Tony Lindberg
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Repairing a non-working vectrex + half a ...

Repairing a non-working vectrex + half a controller

Oct 03, 2020

I picked up a Vectrex badly in need of some love and care. It had been stored in a non insulated attic of a barn somewhere in the middle of Sweden. The vectrex had what looked like parts of a birds nest inside the casing. The controller or what was left of it was in really bad shape. A top shell in bad condition with the joystick module and tree of the four buttons, the coiled cable and less than 40% of the PCB. I do like a challenge.

Since I am most familiar with repairing joysticks, I started with that one. Took it apart cleaned it and removed surface rust from the housing, shaft and screws. I kind of hoped the X and Y potentiometers would be OK, so I didn't investigate them any closer at this point.
There were far more damaged areas that I needed to focus on.

I took some before photos of the PCB as I might need to consult them later to remember how different cables were oriented as I most likely would be removing and reseating stuff on the PCB a lot. The shielding for the flyback had a lot of surface rust. I desoldered it completely from the board so I could work on it easier. Media blasted with glass beads, sanded, polished and finally clear coated and it looked a lot more pleasing to the eye. I also found some suitable connectors to add to the cables that were directly soldered to the boards. That way it became easier to reassemble to test. Both connectors were the same four wire type. How to make sure I didn't accidentally plug them in wrong? Easy, I just added one connector to each board. Meaning one board would have one jack and one cable with a connector. Unless I stupidly connected the board to itself, there wasn't going to be any mix up between them.

I carefully peeled that safety instruction paper (written in Swedish) of the top of the vectrex when I took it apart. I first thought it was there to hide a crack in the plastic or something. Nope, the shell was fine underneath. I decided to clean that paper up, patch the tare and laminate it to preserve it. I later found out that the safety instructions was an official paper that was added to the vectrex shipping box only for the Swedish market. Good thing that I saved it then.

Next up was the not so small task of trying to make something useful out of the half controller. The top shell was dirty and filthy with some kind of crusted goo all over. I resorted to hand scraping it with a hobby knife blade to get i all off. It didn't look better visually after I was done, but at least it didn't feel nasty to the touch anymore. I figures I could sand the surface later and then lightly brush it with acetone to make it shiny and smooth again.

The PCB was cracked in half and I only had one part of it. What to do with that? A quick dive into my electronic parts box and I found some PCB button pads that either came from a busted clock-radio alarm clock or the shoulder buttons of a cheaper playstation knockoff controller. I can't remember where I got these particular button pads from. It was either of those two sources. I found a TV remote in the electronics trash room for my apartment complex before. I was just going to salvage the IR diode from it, but I got a crazy idea looking at it as I had busted the shell open with a hammer. Hey... That remote PCB looks like it could be a nice prosthesis for the half controller PCB. Just the right size too.
I want to stress that this is not the way to repair vectrex controller PCBs. While it did work, it is far from best practice and I wouldn't recommend going this route unless you like to tinker with stuff.

What I did next turned out to be a big mistake and ultimately just a HUGE waste of time. The two button pads that I transplanted in on the remote PCB to make it a vectrex controller PCB, came with their own individual silicone rubber button domes. I was missing the original vectrex rubber dome mat, so I was two rubber domes short. I figured I could cast my own. I had all the push button pads from the busted TV remote. I cut them off with a hobby knife and tried to cast my own rubber domes with those contact pads on them. It was a messy, sticky and foul smelling hell. Fast forward to the end and I found out that the domes I had cast didn't last for more than a handfull of button presses before falling apart.
Back to the ye olde drawing board...

I added 3D printed arcs to the joystick to see if the potentiometers worked. They did, but was starting to wear out.

A cap kit was ordered from Demand dot nu retrotech with very fast shipping.
There are good tutorials online on how to do a full cap replacement on a vectrex, so I wont go into greater detail on how I did it here. However, I can mention that I was curious on what was behind the feet of the vectrex case. Turns out there is nothing behind there and once I loosened the screw the nut fell off inside. It was a real pain to get it back. In the end I had to make special wrenches to screw back the feet and for the reset switch that didn't stay still and was twisting its cables instead.
After the cap replacement was done I turned the vecterex on and was greeted by the same white dot as before. F********! I spent all this time repairing this piece of s**t and all I get for my efforts is a white dot and not sound!!!

After I calmed down and recovered from the great disappointment, I asked around on the vectrex FB groups and forums and got a list of usual suspects among the IC chips. A processor and a sound chip later and the Vectrex turned on. There is still no sound, but I suspect that the paper cone in the speaker is rotten. That's where this vectrex repair is stalled for now. I will investigate further into why there is no sound at a later time.

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