I spent the weekend in Iowa City and did a little shopping with my brother in law. While we were at a store that buys and sells used video games, I saw a few old Atari 2600 cartridges behind the counter. I always get a little nostalgic when I see those, but most stores sell them for around five dollars. This shop had them for the low low price of $0.94. I stood there staring at the cartridge and realized that I could probably cram a couple of AA batteries along with a couple of 9 volt batteries. I had a feeling I was looking at my next iPod battery pack! I bought one and within minutes of arriving home in Chicago I was cracking that cartridge open.
Atari cartridges are closed by plastic pieces that snap together along the sides and a screw underneath the sticker rigth in the middle. I thought about trying to peel the entire sticker off to get to the sticker, but I wasn’t sure if I could do it without tearing it. Instead, I decided to make a small cut and lift the smallest part of the sticker that I could to get to the screw. Once the screw is out, the key to popping it open is simply to push in on the sides with the plastic tabs. Squeeze those sides together and it’ll pop right open. Inside you’ll find a spring, the data card and the plastic top that would slide up to reveal the card when the cartridge was plugged in.
In order to fit the batteries inside the cartridge, you’ll need to do a bit of dremel work. I wound grinding down every piece of plastic inside of there except for one tab and the column that the screw goes into. I kept one tab in there to help seperate the batteries. To be honest, I’m not sure it was too useful to keep that tab in there and next time I might grind it down as well. Once the inside has been cleaned out, you can create the hole for the firewire port. Trace it out and then cut it out slowly. The last thing you want to do is create too large of a hole. I stopped pretty often to check it for fit. Once I got the hole just right, I set the firewire port in it and hot glued it in there.
That’s when I made my first mistake. I filled in one of the plastic slots with hot glue that another piece snaps into when you try to close the cartridge. I wound up having to scrape it out later, so be careful when you’re doing this part. At this point, I basically followed the same directions that people have been using to make altoid battery packs. I soldered everything together and then used a little more hot glue to make sure that the wires on the firewire port won’t come loose. It was pretty tough to get it all closed as things are pretty tight. I wound up having to rearrange the batteries several times before I could get it closed with minimal seperation on the sides. I think part of the problem had to do with the issues I had with the hot glue. I did wind up getting it closed well enough that it feels quite durable now. I put the screw back in and tried to arrange the sticker back just right. You could see the silver of the screw a little so I blacked it out with permanent marker. The final step is to grind down the top so that it’s just a thin little flat piece. Once it’s flat, you can snap it back into place. Once it’s all done, it should look just like the original cartridge!
I have to admit, it isn’t quite as easy to open and replace the batteries as the Altoids battery pack, but this definitely gets serious style points. The next time I create one, I’m going to try to figure out a way to get the screw out without damaging the sticker. It would also be helpful to be able to simply snap it open and closed without using a screwdriver at all.
The diagram below was created by Drew Perry who may have been the first to create a DIY battery pack. He used the box from a deck of cards to make his. Both Chris Diclerico and Unixmonkey both took the same design and stuck it into an altoid’s tin. I’ve made a few of those and they work great! Unixmonkey also has a nice new diagram of how things should be wired together, just to clear up any confusion that could arise.
You can buy the firewire sockets from any major electronics site. For example, you can buy them here, here, or here.
The battery connections all came from Radio Shack. You’ll need three 9 volt snap connectors and one battery holder for the two AA batteries. It looks just like this but I couldn’t find the right part online (the one I have linked seems to be for “D” batteries).
As for the Atari 2600 cartridge, you can’t go wrong with eBay!
Photos (click for high resolution):