properly. The blinking light problem is due to the fact that the western NES, unlike the original eastern Nintendo Famicom, had been designed to look like a VCR recorder more then a console, with a front loading cartridge slot. It has a spring that allows the cartidges to be inserted without any effort. This is ultimately a design flaw, since this way the pressure from the spring, with time, bends the contacts, therefore creating the problem. Even if you flex them with a corkscrew like the seller you bought your connector from did you it doesn't solve the problem in the long term, since the metal from which the contacts are made off becomes soft and bends easily with prolonged use.
There are a few solutions, actually, but none of them is cheap.
One is to buy a proper new 72 pin connector. There are some companies that actually make new ones, but they are more expensive. Some companies even make them with better metal alloys that don't wear that easily, and those are even more expensive. Avoid the cheap ones since they are almost surely refurbished items.
The other possible solution is to buy a top loader NES (also known as NES Jr. or NES II), a re-design of the console that Nintendo made back then when SNES had just been launched on the market. The redesigned model has a vertical cartridge slot, with no springs, so it doesn't suffer from this issue. Also, it is region free, so it allows you to play PAL and Japanese carts as well as US ones. But those are hard to find and are generally regarded as collector items, so they tend to be rather expensive. Also, they lack a composite out, only having the RF connector. You may find a modified one, since some amateurs do modifications on it to add a composite out, but, once again, it would be even more expensive.

Matt March 20, 2011

I stumbled upon your blog post after realizing that my new 72-pin connector has actually had MORE flashing screens than my old one. I figured it was a cheap part and why not replace it? Easy enough, and like you said, there were all of the promises of no more flashing screens. The games worked beautifully for the first few tries with the new connector, but now I can’t get any of my games to work. Even ones that never had a flashing screen problem in the entire time I’ve owned them.

Now I think I’m gonna have to get a new system. I may have to follow Matteo’s advice and get a top loader, but I love the original Nintendo system.

Based on my experience, I’d advise against installing the new 72 pin connector.

Stuart June 9, 2011

I had done this a few times over the years to 3 or 4 different NES systems… and it was always a 100% successful repair. I believe I purchased the replacement connectors from Mouser electronics, manufactured by Foxconn.

Unfortunatly, it is a design flaw, and the act of pressing down on the cart to lock it in once inserted is whats bending the contacts. I try to run it without doing this for a long time after I replace the connector… and I also avoid leaving carts in while not being used. The dissimilar metals will increase corrosion while they are in contact with eachother.

    Samuel Floyd June 15, 2011

    While I will agree the ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) connector wasn’t very well thought out, I have to disagree with the corrosion theory. While making my newest article about making a Famicom to NES converter, I noticed the Famicom boards use the same contact metals as the NES games do. It only makes sense they would. But, the pass through (made by Nintendo mind you) uses the exact same metals as the ZIF connector as well. Now these games were put together by Nintendo to last for as long as they assumed games would last. In the 3 games that I own with the converters inside, absolutely none of them show signs of corrosion. In fact these are the cleaned contacts I’ve ever seen in both the Famicom ROM board and the pass through connector.

Justin July 30, 2012

When I purchased an NES recently, it was dead. However, upon looking online, I saw everyone saying that I need to replace my pin connector. I did so, and it worked!….for an hour. Now I’m back to the solid grey screen. And I agree with Samuel that my pin connector did not look damaged at all. I guess I’ll just resort to rubbing alcohol, and hope for better results.

Baron August 4, 2013

Great article. I’ve been playing on my NES for years and i noticed as the years go by, it’s been pretty temperamental lately. I figured it was the 72 pin problem so I went on a hunt on an easy fix so I don’t necessarily have to replace it. What I found out is a good scrubbing with light pressure of an eraser of the motherboard connectors really helped a ton. Also i noticed the biggest problem were the games themselves. So, if you have the right security bit, I opened them up and went through them with the same process I did with the main board and gave them a light rub down with the eraser and afterwards they start up with little to no fuss at all, even my most stubborn games. Also doing a quick wipe down to catch any eraser debris helps too. Another trick if your 72 pin connector is “loose” is to take the time and bend them back down to get a firmer connection to the games. Just my two cents anyways.

Jordan September 7, 2013

you need to disable the lockout chip, this is what is causing the flashing. your carts aren’t making good contact and the system thinks they are not official carts. disable the lockout, it will never blink ever again.

    Samuel Floyd September 7, 2013

    I covered the disabling of the NES10 in a more recent article and I do agree it will never blink again, but that doesn’t solve the poor contact issue. The main goal of this article is to get readers to understand a brand new 72 pin connector isn’t an instant fix, as the rest of the internet will push you to believe. There are many factors that cause the system to not read a cartridge properly. The most easy way to rectify this is through cleaning the cartridges. Even my NES top loader does the occasional solid color screen, and since it never had a lockout chip that can’t be the issue. The issue is most likely dirt; a thorough cleaning of your cartridge collection and a tooth brushing through the old 72 pin connector has never let me down.

