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Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by racketboy Sat Dec 23, 2017 6:16 pm

I'm rounding out my Home Theatre Gaming selection. I've got some HDRetrovision cables for my Genesis and Saturn, got an Analogue NT Mini on the way for NES (also pre-ordered the SNES one) and my Dremacast going from VGA to HDMI. Got a few other newer consoles that I'll work into the rotation. I feel like my biggest gap is arcade stuff. I'd like to be able to play game that didn't get a console port (or a very good one). But I'd like to be able to have a MAME (and possibly Neo Geo) experience as close to a console as possible.

Goals of Arcade Console:
* Be a stand-alone box that controllers plug into. No worries of building controllers, let alone with a system built into the controller
* Be a simple boot-up process just like it was an arcade cabinet that you can select games from.
* Minimize noise and energy consumption
* Neo Geo support?


2 Variations to Discuss....

Low-cost Raspberry Pi
* Are the only interfaces essentially RetroPie skins?
* Are there certain limitations of the generation of arcade games this could handle
* Are there any higher-end cases (in black) that would looks as good as a home theatre PC/Apple TV?
* Having 4 USB ports would be nice
* This unit for Slice media player looks nice, but seems to be full product for different purpose https://liliputing.com/2015/03/raspberr ... pping.html

Low-profile/fanless Windows (or maybe OSX) Based
* Nice to have something that could like a minimalistic console such as an ASUS Vivo PC https://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywo ... 9p38_e_p38 or old Mac Mini (possibly running Windows via Bootcamp)
* What's the slickest current MAME front-ends nowadays? Looking for something that isn't too "geeky" looking, but modern and minimalistic, but subtle artwork/screenshots would be nice.
* Don't want an OS UI showing, just a full-screen UI that is TV friendly and used with only a controller to make it like a console. In years past, I always admired Maximus Arcade's software. Any newer ones that are just as good, if not better/

Hardware Considerations
* Minimal CPU for wide range of games?
* SSD recommended
* RAM suggestions?

Controllers
* Standard USB joysticks
* Support for Bluetooth controllers?
* How easy is it to have good standard configurations for different games with different controllers? 6-button joysticks (plus start button - and maybe a credit button?) would probably be the "standard configuration", but what about switching occasionally to something like an 8bitdo Bluetooth game pad? Would want to avoid having to do a bunch of manual controller button configuration

Ease of Setup?
* While I do have a history of being a tech geek, I'd prefer to reduce how much time I'm going to spend setting the thing up.
* How do this compare between a Windows and a RetroPi setup?
* This includes not only the initial setup of the system software, but also any scraping/collection of game content to match the ROMs.

Game/File Maintenance
* So unlike some people, I would only want to start with some games that I know I would want to play sometime soon so it's not a seemingly infinite list of game names to scroll through.
* I would occasionally want to add in some new gems as I hear recommendations, but I wouldn't want to have to unplug the machine from my home theatre setup to add games. What's the best way to add -- either by network transfer or USB stick?

Video Output/Aspect Ratios
* Output via HDMI to a modern TV. Should lag be a worry?
* Would the system be smart enough to keep the aspect ratio accurate for a game while making the best use of screen space on a TV?
* Any other considerations I am overlooking?

Links to review:
I found this project that gave some ideas, but didn't really cover all the details
http://www.geekometry.com/2014/09/proje ... ving-room/
http://www.geekometry.com/2017/10/proje ... ro-gaming/
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samsonlonghair
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by samsonlonghair Wed Dec 27, 2017 10:52 am

Wow, big topic! I've been doing my own research into this subject for some time now. Let me share what I know with you.

Fast knows more about MAME than I do. If I was planning to setup MAME, I would go back and re-read the great guide he put together some years ago.
http://www.racketboy.com/retro/introduc ... me32mameui

racketboy wrote:Goals of Arcade Console:
* Be a stand-alone box that controllers plug into. No worries of building controllers, let alone with a system built into the controller
* Be a simple boot-up process just like it was an arcade cabinet that you can select games from.
* Minimize noise and energy consumption
* Neo Geo support?

