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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 11:57 am 
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I apologize in advance if this question has been asked before in another forum. If it has been I would greatly appreciate a link to the forum post. I don't know much about the NES (or older cartridge playing consoles for that matter) but I was wondering if there is a way, besides an internal battery failure, for the cartridge to stop working. I know that tapes and optical media such as CD's and DVD's corrode over time, so I was wondering if I would still be able to play NES games in the future. As I stated before I don't know much about the architecture of cartridges aside from what I heard that they are similar to modern RAM, so if life spans for other cartridges such as N64 or Sega Genesis are different that information would also be helpful.

P.S.: I know that carts that can play roms off of an SD card are available and that the internet's inventory of roms is never going away, but I would prefer to play the original games.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 12:02 pm 
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Cartridges are astoundingly durable to "normal" wear and tear, but easily broken by static electricity. Because the NES used "mask" ROMs, the data can't gradually degrade (as with any kind of UV/E/OTP EPROM)

Assuming that we could still get a display device that can accept composite input, and that someone is still manufacturing replacements for the connector inside the NES, I'd expect any given cartridge to remain usable for thousands of insert/removal cycles.

(Yes, I didn't specify a number of years because it depends on things that don't really have a fixed per-year rate)


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 12:06 pm 
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lidnariq wrote:
Cartridges are astoundingly durable to "normal" wear and tear, but easily broken by static electricity. Because the NES used "mask" ROMs, the data can't gradually degrade (as with any kind of UV/E/OTP EPROM)

Assuming that we could still get a display device that can accept composite input, and that someone is still manufacturing replacements for the connector inside the NES, I'd expect any given cartridge to remain usable for thousands of insert/removal cycles.

(Yes, I didn't specify a number of years because it depends on things that don't really have a fixed per-year rate)

How much static are we talking about? Do you mean having the cartridge open and touching it without ESD protection or just walking around on a carpet while accidentally touching the pins?


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 1:04 pm 
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The contacts are pretty recessed, and intentionally so. So I don't know.

I would assume that if you were actively trying to kill one with just the static you could build up on a carpet, you could pretty easily, but I'd also assume you'd need teensy fingers to make contact in the right way.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 1:57 pm 
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lidnariq wrote:
The contacts are pretty recessed, and intentionally so. So I don't know.

I would assume that if you were actively trying to kill one with just the static you could build up on a carpet, you could pretty easily, but I'd also assume you'd need teensy fingers to make contact in the right way.

Alright thanks.


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PostPosted: Wed Jun 15, 2016 2:10 pm 
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The answer to the question is quite simple: "it depends on a number of factors". Those factors are almost limitless, ranging from "someone stepped on the cartridge and broke it in half" to "an atomic bomb was dropped and the cartridge melted". All I can do is share anecdotal evidence supporting what I've personally seen. The most common "failures" of NES carts I've seen, in no particular order:

* For games which use battery-backed SRAM: the on-board battery expires (runs out of juice). This varies massively across the board. I have some carts from when I was a kid that whose battery is still going strong, yet I've seen SNES carts (using the same type of CR2032 batteries) have failing batteries.

* Cartridge edge connectors (pins) becoming corroded. I'm not talking about "tarnished" (which can be cleaned off, if it hasn't been on there for decades), I'm talking about downright corrosion: pins which have literally been eaten away, leaving only the PCB visible. I've encountered several carts like this, where 2 or pins are nearly 75% gone; the cart will still work "if at the perfect angle" and all that, but in general isn't usable. It's possible to repair these (separate subject/thread please), but for common carts, it's probably just easier to find/buy another one. I actually had a cartridge which I had to toss out because the edge connector was about 40% covered in an orange-ish thick/dark/hard substance which I later determined to likely be extremely old soda; it had completely destroyed the pins.

* A subset of the above item: internal cartridge circuitry (most commonly, traces) becoming corroded. I've seen this in both cartridges and NES controllers. The most common cause of this, from what I've read, is prolonged exposure to regions/areas with high humidity, especially near the sea.

* Physical damage due to either mishandling or who-knows-what circumstantial scenarios. I think I have a couple carts with kids' names written on them which have corners entirely shattered and god knows what else.

I've never personally witnessed a NES/Famicom cart getting damaged by static discharge, but it's certainly possible if someone was jamming their fingers in the cartridge end while walking around on shag carpet in socks, touching light switches/etc. -- young kids do this kind of thing all the time. Otherwise it seems unlikely, since the amount of distance that it'd have to arc would be pretty far. But I'm not going to sperglord over this.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 12:13 am 
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DedicatedHippo wrote:
I know that ... optical media such as CD's and DVD's corrode over time

The photosensitive material in burned CDs/DVDs may slowly revert to noise over several years, depending on the quality of the material and whether you store it in the dark.

Factory pressed CDs and DVDs, though, should last a very long time. There are cases of slow degradation known as "disc rot", but this is because of an improperly made CD, or some chemical damage to its surface, etc. If properly made and well cared for they should last "forever" (or a few hundred years or something). My entire CD collection still plays fine, so we're talking 25+ years so far so good.

NES carts are in a similar boat. If treated well they'll last a long time. 30 years and counting. I think the expected lifetime is relatively long compared to the actual lifetime of cartridges to date, so we just don't have good data on how long these things can last, yet. Koitsu mentioned a number of ways things on the cart can be worn out, but generally this is from "abuse". Aside from batteries, most of it is built to last.

I mean, on very long time scales the plastic itself will eventually break down from sunlight or other environmental factors. Nothing will last forever, but I think you should expect most NES carts to keep working for a good long time yet.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 16, 2016 12:24 am 
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What was the expected time for 2600 cart-labels' glue to completely decay? Like, 10, 15 years ago?


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