Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wii Overheating and Powering Off due to Stuck Fan

The past few weeks, my family has been having a problem with our Nintendo Wii game system at home: After being on and used to play games for an hour or two, the Wii would just shut itself off without warning.  The outer case of the Wii would be hot to the touch after the shut-off.  The obvious diagnosis was that the Wii was overheating, and powering itself off as a safety measure to avoid damaging the processor or other internal components due to the very high temperature.  A Nintendo customer service article on the Wii provides support for this: "The system will shut down if it cannot vent properly to prevent overheating."

After the self-shutoff, the power light of the Wii on the front of its case would be off (not red or yellow, as is normally the case when the Wii is plugged in but powered off).  After the Wii had a few minutes to cool down while powered off, we could get it to power on again by removing and then re-plugging the power cord, but this was obviously only a temporary workaround, since it did nothing to address the root cause of the overheating.

The vents on the back and bottom of the Wii appeared to be clear -- not clogged with dust or otherwise blocked.  However, I couldn't feel any air movement at all when putting my fingers near the vent at the back of the Wii while it was running.  My suspicion was that Wii's internal fan might be jammed with built-up dust, or not running properly for some other reason.  I couldn't determine whether or not this was the case by trying to peer through the vents in the back of the Wii, though.

Reading further on the support site, Nintendo does offer an official repair service, but my Wii (according to the site, after entering my Wii's serial number) is out of warranty; Nintendo wanted US $75 to cover shipping and repair of the out-of-warranty Wii.  I wasn't terribly excited about the prospect of paying such a steep fee to have my not-yet-2-year-old Wii repaired.

I searched around some more, and came across a great article, including pictures, on how to disassemble a Wii, by Ken Hanscom.  Armed with this (thanks Ken!), and with the knowledge that my Wii was out of warranty anyway and therefore there was no warranty to be voided, I decided to set about disassembling my own Wii to be able to get at the fan, and try to diagnose and fix the problem myself.

Tri-wing screwI did need to pick up one additional tool before starting the disassembly -- a "tri-wing" screwdriver, which previously I'd never heard of before.  The Wii and some other consumer electronics devices use tri-wing screws (shown at right) apparently as an attempted security measure to prevent customers from removing the screws and taking apart the devices, as most people don't own one of these screwdrivers, and most hardware stores don't carry them.  However, I was able to pick up a tri-wing screwdriver easily on eBay (searching on tri wing wii) for a grand total of $1.88 including shipping -- almost certainly my most inexpensive online purchase ever that involved something being shipped to me!

Following Ken's instructions, I was able to get the Wii disassembled without too much trouble.  I did run into a couple of problems along the way, though.  First, my micro-size Philips-head screwdriver was having problems getting a grip on the very first set of screws, on the outer Gamecube controller panel of the Wii; however, I ended up being able to use the flathead end of my micro-screwdriver to get those out.

I also ran into a problem with the very last screw to be removed, one of the two tri-wing screws on the bottom of the Wii, in the front panel.  The screw was pretty well stuck in its socket, and I unfortunately managed to strip the screw head using the tri-wing screwdriver, such that I wasn't able to get a grip on the screw with any of my screwdrivers (or with my needle-nose pliers).  Finally, though, as I took a break to put my son Eli to bed, my wife Missy took a turn with the project, and discovered that the casing of the Wii would come apart without actually having to remove that particular screw.  So we were able to complete the disassembly without ever actually getting that screw out.

Wii_parts_bagAs I went along, I ended up putting the screws from each step of the process with their own small plastic bag, to avoid any possibility of getting them confused with one another when I went to reassemble the Wii later.  I also labeled each bag with instructions on where each screw in the bag came from.  This did turn out to make it easy to get the Wii back together at the end of the project.

Finally, the Wii was opened up!  A front/side view:


A rear view:


The Wii's internal fan is visible at the bottom of the latter image.  The fan actually turned out to be very clean -- no visible built-up dust or grime at all.  However, when I tried turning the fan blade with my finger, the fan was "stuck"; it wouldn't move at all.  When I applied a bit more pressure, though, I could feel the fan suddenly become unstuck, and from that point on, it turned very freely -- even just blowing on the fan would get it spinning easily.

I'm not sure how the fan had gotten stuck in the first place, but apparently, the stuck fan had been the problem!  I tested the Wii by putting the cover back on (although not putting all the screws back in just yet), powering it back up, and playing Rock Band 2 with Missy for about an hour; at the end of our session, the Wii outer cover was still cool to the touch.  (Previously, when the Wii was experiencing the overheating issue, playing for any length of time over a few minutes would cause the Wii's cover to become at least warm to the touch, if not hot.)  We were also to feel some slight air movement at the vent at the back of the Wii while it was on, and we could, listening closely, hear the fan spinning.

I'll certainly keep an eye on the Wii's behavior over the coming days and weeks, but for now, the problem appears to be solved -- and without needing to send the Wii off for repairs for several days/weeks, or pay $75 to Nintendo!  I even managed to learn a few things, and pick up a cool new tool (the tri-wing screwdriver), in the process.

If you have an out-of-warranty Wii that you suspect of having a fan problem similar to the one I've described in this post, I would suggest, as a first step before you consider disassembling it, that you power off the Wii, unplug it, and then use a very narrow screwdriver or similarly-shaped tool to reach through the vent at the back of the Wii and check, by gentle touch using your tool, whether the fan appears to be "stuck" as mine was; and if so, if you are able dislodge it by means of applying gentle pressure.  It would be an easy troubleshooting measure to try, before going to the time and effort of disassembling the Wii.