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!