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Encyclopedia Arcade And The Case Of The Voltage Drop

Bugs MeaneyWhen we first started All You Can Arcade, it was a bit on faith. We were confident that people would want to rent arcade games by the month, but truth be told, we had no idea how to work on them. Before we knew it our launch was a month away and we had managed to collect about 100 games, but only 10 of them worked!

We knew enough to refurbish a good chunk of the games, but we kept hitting the same symptom over and over again. All of our monitors would display a scrambled image on the screen. It was super frustrating because we had no idea how to fix it. We almost missed our launch, but we finally clued in on what was causing our probablem when we learned about monitor sync 101 and realized that they sometimes need to be hooked up differently depending on the game. On that day, we must have turned on at least 20 games, that we had already put a lot of hard work into, but were missing this final piece of the puzzle in order to be able to play them. This tiny chunk of knowledge, gave us the games we needed to get started and was enough to keep us motivated to keep learning how to fix problems.

Five years later, I still spend more time studying arcade repair, then I ever spent studying in college and the education continues to pay off.

For the last couple of years, we’ve had a mean bug that’s crept into our fleet. The games would work great after refurbishment, but three to six months after getting them turned on, they’d all start to fail. When we measured the voltage running the games, we would consistently see a 0.2 to 0.5 drop in the 5V voltage and couldn’t quite figure out why the PCB board seemed to suck up power.

To solve the symptom, we would boost the power supply to run hot and that would be good for another 3 to six months until the power supplies would burn out. After running into this mystery a couple of times, we started to put the games into deep storage until we could figure out why they all kept failing. Because we assumed, it was being caused by bad circuit boards trying to draw too much power, we missed something much more obvious.

After cleaning the chips, it would sometimes help, but this bug has managed to brick at least 20 of our games. Well today, our Mortal Kombat 2 started to display the same symptoms and quite frankly if we pull that one from the fleet, our customers will riot, so I sat down to get to the root of the case of the drop in voltage.

To do this I took my voltage meter, measured the power at the power supply and then started tracing the 5V line and measuring wherever i could touch wire. When I measured the power before it even went into the edge connector, I saw that the voltage had already dropped. I now suspected the connector between the wire and the power supply. As soon as I crimped over the end of the line to put on a new one, I immediately saw what my problem was.

We love getting a good deal and I would be willing to bet you a quarter, that you cannot find a better deal on the jamma harnesses that we buy. Unfortunately, it looks like we may have gotten what we paid for them.

From the outside, the harness looks like it uses a thick 18 gauge wire to run the power to the board. That’s a lot of metal to conduct a small amount of voltage. It’s part of why I never suspected that it was our culprit.

Once you open it up though, you can see that from the outside it looks 18 gauge, but on the inside it’s short quite a bit of metal. The solution was simple, run a thicker wire from the power supply to the harness and Voila! Mortal Kombat 2 back up and running, just in time for our free play arcade at the Jack of All Trade show this weekend.

While this simple bug should have been spotted sooner and has caused us a lot of headaches, it’s also incredibly exciting to figure out the source of our problem and to know that with very little work, we’ve got another 20 awesome games back on our website. Learning to fix arcade games hasn’t been easy and your education never really ends, but each time you solve a mystery, the next game gets easier and easier to fix.

Hopefully, other people who’ve run into similar trouble, can save themselves the same headache by A.) double checking the wire you’re using when you can’t get your voltage to travel cleanly from your power supply to your circuit boards and B.) paying just a little bit more better quality jamma harnesses.

How To Build Replacement Control Panel Plexiglass Overlays

One of the most common repairs that we have to make during the restoration process is rebuilding the control panels for various games. Time can be cruel to arcade games and between the graffiti, cigarette burns and constant wear and tear, it’s not surprising to see the control panels age faster then the rest of the game. Once you’ve rebuilt a control panel and have installed new artwork, it’s worth investing in a little bit of plexiglass, in order to protect the game.

In order to build a protective layer over the top of the control panel, you’re going to need the following materials.

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-A piece of Lexan or Plexiglass that is large enough to cover the control panel
-An electric drill
-A large and small step drill
-A sharpie
-A measuring tape
-A utility knife
-A Dremel with the lock cutting attachment
-Some clamps
-A piece of scrap wood that you can drill into

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First things, first, you need to measure your control panel, so that you can see how large of a piece of plexiglass that you’ll need to cut. We add about an 1/8th of an inch extra room, so that we can trim the plexi with our Dremmel when we’re done.

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Once you’ve got your measurements you’ll want to plot them out using the sharpie. As long as you keep the plastic protective layer on the plexiglass, you should be able to peel it off when you’re done and it won’t leave any marks.

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Now that you have everything plotted out, you can begin cutting the plexi. We like to place another sheet of plexi on top of the sheet we’re cutting to help guide the utility knife. When scoring the plexiglass the secret is to do it all in one light motion. You don’t want to put too much pressure on the knife or else you’ll crack it. After about 20 – 30 light swipes, you should begin to see it weaken where you’ve cut the plastic.

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After you’ve scored the plexi, you want to move it over the edge of table or firm surface. You then want to give it your best karate chop so that you can snap it evenly along the seam that you’ve made. Somethings using a hammer will help if you get parts that need to be chipped off. If you haven’t scored the plexi deep enough this is the point where it can snap uneven and ruin your plexi so be careful to make sure that it’s ready before giving it a good whack.

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With a little bit of luck, you’ll end up with a piece of plexi that fits. As you can see in our photos, the edges are still a little bit rough, so we’ll use our Dremmel with the lock cutting attachment to trim it smooth. Once we have the edges trimmed up, we place the plexi on top of our control panel and then use our sharpie to mark where the bolt holes and button holes line up. For the button and joystick holes we use the larger step drill. For the smaller bolt holes we use the smaller step drill. When doing the drilling it’s best to do the small holes first and then the button and joystick holes second or else the pressure of the drill can cause things to crack. You also want to clamp the plexi on top of a piece of scrap wood that you can also drill into. This helps prevent the plexi from breaking into pieces once the drill pierces it. When doing the drilling, the name of the game is patience. You don’t want to push hard or else the plexi will break. Use the drill to almost melt the plastic away.

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After the holes are drilled, you can attach the plexi overlay onto your control panel and reassemble all of the buttons and joystick. Now you’re control panel looks brand new and will be protected in case someone decides to carve their name into your game and make you rebuild another plexiglass protector. This is one of those tasks that gets easier over time, so practice will make perfect even if you don’t have a lot of early success.