Restore & Modify an Original DMG Gameboy

Released in 1989, the DMG (Dot Matrix Gameboy) was the first Gameboy Nintendo ever released.  It’s a lot of fun to mess with, so here’s a quick guide of my experiences taking apart, restoring, and modifying the DMG with an awesome new backlight.

The Gameboy I had was in fairly good condition, with the exception of several vertical lines through the display.  After some research, I learned this is usually due to a faulty display connector, where the solder connections have weakened and eventually separated from the top layer of the display circuitry.  Using a soldering iron, I learned that we can reflow (that is, remelt and reconnect) this broken solder below the connector.  It’s not that hard, and fixes what is perhaps the most common issue with these Gameboys.

The first step is to remove the back cover of the DMG.  There are six screws, and depending on when your Gameboy was made, they are either going to be triwing or phillips.  Triwing screws, for those of you unfamiliar, are Nintendo’s favorite way to make opening their products just ever so slightly more irritating.  If you don’t want to spend a couple dollars on a triwing driver, you can do what I did and use a small flathead in one of the three slots in the screws.  It’s not super difficult, but you definitely want to be careful to avoid stripping the screws.  There’s four obvious ones on the back of the Gameboy, and two inside the battery compartment.  You’ll need to remove all of these.

Once you take those screws out, don’t pull the Gameboy apart quickly.  There’s a fairly short ribbon connector connecting the screen half of the Gameboy to the circuitry half.  Carefully hinge unit so the screen half is face down on your desk with the circuitry portion sticking vertically upward.  You could disconnect the ribbon cable at this point (it’s a ZIF socket, so the connector just slides out), but I didn’t want to bother having to reconnect it when I was done.  You can do this repair quite easily without having to put this connector back in.

Next, you have to remove ten screws holding the display board onto the front case.  From this point forward, all the screws we’ll be dealing with are just phillips.

Remove those ten screws, and gently wiggle the front board away from the case.  Don’t be too violent here, the board is thin enough you could put some stress fractures in it if you’re not a little careful.  Eventually the board will come free.  If you’re having some real difficulty, double check that you have removed all ten screws.

It’s a good idea at this point to place a slip of paper between the top board and bottom board so that you don’t short anything out you don’t want to. Once you’ve done this, put the batteries in the Gameboy, turn it on, and change the contrast with the knob on the left side of the display until the whole thing turns black (with the exception of the lines we’re fixing).  You can see here that the act of removing the display from its housing was enough to cause even more black vertical lines to appear.  We’ll fix those in just a second.

Just below the display there’s usually a thin black rubber strip attached to that brown film.  For me, that strip stuck to the plastic Gameboy case when I took the board out, but from looking around online it seems like most boards will still have that slip attached.  Using a razor blade or sharp knife, remove that rubber strip and the adhesive below it.  It should peel off kind of like a sticker.

Now we fix the display!  Heat up your soldering iron and gently rub it black and forth on the brown part of the connector just below.  If the lines are towards the left side of the display, heat the left side of that connector.  Don’t venture onto the white plastic, or else you’ll get a sticky mess.  I believe the brown ribbon connector is kapton film, which is incredibly heat resistant (it’s used in heating elements), so don’t worry about heating it too much.  That being said, you shouldn’t need a whole lot of heat.  Don’t spend more than 3 or 4 seconds on any given spot.

While you’re doing this you may notice that more lines appear while you’re heating the connector.  This is just some product of the solder reflow process.  Once you stop the heat and the solder solidifies, more lines should begin appearing.  I was able to get my display 100% working again, and it looks like this repair has about a 100% success rate if you do it correctly.

If fixing the lines is all you wanted to do, you’re done! Go ahead and reassemble your Gameboy, and don’t forget to reattach that rubber strip.  It helps keep the connector from experiencing the stresses that caused it to fracture in the first place.

Next I thought I would add a backlight to the Gameboy’s screen.  This was a lot of fun, and I’m sure any 90s kid would have killed for this when the Gameboy was still super popular.  I got my backlight module from a great company called Kitsch-Bent.  You can get your backlight in wide variety of colors, and even buy an inverted screen!  Truly an awesome source.  They also sell different colored front lenses and buttons.

