Private: How To Repair A Nintendo GameCube

For the last few months, Claire and my GameCube has been broken. It broke at one point, which I attributed to the drive motor being jammed up with dust and hair and crap, so I opened the lid and wiggled a knife-blade around inside it for awhile, which seemed to fix it… but a couple of weeks later, it was dead again. I decided to have another look into this, yesterday, and a little bit of research online revealed that the problem was probably that the strength of the laser had degraded, rendering it unable to read any discs. This is, apparently, one of the most common causes of death for the GameCube (and I’ve seen a good number of ‘cubes go on eBay which would appear to have exactly this problem). Thankfully, there’s a really well-written guide on lens calibration for the gamecube, which helped a lot. However, the thing that’s lacking online is a photographic guide: so, as part of this ‘blog entry, I’ve written one.

Usual disclaimer: following this guide will void your warranty. Plus, if you do it the way I did it, you risk electrocution, exposure to laser radiation, and worse yet, you may break your GameCube beyond repair.

I recommend that you read the guide to lens calibration for the gamecube – it’s far more in-depth than this blog entry. However, this blog entry has prettier pictures.

Symptoms

  • GameCube fails to load games – it claims that the disc is missing or unreadable, and will only load up as far as the “configuration cube” screen with the funky ambient noises.
  • Open the lid and detach the clips under the lid to release the circular plastic Nintendo-branded thing that sits on top of the lid: this will allow you to watch the disc spinning while the ‘Cube is running, even with the lid closed. Try again – the disc will start to spin (so, it’s not a broken drive motor) but then stop (when the system finds it can’t read the disc).

Problem

The power output of the laser which is used to read the surface of the disc has reduced with age. This is a common problem in GameCubes, apparently, between two and five years old. It can be repaired by a Nintendo engineer, but the price is prohibitive (you might as well buy a working second-hand one). However, we can fix it ourselves. [if you can’t see the rest of this article, read it here]

Tools

I didn’t have all the tools to hand that the author of the guide I followed had, but I made do. Here are my tools:

 Screwdriver and ball-point pen
  1. Screwdriver – this is a standard “size 0” (small, but not really small) phillips-head screwdriver. This particular one cost me 45p from my local hardware store.
  2. Ball-point pen – mine was a WHSmiths-branded one with blue ink.

Method

First step is to prepare the tools as you’ll need them. The four main case screws that prevent you from taking a GameCube apart are a strange custom design deeply recessed within deep holes on the underside of the device. You can apparently buy a specialist tool for manipulating these screws, but I couldn’t be bothered, so I made one: remove the ink tube and nib from the pen, so you’re left with a long plastic tube. Then, using a hot flame (I used a gas ring) melt/ignite the end of the tube you’d normally write with (where the nib was, before you removed it). It will probably catch fire, but just blow it out while trying not to breathe in too much of the toxic black smoke you’re producing. It needs to be molten enough to be malleable. Then, once it’s hot, put it down into one of the four deep holes on the underside of your upside-down GameCube.

 Upside-down GameCube with holes highlighted

Push it down firmly but evenly so that it points directly up, and hold it there for a minute or so while it begins to take shape. What you’re doing is moulding the shape of the screw head into the molten plastic of the pen, so that when the plastic sets you will have a tool that exactly fits them. Of course, if then pen snaps, you’ve buggered any chance you had of ever getting into your GameCube, so be careful! Once it’s standing upright by itself, leave it for four or five minutes to finish cooling. Now’s a good oppertunity to read the rest of this guide, if you haven’t already.

 The strange-headed screws that you need to remove

You should now be able to use your new tool to unscrew the four screws that hold your GameCube together. That’s the hard bit over with. Flip your GameCube the right way up again, put your hands on it’s sides, and pull upwards to remove the cover. If there isn’t one already, put a GameCube disc onto the spindle. This will serve two purposes: it will allow you to test the GameCube without reassembling it, later, but more importantly it will help to protect the laser lens from damage when you turn the drive mechanism upside-down, later. Next you need to remove the front and rear panels. These are attached by small plastic clips in the corners of the cube, as shown below.

