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Degredation of NES, SNES & N64 carts?

Started by zedrein, February 11, 2009, 03:26:18 pm

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zedrein

I know that over time that gaming cartridges from Nintendo and other companies will physically deteriorate, but will the quality be lost as well?

I guess what I am asking is; will a game cartridge either work or not work, or will it lose quality in sound and picture? Will my copy of The Legend of Zelda for the NES display and sound identical to the day I first bought it? I've assumed for a long time that these carts hold digital media, so they won't degrade in quality granted they'll still boot up, but perhaps I am wrong?

One more thing: Say for instance that Nintendo released versions of their NES, SNES and N64 consoles with hard drives or CD rom drives to read the rom data instead of carts--would the console read the info "cleaner" from those media instead of a cart, or would it be the same quality?

Thanks for answering my questions!

zedrein

No one? really? I figured there would be a wealth of knowledge about this sort of thing.

kendrick

Allow 24 hours for a response before you start complaining, please.

The degradation phenomenon you're describing is known as a single-bit data error, if you want to go enter a term into your favorite search engine. In a nutshell, data in a ROM will start to fail CRC checks or will produce funny math results because single bits throw off the numbers or the data words. This was more of an issue with equipment from the 70s, when integrated circuits were built with less precision or consistency. Equipment from the 80s and beyond is generally fine, but you should search for specific platform problems if you're really concerned.

ken_cinder

Quite frankly, I'd have to disagree entirely anyway based in part on what Kendrick said.

ICs from the 80s and newer, are more reliable than hard drives with moving parts to fail and optical media where (And yes I know this isn't the problem it was some years ago) the dye WILL rot.

Take arcade boards for instance, many of them from the late 70s and early 80s still work fine if they were treated with care. I don't know anyone with a 100% functional hard drive from way back then unless it's been in their closet for the last 15-20 years.......

zedrein

Ok then, if carts don't degrade the quality of the game overtime, will the natural physical wear of the game console contribute to poor quality sound and display?

I'd imagine after years of plugging and un plugging the AV connector to the AV multi-out on your console, there would be degradation of the contacts thus causing the audio and video to display not quite as well. But perhaps I'm wrong?

ken_cinder

February 14, 2009, 10:27:02 am #5 Last Edit: February 14, 2009, 10:29:31 am by IJTF_Cinder
I'm really fumbling with why you're even asking this. Don't take offense to that, but I'm really wondering why the necessity of this question.

Electrical components will break down over time of course, but that can always be repaired if you have the skills and knowledge to do so.

The data portion of it goes right to binary, it's either 0 or 1. In the case of corruption it's either corrupted at the source and you replace the data (Burn a new EPROM for instance) or it's being corrupted somewhere between the source and the end, which leads you to an electrical component failure somewhere (Anything from a bad resistor, to a bad IC or the refrenced EPROM itself is bad).

So to answer your question as I understand it, any degredation in quality is most likely an electrical component failure that can be remedied by replacement or repair. Data itself will not "degrade" because it's either there or it's not (Or like previously stated, it's there but not correct).

I still don't understand the purpose of your question though.

Endymion

Quote from: IJTF_Cinder on February 12, 2009, 06:31:17 pm
Quite frankly, I'd have to disagree entirely anyway based in part on what Kendrick said.

ICs from the 80s and newer, are more reliable than hard drives with moving parts to fail and optical media where (And yes I know this isn't the problem it was some years ago) the dye WILL rot.


What are you talking about? Only burnable discs use photosensitive dyes. Any CD, CD-ROM, DVD, DVD-ROM, GD-ROM, Nintendo Gamecube or Wii disc, or what have you, are not made with dyes. They are pressed aluminum made at the factory. Projections have placed potential upper limits of readability for burnable media at approximately 20 years, but this timespan is longer than the tech has been around, so it's not a certain thing at this point. Discs that are pressed at the factory--and that would be literally any disc that you have ever purchased for a game console--should last as long as the vinyl that they're enclosed in.

I agree that where carts are concerned, this is really a non-issue. Even if carts did degrade in the way that zedrein is thinking, it would not manifest itself in the way he seems to suspect.

ken_cinder

Woo thanks for pointing that out, don't know what I was thinking. But to that end, they're still much easier to damage than solid state media like carts.

zedrein

Thanks for the responses, gentlemen. I know I am probably being obsessive but I'm just trying to determine what could possibly go wrong in ancient gaming consoles that would cause them to display bad video and play bad sound. I suppose I just assumed that over time my SNES won't look as colorful, crisp, bright etc. or won't sound nearly as good, but I can't really tell if there has been a lot of quality lost or not. But it's interesting me to know where quality can be lost.

So to reiterate:

1.) Cartridges will either work, or not work. There won't be quality degrading data loss over time?

2.) The only weak link in a console (that pertain to quality lost in the AV department) will be the analog AV connectors such as, RCA, Nintendo AV Multi-Out, and various other AV multi outs--HDMI (like on the PS3, XBOX 360) will NOT lose quality over time because it's still in the digital realm?

Thanks for your time and patience gentlemen!

kendrick

Let's define 'degradation' here for purposes of conversation, okay?

When you talk about degraded sound or video, we're thinking of the type you might get from a vinyl record or a VHS tape. The grooves or the ferrous material wear down over time, and so the sound gets muted and the colors get faded. Since it's an analog signal, the output was never going to be the same between each playback anyway, so we come to expect a certain degradation in quality.