Ozzy_98 April 12, 2014

Two different metals will raise the risk of corrodes. More so if there’s moisture and electricity. Add an electrolyte and it’s known as Galvanic corrosion. It’s also why you shouldn’t put aluminum heads on a cast iron engine block for example. The sealed nes carts aren’t going to get much moisture, but the nes carts pushed into the nes are a bit more open, and if you blow on them, adding moisture, you make a nice mess. A bigger concern would be flattening the pins more than needed.

On of the best ways to clean the connectors is to boil it for 5+ mins, run a clean cart through it 20-30 times, boil it another 5 mins, repeat, then blow try it. Use a push-pin to bend up any bent connectors, they get bend down by larger boards. When your nes game goes into the slow, you should feel the fingers on the pins, and should hold it firmly. Most 72-pins are made wrong, and the game plays in the “up” position. If your does, and it makes a bad grinding noise when you press down, you have a bad 72-pin connector, and you’re slowly grinding off the connections on the cart.

Kike August 12, 2014

Last December after 25 years, I changed the zif connector. All was happiness until yesterday when I wanted to play Double Dragon 2 with my nephew. Thankfully my top loader came to the rescue. I’m looking into modifying the old connector and put it back in.

Ingling August 15, 2014

I dusted off my old NES a few days ago. First I tried scrubbing and bending the old 72 pin connector back into shape. Result: red light. Swapped said pin connector with replacement of medium price range. Result: still red light. All games have been meticulously cleaned. Now Tarzan angry.
Any thoughts of what to try next, other than stoving NES back into attic for another 15-20 years? I would greatly appreciate any help.

Ingling August 16, 2014

Thanks man, I’ll give it a go. Anything for another swing on my bike in Paperboy.

Vincent Mitchell October 13, 2014

I have 3 consoles and 70+ carts and all work great after the cleaning and modification I did. The cleaning was more thorough than standard rub with q-tip type cleaning.
Cleaning carts:
1)Take apart each cart. You’ll need a 3.8mm security bit for most carts, some use a standard and some use a Phillips bit.
2) Clean the oxidation and dirt off of the edge contacts (both sides) using rubbing compound and a soft cloth. Do not get the compound on any of the components on the pcb)
3) Remove rubbing compound residue using isporyl alcohol (I used 90%) and a clean cloth.
4) Put the cart back together. The pcb is notched and should only go in one way. Remember top/bottom orientation though when removine it for cleaning.

There are many faq’s about taking the console apart to clean the contacts in that. I followed one of those to remove the pins cage from the console. I also cleaned the contacts using the same rubbing compound, a credit card thin piece of plastic and a micro fiber cloth wrapped around the plastic. Applying a little compound to the wrapped cloth and sliding the cloth wrapped plastic in and then side to side where the carts contacts meet the consoles contacts. You’re going to want to remove all excess rubbing compound after that by using compressed air and some of the rubbing alcohol in a bowl. dunk the contact end of the adapter in the bowl and blow it out using the compressed air. After you’ve got it nice and clean, use the same method you used with the rubbing compound only this time use rubbing alcohol.

After the pin cage is clean and dry, you’ll want to bend the lower set of pins that contact the cart upward a bit so that the cart will fit a bit tighter. This takes a small pick to accomplish (the size of a toothpick or preferably smaller in diameter, and long enough to handle comfortably). Those little nut picks you get in a nutcracker set are perfect for the job. Pin by pin, reach the pick in fron the front just to the side of the pin at enough of an angle to get the end under the pin (some models have asplit pin. solid at the face and forked into two pieces) Make sure you’reunder both pieces of the fork if yours is forked and lift the pin towards its center. Do not worry that you’re at an angle, the lifting will do it’s job just fine. Lift untile you see very little gap between the pin you’re lifting and the top. then retreat the pick and see the difference. There should be a gap, but much smaller now. Repeat all the way across.

The next thing you want to do to keep that pesky flashing cart away is clip pin 4 on the lockout chip. This disables it and fixes 95% of the flashing cart issues.

Here is the link for where this chip is and which is pin 4 (and some other hacks). They say to ground it but I never have and it works fine. I just clip the pin.

That’s it. Enjoy!

Justin March 4, 2015

If you want to get rid of flashing screens you need to disable the lock out chip. That is the culprit when it comes to the dreaded flashing reset. The chip was designed so that unlicensed games (and Japanese games) won’t work. In order to do this you pull the whole system apart. On the bottom of the motherboard next to the video/power housing there’s a chip labeled 3193A 1985 Nintendo. That’s the little bastard you need to disable. To do this make sure that the text is upright, and count the connectors starting from the left to the 4th one on the bottom. You’ll need either a small sharp object and/or a fine set of tweezers you can get some leverage with. Remove that connector. Replacing your 72 pin connector wasn’t a bad idea though. If you want more options on how to disable that chip there’s plenty of online tutorials on YouTube if you don’t like my suggested method. Worked for me just fine though.

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