Concept, design and construction from 1st to 10th December, 2002
Upgraded to DVD/CDRW 2nd May, 2003
Click the icons for photos.
Feel free to distribute this text file to all and sundry, but remember that I take no responsibility for any damage you may do to yourself or your various machines if you decide to undertake this modification. And please remember, cutting huge chunks out of your NES will render the warranty void!
Whereas other modders have developed their own NES-PC in order to provide a powerful PC-based emulator for their old games, the main purpose for me was to provide a good-looking system to sit on top of my rather crowded home entertainment system, acting primarily as an MP3 server for my beefy hi-fi system, and a TV internet browser. Having seen a number of NES case mods on the internet, I decided to undertake a similar mod myself, using the best ideas from them all. The two key mods that inspired me are at www.mini-itx.com/projects/nespc/ and www.retrosystem.com/nes.shtml.
As with all other first moves, it was necessary to pull the innards out of one of my defunct NES machines. A small number of screws are removed to do this, and then the various parts of the console (the cartridge drawer, PCB and wired sockets) pull away one by one. My housemate is currently working out how he can use these in his own retro gaming mod - ToasterNES. I've kept hold of the controller sockets, in order to hard-wire them into the parallel port at a later date. I'm also hoping to map the controller buttons to the number keypad of a keyboard, allowing the NES controller to act as a cursor control.
I'm cheap, and not a particularly active DIY-er, and so the "inevitable" dremmelling to remove the screw posts from the interior of the case was done with a drill and a pen-knife to save me buying tools.
I got myself a 40GB Toshiba laptop HDD to go inside the machine (it's tiny!).
This should (hopefully - I'm not so sure, now that the RAM is installed…) leave space for a CD/DVD drive to fit into the space previously occupied by the cartridge slot at a future date.
I made mounting brackets for the HDD by bending various bits of the old NES's RF shield at right angles, using the screw holes already drilled by Nintendo in 1985, and then super-glued them into place in the lid of the NES. I got a laptop IDE converter from Maplin to allow me to connect the small drive to my conventional motherboard IDE connector.
I wanted to allow the backplate to be accessible from the back of the case, and it took me nearly half a day to finally finish cutting and bending the sections to make it all fit!
The modded NES at www.retrosystem.com had the motherboard aligned with the back right hand corner of the case. Unfortunately for me, the connectors from the DC-DC converter to the motherboard were far too short to allow this (it would have meant mounting the DC-DC converter on the other side of the case) and so I needed to switch them round, having the motherboard at the back left. I superglued a couple of risers to the case in order to support the opposite side of the motherboard.
The power button on a NES is on a small metal latch to keep it depressed, and is therefore unusable for ATX-style Mini-ITX motherboard I was going to fit. All it needed was a pair of pliers to pull out a piece of metal wire in the switch, though, and the NES power button was back to being a momentary on, just like the reset. The red and brown wires are for power, yellow and orange for reset (check these early photos - I accidentally wired the LED's white wire to the reset pins on the motherboard instead of the reset's yellow wire!)
This is where my lack of planning became most evident - I'd cut the holes for the backplate, and superglued the risers into the base to secure the motherboard in place. Unfortunately, I'd done all this with the NES power switch removed. When I came to try and put the switch back in, the riser was blocking part of the LED's PCB. Therefore, I had to cut a corner off the PCB to make it fit.
I then came to putting the motherboard back into the case and, surprise surprise, it now wouldn't fit. The power and reset switches were so big and bulky that they went into part of the space that the motherboard was meant to! The risers were already glued in place, so I had to just scrap them (they're still there, in case I decide the motherboard needs more securing, and then I'll just make them taller) and rely on good old friction to hold the mobo in place. I found that I could wedge the motherboard against two of the NES lid's screw mounts and against the back of the controller 1 socket. Combined with the force applied from the backplate wedged firmly in the lid, the motherboard is incredibly stable.
By this point, I was pretty keen to check that all my prodding, poking and jamming things into small spaces still allowed the machine to work, so I quickly got all the loose bits together and went to give the system a quick first try. I'd already formatted the HDD, and the system booted in DOS without a hitch. Yay!
The next challenge was to get the lid to fit onto the case with all the components inside. This was easier said than done, especially because the shortness of the power adaptor leads meant that I couldn't move them out of the way of the right-hand wall of the cartridge slot. So, making the motto of the project "if it doesn't fit, cut it out", I took the hacksaw to the cartridge slot and removed the offending bit of plastic to give the leads space to bring the lid down.
I wanted to mount the power adaptor socket into the original hole on the back of the case. To do this, a simply cut the wings off the socket, and superglued it in place, trailing the wire under the DC-DC converter, which just lies loose inside the case (but due to the stiffness of its connecting leads is secure).
The back of the completed case looks like this:
It was then over to the software side of things, to get an OS installed. I chose to go for Windows 98 SE because it's relatively stable, but not as power-hungry as later versions. Also, It's the only version I own!
