The Atari Lynx arrived on our shelves 27 years ago in the winter of 1989, only two months after Nintendo released the Gameboy and a year before the Sega’s colour handheld the GameGear saw light of day. Featuring the first backlit colour screen on any portable gaming device, the Lynx boasted accelerated 3D graphics.
Developed by former Amiga designers R, J Mical and Dave Needle, the ‘Handy Game’ came about after former Amiga manager David Morse approached them about designing a portable gaming system for Epyx. In 1989 faced with financial difficulties Epyx found itself partnered with Atari Inc, who agreed to handle production of the ‘Portable Colour Entertainment System” leaving Epyx to handle software development. Between 1989 and 1995 the Lynx was reported to have sold 3 million units world wide, but ultimately failed to beat the Gameboy even though technically superior in many ways. The Lynx is a fantastic system to add to any collection with 72 games released officially, varying from run of the mill to great titles like Chip’s Challange,
Todds Adventures in SlimeWorld and California Games. However like most systems from this time its not without problems, the most predominant of which is screen failure. Usually this appears first as one or two lines running vertically or horizontally across the screen, more follow until the display is unusable. The root cause of this is the ageing ribbon cable that links the logic board to screen, over time becoming fragile and brittle. As it is an integrated part of the LCD display the only way in which you can cure the fault, is by swapping to screen for a new one. Which wasn’t a problem back when the Lynx was new, but in 2017 you might be faced with a problem, that is until now.
A Proper Solution
On AtariAge back in 2015 a user by the name of McWill came up with an interesting solution to solve the problem that had been plaguing so many Lynx owners. By developing his own custom display board he was able to replace the old failing screen with a modern LCD which not only offered superior picture quality but an optional VGA out. Unsurprisingly the board was an absolute success with Lynx owners far and wide, who finally had the means to repair their ailing consoles. Last year I was lucky enough to buy one of McWills kits, the board requires some self-assembly and a reasonable understanding of how to solder is needed. McWill does offer and installation service for those who don’t feel confident installing the kit by themselves. I was completely blown away with the image quality, which is ten times better then the original 90s LCD. The picture is sharp and the back light more linear, the full screen is now illuminated and gone is the incandescent tube glow of the original florescent light. The new screen uses modern EL technology which has come on leaps and bounds from when the Lynx was originally released. Ghosting and trailing has been significantly reduced, if not illuminated compared to the original 90s screen. If like me you’re accustomed to viewing your games on the old screen, seeing them for the first time on the new one can be a pleasant if not slightly shocking experience. I was honestly left wondering how the heck I’d managed for so many years without McWills screen mod.
Priced at around 100 Euros the kit isn’t cheap however if you figure in the fact you’re getting a custom printed PCB and LCD its actually not bad value for money. The PCB is well made and laid out easy enough for even the budding amateur to follow. However the single sheet manual could have been written a little better as I stumbled to following it wiring to the TPR solder point. The wiring for this can depend on your model of console and what I didn’t know at the time was that I needed to close a jumper on the custom PCB. Labelled in small print as JMP1 in the printed manual its easy to miss and nowhere else is it referred to by this name. For instance here is an excerpt from the instructions.
‘For LYNX-II with chipset 1 (C104129-001) you have to use TPR (testpoint 27) only. For using TPR jumper is closed, for using RES jumper is open !’
The instructions feature several diagrams with all the solder points labelled with names such as GRD, TPR, RES, CL2. I’m not entirely sure why the solder point is referred to as ‘Jumper’ and not JMP1, but it definitely threw me and I was left poking around the board until I consulted AtariAge. There I thankfully discovered I wasn’t alone and others were also being thrown by the same issue. This isn’t to say the manual is bad because it isn’t, only that it could probably benefit from a slight bit of revision to prevent others from getting stuck. Fortunately Marco aka McWill is a very helpful and friendly chap and after shooting him an email I was back on track.
Assembly will probably take you a couple of hours and I certainly advise taking your time and not trying to rush it. Some of the soldering can be fiddly, especially when it comes to attaching wires to the display pins on logic board. Using a fine tipped soldering iron is highly advisable. For wiring I used a good old trusty IDE cable, fine enough to fit on the small traces and flexible enough that i can manipulate the screen and board without working loose a connection. You will need to remove seven components from the main logical board before you can begin hooking in the new screen. You may also have carry out a 5 Volt check after removing the require components, so as to make sure the board isn’t exceeding 5.45 volt.
