Released in 2010, the Nintendo 3DS is technically an 8th-generation console. It improved upon the touch-based portable gaming concept that was spearheaded by the DS in 2004. Just like the DS before it, the 3DS uses game cartridges that look like SD cards (and it’s backward compatible with all previous DS systems).
How long do DS and 3DS cartridges last? Depending on how frequently you use them and the conditions in which they are stored, DS and 3DS cartridges can last anywhere from 10 to 20 years. Usually more because the flash memory used in these cartridges can retain data for decades.
The most likely reason for a DS or 3DS cartridge to fail is user misuse, caused by rough handling. These little solid-state storage devices are very strong and are encased in a thick plastic shell despite their small size. However, the contacts at the end can get worn out over time.
How Long Do DS And 3DS Cartridges Last?
Both the DS and 3DS use game cartridges that are very similar in size and shape, with one small exception. The 3DS cartridge has a tab that prevents it from going into the slot on a regular DS. The 3DS motherboard has a single-core ARM9 coprocessor in addition to its main dual-core ARM11 CPU.
Making it backward compatible with DS, DSi, and DS Lite games (those consoles also used ARM9 CPUs). Because the DS cartridge is similar to the 3DS one, it can be played on a 3DS. Both cartridge types use similar flash memory, along with EEPROM to store user save data.
Unlike old consoles that need batteries to power the SRAM chip storing user data, these cartridges don’t lose save data when the power is shut off. And they can easily retain memory for a decade or more. All you have to do is store them somewhere dry because moisture can cause oxidization on the contact pins.
Do DS Cartridges Expire?
DS and 3DS cartridges use flash memory to store game data. Some also have EEPROM to store user save data. Flash is technically not ROM, because its data can be erased and rewritten.
It can last 10-15 years under normal conditions, after which data retention becomes less reliable. Flash is used everywhere these days. The internal storage in your phone is UFS (Universal Flash Storage), it’s also used in USBs and SD cards.
Interestingly, old calculators and game cartridges from the 1980s used a type of ROM that lasts way longer than modern flash. It is called Mask ROM and is manufactured through a technique that etches data directly into the chip’s circuits. Mask ROM does not fade, and you lose the data only when the chip dies or breaks (which can take forever).
So why don’t we use Mask ROM instead of flash? Flash is field programmable (a type of EEPROM), while Mask ROM data cannot be erased or rewritten. Plus, the process of making a masked ROM is very complicated and a single error in writing the data means that you have to discard the entire chip.
For logistical and economical reasons, Mask ROM technology just isn’t feasible anymore. Flash storage is cheap, fast, reliable, and ubiquitous. Everyone these days has an SD card in their phone or camera.
Hence, it makes sense for Nintendo to go with flash memory instead of the obsolete Mask ROM technology. When you buy a Nintendo DS or 3DS cartridge, the minimum amount of time it should last is 10 years. Usually, it will go for 15 or 20 years if stored at room temperature and in dry conditions.
How Many Years Can A 3DS Last?
We know that the game cartridge a 3DS uses can last 10 years quite easily. But what about the console, will it make it that far? A 3DS isn’t all that different from your smartphone in terms of the technologies used.
It has a few microprocessors, flash memory, a touch display, RAM, and a battery. Think about the first thing that dies on your phone, assuming you don’t drop it. That’s right, it is the battery.
Then, you have the display which can get cracked beyond repair if your phone takes a nasty fall or gets run over by a vehicle. However, the 3DS has two displays in a folding clamshell design. The outer plastic shell might get cracked, but the display will be fine.
And there are no internal cooling fans, so zero moving parts. Semiconductors take a long time to die through normal use. So the only part limiting lifespan is the battery.
Thankfully, the battery on a 3DS can be replaced quite easily. Unlike a modern smartphone, the 3DS doesn’t hide its battery underneath multiple layers of ribbon cables and adhesive straps. All you have to do is remove four Philips #00 screws holding the backplate in place.
Once the backplate is removed, you can take out the old battery and put in a new one. As for which battery you need, it’s a 3.7V 1300mAh 5Wh lithium-ion pack made by Nintendo (model CTR-003). If you have a 3DS XL, it uses the larger 1750mAh 6.5Wh pack (model SPR-003).
Why Did Nintendo Cancel The 3DS?
The 3DS was getting a little long in the tooth by 2017, which is when Nintendo dropped the Switch. However, the Switch is not a successor to the 3DS- it’s an entirely new type of console. Nintendo kept manufacturing new 3DS units even after the Switch was released in 2017.
Only in 2020 did the manufacture of new 3DS consoles stop. And in March 2023, the 3DS eShop will close down permanently. Why Nintendo waited until 2022 to make this announcement for a console released in 2011 is anyone’s guess.
But I believe it’s due to the decreasing demand for 3DS games. Since the last few years, new games have been getting Switch ports- but not 3DS ports. Partly because there is no way for a 3DS to run modern games, and partly because Nintendo doesn’t want to split sales between the Switch and 3DS.
Designing a game port for 10-year-old hardware is extremely tough, which means the 3DS library is limited to first-party Nintendo titles with cartoonish graphics. Even the Switch struggles with modern games due to its old NVIDIA Tegra X1 chip which is weaker than the SoCs you get on a budget smartphone.
The 3DS and 3DS XL were commercial successes, selling over 84 million units combined. And they brought immense joy to gamers of all ages, all over the world. But no matter how good a console is, its hardware will get old at some point.
Cleaning Your DS And 3DS Cartridges
To clean your DS or 3DS cartridge, just take a little microfiber cloth (the kind you use to wipe glasses). Dip it in some 99% isopropyl alcohol, and give the gold-plated contact pins a nice rub. After you do this, don’t forget to clean the slot of your DS/ 3DS by blowing some compressed air into it.
3DS Backward Compatibility Explained
Both the 3DS and 2DS can play DS games. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nintendo’s old handhelds, the 2DS was released after the 3DS as a budget version. It has the same CPU, GPU, and memory, but no stereoscopic 3D display.
It also uses a slate design (like a tablet) instead of a folding clamshell. The 3DS and 2DS can play DS, DS Lite, and DSi games thanks to the inclusion of a single-core 32-bit ARM9 CPU on their board. However, they can’t play GBA games and you can’t put a 3DS/ 2DS cartridge into a DS console.
Clearly, DS and 3DS cartridges can last as long as the consoles. At least a decade, probably more. And there are still plenty of used DS consoles that you can find online on sites such as eBay.
If you want a cheap portable handheld emulation device that can play NES and Game Boy Color games, I suggest buying a used DSi or DS Lite. You can install homebrew software via a Flash Cartridge (like the R4), and play all your emulators/ ROMs.