We all know that vintage hardware won't last forever; ageing components eventually give up the ghost, and with each passing year, the pool of 'working' systems gets smaller and smaller – unless, of course, the community is able to create replacement parts to repair them and keep them running.
One console which is especially at risk is the SNES. In a recent thread on social media, retro repair specialist FenrisWolfRetro discussed the topic of CPU failures on Nintendo's 16-bit system, saying that "SNES has been dealing with failing CPUs for quite a while now [...] and nobody is willing to develop a direct replacement to keep these systems alive."
"That's why I refuse to work on Rev A systems since the CPU can die 'just because'," adds fellow modder KonaKona. "I had Rev A's dying [in] storage being unused for years; there is certainly something there."
The SNES CPU comes in Rev A, Rev B and 'Revisionless' varieties, and while the failure rate of the A version is much higher than the others, all are at risk of dying, according to FenrisWolfRetro. "We REALLY need CPU replacements soon, otherwise, we're basically f**ked," they add. "Something like @furrtek's Neo Geo replacement ICs would work wonders for this application."
Furrtek then replies:
About repros, sadly the options are very limited (if not plainly non-existent when cost is taken into account) for such advanced chips. The Neo Geo repros I was able to make are pretty basic glue logic designs that can fit in cheap 5V CPLDs, not full-on video controllers.
FenrisWolfRetro tells us that "this issue only applies to 3Chip setups (CPU, PPU1, PPU2). 1Chip revisions, which were the later produced Model 1s and all Model 2s/Jr., don't suffer from CPU issues. Although the APU tends to be the most common failure for those revisions."
Of course, with almost 50 million SNES consoles out in the wild, you might assume this isn't a big deal; there are enough out there that even a couple of million dead machines aren't going to make much of an impact.
However, if this is a particular point of failure in the system's design, then logic dictates that we could see every SNES system become inoperable at some point – perhaps sooner rather than later. While elements such as capacitors can be replaced fairly easily, a CPU is a much more complex part.
Hopefully, someone within the repair and modding community will be able to recreate a drop-in CPU replacement for the console. In the meantime, keep your eye on your beloved SNES, and keep your fingers crossed that it continues to run without issue.