Blog Handheld

Game Boy Advance SP Refurb

So here I am, now a proud owner of a Legend of Zelda LE 3DS XL, when it occurs to me that I still own some older GB / GBA Zelda titles (among others) that have yet to be released on any current Nintendo-based Virtual console.  I mean, c’mon, they come out with an average of what, 1-2 titles a week?  They’ve had that one guy in California somewhere working on this for the last several years, and we can expect results by…I don’t know, 2020 at the latest?


dmvYep, we’re back here again.  Nope, it isn’t any better.

So for those others who may have run out of current-gen Zelda games, eBay can of course, be a highly available, if fickle, mistress.  I picked up a Game Boy Advance SP similar to the one I traded in eons ago, and of course, in my hurry forgot to look too closely at the picture, due to free shipping and a pretty low Buy It Now:

IMG_3640Yeah, pretty goddamn gnarley.  It was hell in ‘Nam.

But fret not! Because for a (typically) low $5-15 or so you can get refurb kits with all new plastic housings, labels, etc.  Typically all you need is a working circuit board, screen, and often the little plastic hinge inserts that connect the screen with the control base.  You can also get higher-priced housings made of actual textured aluminum, but I wasn’t looking to put TOO much lipstick on this pig.  The kit I found, for about $10 shipped, looked like this:

IMG_3641What, there are other colors?

What intrigues me most is the official-looking stickers and serial numbers that were included with this, but there’s no real way to check for sure (not that it really matters).  Anyway, I lucked out with the screen and CB being fine in the old unit, and I was able to pop out the old hinges, luckily because the refurb kit didn’t come with them. And they’re kind of necessary.

Tearing down the old unit is a cinch, especially for someone who often takes apart and services laptops regularly, and the SP being basically a laptop for hamsters is fundamentally no different.  Basically you unscrew any screws that are in there, make a reasonable effort to remember which holes the different ones will go back in, and the order in which your reassembly will take.  If you’d rather not take chances, you can always take pictures as you go as references.

Before starting, make sure you have a decent eyeglass / jeweler / PC screwdriver kit handy, as you’ll need a tiny Philips head, and something flat to use to pop out the hinge locks if you need to reuse them.  What you may NOT realize, as I did not, was that this particular generation of hardware used Triwing screws (which I have yet to ever see in anything else), which are basically Philips, but with a ‘Y’ shape tap rather than the ‘+’ of a standard Philips, and I guarantee that NO amount of junk drawer searching will help you because YOU DON’T OWN ONE.  You can attempt to use a standard head screwdriver of the right size in place, but if your housing plastic is as stiff as what I bought, you’ll risk stripping the screws and having to skip that Venti Mocha again to afford a new housing.

Personally, the guy who invented Triwings can go to Hell already if he doesn’t already have a permanent residence.  I realize the reason they’re there is for anti-tampering, but really, they could have used a bit type that was used in anything else, ever.

IMG_3642Your typical $7 Rosewill set.  Even IT doesn’t have Triwing.

There are surprisingly about a hundred guides to the teardown online, Googled easily enough.  Make sure to have a clean, dry, not-covered-with-cats space to work, and for God’s sake don’t lay any circuitry on your nearby Mohair blanket (A teachable moment for a friend back in the day who lost around a grand in parts during a desktop build in his bedroom). After tearing down the old unit, we have:

IMG_3643Some kinda waffle iron TV?

Saving the screen, the CB, the speaker, and popping out the hinge locks, we basically reverse everything we did back into an assembled unit, only this time with 100% more bling.  I did have to glue in the rubber stops along the screen due to them not being provided with self-stick adhesive as the labels and other stickers were, but a little Elmer’s does the trick there.  After about 15 minutes, BAM!


Ultimately now the 3DS XL’s little, older brother has a new chassis, ready to sport Oracle of Ages / Seasons without a hitch (which are both apparently rarer than I thought).  Take THAT, Virtual Console!

IMG_3646As if I didn’t have enough to replay already

So for about $25 altogether (you can also find replacement batteries for $3-5), here’s essentially a new GBA SP, capable of playing all those earlier gen Game Boy titles you left to drown because of that iceberg when you opted for that shiny new 3DS.  It’s basically the sweet spot both for portability, ease of use, and playing Game Boy / Game Boy Color / Game boy Advance titles without having to have a lot of equipment around, and you can STILL hook up two of these for 2-player Tetris in the car! …And then maybe cry a little to yourself because you’re old and tired.  But for a low-cost project for those looking to replay older Nintendo portable titles with a spiffier handheld, you can’t go wrong here.