Video Game Power Supplies

Those among us who are both vintage gaming fans and avid thrift shoppers will likely know that sometimes old consoles are easier to find than their essential hookups. Some thrift stores will split up a perfectly good set that came in complete and price everything individually to maximize profits. This means if you hit the store at the right time you may be lucky enough to find the whole set. But what happens if you’ve found everything but the power supply?

Using the correct power supply on a console is crucially important, something that can literally make or break your video game console. So what should someone look for when trying to find a replacement power supply for any given console? In my personal opinion OEM can never be beat. If I find an OEM power supply for any given video game console in a thrift store, taking into account the console can not be found, I will pick it up. These were manufactured to work with the console as intended by the console’s manufacturer and therefore I feel are the best choice.

Sadly time makes fools of us all and sometimes those old OEM power supplies are just useless blocks of plastic with broken, corroded or otherwise dead parts inside. With the boom in popularity of vintage gaming consoles, many third-party companies are now manufacturing power supplies to have readily available options to those who need their consoles powered and need them powered now. I don’t currently own any modern made power supplies, but I’ve seen them for quite a few systems. In their early inception, reviews for third-party PSUs were mixed as to whether they worked properly or killed consoles, so do your research on what brand to trust.

Before you go plugging in a console with a questionable PSU you’ve found in a box or a drawer, the important criteria you should check online as to what the console requires are: voltage, amperes, polarity of the plug and whether the console requires AC or DC power. AC or DC power, as well as voltage and plug polarity, must be strictly followed as per the console’s requirements, without exception. However, amperes can be more, but shouldn’t be fewer, than the console requires. Giving the console more voltage, the wrong polarity or wrong type of power can cause severe damage to the console. Giving the console fewer amperes than it requires may cause the PSU to overheat and damage the PSU or possibly worse. The console will only use however many amperes it requires, causing no harm in using higher amp rated PSUs.

Sometimes one power supply can power many different consoles, albeit not at the same time. For example, the Sega MK-1602 is a 10 volt DC PSU that works with the Sega Master System, first generation Genesis and both Sega CD units, but can also be used to power the Turbografx 16, Atari Jaguar, Famicom and Super Famicom. This power supply should NOT be used to power the NES, as the NES requires AC, likewise using the NES adapter on any of the above consoles could cause harm to them as well. Another thing to take into account is not all barrel plugs are created equal. In North America the NES and SNES power supplies use vastly different sized plugs, I’m guessing that was Nintendo telling consumers not to try and run the SNES off an NES power supply.

Most vintage Nintendo and Sega consoles will have third-party power supply options, but what happens when you have some oddball console like the Atari 2600, which uses a 3.5mm headphone style jack, or the Colecovision using a completely proprietary plug that you’re simply never going to find anywhere else? In those cases I would say that rebuilding one yourself might be the only option, but exercise extreme caution while both tearing down the PSU and using the PSU after it’s rebuilt as it could be dangerous under both circumstances. Most likely a rebuilt PSU, done properly, will work just fine but I would err on the side of caution when rebuilding and using a rebuilt PSU, just my personal preference.

This is the age of the internet and therefore a lot of information has already been archived about what power supplies will work with what. I would suggest heeding great caution when it comes to powering those vintage consoles. Taking the time to hunt down a proper PSU will deliver a longer life for the PSU and the console, giving you many more years of fun with that console. Sure, repairs can be made in many cases but comparing the time it takes to get the right PSU in the first place to the time it takes to repair a broken console that was powered up haphazardly with a random PSU will show that tracking down the correct PSU is clearly the best choice.

Posted May 15th, 2020

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.


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