Upgrading a Sega Game Gear Backlight to LED


The Sega Game Gear was a revolutionary console. Released in 1990 (JP)/1991 (US/EU), the Game Gear featured a 3.2 inch 160×144 pixel backlit full colour display, allowing high-resolution (for the time) visuals. Nintendo’s offering at the time, the original Game Boy, had neither a colour screen, nor a backlight.

The drawback was the power consumption. Requiring 6 AA batteries, the console would achieve up to 5 hours. And that was the quoted battery life – as is the norm, real world performance was likely to be even worse.

The reason for the high power draw was the backlight. Technology at the time required Sega to use a high voltage cathode ray tube (CRT), with the ~9V from the batteries internally boosted to the 100V+ required by the tube.

Another drawback of the CRT was the uneven lighting it provided. Despite the use of a reflector, there was still a noticeable brighter strip across the centre of the screen.

Replacing the backlight can give a large boost in battery life, while also alleviating the uneven lighting problem.

Parts Required

For this mod, we will be using the backlight from either a Nintendo DS Lite, or DSi console. These can be picked up cheaply on ebay, and are often sold still attached to the faulty display.

We’ll also need a boost convertor to provide either 12V (DS Lite) or 15V (DSi) to the replacement backlight, from a 5V source on the console.

On top of this, we’ll need the usual ancillary items – solder, wires (in my case, 24 gauge), heatshrink tubing and double-sided pads/hot glue. To physically get in to the console, a 4.5mm Gamebit screwdriver is required.

Opening the Console

With the right screwdriver, the Game Gear is a simple console to take apart. With all of the screws removed, the rear can be lifted. There are two cables connecting the motherboard to 2 external boards – the power board, and the audio board. Unplug these (I found it easiest to unplug from the external boards, rather than the motherboard), and the entire rear half can be removed.

Game Gear opened
Opened Game Gear, with the rear half of the shell removed. Note the fresh capacitors in this example.

Before going any further, note that this Game Gear that I’m upgrading has had its capacitors replaced. For this reason, you will notice that this will not look exactly the same as a stock Game Gear. This makes no difference to this mod – if anything, the old capacitors would be easier to work around due to their smaller size.

Remove the screws holding the board in place (including those on the cartridge slot, which I initially forgot), and the board can be lifted out of the shell. Take care when doing this, as the screen will be dangling by its cable.

Removing The Current Backlight

Along with the tube itself, removing the current backlight will also involve removing a few components from the Game Gear motherboard. These components are used to step up the voltage to power the backlight, and will no longer be needed when the new one is installed.

parts to remove
Remove the components inside the red boxes.

The image above shows which components need to be removed. A few things to note – the four small boxes, 2 either side of the silver reflector, are for the two fuses that run underneath the tube. The tube itself has one joint on either side of the reflector. You will need to take off the reflector in order to remove the tube.

While it is best to desolder the components, if you don’t have the equipment/skill to do so, you can simply cut most of the components off the board. Take extra care when removing the tube – it’s glass, so can shatter if you drop it.

bridged connection
The pads where ‘R29’ was installed need to be bridged. I used a piece of trimmed capacitor leg – these things are useful to keep around!

With the parts removed, you will need to bridge the vias as shown above.

Installing the Backlight

Installing the backlight should now be trivial. The silver reflector, which we removed in the previous step, will be used to hold the new backlight into position.

If you’re using the DSi backlight, this is a tight squeeze into the gap behind the screen, so should stay in place even without the reflector. The DS Lite backlight is slightly smaller, but still a good fit,

I chose to retain the reflector on the back of the backlight, as this will help to give more even lighting than the original.

With the backlight flush with the board, screw the original reflector back onto the board. Ensure that the flex cable falls outside of the reflector, as we will need to solder wires to this later on.

Fitting The Boost Converter

In order to power the new backlight, you will need to install the boost converter. I’m using an adjustable converter, however a fixed one will do the same job – just make sure the output voltage is correct. The converter needs to be able to output at least 12V (DS Lite)/15V (DSi), and take 5V as an input.

regulator fitted
Solder the wires as shown. The red wire is +ve, the black -ve. Solder the other end to the input pins/pads on your conveter.

The input side needs to be soldered to the points shown above. If you’re using an adjustable converter, now is the time to provide some power to it, to adjust the output. You can either use the console itself for this after soldering, or use an alternative power source beforehand.

I chose to push the wires through some heat shrink tubing, just to make the wiring slightly tidier, though this is completely optional.

Turn the small screw on the converter (on mine, it’s on the blue component) to adjust the output, and check the voltage again. Repeat until the output is either 12V (DS Lite), or 15V (DSi).

Backlight fitted into position, connected to the converter output.

The output can then be soldered to the backlight. Polarity is important – while reverse polarity will not break the backlight, it also wont work. Use the photo above as a guide if unsure.

I chose to use a couple of double-sided pads to hold the converter in place, and insulate the bottom from the board. Hot glue would also be an option – just check that it is fitted securely, and can’t short out on any of the components below.

In this position, the converter I’m using fits snugly in the Game Gear case.


With the new backlight fitted, it’s time to put the console back together. For testing, I chose not to screw the board down completely.

Once you have verified the backlight is working, it’s time to refit the screws, and close the console back up.

Congratulations, you’re Game Gear now has much greater battery life, and a more even backlight to boot!

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