Sunday, November 29, 2009

Asteroids Deluxe repair, phase 2

Though my Asteroids Deluxe classic coin-op game worked fine after phase 1 of the repair, I still wanted to do the other half, rebuilding the power supply and audio regulator board, as a preventative measure. There's always the chance that the chip failure was caused by power supply fluctuations; and I've had a few monitor flickers which also could be. It would be a shame to repair the game only to have the original problem flare up again. Replacing a few key capacitors and transistors, which are all 25+ years old, is a likely way to give the game a lot more life.

But I didn't have a solder-sucking pump so I couldn't easily remove components from the circuit board. Even if you manage to balance holding the board, holding the soldering iron, and easing the component out, all with only two hands, you still leave a mess of solder behind that makes it hard to get the next component in. And you can't get transistors out that way since you have to pull them out all three legs at the same time. A solder-sucker is a pump that pulls the melted solder out, making it possible to remove any component, and much more easily.

Radio Shack had a cheap one for $5, a good one for $10, and a desoldering iron -- that's a whole iron dedicated to desoldering with a special tip and a built-in pump, so it can be operated one-handed, leaving the other hand free to hold the board or work the component loose -- for... $10. Desoldering irons always seemed like a bit of a luxury to me so I never had one or tried one before, but since it cost the same as a good pump, I went ahead with it, and... wow, what a difference. It's so easy to desolder this way. Fewer things to juggle is only part of it: the special tip with a hole to fit around the component's leg makes it effortless. Plus you don't have to worry you're going to line things up wrong and damage something else; the tip lines it up for you.

As a result the rebuild was very easy. I had been quite nervous about it. The game itself was working fine, and had been a big hit on Thanksgiving, but here I was intentionally breaking it in hopes of being able to rebuild it. Had I put something in wrong, done a bad job soldering, reversed a polarity, etc. I might have fried the whole game beyond repair. I have done very little soldering, and even less desoldering, since I first learned it back in high school... about when this Asteroids Deluxe game was new, in fact. So my skills are rusty and were never that great to begin with. When I plugged the game back in and fired it up, I was really worried I'd screwed it up, was even afraid I might see sparks, but it came up perfectly, and works fine.

Apart from the monitor, then, it's likely this game will continue to work for many more years. The parts most likely to fail have all been replaced to the condition they were in when the game was new back in the 1980s. Even if the monitor has problems, there are apparently a few capacitors I can replace there which are likely to recover it, too. (Though if the CRT itself dies, that might be the end; finding another vector monitor of just the right size and shape to fit this case is not likely to be easy or inexpensive.)

The whole experience make me even more eager to get my hands on a Tempest game, because now I know I could probably keep it working indefinitely. Unfortunately, of all the classic arcade games of the 80s, Tempest is one of the most hard to find, if not the hardest, because of the high demand. A lot of nostalgic children of the 80s like me have particularly fond memories of Tempest. I've got a few bots prowling eBay, Craigslist, etc. but I'm not hopeful. If I do see one, though, I'm going to snatch it up. The opportunity might not come twice.

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