 Howo to remove the front panel from a GameCube
Be careful not to detach the cables that connect the front panel to the rest of the GameCube, as these ribbon cables are very difficult to re-attach without damaging them! Now you’re ready to start removing the chassis screws (which are holding the fan in place and preventing you from getting at the underside of the disc drive. There are 14 screws to remove, in the areas shown below, but 3 of these are concealed underneath the fan and the 2 holding the fan in place will need to be removed to reveal them. Why did Nintendo see fit to use 14 screws where 6 would have done is beyond me.

 The 14 screws

By now you should have something that looks a lot like this:

 The 14 screws

A GameCube with the top, sides, and fan laid bare, and the screws removed from the main chassis. Now’d be a good time to have a closer look at what goes on when your ‘Cube turns on. This is optional, but I think it’s interesting. If you look near the back of the GameCube, on the right-hand side, you’ll see two plastic forks. This is the switch that detects whether or not the lid is closed (as a safety precaution, the disc will not spin and the laser will not turn on if the lid is opened).

 The switch that makes the lid work

 
Danger: laser radiation – do not do this! Connect the GameCube’s power (it connects to the back of the fan module) and output (where it normally is, albeit without the faceplace), to test it. Hold the “lid switch” (above) backwards to tell the GameCube that the lid is closed and press the power switch (it’s on the fan module). You should see the following happen:
  1. The power LED will turn on.
  2. The disc will start to spin.
  3. The laser, under the disc, will turn on. You should be able to see it shining through the disc. Now stop looking at it; you’re irradiating your eyes.
  4. The laser will move back and forth to try to “read” the disc.
  5. At this point, the laser will probably turn off and the disc will stop spinning – this is because the GameCube you’re using is broken. If it was working, the game would load. You can use this test later on to see if you’ve sucessfully fixed the device without having to re-assemble the entire thing!
  6. Don’t leave it running too long, because by this point the fan will be in the wrong place to help cool the unit.
Next, you need to remove the four long screws behind the ports (above the memory card slots).

 Four earthing screws need to be removed

 

This will also release two strange bits of metal which are held in place by these screws. I don’t know what they do, but I’m sure they’re probably important, so make sure you put them back after you’re done! Right; time to detach the disc drive. Lift the entire upper part of the system up and away from the base: there’ll be a little resistance as a plug becomes detached, but if you find you’re having to pull hard, you’ve probably left a screw in somewhere. The whole metal plate with the drive on top will come away in one piece. This is the bit we’ll be working with. Flip it over. Now, you’ve got to remove six small screws, highlighted in red on the photo below. I’ve also highlighted (in blue) the connector that links the drive to the bottom half of the console.

 Underneath the upper chassis

Removing the screws allows you to detach the metal plate and gain access to the circuitboard underneath. This is what we’re looking for. Again, I’ve highlighted the connector port in blue to help you navigate.

 Circuitboard

What you need to do is to turn the screw (highlighted in red) about 3 or 4 degrees anti-clockwise. This will increase the power given to the laser and fix your problem. If you turn it too much, your laser will overheat and burn out. If you turn it too little, the problem won’t be fixed. I recommend that you turn it a little at a time to find how short a distance you can turn it (anti-clockwise) to have the console begin to work again (i.e. so it “barely” works)… then turn it an extra 2 degrees or so to be sure. Be gentle!!! When you’ve made the adjustments you want to, re-assemble the thing so far as you need to to test it. You don’t need to put any screws in or even put the fan or panels back on – just hook it up to the TV and try not to look directly at the laser lens. If it still doesn’t work, go back and turn the screw a little more anti-clockwise (to boost the power some more). Hope that helps you get your GameCube back up-and-running again: it did mine! Feedback is welcome, but if you need more information I still highly recommend Lens Calibration For The Nintendo GameCube, which also has pointers on some of the other things that could be wrong (if this fix fails), what tools you need to do it without melting pens, and tips from somebody more-experienced on how far to turn the circuitboard screw. Good luck!

29 replies to Private: How To Repair A Nintendo GameCube

  1. Thanks for the guide.. I got a broken gamecube for free and fixed it! Sweet!

  2. Thank you so much- these instructions were easy to use and the pictures help a lot, although it took me 5 pens to get it right- our game cube only cost us $1.35 plus tax (for the pens :)

  3. So far, so good.. I just fixed my son’s gamecube.. We have had the disc read problem for a few months… Now it looks like is working fine.. Many thanks..

