SNES game cartridges are some of the most resilient electronic devices ever made, and I’m quite sure they can survive a nuclear apocalypse. But just playing the game isn’t enough, cartridges also have to store your game progress. Otherwise, you’d be forced to start over every time you booted up your console and in games like Zelda or Castlevania you can only imagine how frustrating that would be.
How long do SNES cartridge batteries last? It depends on the conditions in which each game was stored, but on average these batteries should last between 15 to 20 years. Depending on when your SNES game cartridge was made and how often it was used, the battery might already be dead or close to dying.
Fortunately, replacement batteries are cheap and easy to buy online. Just make sure you buy the ones with pre-soldered tabs because trying to solder your own tabs can cause these lithium cells to catch fire. You’ll also need a soldering iron to swap the old battery for a fresh one.
How SNES Cartridge Work
The CR2032 3V coin cell in a SNES cartridge can last upwards of 20 years under the right conditions. But that’s if it’s used rarely and kept relatively dry around a temperature of 25°C. Hot temperatures and humidity are what kill batteries, increasing the current that leaks out of them.
SRAM chips inside a SNES cartridge consume very little power when they are not being used. And when you plug them into a console, they get power from the cartridge port. Only a tiny fraction of the current used while gaming is needed to retain data in a cartridge that’s sitting in storage.
To extend the lifespan of your SNES cartridges, put them in a sealed container with some desiccant packs. Stow the container in a cool and dry place. Occasionally inspect the cartridges for dust and oxidation buildup on the metal contact pins.
Do SNES Cartridges Go Bad?
Yes, they do indeed go bad when not maintained properly. But first, let’s take a look at how these things work. Inside any SNES cartridge, there are multiple microchips embedded into a PCB.
The largest of these is a mask-ROM chip that contains game files. Then you have an SRAM chip which is volatile memory, so it must be powered at all times to retain data. To power this SRAM chip, a CR2032 coin cell is installed along with a bit of circuitry that detects when the cartridge is removed from its console.
As soon as you disconnect it from the console, this circuit switches to battery power. Idle power draw is much lower than gaming power draw, so the battery lasts 15 to 20 years. And there are cases of SNES cartridges made during the mid-1990s that still work in the 2020s.
However, there are several other points of failure. Like the fingerboard with the gold-colored pins that are responsible for transferring data and power. If the outer protective layer peels off from the friction of repeatedly inserting and removing the cartridge, the metal underneath will oxidize.
Rust prevents the pins from transmitting electricity, and your console might not even detect that a cartridge has been inserted. The formation of rust is accelerated by humidity, so try preserving your cartridges in a dry place. Dust and grime can also block the pins, so make sure to wipe them clean.
Will SNES Games Work Without Batteries?
Yes, you can insert a SNES cartridge into the console and play it without a battery. In fact, the only way to know for sure that your cartridge battery has died is by trying to load saved games. If the battery is dead, your console will find an empty SRAM chip, erased of all saved data.
You also won’t be able to create any new saves. Well, you can create them but as soon as you remove the cartridge this data will be lost forever. If you want to save your progress, you’ll have to replace the dead battery with a new one.
How to Replace The Battery In Your SNES Game Cartridge
First, you need a screwdriver. Specifically, one with a 3.8mm “Game bit” bit. After removing both screws from the bottom of your SNES cartridge, its cover should slide off.
Now, you’ll be able to access the PCB and CR2032 coin cell. Desolder the old battery and solder a new one in its place. While you’ve got the case open, you can also clean the PCB and contact pins with some 91% isopropyl alcohol and a piece of lint-free cloth.
How Can You Tell If A SNES Cartridge Is Real?
Real cartridges have distinct brand marks and logos that are usually missing from cheap copies. But high-quality copies can emulate these logos and even the type of paper they are printed on. Sometimes, you might have to open the cartridge to be sure because modern cartridges use a single ASIC chip instead of multiple ROM/ SRAM chips.
Fake cartridges might also be missing the battery because they don’t need one (flash memory is non-volatile). Some of these fake cartridges also use plastic screws instead of metal ones. Watch this video to learn more about how you can spot fake game cartridges.
How Much Data Can A SNES Cartridge Hold?
Between 0.2 to 4MB of data, which would have been a lot in the early 1990s. Today, it’s impossible to imagine how someone could fit an entire JRPG into that tiny bit of space. Because simple JPEG images are larger than 4MB.
However, developers back in the day coded in assembly language and optimized every single line of code to work around space restrictions. They would use clever graphical tricks to fool your eyes, and bitmaps to store “blocks” of pixels for things like backgrounds.
I hope this article helped you understand how SNES cartridges work and the average battery lifespan you can expect from one of these. Generally speaking, it should be 15 to 20 years. However, there are several examples of SNES cartridges that work perfectly over 30 years after they were made (it all comes down to how you store them).
If you found this article useful, you may want to save this pin below to your Gaming board.