How to Clean the N64
A week ago, my brother and I acquired two N64s from a seller in Decatur, Alabama. Both of the N64s were in good shape, but they needed some TLC to get rid of the dust, dirt, and grime that had gathered over the years. I did not think cleaning a N64 would be a big deal, but there are definitely some things I wish I knew ahead of time (game bit screws cough cough). So, I have put together this simple guide, “How To: Clean the N64”.
Part 1: Removing the Case
- 4.5mm Game Bit “Security” Driver
- Locking Pliers aka “Vise-Grip or Mole Grip/Wrench” (optional)
For most people, removing the case will be delayed until you can acquire the proper screwdriver to remove the proprietary half-inch “game bit” screws that hold the case together. Since the screws are likely machine-tightened, it may be difficult to loosen them. So, I suggest you use locking pliers (or vise grips) to add some extra torque! The locking pliers are really a must… I have had very limited success without them.
There are 6 game bit screws located on the bottom of the console–1 for each of the circular legs (circled above in bright green) and 4 around the perimeter (circled above in bright teal).
Here is a shot of the locking pliers in action, what a time saver! Remove all six screws, and you should be able to open the case and see the belly of the beast!
Part 2: Removing the Motherboard
- Small Phillips Screwdrivers (I also used a flat-head, but be careful not to strip screws!)
- Weak Magnet Pick-Up Tool
To take out the motherboard, you have to remove 14-16 screws depending on your N64. But, if you want to remove the metal housing around the board itself, you will have to remove the extra screws holding the heat sinks and board connections. In the image below, I have color-coded the screws into simple groups, and I would recommend keeping the screws together in these groups for reassembly. You may also need the locking pliers again if the screws are too tight.
As you can see, my N64 had a total of 27 screws on the bottom of the case (there are actually 2 more screws which lock in the cartridge slot on the top of case). Removing all the color groups except RED and BLUE should be enough to get the board out of the case. But, if you want to remove the metal housing around the board remove the RED and BLUE groups, too.
Part 3: Scrub, Clean, and Dry
- Toothbrush with Soft Bristles
- 70% Isopropyl Alcohol for the Case
- 90% Isopropyl Alcohol for the Motherboard
- Toothpicks or Hard-Tip Cotton Swabs
- Can of Compressed Air or “Dust Remover” Spray
Now, it is time to start cleaning everything. Start with the case. First, use a paper towel to knock off big dust spots. Then for deep cleaning, use the toothbrush moistened with 70% alcohol to scrub off surface dirt and grime. Using a toothbrush and alcohol should prevent messing up any stickers on the bottom of the case. If you cannot reach a spot with the toothbrush, then use the toothpicks. After you finish the case, repeat this process for all the small removable pieces on the case (everything but the motherboard).
For the motherboard, skip the paper towels and use the toothbrush and 90% alcohol. Make sure to be very careful around the components on the motherboard! Scrubbing too hard could jar a component loose or knock it entirely off the board.
Once everything has been scrubbed clean, you should give the parts time to dry. I recommend waiting overnight before reassembly, but the alcohol should dry quickly.
Part 4: Reassemble, Test, and Done!
- Everything from Parts 2 and 3
Assuming Parts 1-3 went well, and you have kept your pieces organized, this should be the easy part. First, refasten the screws to the motherboard, expansion slot, and outlets. Then, test the system for good measure. Finally, refasten the 6 game bit screws are you are done!