Video game consoles are some of the most complex pieces of hardware that you can find in your home, yet there are some more industrious folks out there that take pleasure in ripping them apart. Benjamin J Heckendorn, or Ben Heck as he is more commonly known, is one of those people. For years now Heckendorn has been the Dr. Frankenstein of vintage electronics, gutting the machines of gamers’ youth and reconstructing them in an entirely new fashion. You may know him from his work creating portable Ataris, NESs, SNESs, or Xbox 360 and PS3 laptops, and even modifying controllers for disabled gamers.
In the ten years or so that Ben has been rewiring electronics he’s come a long way, moving from really basic systems like the Atari 2600 to much more advanced ones like the Xbox 360 and PS3. His creations always border on electronics art, and if his art inspires you, then you might want to start tearing into old systems too. However, if you’re just an average Joe, who doesn’t know a soldering iron from a Sata cable, Ben Heck had these words of advice should you want to follow in his footsteps as a modder:
“Well certainly, don’t start with a modern system, because not only the expense, but it’s complicated. Just like dealing with lead-free RoHS solder is a lot different, because if you take an old Nintendo it’s really easy to remove components for it because they’re through-hole… It’s good to start with an older system like an Atari or a Nintendo, because; A) it’s easier, B) it’s cheap, 3) there’s not 12 amps going through it… I think the Super Nintendo had one surface mod in it…
“Those old electronics, even well into the 90s like everything was .1 pitch, that’s the distance between leads, very, very workable, and that’s what I started with. If I went back in time with an Xbox 360 to myself at 24 when I started this, I would ruin it, and I would have been like ’NOOOO, I give up.’ So I usually suggest people start in the past.”
Ben later went on to recommend that you should always use the original style NES because they’re not as rare or valuable as the later top loader model. Coincidentally enough, he went on to talk about creating a portable Neo Geo MVS system, of which can be pretty expensive in its own right. Go figure.
If you’re interested in seeing just what Ben Heck can do, you can check out his new weekly show, The Ben Heck Show, on Revision 3, and if it inspires you at all, you can dig in via the shows sponsor, web retailer Element 14, and pick up just about all the tools you’ll need to replicate Ben’s creation. Over the years Ben has been on a mission of sorts, to “demystify computers” and demonstrate that “computers aren’t magical, they’re just components,” and he encourages would be modders out there to “have at it,” but warns that you’re no doubt “going to break a few eggs along the way.”