2600 Cartridge Durability

From: jearney@harp.aix.calpoly.edu (John Earney)
Subject: Re: Backups and copiers
Date: Fri, 03 Jun 1994 08:18:37 GMT

In article <2siq94$sc2@narnia.ccs.neu.edu> tower@ccs.neu.edu (Chad Tower) writes:
> I have seen a lot of talk recently about making backups of games, and
>having copiers for them. Why would someone want to back up a game? Do they
>get erased or something? I have played on almost every system imaginable, and
>have never had the actual game erased (although on Baseball Stars for the NES,
>the data got erased all the time). Can someone help me understand this?

its easy. they want to make a quick buck off you being scared that your
game is going to get erased. I don't think its even legal to make a
backup copy of a ROM (but of course who would care with an atari game.)
I read in some software copyright law book that ROMs are considered
"durable" and so making a backup copy isn't necessary (like it is with
magnetic media.)

backing up an atari cartridge is absurd. the games are stored in ROM.
that's solid state (one chunk of silicon with different concentrations
of ions implanted into it to make transistors.) you cannot corrupt the
data because you can't move the ions around in the silicon lattice
(just like its impossible to move the colors around in a chunk of granite.
you can't do it unless you break it up into pieces.) the metal pins on
the ROM package are connected to certain places on the silicon by tiny wires.
plastic (or ceramic) is poured over all that and formed into the ROM package.
its all one chuck of plastic and metal with no holes, no spaces, and no
mechanically unstable parts! the ROM is then soldered into place on the
little printed circuit board (PCB) and then mounted in the plastic casing
of the cartridge.

there are only 2 ways that I can think of that an atari cart can go bad.

1) if a large voltage or static charge is taken across a transistor on the
silicon chip then the transistor will get "fried" (caused by so
many electrons moving through a small space at once that the physical
properties of the silicon are changes in that area of the chip.)
this will permanently damage the chip and your game won't work.

2) there is corrosion on the metal contacts on the game's PCB that keeps
electrons from flowing easily from the atari console to the game's
that can be fixed by cleaning off the corrosion with a pencil eraser,
a Qtip with alcohol, or a very fine sandpaper if its _really_ bad.

I have over 2,000 atari carts and I've only found a couple that don't work
after they're cleaned.

exactly how durable are atari carts? I thought I'd see for myself...

I took a combat cart that was made in the 32nd week of 1981 (you can tell
by reading a little number code printed on the ROM) and did some experiments
on it to see what how much abuse it could take and still work.

1) I took the cart and dropped it out of my 2nd story window onto the cement
5 times. the plastic part of the cart was in pieces, but the game
still worked.

2) I put the cartridge back together as best I could and put it out in the
street. it got run over by a jeep. took it inside and it still
worked. at this point there was nothing left but the PCB with the
ROM soldered on it (and a metal cover that went over the ROM.)

3) I then put the PCB in boiling water for 5 minutes, took it out and
immediately packed it in a snowball that I made out of frost from my
freezer. after 5 minutes in the frost ball, I broke all the ice off
it and plugged it into my atari... It worked!

4) I have this magnet that's so strong that if you hold it within about 1.5
feet from a TV screen all the color gets sucked to one side of the
screen! well, I took that magnet and rubbed it all over the PCB and
ROM. plugged it in... and it worked!

5) next I took a lighter and held the ROM right above the flame. I left it
there for a few minutes until the ROM was smoking and giving off
a nasty smell. I cleaned off all the suit and plugged it in and
it still worked.

6) okay, no more mr. niceguy! I took it outside and had 3 cars run over it,
I threw it up as high as I could and had it land on the cement twice,
and I threw it down onto the cement as hard as I could twice. at
this point the metal cover that goes over the ROM had broken off, the
PCB was chipped on all the corners, the ROM was smashed onto the PCB
so that the pins were all squished on one side and were being pulled
out of the solder on the other side. I had to straighten out the pins
so that none were touching each other and I had to hold the PCB
together in one place so that the metal contacts would be in the right
place when I plugged the game in. guess what... it _still_ worked!!

7) it had taken heat extremes, shock, and magnetism. next up was
electricity. I took the atari power supply (9V, 500mA) and connected
some alligator clips to the output terminals of the power supply.
then I rubbed the other end of the alligator clips across the metal
contacts on the game's PCB. I tried a bunch of different
combinations and always had both alligator clips touching the PCB
contacts so that electricity would be flowing. I plugged the game
back in and much to my surprise it still worked!

8) I grabbed my hammer, laid the game down on the cement and gave it a good
smack. the ROM cracked right in half breaking the silicon wafer.
I plugged the game in and of course it had died on that one.

it took all that abuse to ruin a 13 year old atari game. I'd say they're
pretty damn durable!
XTC Nakajima Michiyo nin Revolution Atari2600 KOF'94
"I've got your Balloons, Jerk..."

AtariAge - 2600 cartridge durability