Good to have clearly defined goals at the start of the project. So if I understand you, you don't want a big honkin' arcade machine taking up a ton of space in your home; you want a simple minimalist box to plug in a controller and go, right? That would certainly draw less wattage than an arcade machine. Heck yes to the Neo Geo support! If you're going to be playing arcade games, then you're going to want Neo Geo for sure! SNK's output in the 1990s was right there on par with Capcom and Konami.

racketboy wrote:Low-cost Raspberry Pi
* Are the only interfaces essentially RetroPie skins?
* Are there certain limitations of the generation of arcade games this could handle
* Are there any higher-end cases (in black) that would looks as good as a home theatre PC/Apple TV?
* Having 4 USB ports would be nice
* This unit for Slice media player looks nice, but seems to be full product for different purpose

I'm not the foremost expert on Raspberry Pi, but here's what I do know:

*Yes, so far as I know, every interface I've seen in this vein has basically been a new front end for RetroPie. That's probably what you would want anyway. RetroPie seems to be the best one-size-fits-all solution for retrogamers using a Raspberry Pi. If you decide to focus on a Raspberry Pi, you're almost certainly going to wind up utilizing RetroPie.
*Generational limitations will go hand-in-hand with the hardware you select. For instance, the Raspberry Pi Zero would not be useful in emulating those Neo Geo games. A Raspberry Pi 3 would be better. Neither of these would have be as powerful as a "real" PC, but I suppose that goes without saying.

*Avoid 3D printed cases if you want that high-end AppleTV polished look. 3D printed cases seem to be all the rage with Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. They rarely look as good in person as the look online.

*Raspberry Pi supports standard USB hubs, so this shouldn't be an issue. Consider a powered USB hub rather than one that draws all its power from the host USB port. The Pi itself is designed to draw as little electricity as possible, so it doesn't supply tons of power to the USB. I suppose it has to meet the USB minimum specifications +5V and 500mA, but I wouldn't expect it to power any external devices. A keyboard, a mouse, and a game controller individually don't draw much amperage I suppose - probably only 100mA each, give or take. If you tried to plug in four controllers plus a keyboard and a laser mouse you might push the electrical power output of the Raspberry Supply. A powered USB hub would sidestep this problem altogether. The downside to this approach is that you need to supply an extra power cord.

*Looks like old hardware to me. I believe the Slice Media Player unit you linked was built around a first generation Raspberry Pi. I do not recommend basing your project around the First Gen hardware; successive generations are significantly more capable.
Standard disclaimer: Take this with a grain of salt. Everything I know about Raspberry Pi is second-hand information.

racketboy wrote:Low-profile/fanless Windows (or maybe OSX) Based
* Nice to have something that could like a minimalistic console such as an ASUS Vivo PC or old Mac Mini (possibly running Windows via Bootcamp)
* What's the slickest current MAME front-ends nowadays? Looking for something that isn't too "geeky" looking, but modern and minimalistic, but subtle artwork/screenshots would be nice.
* Don't want an OS UI showing, just a full-screen UI that is TV friendly and used with only a controller to make it like a console. In years past, I always admired Maximus Arcade's software. Any newer ones that are just as good, if not better/


Now we're talking! I think you're on the right track here. A "real" PC is going to be both more powerful and more flexible than a Raspberry Pi. Granted, some of that power goes to support the operating system. I still think you're going to come out ahead.

*I looked up the ASUS Vivo PC that popped up at the top of your Amazon search. It's significantly more powerful than any Raspberry Pi. Looks like there are many options along that range, including barebones systems wherein you bring your own RAM and storage. Either way is a good option depending on whether convenience or customization is your priority.

*A Mac Mini running windows via bootcamp is EXACTLY the option I would choose. This gives you the minimal box that looks great, comes with four USB ports, plus Bluetooth (so you're all set for controllers). The Mac Mini does have a fan, but it's super quiet. Depending what model year you select, you should be able to find more than sufficient horsepower to emulate Neo Geo games. You can use Bootcamp Assistant to tell the Mac Mini to default boot into Windows thereby simplifying the boot process.

On the other hand, isiola has pointed out to me that a Mac Mini is not the best value in terms of price vs hardware. I can't argue that you can find PCs with similar specs for less money, but they just don't look as cool.

For best results, consider a Mac Mini somewhere between 2007 to 2012. Mac Minis before this point would not allow sufficient horsepower, even with upgrades. I think the sweet spot is 2010 for me. In 2010 Apple switched to the Cool Unibody aluminum design, and they still offered an optional DVD-ROM drive. In 2011 Apple dropped the optical drive, but they also offered much improved core i5 and core i7 processor. If you really want to concentrate on arcade emulation, that improved processor will probably be more useful than on Optical drive anyway. In 2014 Apple changed the Mac Mini design to prevent user upgrades, so avoid those.