Here's where I hit another snag - the EPIA-800 motherboard doesn't have a floppy connector, so in order to get CD-ROM support to install windows, I just copied the contents of a windows start-up disk to the HDD and changed the drive letterings in autoexec.bat and config.sys. Because the system doesn't yet have a CD-ROM installed, I connected the NES-PC up to the CD-ROM drive in my main desktop machine.
After a bit of playing about with settings with the case open so that I still had CD-ROM access, I was happy with the system and so put the case back together to do a test run - and update Windows 98 from update.microsoft.com!
And then, that was it. Put the NES-PC in its place in my home entertainment system, connect the leads up and away she goes! I downloaded a NES profile for Windows to add that nice Mario touch, and changed the logo.sys bitmap to be the opening screen of Super Mario Brothers.
After running the system successfully for a few days, I decided that it was time for me to go about fiddling with it again! This time, I wanted to put into practice the NES controller converter that I'd seen on the net, enabling the NES controller to be interfaced as a joystick through the parallel port of the NES-PC. I bought a male parallel to male parallel cable from Maplin and cut it in half. Using an ingenious system of a bicycle headlight and some bent wire as means of a circuit tester, I worked out that in this particular cable, the coloured wires went to the following pins on the parallel connector:
White - 2
Grey - 3
Peach - 10
I soldered these cables directly onto the back of the controller socket inside the NES, according to the plans I found on the Mini-ITX site's NES-PC plans:
Parallel port <--> NES
2 (white) ß6
3 (grey) ß5
10 (peach) ß4
Pins 1 (+v) and 7 (-ve) of the NES controller were soldered to the positive and negative lines of a 5v Y-splitter HDD power cable respectively, in order to supply sufficient voltage to make the controller work. According to internet sources, it's possible to feed current to the controller from pins 4-9 of the parallel interface but (a) most users described the problem of not receiving enough voltage to power the controller and (b) the cable I bought only had pins 4 and 5 connected to the parallel plug!
The cable was fed out of one of the old socket holes on the back of the NES case to the parallel port. Without a hitch, I installed the DirectPad Pro driver in Windows and suddenly the old NES controller was being recognised by my PC as a joystick! 5 minutes later and, after mapping the buttons accordingly, I was playing Counter Strike on my NES!
A few months went by and the NES-PC was running happily. A load of decent albums had been copied on to the 40GB drive and the machine was playing the MP3s through my beefy hi-fi. I'd bought a wireless keyboard and mouse for the machine, and so it was working as a very cool remote-control jukebox.
However, one thing was missing - a CD-ROM drive. I had to rely on my other machine to rip CDs to MP3 to upload to the NES-PC, and was needing to install software over our home network. That's when I won a slimline DVD/CDRW slot-loading combo drive on eBay, alogn with a converter board to change the laptop-style 50-pin output to a full size IDE connector. And so, in early May 2003, I reopened the case to do a bit more work on the machine.
The first thing to do was tidy up the cabling already inside, so with the help of a few cable-ties I bundled up the HDD cable as best I could. I also made firm connections on the motherboard for the power button and LED on the front of the case. You can just about make out teh motherboard connections for power and LED under the mass of black insulation-tape at the top of this picture:
Because of where I'd glued the brackets holding the HDD in place, it was necessary to saw away a chunk of plastic from the side of the cartridge slot in order to give sufficient width to fit the combo drive in place. I was also rackign my brains to think how I could mount the drive, but used the idea of Velcro from various other case mods I've seen on the net.
The Velcro squares were matched up on the top of the combo drive.
I obviously wanted to test the drive before screwing everything in place, and found that while it was powering up fine, there was a problem interfacing the drive into the motherboard with the ATA-100 cable I had planned for the job. With a bit of fiddling, to my relief I managed to get the drive working with an old ATA-66 cable from my other machine. Et voila. An hour later, and the drive was securely in place, held by four squares of Velcro!
Making the lid screw down securely was a real problem with the two bundled IDE cables at the front of the case, but a bit of playing around managed to make it all fit. The combo drive stayed in place, and on the first test of the newly-upgraded system everything worked fine. The picture shows the NES-PC in place in my home-entertainment stack, with a DVD sticking out of the combo drive slot.
DVD playback is quite respectable. Jerkiness is negligible, even with a full-screen display, but it's more than adequate from such a little machine! The case does get noticeably warmer after playign a movie back for a while, so I removed a couple of the plastic slats above the HDD to at least cool that component a little bit and it seems to be working well.
from ebay, inc. p&p £15
256MB PC133 RAM
2 x Round IDE cable for CD-ROM/HDD expansion later
from www.mini-itx.com/store inc. p&p £173.31
40GB Toshiba HDD
brand new from ebay, inc p&p £85
Laptop IDE converter
Parallel to Parallel cable
HDD power Y-plug
from Maplin £13.97
Panasonic CW-8122-B CDRW/DVD-ROM slimline combo drive
(24X CD-R and 10X CD-RW writing speeds, with 8X DVD read)
brand new from ebay, inc p&p £99.99
Total costing: £387.27