According the instruction the screen mod also has the ability to emulate the scan line effect of the original Lynx display, however I’ve been unable to get this to function. Not that I think I would really use it as the crisp look of the new display is pleasing enough and the games simply look amazing. If your Lynx is looking a little tired and you fancy giving it a face lift, I highly recommend getting one of McWill’s kits. While admittedly pricey, it will likely out live the life of the Lynx itself and beats replacing one old screen for another. As it’s only a matter of time before the ribbon cable degrades and your left looking for yet a replacement from a donor system.
Until next time, keep on geeking!
Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?
BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.
Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!
I’ll begin this post by explaining my background in gaming with handheld consoles. Which began back in 1991, with my first Gameboy. Which was later succeeded with the Gameboy pocket and then Gameboy Colour. I was never a massive fan of the Gameboy Advance. As I always felt Nintendo had once more missed the point. The one thing all Gameboy fans where screaming for was a back-lit screen. Which wouldn’t come until the arrival of the Gameboy Advance SP. By that time, I’d lost my interest in Nintendo handhelds. The appeal of 3D games on the GBA was lost on me. My Sega Game Gear was far more fun to play, ok the screen could induce epileptic seizures, but with titles like Columns, Sonic and Shinobi, it was worth the risk.
I confess when they first came out, I was too busy with my Gameboy to notice. Tho I did drool with envy at the colour screen and it’s wonderfully lit screen. How many play ground standoff’s did this cause I wonder? As many as the Atari vs Amiga debate? Who knows!
Getting in to the Game Gear in 2004, made a refreshing change to gaming on the PC. With it’s simple 2D graphics, I was 13 once again. As my library of games increased, I found myself pretty much sold on the Game Gear. While Sega may have missed me in the 90’s, I was now hooked. Aliens 3, Star Trek Holodeck, Cool Spot and almost every Sonic title are amongst me GG cartridge library.
Sadly tho my trusty GG has been showing it’s age. Having already repaired the failing caps on the sound board twice. I couldn’t help notice that the screen was
becoming increasingly dimmer over time. This is due to the capacitors on the main board wearing out. Slightly apprehensive about replacing all the caps inside the GG. It came as a welcome relief to discovered someone who was offering a refurb service on Ebay. After exchanging emails, I discovered James was no stranger to consoles. With an impressive 400 serviced Game Gears already to his name. I felt happy letting him do the job. Usually I would have undertaken the task myself. However its wise to know when to stand back and bow to experience. I had two repaired sound boards to my credit, compared to James and his 400 fully refurbished consoles.
In all the refurb took only a couple of weeks, when my GG arrived back. It was like a totally different console. I can not begin to describe the difference the
refurb has made. The screen quality is vastly improved. Originally I had assumed that was how all GameGears looked. As it turned out, the failing caps where contributing to the problem. The sound is now at least 3 times louder thanks to James doing a thorough job on the sound board.
He also repairs Atari Lynx consoles and was kind enough to service my Lynx II after it stopped turning on.
James is worth his weight in gold and I recommend any retro gamer with a poorly console to seek his help. You will find him on ebay via his username “Gearforgames“.
Over the weekend I was on ebay looking at video cards, low profile PCI-E cards that will fit inside the Nomad, to replace the bog standard on board Intel 945GM. It’s a great little video chip, but it can’t handle much in the way of gaming. So time to find something that will do a better job, such as the Nvidia 8400GS 256mb which I found on ebay for the staggering price of £10!
Ok it’s a dated video card and not really aimed at heaving gaming, but lets face it with an intel core2 duo 1.66mhz, my expectations are not that high. However, a half decent game of Fallout3 would not be that bad!
Also in the post I have received a copy of Klax for the Atari Lynx, expect a review and screen shots. Plus some information on where you can get your Lynx fixed for around £10 and get back good as new.
Keep on geeking!
