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Plugged In

New uses for old game systems

Plugged In

Chances are, there's an old Nintendo Entertainment System gathering dust somewhere deep in the crevasses of your closet.  Or a Gameboy.  Or a Sega Genesis.  An Atari 2600 joystick, perhaps, or maybe a busted Super Mario Bros. 3 cartridge.  What to do with these ancient plastic husks when they've outlived their time?

As it turns out, options are plentiful.  In today's world of retro-hobbyists and geek-centric e-tailers, vintage game cartridges and consoles can be converted into all sorts of nifty, crafty stuff.  You can use that old NES as the basis of a great do-it-yourself project -- or you can just let someone else do the heavy lifting, and buy a cool re-purposed game item online.

Converting old controllers to USB

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NES USB controller

They may not have 47 buttons and three analog sticks, but classic controllers like the original NES gamepad or the Atari 2600 joystick have a certain je ne sais quoi that modern controllers lack.  Wouldn't it be great if you could plug that NES gamepad into your PC and play games with it?  Well, you can.  There are a few solutions, varying by how hard you want to work.

This handy instructional video from RetroUSB provides a step-by-step guide to a DIY conversion.  The hostess is knowledgeable, personable, and knows her way around a soldering iron.

Sound like too much effort?  RetroUSB also sells external USB converters for a selection of classic controllers.  Or, pop on over to Thinkgeek and pick up a USB-friendly replica of an NES controller.  There's also an Atari USB joystick, though it's out of stock as of the time of writing.  Strictly speaking, these replicas aren't the real thing, but we won't tell.  Promise.


Cartridge Clocks

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Super NES cartridge clock

No retro-gamer-geek décor would be complete without a clock made from a discarded console or cartridge.

Etsy.com offers a lot of easy-purchase options here, from an Atari cartridge clock to a Dreamcast clock to a veritable spate of Nintendo cartridge conversions.

If analog isn't your thing, and you're more of a maker than a buyer, try this step-by-step guide to creating your very own NES alarm clock.


Guitars made from old consoles

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The NES Paul

Instead of shredding alien invaders, you could be shredding some killer solos.  It turns out that a number of different consoles work pretty well for this conversion: NES, Dreamcast, and Sega Genesis systems, to name a few.

The creator of the "NES Paul" (it used to be a Les Paul, see) offers a number of behind-the-scenes photos of his instrument-in-the-making here. It's not a detailed step-by-step guide, though, so best to steer clear unless you really know what you're doing.


Awesome iPod docks

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iPod cartridge dock (SNES)

If you want to charge up your iPod in style, Etsy's got a few options for you.  A dock made from a PlayStation controller, for instance, or another from a Super NES cartridge. Some of these items are available only in limited numbers, but if you reach out to the vendor they'll probably custom-make a new one for you.

On the DIY side, this is one of the easier conversions to do, and there are some intriguing variants online.  Turn a discarded Nintendo 64 controller into a dock, or if you're more of a Sonic fan, a Sega Genesis.  The possibilities are endless.


The NES Lunchbox

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NES lunchbox

Maybe instead of doing something fancy like converting your old Nintendo into some other kind of electronic device, you just want to rip its guts out and use it to cart around bologna sandwiches.

We like your style!  Instructables.com has a handy step-by-step slideshow describing this conversion, which might be more approachable for some of the less tech-savvy among us (although it still requires some power-tool usage).


Macquarium

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Macquarium

Ahhh, the Macquarium.  This classic bit of computer retrofitting has a rich and illustrious history.

No, seriously.  The phrase was originally coined as a joke by computer writer Andy Ihnatko, but in the 1990s he and others actually started building them.  Though the first Macquariums were made from the classic Compact Macintosh shells, the late-90s iMacs also proved a good fit.  There are a number of how-to guides for building a Macquarium, or you could just buy one here. Fish not included, of course.

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