Are you having cannot read disc errors on your Wii? Not sure what to do about it? First I will give a little history on the issue I had, and then, give instructions on the steps you can take to troubleshoot problems you may be having.
History of the problem
Our Wii has had issues reading discs for a long time. Nintendo customer service is actually quite good, as long as your device is still under warranty. We had no issues at all until we got our first dual layer disc, Super Smash Brothers Brawl. When we got that disc, it worked most of the time, but once in awhile, it would halt or not load, and we would get an error that the Wii couldn’t read the disc. I read about the problem online, and quickly found I was not alone. A lot of people had the problem and sent their units in for repair. Our problem was not really repeatable though. There wasn’t really a way to make it happen all the time, so I thought if I sent it in, they might not even see the problem.
A while later I noticed it couldn’t read Gamecube discs either. This was repeatable. It couldn’t read any Gamecube discs at all. Since it still had about a month of warranty left, I sent it back to Nintendo with the hopes that whatever they did to fix the Gamecube discs problem, would also fix the dual layer disc problem, and it did for quite a while. Then, a few weeks ago, we picked up Sega All Stars racing. This disc seemed to have more issues than other discs in the past. Right out of the box, it would give errors, but if you ejected the disc and stuck it back in, you could usually get it to the point where it would play. Sometimes you had to take it out and put it in a dozen times to get it to start. Once the race started though, it didn’t seem to have problems, presumably because it was no longer reading data at that point.
The problem got steadily worse until, when you put the disc in, you were lucky if you could even get the title screen to come up. Karaoke Revolution stopped working entirely around the same time. Now, with my warranty long over, I needed to see about getting the Wii fixed. Sending it back to Nintendo didn’t seem like a good option. I had already sent it back once, and the fix was only temporary. If I sent it back it might last for 6-8 months, and then I might have to send it back again. Also, the cost seemed kind of high. Just getting it repaired was going to cost something like $75. A brand new one is only $180, and has an extra Wiimote, nunchuck, Wii sports and Wii sports Resorts. If we didn’t already have those games, and all the Wiimotes and nunchucks we needed, it would be cheaper to actually buy a new one than to get the old one fixed. I seriously considered doing just that, but then there was the issue about Wii ware. It seemed some people had problems after buying new units or getting units fixed where Nintendo had to replace their unit with a different one. All the purchases and Wii points they made with the old unit didn’t get transferred smoothly to the new unit. I decided my only option was to try to fix it myself.
Wii laser cleaning disc
Many posts about this issue seemed to blame early model Wiis, of which ours was one. The problem seemed to be blamed on smokers, or dust. No one smokes in our home, but we do have dust. I looked into possible ways to clean the Wii. The housing is closed with special tri-wing screws, so getting inside the unit was not really an option because I didn’t have this special screwdriver. I learned the problem was so prevalent that by this time, Nintendo had actually produced a Wii laser cleaning disc. I bought one, and the first time I used it, the cleaning pad came out of the Wii almost black. It seemed to help a little bit. For the next week or so, games worked about like they had before, with disc read errors occurring intermittently. Whenever I got a cannot read disc error, I would try to clean the laser again, but after that initial cleaning, it didn’t seem to help any more.
Next, I bought a can of compressed air. The idea being maybe there was some dust in the Wii interfering with the laser. I blew out all the vents and any openings I could get to, but it didn’t seem to help much. By this point, pretty much no dual layer discs worked any more, although single layer discs were still playable.
Since I couldn’t get the case off because of the special tri-wing screws, I couldn’t really get inside to really clean the dust out.
I tried taking a cheap phillips head screwdriver I had and using a dremel tool to turn it into a triwing screwdriver, which some people had reported success with. It didn’t work for me though. I was able to get out the larger screws with it, but there are two smaller black screws that I couldn’t get out with my home made screwdriver and I didn’t want to strip the heads, so I went to Ebay and ordered a 3mm tri-wing screwdriver. They are very affordable. The one I got was pretty cheaply constructed but I didn’t expect anything else considering what I paid for it. When used carefully though, I was able to take the Wii apart with it and clean out all the dust and I was able to clean the laser directly. I might try to search for a better one for the future though.
