Restoring The Neo Geo, Part 1 - Project Introduction

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For my 30th birthday, I was given the rather spectacular gift of a genuine 4-slot Neo Geo arcade unit.  It was such a shocker to receive that I've become a bit obsessed by the machine.  Originally thinking that this unit was a "conversion" cabinet (another game turned into a Neo Geo), I did quite a bit of research into it, digging around the insides, and checking out all of the external features inch by inch.  Nearest I can tell, my arcade unit was (and is) a dedicated cabinet, specifically, a MVS-4-25, revision 1.  

The Neo Geo has been a thrill to own, and a gathering point during parties.  However, this machine has absolutely been through the ringer - it has definitely seen arcade time, or more simply, abuse.  I've decided to restore the machine, and with my community's help, chronicle my success or failure at bringing this cabinet as close to original as possible (given my budget!). 

Below, you'll see a picture of the cabinet's control panel, along with the filth trapped between the plexi and the overlay, and the paint chippings along the side that show the cabinet's original red color.  The joysticks look and feel original, although I haven't seen this particular type of joystick on a Neo Geo cabinet before (are they authentic?  is there something better out there?).  I typically see "long necked" joysticks on Neo Geos, but I do appreciate this style of joystick more, as it seems more likely to accept abuse.  I've replaced 2 buttons, and removed and cleaned the rest, so they're all in great shape with good action.

control panel
(Click any picture to enlarge.  Sorry about the cat's butt in this shot.  She likes to rub against the Neo Geo and purr - something I do occasionally, but not while photos are being taken)

Upon opening the panel, you can see that the wiring is in pretty good shape - bundled well (although a bit hard to trace), and generally unobtrusive.  The power supply in this picture is relatively new, as I had to replace it almost immediately after acquiring the unit. 

"Funny" story about that...  If you look back at the first picture, you'll see that the LED "how many credits are left" panels aren't in the cabinet right now.  One of my first activities was to hook these bad boys up.  The wiring is "keyed" so you can't do it wrong.  Hook up the first one, power it up, and it worked great.  Hooked up the second one, turned on the Neo Geo, and got nothing.  "GAH!  I've destroyed my 1 week old (to me) arcade!  NO!", I whispered, immediately wishing I hadn't done anything, and hoping that my wife was nowhere nearby.  I unhooked everything, and the machine still wouldn't power up - the power supply had no lights on at all!  My trusty (but cheap) multimeter confirmed that the PSU (power supply unit) was getting power, so I took it apart.  Maybe it was the fuse...  Nope.  Nothing, and it didn't even look damaged.  Somewhere on the board, some component failed, and that was the end of that PSU, period.  I bought a replacement power supply, hooked it up, and no problems since.  I have, however, officially declared the LED boards haunted - even though they probably work just fine. 

The bottom of the control panel isn't rusted - that reddish color is some type of primer, I believe.  The black paint on top of the primer has been peeling off over the years.  I am unsure if I should attempt any manner of repair on the bottom of the console.  I will likely buff out the corrosion on the motherboard cover, and repaint.  I may even add a bit of "pizzazz" to that paint job, just to personalize the "engine" a bit.  Anybody with an electroplating shop and some spare chrome? 

inside control panel

Now, a few words on how I came to believe that this is a dedicated cabinet, despite the horrible glossy black paint job.  First is that the Service Panel inside the machine was exactly as pictured in the manual.  I promptly tore the panel apart, and mounted the power, coin, and setup switches on the outside of the unit.  Although I don't have the memory card reader / headphone jack daughterboard, I can see where it's supposed to go.  Aside from the front being repainted and dirty (and partially the wrong color), everything mostly looks to be in good shape here.  You'll notice the tinted glass panel on the left side of the unit.  This dark thing used to be over the monitor.  I'm hoping to replace the glass with a clear tempered glass, so that more of the monitor's light comes through.

front of unit

The rest of the cabinet needs more than just a simple clean-up job.  I'm not entirely sure what to do with it, if I should strip it all the way to the wood and repaint with a matte or semi-gloss finish red (after several primer coats - particle board is THIRSTY), or if I can find a way to get some replacement matte finish vinyl.  To be honest, I don't know how to install vinyl, but I'd be willing to give it a shot, if it isn't difficult.  One of my friends had the rather radical idea of replacing the side panels completely with new MDF (particle board) or other more durable wood (plywood?).  I think it's a neat idea, but I don't have the equipment (like a table saw), and I am unsure if that'd fit into my budget.  I also have some misgivings about dissembling the entire cabinet - I'm not sure I'm mechanically inclined enough to put it back together 100% properly when I finished.  Any suggestions in restoring the sides would be welcome.

ripped corner

As you can see, in places, the original red vinyl was peeling off, and rather than take it all off, or repair the damaged sections, it was simply painted over. 