With a single-bit data error, it's not quite the same. You stick in your cartridge and everything is read fine, but Mario's nose is missing in frame three of his animation segment when his feet are apart. The whole rest of the game works perfectly fine, it's just the Mario's nose disappears while you're moving him. Super Mario Bros. doesn't do any sort of fancy CRC validation, so the game code and the console aren't aware that anything's missing. All the colors are fine, all the sound is good, it's just that one piece of data that's bad. You might have more than one single-bit error in a degraded ROM, but that won't lead to faded colors and muted sound over time, just multiple errors like that.

Here's the trick. Sometimes the single-bit error is in a piece of code that's not for graphics or sound. It's in an if-then loop, or in a memory call, so that when you try to warp to World 4 it resets the game instead. Or maybe the screen doesn't scroll anymore because the memory buffer isn't clearing itself, but the enemies keep coming anyway even though you can't end the level. Or maybe the cart thinks your console is the wrong region. It's digital, not analog, so stuff doesn't fade or lose fidelity, it just goes hooey in unexpected way.

Let's talk about one more thing. With an analog signal that doesn't require any decompression or computation, there's only one path for the data. Read it, then output it. It's a simple process that has few points of failure. With something digital that's both interactive and calculated, there are multiple points of failure. You're running more code and using more components and so the stuff that *can* fail is more complex (thought not necessarily less reliable by comparison.)

Where have we landed here? 'Degraded' isn't really a useful term when talking about game software or hardware. You can talk about single-bit ROM errors, or you can talk about hardware component failure, or you can talk about errors in code and data validation. But none of these things equates to degradation as we understand that the term applies to all other A/V equipment.

zedrein

February 17, 2009, 01:54:34 pm #10 Last Edit: February 17, 2009, 02:05:43 pm by zedrein
Wow, that is just delicious. Kendrick, you may be up for a "post of the year" award!

But I do have a question that I don't feel has been satisfied: Won't the analog AV connector or RF connector on many game consoles start to naturally degrade in quality? I am assuming the AV connector on, let's say, the Super NES, uses copper contacts or pins that will oxidize or just plain wear out after years of plugging and un-plugging AV connectors into them.

What sorts of things should I look for to determine if these multi-out connectors have suffered in quality?

Thank you once again for your inhuman amount of patience, persistence, and kindness.

Endymion

Quote from: zedrein on February 17, 2009, 01:54:34 pm
Wow, that is just delicious. Kendrick, you may be up for a "post of the year" award!

But I do have a question that I don't feel has been satisfied: Won't the analog AV connector or RF connector on many game consoles start to naturally degrade in quality?


The question has been answered. However, with your gotchas after the fact, you don't appear to be asking very clearly, either.

QuoteI am assuming the AV connector on, let's say, the Super NES, uses copper contacts or pins that will oxidize or just plain wear out after years of plugging and un-plugging AV connectors into them.


Oxidation is a fancy term for this word: RUST.

If rust is your definition of "degradation," then you should be aware that anything exposed to oxygen can and will rust. This will happen with anything that is made of metal.

If your console is RUSTED then YES. You will have PROBLEMS. What will these problems be?

Try this one on for size: not working. As in, at all.

The broadcast signal matters not one whit here. If your shit is rusted then electrical flow will be hampered, whether your equipment is analogue or digital. You are really dealing with the difference of something working here, or not working. To be completely honest, for the amount of moisture required to rust your video game carts or consoles, you are extremely likely to have a short or a fire hazard on your hands long before rust becomes an issue. The thing about rust is that it is not so discriminate. It could just as easily rust a motherboard or an IC as it would an AV port contact or cable end. I would suggest just keeping your consoles and cartridges out of a damp basement, particularly before a flood comes crashing through. If you live in Iowa this goes double for you.

kendrick

To add to what Endymion has said, oxidized connectors can always be cleaned or replaced. That type of failure falls under the component category, which is easily identified and easily remedied. A dodgy audio connector does not produce a lasting, irreversible effect on the output of the game system.

zedrein

February 18, 2009, 11:38:31 am #13 Last Edit: February 18, 2009, 12:03:43 pm by zedrein
You guys should be earning the big bucks at some major AV production studios, that's how highly I think of you, seriously.

But I still thirst for more knowledge: Since rusting is not necessarily going to be a huge source of worry for most video game console owners, won't plugging and un-plugging an AV connector to and from the console over a span of several years cause the contacts on the analog Multi-AV out to be worn out, thus causing noticeable loss in quality?

This will most likely be my last question in this particular thread, so thanks again for sharing your vast knowledge. I honestly feel like I'm getting a free education!

EDIT: And yes, Kendrick, I acknowledge that electrical components can be replaced if necessary, but it's just not that easy with a peripheral device such as Nintendo's "MultiAV out" those sorts of raw materials can not be purchased for consumer use as far as I know.

kendrick

Quote from: zedrein on February 18, 2009, 11:38:31 am
But I still thirst for more knowledge: Since rusting is not necessarily going to be a huge source of worry for most video game console owners, won't plugging and un-plugging an AV connector to and from the console over a span of several years cause the contacts on the analog Multi-AV out to be worn out, thus causing noticeable loss in quality?


Not an issue. There's plenty of surface area in the ground area around the connector, and plenty of surface area on the actual signal connector. It would take hundreds of years and dozens of daily acts of friction and rotation to wear down the connectors in the way you describe. As long as everything is manufactured to the right size tolerances and kept clean, it'll be fine.

delmiss

Quite frankly, I'd have to disagree entirely anyway based in part on what Kendrick said.

ICs from the 80s and newer, are more reliable than hard drives with moving parts to fail and optical media where (And yes I know this isn't the problem it was some years ago) the dye WILL rot.

Take arcade boards for instance, many of them from the late 70s and early 80s still work fine if they were treated with care. I don't know anyone with a 100% functional hard drive from way back then unless it's been in their closet for the last 15-20 years.......