Have you ever failed at something more than once, but kept trying in hopes that it would eventually stick and you’d get it right? Sure, we all have. Usually it’s not something involving replacing a DS Lite screen. For me, this is my third time. *sigh*
My DS Lite was a slightly non-working gift from a friend of mine (thanks, Jeremy! ;)). At the time I received it, it was showing some major signs of wear, would not read DS cartridges, and was just a boring, white unit. I fixed the cartridge slot issue right away. With that out of the way, and since I’ve never met a device I didn’t want to ‘personalize’, I decided to swap out the plain white case for something more elaborate. I settled on a lovely transparent blue case I found on eBay. After all, how hard could swapping cases be? I had not yet come to learn of the evil hinge/ribbon cable combination on this device. You see, there is a ribbon cable that runs from the top screen to the bottom circuit board. Obviously data has to get there somehow. But, this flexible cable must be carefully run through a hinge that leaves very little margin for error.
When I first changed the case the original DS screen lasted for months before it started showing odd glitches and color anomalies before finally dying. After purchasing a replacement from eBay, I tore up the ribbon cable a bit trying to get it though. They are not made to crease! My second replacement screen came from DealExtreme at a deep discount. It lasted for a couple of months, although it started showing signs of color problems soon after installation. Somehow, I just couldn’t get it right!! It almost died while my wife and I were on vacation in Hawaii, which would have left me with a slightly less-enjoyable plane ride home.
Preparing for another trip now, I have decided to give it another go. I found an inexpensive top screen/bottom screen set on eBay and purchased it. (The bottom screen, incidentally, turned out to just be the touchscreen digitizer and glass, not the real bottom LCD.) It arrived yesterday, so I dug out the ol’ soldering iron and security screwdrivers and took a third stab at this repair. I photographed much of the steps along the way on my Android G1, so please forgive the quality of the shots. Thanks, BTW, to ryzellon over at Instructables. I followed their guide so I would know for sure which way to roll up the cable while traversing the ‘hinge of doom’. I also gained a bit of courage to try this again from reading this post at itwriting.com.
So here’s the victim. This is the initial boot-up screen on the DS Lite. It should show the Nintendo DS logo on the top screen. As you can see, there is nothing but a backlight. This is the problem I’m going to try to fix!
First things first…I’m going to remove the GBA cover and stylus. Let’s get those things safely out of the way before surgery. Also, we’ll set the battery and cover to the side as well, taking care not to lose the screw!
Now, taking the bottom cover off is just a matter of removing some screws and taking care to pry it apart gently. The volume and power sliders should stay in their respective slots on the case. I’m disconnecting the black Wi-Fi cable and the white microphone cable. These will be pulled through the hinge with the ribbon cable I’ve damaged a little later.
Since there are no screws holding it in, we can just carefully lift the lower PCB out of the shell. The LCD is loose, so don’t let it flop around or it may damage the two ribbon cables that connect it to the PCB. (That’s the voice of experience speaking…I broke the retaining clip on the smaller of the two cables, which I’ll be fixing with hotmelt glue a bit later in this repair.) Note that all ribbon cables have retaining clips that need to be ‘lifted’ in order to release the cable from the connector. A released clip is raised at a 90 degree angle from the cable.
With the four screws removed from the top shell, you can slide the back of it right off. Note that these screws are initially concealed behind stickers. I’ve also pulled the hinge spring out, as well as the hinge cover which displays the lights for the DS (not shown in photo). Be careful not to lose any of the small pieces here, such as the clear insert or any of the buttons. They fall out easily!
I next removed the microphone and Wi-Fi antenna.
That should leave just the top LCD and the attached speakers. Yes, the speakers are both soldered to the ribbon cable. These should pop out together quite easily, although you will need to peel the screen protector off of the screen carefully. Leave the protector in the shell for now, so as to avoid getting it stuck to anything. One of the little black speaker insulators stayed on the speaker, so you only see one in the photo. Note that the wiring of the speakers isn’t identical. We’ll be soldering these to the new ribbon cable side-by-side so as not to confuse this.
I’ll be using my soldering station to desolder the existing wires. If I set the temperature too high it can pull the traces off the PCB. If you don’t know what that means then perhaps you should not be desoldering… 😉
I’m going to set the screens side-by-side so I can transfer the wires without any confusion. I’ll do the left speaker first.
Now for the fun part. The ribbon cable must be rolled tight enough that it will fit through the small, metal ring but not so tight that it is damaged. Yeah. Fun. Plus, the cables for the Wi-Fi antenna and microphone must go through the same hinge. These cables fit well when run through the center of the ribbon cable. This is part 1 of the fun…
Carefully slide the back of the top section back on and fasten it with the four screws from earlier. There are two little rubber side pieces that cushion the top section to keep it from slamming shut when you close the DS. These tend to fall out easily, so take care to keep them in place when you fasten the back of the top section on. Part 2 of the fun is trying to get this ribbon cable fished successfully through the lower part of this hinge. Fun. Yeah. To add to the pleasure, you can accidentally dump the buttons all over the floor while trying to get everything lined up.
With the wire through both sides of the hinge now, it’s time to put the bottom PCB back into place. The black cable is supposed to run under the DS cartridge slot, but it tends to hang up easily on everything under there. This time I opted to route it close to the white cable for the sake of my personal sanity. Will it cause problems for my Wi-Fi reception? *shrugs* Time will tell. It’s also possible to wrap the ends in clear tape so as to prevent hang-ups, but I didn’t have any handy at the moment.
You can test before you put the entire case back together if you carefully hold the battery in position and slide the power switch. I have yet to have ever had any problems from doing this. Then, just slide the power switch again or pull the battery away from the contacts when you are done.
Now that the screen is done…it’s time to tie up a couple of other loose ends. For starters, my power switch seems loose. I noticed that the ends of it are no longer soldered to the board, so I will try to hold it in place and solder it. I’m going to turn up the heat a bit since I’m just soldering a metal tab to the PCB. Still, care is required not to hit the nearby resistor on the board.
Now that the switch is fixed, I have to repair the digitizer ribbon cable from the bottom screen. I accidentally broke the retaining clip that holds it in last time I tried to replace the top screen. I’ll slide it in and use some hotmelt glue to hold it in place.
Now that everything is all dealt with, it’s time to seal it up. It’s easy to lose the shoulder buttons if you are not careful. Also, make certain that the sliders for the power switch and volume line up with the real controls or you will break the tabs off of the controls. Not good. So, just don’t force anything that does not seem to want to be forced. 🙂
All done! Everything is set up and working just fine. Hopefully this post will inspire some other intrepid DS user to fix their unit too. Keep in mind, though, that it took me three tries to get to this point… YMMV!
*sigh* Well…I have static in one or both of my speakers, and a tad bit of interference in the top screen image. I can only really notice it when the top screen is showing a solid color. Also, I mainly use headphones when playing games, so the speakers are not an issue for me. I guess the most important thing to me at this point is that it shows a picture and everything basically works. I will not be opening this device up again at any foreseeable time in my future. If it stops working, well…I guess you’ll see it on eBay for someone else to have fun with. 😉