  4. Thank you for posting this fix. I just fixed our gamecube and it works fine now. I had to buy the tool off ebay as two of the screws were really tight and the pen would not work. Thanks again!!!!!!!!! :)

  5. Do you have any fixes for why the game cube light comes on then goes off ! Hope you can help !!!!

  6. John: I’m afraid not. Perhaps the device is overheating or a chip is fried making it fail it’s POST checks (I’m sure GameCubes must have a POST check of some kind). Good luck.

  7. my game disc will spin and seem like its working but then stop, which way should i be turning the screw then?

  8. Hard to say, sam, for certain. The symptom you describe occurs whether the power is too low or too high! However, if your GameCube has gotten this way all by itself, then the power is too low, so you have to turn it UP.

    To turn up the power, turn the screw anti-clockwise. Turn it only a little at a time (like; no more than 5 degrees) and see if that fixes it. Repeat until it works or until you give up (it *could* still be a different problem).

  9. A degree is 1/360th of a complete circle (wikipedia), or just over 0.017 radians, if you’re feeling particularly cruel.

    So 5 degrees is 1/72th of a complete turn.

    45 degrees is a “quarter turn”. So you’re looking at about a 9th of that.

    Basically, not a lot at all. Small turns. If you overshoot a little, you’ll reduce the lifespan of your laser. If you overshoot a lot, you’ll get exactly the same problem as you’re already getting (and won’t know it) or you’ll burn out your laser. Either way, not good.

  10. Two problems:

    1.- How much is a freaking deegree anyways? are we talking about a cricle and 360? in this case, wouldn’t 2 be humanly impossible to turn?

    2.- When you reassemble the gamecube plastic cover, it’s IMPORTANT to do it with the lid open, or it will break the little forks you mentioned earlier. I learned my lesson the hard way.

  11. Um…sorry about mentioning problem 1. I moronically now see you already explained this.

  12. In case anyboby has the problem I mentioned above. I fixed it by bridging a wire under the chip where the forks go (lid switch). It’s not perfect but allows you to play games as long as you don’t open the lid to switch disks (ie. Resident Evil).

  13. You can check the spinning by taking off the top circle piece as mentioned. I did not know if mine was spinning until I did that suggested step.

    The link doesn’t work, but if you go through the gamefaq site to game cube hardware faqs you’ll find thecalibrate document is still there. They are just don’t want people linking from outside their website anymore.

  14. Thankyou so much It works again! Thought we were going to have to take it back to Walmarts!!!!!

  15. i would use the ink method but i dont want to risk breaking it. im no mechanic either.

  16. How can I print out the entire guide without having to print all the responses over and over? Any help would be much appreciated!

  17. Shayna,

    Have you considered copy-pasting each page into a new document in your favourite word processor and printing it from there?

    mike,

    The tool is called something like a “gamecube screwdriver” – it’s a tool with a very specific purpose. I bought one for about £5, but it was cheaply-made and broke after a few uses; be warned.

    Spiney,

    Taking off the circle piece on top, branded “Nintendo”, is a great way to see whether or not the disk is spinning, yes. Be alert for the disk spinning, then stopping, right before the error message appears on screen: a sure sign of an underpowered (or overpowered) laser.

  18. i can’t do it its too hard and risky besides my gamecube power light thingy is loose and ideas on how to fix it?? plzzz

  19. Worked perfectly on My GC. Entire job took less than 30 min. and most of that was melting the pen to make the screw driver. Thanks for saving me some dough!

  20. Thanks for the info, extremely SIMPLE to do, pen worked flawlessly, do not be intimidated!! I used a BIC brand pen and used a lighter to melt it, worked first try! No mechanical sense needed just follow simple instructions. THANKS AGAIN!

  21. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    GC packed up just before Christmas and I knew i wouldn’t be able to replace it in time for the big day as all the local stores have stopped stocking the GC in favour of the Wii and delivery from the internet was unlikey to get here on time.

    Out of curiosity i did a google search and found your site.
    Absolutely brilliant, as ppl have said before the hardest bit was making the “screwdriver”, with your pictures the rest was a doddle.

    Thanks again and heres hoping you have a merry Christmas.

    Noel.

  22. I’ve had this problem for months, and ater trying a few pens, I finally took a screw out!

    Making that screwdriver pen is probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen, it’s molded exactly!

    One tip with the pens, the plastic tube should narrow, so it shouldn’t just be a pen with one straight cylinder or else it probably won’t work (I went through 6 straight pens before trying one that narrowed).

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