PAL NES Region Free mod without tampering with CIC Chip’s leg, now with confirmed compatibility with US NTSC NES.

While most guides on how to mod your NES for region freedom instruct you to lift or break one of the legs of the CIC chip, this has never sat well with me. I’ve always wanted to have the option to remove any and all modifications from my console in order to return to its original state, if possible.

The modification I’m showing here is from the late 80’s. One of our local electronics store owner used to modify both NES and MegaDrive consoles for the people who knew about the possibility for a decent price. The mod doesn’t take long to do, as it’s really just soldering two wires on the PCB.

I’ve successfully replicated this mod on other consoles, and thus far both US and Famicom cartridges have been working without a hitch. Well, as well as you can expect NTSC game to function on a regionless PAL machine. You also need an adapter for Famicom cartridges, but that goes with any region mod with the classic model.

This bit requires a bit more explanation, if we want to get down to it. This mod only circumvents the CIC chip. It does not change the frequency the console runs on. A PAL machine runs on 50hz vertical frequency, unless it’s PAL60, while NTSC runs at 60hz. This difference either way significant, as the formats also affect how the screen is displayed. PAL has aspect ratio of 720×576, whereas NTSC has a boxy 720×480. This means NTSC game running on PAL console will stretch itself by 96 units and run about 17% slower. Properly optimised games run just on the same “speed” as their NTSC counterparts, but more often than not developers simply added boarders to the games and be done with it.

This of course works backwards as well. NTSC consoles will screw with the aspect ratio as the game is squeezed into smaller frame, frames and all, and the game gains wrong refresh rate, making it slightly faster than intended. An interesting case study of PAL optimisation can be found in Super Mario Bros., where to Mario’s movement speed was increased to compensate the framerate. Later on, the whole game was made to run faster than its NTSC counterpart, which can be heard from the music. As such, it’s possible to clear PAL Super Mario Bros. faster than its American or Japanese version. Playing this version on a NTSC console would be even faster.

Because of these issues, there will be glitches on the screen when playing an out-of-region. Not game breaking by any means, but absolute purists will always call PAL format awful, despite it having its own benefits in having more lines, which equates to better picture quality and resolution, but this is rarely if ever taken advantage of in-game localisations. It’s just cheaper and faster to do a quick and dirty job, those Europeans won’t know any better.

It is not entirely impossible to have a multi-speed NES, but that would require extensive modding to the point of it being stupidly convoluted with NTSC parts being bolted unto it and having switches to change between modes. You’d be better off just getting an AV Famicom and rocking that. Truly region free machine does not necessarily offer faultless compatibility, as discussed above. It would be silly to assume that changing hardware level standards from thirty years ago, would be an easy task or even worth achieving total compatibility, when you can and should play the games on their intended machines and screen set. Not to say there is no value in this, on the contrary. This mod is the easiest and fastest way to modify your console which also allows complete removal if one wishes to do so, and gives you an access to a new variety of games on a real platform for a cheap price.

This region mod has stood the test of time, plus it requires less disassembly than the CIC left lift. All you need is to remove the top, the shielding and the loading mechanism for proper workspace. Due to this mod, the blinking light/screen won’t occur any more. Instead, you will just have a white screen, which then can be fixed with any of the normal means.

Is this mod safe? My main NES unit was modded on the day it was purchased, which means the mod has not done anything negative to hamper the function of the console in the odd 25+ years. It’s alive and keeps bringing me entertainment after all these years. I love you, my good old friend.

 I’m not sure if this mod would work on an American NES, but if any of you give this a try, please do notify me. (Update 26.11.2016; It does not, unfortunately. See comment section. Maybe it’s a revision difference or something else, perhaps worth some research? Update 22.12.2016; As seen in the latest comment, it would seem like this does indeed work on NTSC console as well. A wild guess from my part would be that this board revision is shared between regions. I’ll need to take better shots of the board and the info on it for further update down the line.) If needed, I can also modify your machine with the same board revision, but that would mean you’d have to send it over. You also need to make sure the board revision you have there is the same I got pictured here. Otherwise you may screw up your machine, but this does seem to be one of the more common board revisions out there. Of course, toploader is completely different and doesn’t even need to be modded.

Do note that all the versions I have at hand were imported by Bergsala with NES-CPU-10 on the board with the date of 1987. CIC chip says 3195A on it. Due to how mucked the European NES market was (there’s a whole post about it) yours might not work, but little detective work with this should yield the right soldiering points as this is a very simple mod.

The NES PCB is sitting in its casing.
The NES PCB is sitting in its casing
Closer look at the wires and their solder points
Closer look at the wires and their solder points
Even closer look. I would recommend putting some tape to keep the wires down
Even closer look. I would recommend putting some tape to keep the wires down. Also, I should clean my consoles at some points
The same PAL NES running TMNT III; The Manhattan Project
The same PAL NES running TMNT III; The Manhattan Project, a game that was never released in Europe for whatever reason.. You can (barely) see some of the wires going under the loading mechanism, but with proper alignment and using shorter wires you can avoid this completely