The Nintendo 64 is a 5th gen console that bookmarked the beginning of the 3D era, alongside Sony’s PlayStation. However, unlike the PlayStation, it still used cartridges- an outdated technology. Cartridges have some benefits compared to discs, but modern game developers have moved past these relics long ago.
But how long do Nintendo 64 game cartridges last? Depending on conditions, they can last a decade or more but the game saves can die faster than that. The cartridge in a Nintendo 64 is composed of a PCB with ROM chips, along with other chips that might be SRAM or EEPROM.
If the save files are stored in SRAM (volatile memory), a CR2032 3V coin cell is also used to power this memory. Only a small group of all Nintendo 64 games released in America utilize SRAM for storing saves. At the time, it was a lot cheaper than using non-volatile memory for game saves (EPROM/ EEPROM).
How Long Do Nintendo 64 Game Cartridges Last?
Modern ROM chips can easily last a decade or more. In fact, there are literal 1980s NES cartridges that still work perfectly to this day. The one thing you have to be concerned about when it comes to N64 game cartridges is the battery.
These are little 3V coin cells used to power volatile memory that stores save files within the cartridge itself. Fortunately, only a small number of N64 games use this type of memory to store game saves. And replacing the battery with a new one is a very easy process.
You just need a CR2032 cell, and a 3.8mm security screwdriver bit to open the game cartridge. Companies sell replacement battery packs for N64 cartridges. Here’s a ten-pack of cells, along with the screwdriver bits you need to carry out the operation.
During the process, you’ll have to remove the old battery which will cut off power to the SRAM where your game saves are stored. This means you will lose your save files. But, you will have a fresh battery in there which means you have plenty of time to play for the next 10 years.
If you store your cartridges out in the open, be careful. Because humidity can cause rust to form on the contacts. How frequently you use the cartridge will also affect its lifespan.
Each read cycle degrades the ROM slightly (not enough to be a concern as these can last for decades). If you ask retro console experts, you’ll find that 10 years is actually on the low end. That’s how long a cartridge will last if you put a few thousand hours into the game by playing it regularly while tossing it around the house.
Why Do N64 Games Stop Working?
This can happen due to a variety of reasons. Maybe the cartridge’s internal components were impacted so badly that they detached from their solders. Or perhaps the cartridge was run over by someone and its ROM chips are now broken.
Open up the cartridge, and inspect the PCB (you need a 3.8mm security screwdriver bit). If nothing is broken and all the solder points look fine, relax- your cartridge is going to be just fine. All it needs is some rubbing alcohol on the contacts to get the current flowing once again.
There is a fingerboard at the bottom, with 24 contact points. Each one must be free of oxidization. Wipe the whole thing clean with isopropyl alcohol, let it dry, and reassemble the case.
Finally, check the cartridge slot in your N64 to make sure that it isn’t being blocked by dirt, hair, etc. If the console’s input pins can’t make proper contact with the cartridge’s output pins, data can’t be read. And your N64 will draw a blank whenever you insert a game.
The Biggest N64 Cartridge
Without any doubt, Resident Evil 2 (known as Biohazard 2 in Japan). It pushed the Nintendo 64 cartridge to its limits, taking up all 64MB of space. This is a port that would have been considered impossible at the time.
But Capcom pulled it off somehow. The developers had to use several compression and optimization tricks to make it work on the N64. They managed to fit a game that required two discs on the PS1, into a single 64MB N64 cartridge (although some visual downgrades were needed).
Most Nintendo 64 games were between 4MB to 64MB in size, because that’s how much space a standard cartridge had in its ROM chips. A PS1 game disc could hold 650 MB of data and more. Which put the N64 at a disadvantage since it couldn’t play games with lots of FMV cutscenes like Final Fantasy VII.
Does Blowing Into an N64 Cartridge Fix It?
If you own a Nintendo 64 or any other console that uses cartridges, please stop blowing into the cartridge. It doesn’t help remove dust from the connectors, and you’re much better off wiping the connector with a piece of dry cloth. By blowing on the connectors, you’re introducing moisture from your breath which can corrode the contact pins over time.
If you feel the connector has dust on it, just wipe it clean. Then reseat the cartridge, making sure it contacts the input pins of the console properly.
People don’t release that blowing into the cartridge isn’t what makes it work. Instead, it’s the removal and reseating they do every time they take the cartridge out to blow on it.
Archiving Your Nintendo 64 Games The Correct Way
Archiving a Nintendo 64 game cartridge means preparing it to be put away in storage for a long time. This is something done by retro game enthusiasts and collectors who own a large collection of physical media that they want to preserve for future generations.
The first thing you need to do is clean the cartridge. Since you don’t want to open up each individual cartridge and wipe every square centimeter of the PCB, just clean the contacts. Take a cotton swap, dip it in some 99% isopropyl alcohol, and run it across the contacts on both sides.
Then, you need a dry place to store these cartridges. A crate or box is good enough. Use silica gel desiccant packs to keep the moisture levels low.
If you want to go the extra mile, try purchasing some cases for your N64 cartridges. These look similar to CD cases, but they are designed to hold N64 cartridges. You can then print out your own artwork for each case.
Nintendo 64 Cartridge Troubleshooting
If your Nintendo 64 cartridge isn’t being read by the console, try checking the input port on the console itself. Make sure it isn’t being blocked by hair, dust, or any other debris. Then, take a cotton swab dipped in some rubbing alcohol and wipe the contacts on your game cartridge.
Let it dry, then try reinserting the cartridge. Make sure it is seated properly. Finally, if the game saves aren’t working, check to see if your game uses a battery.
It might need replacing. Only a few N64 games need batteries, and these are the 3V CR2032 type available from a multitude of brands.
You don’t have to worry about your N64 cartridges going bad on you. They can easily last a couple of decades or more. However, everything goes bad after a while.So if you’re serious about preserving your games, get a specialized ROM dumping device that lets you rip the game files from your N64 cartridges. Then, you can preserve these games forever via emulation. Or you can use a multi-cartridge like the Everdrive-64 to play all your ROMs from a single SD card.