First, remove the two screws on the brown connector just below the display.  This will free up the display, and allow you to take it out of the white plastic frame.  After gently prying the display out of its frame, use a sharp pair of snips to cut off around a centimeter of the thin plastic frame below the display.  This will give us room to pass wires beneath the connector.

Next is the only tricky part of the process.  Using a sharp knife or razor blade, you have to remove both the reflective back layer and polarizing film from the LCD.  If the display still looks a green color after you’ve done this, you have only removed the reflective film and not the polarizing layer.  Try again to catch the edge of the film, and slowly peel it off until you are left with a transparent LCD.

In the photo above I’ve only begun removing the reflective film.  You can tell because the display still looks green behind it.  Go back and make sure you’ve removed that green tinted layer.

After doing this, remove the protective cover from the backlight module and slide it underneath the display in the plastic frame.  Route the wires through the slot you cut earlier.

The final step is to wire this panel into the Gameboy’s circuitry.  Luckily there’s a great voltage source just below the LCD that’s easy to tap into.  Solder the two wires (in my case blue [voltage] and black [ground]) as shown.

Screw the brown connector back to the main board (be careful, the mounts strip easily), and you’re done!  Go ahead and reassemble your gameboy, making sure that your new wires don’t get in the way of the d-pad or buttons.

When you turn on your gameboy, you should be treated with a new backlit display!  I also used this opportunity to replace the front cover lens with a new, less scratched one.  Finally, I replaced the buttons, just to be fancy.  After removing the front cover from before, you can just replace the buttons with the new ones you’ve bought.  They pop right out.  The front lens was originally tacked on with a bit of glue, and can be pried off with a sharp knife inserted underneath one of the edges.  My new lens came with an adhesive back that just stuck right on.

I hope you found this helpful — thanks for reading!

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20 thoughts on “Restore & Modify an Original DMG Gameboy

  1. Pingback: Adding a backlight to the ‘ol Game Boy brick - Hack a Day

  2. Pingback: Adding a backlight to the ‘ol Game Boy brick » Geko Geek

  3. Pingback: Adding a backlight to the ‘ol Game Boy brick « Hackaday « Cool Internet Projects

  4. Hi! I was wondering, where did you get the white buttons from? I have been searching for white buttons for a really long time but could only find grey ones :(

  5. oh, and just to clarify, haha. Which backlight did you get from kitsch-bent? there seems to be three different models available. I’m assuming that’s the teal colored one (I’m basically trying to find that exact same color you have, it’s stunning with the white DMG! I am thinking of putting it in my skeleton case)

  6. I’ve been thinking about a backlight gameboy since the times I use to get Timex indiglo watches from kmart for xmas. We now live in a time of creativity, customization’s, modding, and reinventing the old.

    I would like to see the DMG mod like usage of clear/frost backlight LED buttons (or buttons with LEDs that ghostly fade in/out).

    Backlight… now with one that led changes color.

    A light weight rechargeable lithium battery via usb port… or two slim cell batteries wired in series.

    Replace the OEM speaker with one from something modern with similar power requirements (pda, laptop, cell phone) that utilizes and internal compartment or body of case to enhance sound.

  7. whoa,amazing job. Just wondering if you know where i can find a LCD screen for the “old grey” GAMEBOY? mine is wrecked badly.

    • Inverted just means that the colors will be swapped. Black will be white, white will be black. It’s just a matter of preference.

  8. If i just want to add a back light do i still need to do the steps, besides removing the screws, for fixing the vertical lines?

  9. Just to make am i supposed to take out the whole frame because i heard that you aren’t supposed to do that since the frame is still connected to a lot of stuff

  10. Have you ever fixed a switch on the old Lightboy? I replaced the light bulbs thinking that was its problem but no success. I think it may be the switch. TIA

  11. I recently purchased an original Game Boy and the unit looks to be brand new but does not power up – the batteries were left in it and I guess it caused damaged. Do you know if the power can be replaced?

  12. Hey I was hoping I can find someone to repair my gameboy pocket. Yes, I know its easier to buy a new one, but this gameboy has a lot of sentimental value to me. I’m not sure if its a busted fuse but I would love to have someone fix it and if there is room for improvement that would be awesome. Please help

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  14. Great, easy-to- follow guide! I am however having a problem. After Soldering the backlight, I have no image. Backlight powers on fine, sound works. Any idea what the problem might be?

    Thanks!
    Joe

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