MVS painted over

In this picture, I've outlined where (in person), you can see where they also painted over the logo work.  A real shame, as I expect making a new logo-template to be one of the more difficult parts of the restoration.

 rips on the side

You can also see that the cabinet has sustained some additional wear and tear since its unfortunate paint job, with more of the MDF and red vinyl exposed.  In the picture below, you can also make out the "Neo Geo" text, immediately below the camera's flash. 

more rips toward the top

Finally, there's the issue of the Neo Geo's monitor.  I'm not entirely sure that there's anything I can do about it, short of buying a new monitor.  As is, I'm relatively happy with the monitor, but know it could / should be better.  Any tips here would be appreciated.  You see, the monitor is perfectly usable when my room's lights are not on.  As the monitor "warms up", it gets brighter - at about 45 minutes of use, the monitor is at its full brightness.  These pictures are after 15 minutes of use, so they are a bit darker than normal, but the effect is more or less the same.

looks fine in the dark
The monitor is perfectly usable with less ambient light

I have heard several people talk about "re-capping" their monitors to repair them.  However, the reasons for recapping seem to stem from people having color weirdness or herky jerky displays.  This is not the case with my monitor, the colors are rich and true, and the picture is stable.  When I dial up the brightness control, it just gets washed out - I've played with it a lot, and know that I've got things set up more or less correctly (I used emulator screens to calibrate the monitor - it took a long time.  Darkness in a monitor seems to stem from some manner of "heating coil", and that's about the limit of my understanding.  I'm also unsure about whether or not I want to take on a monitor project, given the voltages associated with that work (30,000 volts can kill a man).  My information about dark monitors comes in part from forum posts about dark monitors / recapping, etc.  I would love it if someone had any additional words on the topic. 

doesn't look so good in a lighted room
The bright lights of my game room do the screen no justice.

The replacement monitor would be the Wells Gardner K7400 - new, they cost around $365-400, refurbished, it is about $285-300.  I currently have a 25K7193 (25", 7100 series).  I do not have enough room in my cabinet for the 27 inch D9200, priced at $470.  I wish I had the room, that's for sure.  At 24" wide, 22" tall, 20" deep, I think I'm about an inch or two too narrow on every side, and that's taking modification of the cabinet into account.  Basically, there's no way I'm getting that beauty in there.  The K7400 is basically a drop-in replacement, but doesn't have the advanced features, and is a far lower resolution display.  In other words, I couldn't pick up newer JAMMA based boards if I wanted to, I'd probably be stuck emulating with a computer.

monitor, no space
No room for a larger monitor, but that's OK by me.

Plugging this Neo Geo into an emulation system is another goal - I intend to purchase an Arcade VGA and JPac as a part of this project.  There is a massive amount of room in the cabinet, I expect to have no problems at all adding the computer components (without affecting the aesthetics of the Neo Geo).  I already have the computer (a light-weight jobbie, 350Mhz).  I'm going to run a wireless keyboard / mouse / network into the computer before I put it into the box, hopefully that will mean that I won't have to open the cabinet very often.  I plan to make switching between the PC and the Neo Geo motherboard as seemless as possible (by extending the JAMMA connector so that it's accessible through the coin door.  Perhaps there's a better way to do this, I don't know.

back of monitor

Here's a look at the back of the monitor, as well as the cavernous space that I have under the monitor.  Aside from the dials to adjust the monitor, I haven't done much here.  You can't see the isolation transformer in this picture, because that's in the very bottom of the cabinet, as is the original Neo Geo ATX power supply (long dead, by the looks of it).  One thing that might be nice about getting a new monitor is that I would no longer need the transformer (possibly making it safer to work inside of the unit).

I look forward to hearing the community's input on this project.  Basically, my goals are as follows:

  • Make the unit look good.
  • Improve the monitor, if possible.
  • Add a computer to the setup, and keep it hidden.
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Comments
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Anonymous, 7/18/2007 11:35:53 AM
Score: 0  
help!
hi i moved my neo geo arcade from the top floor to the bottom floor and now i get distorted vavy lines on the arcade screen like if something is out of synch or unplugged. what do yo uthink it is?
larsoncc, 7/18/2007 10:53:06 PM
Score: 0  
There are many "pots" (small round knobs) that can be adjusted.  When mine came in from Florida, it had a very similar situation.  It could be that your HSync or your VSync got knocked out of whack.
Darryl B., 7/19/2007 1:42:35 PM
Score: 0  
Wow, gotten any further with this project since?
Anonymous, 8/4/2007 2:26:24 AM
Score: 0  
Where'd you get the replacement power supply... I'm having the same problem with mine.. it has power... but nothing happening.
Anonymous, 3/10/2012 7:21:06 PM
Score: 0  
Actually it is a 2 slot cab and not a 4 slot cab. The 4 slot cab has the memory card plate just below the control panel on the control panel and not on the face board. Also the the pcb shelf is set up for a 2 slot so that the pcb can be placed in front of the 2 slot memory card plate. Basically it's a 2 slot cab with a 4 slot pcb and marquee plate.

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