I put it all back together, and it didn’t help at all.
Adjusting the Potentiometer
The next thing I read about was the potentiometer adjustment to the laser. This controls how much power gets to the laser. Apparently by boosting power to the laser some people report getting it to read discs it is having trouble with. I took the Wii apart again, and tried adjusting it. Everyone says to turn it a little bit counter clockwise, just a tiny bit, and it will sometimes fix the problem. It seems for most people they were doing it so they could read copies of discs made with a DVD burner. I don’t have anything like that, but I thought maybe the whole problem was Nintendo maybe intentionally made the power too low to prevent that sort of thing, and that is why the early Wiis had issues reading discs. Unfortunately, before starting I didn’t take a reading of what the potentiometer was set at because I didn’t take the drive apart far enough to actually get my leads in to probe the device. I did what I thought was a minor adjustment, put it all back together, and now the Wii couldn’t read any discs at all.
I took it all apart again, and this time got right into where I could actually measure the resisstance of the potentiometer. From what I had read it would normally start in the 700-900 ohm range, and people reported success by turning it down to the 500 – 600 ohm range. When I measured it, it was at 400 ohms. I tried adjusting it in 50 ohm increments all the way up to 900 ohms. I had to put it back together and take it back apart each time. Nothing seemed to work, and since I didn’t know what it was set at when I started, I couldn’t put it back to that setting and start from there. I decided either the laser was bad when I started, or I killed it when I adjusted it. I decided to try replacing the laser.
Replacing the laser
A quick search on the Internet found replacement Wii lasers readily available for around $15. Google for the part number RAF-3350. Prices seemed to vary widely though, anywhere from $13 to $70. A lot of people seemed to be selling used ones too, so pay attention to what you are getting. I got mine at thegamersfix.com. I have no complaints.
A few days later, the laser arrived. I installed it, put everything back together, and it works. If I had it to do all over again, I would just order the screwdriver and the laser and replace it. I might try cleaning the laser, but I wouldn’t buy the disc cleaning CD, because to really get rid of the dust, you have to get inside anyway. If you go through the trouble of getting inside, then you can clean the laser anyway. Taking the Wii apart is actually very simple. I will post links here to the two videos I used on YouTube, which showed the entire process in intricate detail. One is for taking the Wii apart, and the other continues from there to explain how to change the laser itself. Just watch through the videos a couple of times first to see what you are going to have to do, and then step through them pausing and rewinding as needed as you do it yourself. They cover everything. The only tools you need are the triwing screwdriver, and a couple of small phillips head screwdrivers. A lot of places on the web sell the three as a kit. Just Google for Wii screwdriver kit.
The only point in the entire replacement process that I had trouble with was removing a small piece of plastic on the laser itself, which needs to be transferred to the new laser. You can see this at 4:30 in the second video. The screw holding it on is very small and on my laser it was very tight. Having a screwdriver with a larger grip would have helped, because the problem I had was I couldn’t push down with enough force while turning the tiny screwdriver. I had to use a pair of vicegrips on the shaft of the screwdriver to turn it while pushing down on the top. That did the trick though. Other than that, I followed the instructions in the videos exactly. So here are the videos.
Update: A year and a half after replacing my laser, I had to replace it a second time. I had more problems the second time, problems others have asked about here in the last year. So here are a few tips from my experience and from some of the helpful comments people have left after they did it.
When you tape the ribbon cable to the metal shield, make sure the extra ribbon cable is pushed under the shield. The laser needs that extra cable as it moves back and forth.
Make sure the laser ribbon cable is pushed all the way in to its socket before you lock it in place.
Pick up some grease to lube the rails and the gear that the laser slides on. I used Lithium grease from Autozone and it seemed to work ok. I read a lot of discussions online about what is and isn’t safe for use with plastic. You might just want to order some when you order the laser and or screwdrivers.
Check to make sure you didn’t break any of the wires that are soldered to the small circuit board you have to move out of the way. The second time I replaced my laser I broke one and had to re solder it to the board.
How to take apart your Wii
How to Replace the Laser