Recently I bought an Atari Lynx II on Ebay. Listed as not working, I took a gamble at the chance of being able to repair it. So it’s not suprising how chuffed I was when it arrived and turned out to be working.
Sadly however this was to be sort lived. Lasting only a week the Lynx gave up the will to live. After a little researching online and also a prodding around inside the console. I concluded a MOSFET inside the Lynx was responsible. This particular MOSFET is renowned for blowing. At present there are only two Atari Lynx repair video’s on Youtube, covering this problem. That i know of, at the moment.
Having bought a replacement part, I tried repairing the Lynx. Sadly without success. It’s a real shame to be sure as I was really enjoying owning one of these handheld console finally. As i now own two games and a rechargable power pack for the Lynx. I shall be looking for a replacement, while at the same time. Seeking a means of repairing the currently dead unit. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be anyone refurbishing these devices, unlike the Game Gear.
So watch this space,
The original Nintendo Gameboy was released in Europe on September 28th 1990. The second-hand held device to be produced by Nintendo, after their Game & Watch series in the early 80’s. Selling some 64.42 million units worldwide, the Gameboy cemented itself as an iconic piece of the early 90’s.
The Gameboy was not without competition from rival companies such as Atari and Sega. Both had hand held consoles out at time, the “GameGear” and “Lynx”. Boasting colour graphics and backlit screens, you’d be forgiven for thinking these where superior consoles, in many ways they where. The Atari Lynx was the first gaming console with hardware support for zooming & distortion of sprites, allowing fast pseudo-3D games (ref wiki). However the technology of the time meant both consoles would be forever faulted for battery life issues. The Gameboy with its monochrome screen and no blacklit could run for 10-11 hours on 4xAA batteries, where as the Game Gear and Lynx could only manage 4-5 hours with 6xAA’s, This would plague both consoles throughout their lives. Both companies offered optional rechargeable battery packs to overcome this limitation. But these where often cumbersome and heavy to carry around with you.
As I own both the Gameboy and the Game Gear, I have to say I like both consoles for separate reasons. The Game Gear is great for sitting around the house and having a quick game of Sonic or Columns. The backlit makes it a breeze to use, I don’t have to worry about having a light source to see what I’m doing. The stock LCD screen does have a slow refresh rate resulting in blurry sprites if things are moving fast on the screen. This can be pretty bad on the eyes, but I’m guessing it was a limitation of the technology of the day. My Game Gear also has a third party battery pack which clips to the rear of the console. Unlike Sega’s official rechargeable pack which clipped to your belt.
I wasn’t aware of this product until doing a recent search on Google. I can’t help but puzzle why Sega went this route when other companies where producing better products for the Game Gear. My battery pack is shaped with grips for holding the console, which I personally find improves my hold on the console.
The Atari Lynx is one of those consoles I’ve never got around to owning. When it first came out, i remember going for the GameBoy. I can even remember them on the shelves of our local Beatties (oh i feel old!) Not actually owning one, I can only offer much hands on knowledge. But from what i have read and a look at the spec’s the Lynx was perhaps overlooked to quickly by the average kid of the 90’s. In terms of specifications, it offered far much more than the Gameboy and was priced better than the GameGear. If I get my hands on one, expect to see a review dedicated to the Lynx!
The Gameboy is not without its short falls. The monochrome liquid crystal display which Nintendo choose for the Gameboy was often criticized by its rivals and also by the general public for it’s poor visibility and low resolution. Many third-party products were produced during it’s life to address problems, such as clip on lights and screen magnifying viewers. Yet these required more batteries. As a teenage I would often take a pack of batteries along with me when travelling. You always needed them!
The only thing which saved the Gameboy from the likes of Atari and Sega in the 90’s was the battery life and the quality games that where available. My opinion of the screen has not changed since I was 13, it’s just plain rubbish!
When the Gameboy colour was released many including myself, criticized Nintendo for not addressing the backlit issue. In 1998 Nintendo released the Game Boy Light, only available in Japan. It was almost the same size of the Gameboy pocket and used an EL backlight, very similar to that used in wrist watches. It would not be until 2003 when Nintendo released the Gameboy Advanced SP would be see a lit screen and even then it was front lit! In part Atari and Sega where ahead of their time.