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Capacitors and Retro Game Consoles

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When it comes to old video game consoles, there’s no shortage of things that can go wrong.  I’ve spoken on Twitter and in podcasts many times of my issues with optical (CD/DVD) drives and my obsession with getting flash media replacements in the form of Optical Drive Emulators (ODEs).  That’s just one thing that can go wrong though, it has nothing to do with all the usually dependable parts that can go bad.  I’ve had power and reset buttons stop working, controller ports malfunction (certain buttons stop working or no power altogether), power supplies fail, cartridge ports malfunction, and of course the frailty of capacitors.  One of the biggest ticking time bombs of certain retro consoles can be a simple and inexpensive part called a capacitor.  Keep in mind that capacitor replacement, often called re-capping, is not the golden answer and it comes with a fair share of caveats.  In this post I’m going to dig into what a capacitor is, why it’s important to consoles, what consoles are most affected, and of course share some resources should you want to do additional research for yourself.  This is high level explanation for interest and the supplemental links are for those more knowledgeable than me who can explain it in more depth.

What is a Capacitor?

A quick electronics lesson here, but trying to keep it relatively non-technical and also because I’m no expert.  Capacitors are basically storage tanks for energy, in our case electricity.  They allow a steady current to flow through them, but they retain a charge so that if a current is interrupted briefly a consistent flow of electricity remains, and then they refill once the current returns.  Capacitors can be essential in circuit boards to maintain consistent voltage especially when using AC power.  As I understand it, Alternating Current (AC) power has what are called “inductive loads” that can lag the voltage behind the current, and most game consoles take in an AC current from wall outlets.  Granted, many of these consoles have Direct Current (DC) power adaptors, which I’m not completely sure of how that adjusts, but a capacitor basically allows for voltage consistency when dealing with inductive loads.  In game consoles we have a lot of power traveling across the board and capacitors make sure all the parts of the console continue to work despite the inconsistency of power.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 23, 2021 at 11:00 am