How to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering? Is this mod even possible? The answer is yes, but there is something you should know.
If you don’t want to solder (or don’t know how to), the brightness of the screen won’t be as good as a display on Gameboy Advance SP. This is actually good in 2 ways. One, the dimmer display allows gameplay at night. Two, it will use less of the battery power.
Contrary to popular belief, you can install a backlit LED display on a Gameboy Advance without soldering.
Disclaimer: The author and Geek.Guru are not responsible for any damage to your device. Proceed at your risk.
This DIY mod guide assumes you are going to use a new shell for the GBA. If you plan to use your old GBA case, it should still work, but you will have to remove the foam and the display from the case.
Before we tell you how to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering, there is one very important thing which you must do. Take the GBA battery cover off, and you will see something like this.
How to identify if you have a 32 or 42 pin display on a Nintendo Gameboy Advance? If your GBA’s motherboard model number starts with a 0, it is a 40 pin board, if it starts with a 1, it is a 32 pin board.
Image credit: Github
A small request: Please do not buy a Gameboy Advance SP just for the sake of taking the screen off it, to mod a GBA. That is cruel. Buy a display from China, it is exactly the same and quite cheap. I’m not kidding.
Here’s what you will need to install a backlit screen on your original GBA:
1. A Nintendo Gameboy Advance. (look at the pic for reference).
2. A new shell (outer casing) of your colour choice.
3. A backlit LED display and ribbon adapter for GBA. Pre-soldered ones are available.
4. New buttons for the A and B, D-Pad, L and R shoulder buttons and the rims.
5. Screen lens to protect the display. Can be either Glass or plastic.
6. New Start and Select buttons (optional)
7. New Silicon rubber pads. (optional)
8. Tri-wing screwdriver (usually included with the screen)
9. A Phillips head screwdriver.
10. A craft knife (also called hobby knife) or a dremel.
11. Electrical tape (insulation tape). This is just in case you need to fix light bleeding.
I say 6 and 7 are optional, because you can re-use the same from the donor GBA.
How difficult is it to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering?
On a scale of 1 to 5, with one being easy and 5 being very difficult, I would say it is a 3, i.e., moderately difficult. The only real problem you will face is in sanding the shell. It may take a while to do that.
How much does it cost to get a backlit display and mod a GBA with a new shell?
- You can get a used Nintendo Gameboy Advance for any price. I got mine for about $28 from eBay.
- The backlit display and pre-soldered ribbon cable costed me $37 for the 40pin board. I got 2 Tri-wing screwdrivers for free with it.
- A new shell (with buttons excluding the Start/Select and silicon pads) costed $8 on AliExpress. This included a plastic screen lens (with the Gameboy Advance logo), new screws and a free sticker for the back cover to give it an original feel.
Adding that up, and you can mod a GBA for just about $73 including shipping (maybe $80 depending on the seller). You may need to spend another $10 for a craft knife and an electrical tape (insulation tape), but you can use those for other purposes too.
That is still cheaper than pre-modded backlit GBA’s which are being sold for $100 on eBay, etsy, AliExpress, etc, and also cost more for shipping. You can mod the GBA yourself easily for a lot cheaper and customize it to your liking.
How long does it take to install a backlit screen and mod a GBA?
This is actually based on your skill and speed. It took me about a couple of hours, because I had to use the craft knife to smooth the shell, and I took the entire console off a couple of times to correct some issues. It may take you less than an hour or even less. Just be patient, and you will be rewarded for it.
The first step to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering, is to take the motherboard off the original GBA, which is quite easy,
Disassembling the GBA.
1. Remove the batteries from your used GBA.
2. There is a Phillips head-screw in the battery compartment. Unscrew it and place it aside.
3. There are 6 Tri-wing screws around the back plate. Get them off.
4. Now, you will be looking at the motherboard of the Nintendo Gameboy Advance. There are 3 Phillips Head screws holding the board down. Unscrew them.
5. On the top of the board, you will see a ribbon cable. There are two notches holding it in place. Use a flat head screwdriver or your fingernail to move the notches up.
6. Use the Tri-wing screwdriver by placing it below the ribbon, and roll it away. It should come off.
7. Now you can take the motherboard off.
How to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering
Now, for the actual stuff.
- Take the front plate of your new GBA shell. There is a ridge running around the place where the display will go.
- The problem with the new backlit displays, is that they don’t sit flush. So, you need to take your craft knife and cut off the ridges, and sand them down smoothly. Leave a bit off the plastic in the lower corners to hold the display in place. Don’t worry if you scratch the shell. It mostly won’t be visible from the outside.
- Take your time with the sanding. It is quite tedious.
- When the display sits correctly, you can proceed. Place the display in the shell, and connect the ribbon cable to the screen. The adapter has a notch which lifts upwards to hold the cable. Place the cable, and lock it down.
- Now, you need to fold the cable in a sort of Z Shape on the back of the display. Otherwise, the motherboard won’t fit in the case. You can hold down the cable and the unsoldered end of the wire, and tape them down using clear tape (scotch tape or cellotape, whatever you call it).
- Place the new A, B, D-Pad, Power, Left and Right buttons and the sides along with the silicon pads in place.
- Take the motherboard and arrange it in position (watch the speaker) and tighten the 3 screws.
- Now, attach the other end of the display ribbon to the top of the motherboard, and lock the notches in place.
- Attach the back plate and screw it in.
This is a good point to test your work. Put some batteries in and check if the GBA is working fine (display, colours, sound, etc).
10. If everything is good, remove the screen protector off the display. Take the screen lens and stick the adhesive side on top of the display. Don’t forget the GBA sticker on to the back plate.
Congratulations, your quest to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering is complete.
Trying to install a backlit display on a Gameboy Advance, but the cover won’t fit?
The back cover of the console’s shell, houses the battery holder. Flip it over and you will see a ridge (a raised line). Take your craft knife and carefully cut off the ridge. Make sure it is smooth, and try attaching the cover back on. It worked for me.
Help, I see light on the sides of the screen after installing a backlit display on my GBA
Don’t panic. This light bleeding issue is very common and can be fixed with some electrical tape. Just cut the tape into long strips and stick them around the display. Make sure that it sits flush. Re-install the display and the tape will block the light. Simple, huh?
I installed a backlit display on my GBA and the text is upside down or reversed. Help
This is probably due to dirt on the ribbon cable’s connectors or it is not properly fit. Take the notches out, reattach the cable and you should be good to go.
Now you know how to install a backlit display on a GBA without soldering, and add a new shell to the handheld console. You may want to read our EZ Flash Omega unboxing to learn about the flash cart.
There are optional improvements you can make to the shell. You can add different coloured buttons, or paste stickers, or even change the lens if you need one.