*The Slickest front end nowadays is probably GameEx. GameEx has every feature you could think of for a frontend, and a ton more you never thought of. It also doesn't hurt that GameEx is FREE. I recommend you make GameEx launch on startup, so that Windows automatically launches you right into your front end immediately following boot.

racketboy wrote:Hardware Considerations
* Minimal CPU for wide range of games?
* SSD recommended
* RAM suggestions?

*I would say the Minimal CPU would be an Intel Core-series processor running at least 2.0GHz. This should handle 1970s, 1980s, and most 1990s arcade games. An Intel Core i7 processor Running at 2.66GHz to 3.0GHz Should handle all 1990s arcade games and even some 2000 arcade games.

*Practically any SSD is going to be way faster and way more reliable than a traditional mechanical hard drive. I have been replacing all my HDDs with SSDs in nearly every computer as money and time allow. Samsung sets the standard for quality SSD design and build. In my experience, Kingston offers a good cost/benefit proposition. There's practically no difference in speed assuming you're connecting through SATA, but the build quality of Kingston is not quite as good as Samsung. Kingston also has a reliable return policy.
Standard disclaimer: Always back up your data.

*Questions of RAM always have the same answer. How much RAM do I need? MORE! :lol:
Seriously though, I would say that 2GB is the minimum threshold for RAM, but that's not always going to provide a consistent and enjoyable experience for 1990s games. 4GB of RAM is better; 8GB of RAM is just about right. 16GB of RAM is probably overkill, but it couldn't hurt to have more RAM than you need.

Remember: in order to utilize more than 3.75~GB or RAM, you need a 64-bit operating system. That's just the nature of the beast. The FAQ at MAMEdev(dot)org offers this caveat regarding 64-bit operating systems:
MAMEdev wrote:The current source code can be directly compiled under all the main OSes: Microsoft Windows (both with DirectX/BGFX native support or with SDL support), Linux, FreeBSD, and Mac OS X. Also, both 32-bit and 64-bit are supported, but be aware 64-bit often shows significant speed increases.

source=http://docs.mamedev.org/initialsetup/mameintro.html

racketboy wrote:Controllers
* Standard USB joysticks
* Support for Bluetooth controllers?
* How easy is it to have good standard configurations for different games with different controllers? 6-button joysticks (plus start button - and maybe a credit button?) would probably be the "standard configuration", but what about switching occasionally to something like an 8bitdo Bluetooth game pad? Would want to avoid having to do a bunch of manual controller button configuration

*Standard USB joysticks and Joystcks for PS3 register as Standard Human-Interface-Devices. These should give you no trouble at all. Just pick the one you like. There are also plenty of PS2-to-USB adapters to give you an even wider set of choices. Be aware that XBOX 360 controllers need a special driver.
*I know that Mac Mini comes with Bluetooth hardware built in. MAME does support Bluetooth controllers.

racketboy wrote:Ease of Setup?
* While I do have a history of being a tech geek, I'd prefer to reduce how much time I'm going to spend setting the thing up.
* How do this compare between a Windows and a RetroPi setup?
* This includes not only the initial setup of the system software, but also any scraping/collection of game content to match the ROMs.

I think either way you go, configuring MAME will be more complicated than installing all the software on the hardware. Installing Windows on an Intel machine isn't hard at all. Installing Retro Pie on a Raspberry Pi basically entails flashing an image onto a microSD card. I think configuring MAME is the hurdle here. MAME is not renown for its user-friendly interface.

racketboy wrote:Game/File Maintenance
* So unlike some people, I would only want to start with some games that I know I would want to play sometime soon so it's not a seemingly infinite list of game names to scroll through.
* I would occasionally want to add in some new gems as I hear recommendations, but I wouldn't want to have to unplug the machine from my home theatre setup to add games. What's the best way to add -- either by network transfer or USB stick?

*I like the way you think, racket. Don't overwhelm yourself right off the bat with every single arcade game ever made. Be aware of which version of the game ROMs you are DLing. Older versions of a given ROM file may only work with an older version of MAME. This is why it's more convenient to download a single massive torrent with a couple thousand ROMs. Maybe consider moving that big ol' torrent download off to an external hard drive for archival purposes. Then just plug in that external hard drive when you want to access a new game.
*Assuming you have a network in your home already, I would say it's easier to add more ROMs over the network. I have heard of some people using FTP to transfer ROMs, but I think it would be easier to use SMB. Just share the ROM folder. Make sure you grant read/write permissions to that folder, not the root of the whole drive. Afterwards, you can SMB in from any PC or Mac (or even a smart phone if you really wanted to) to add extra games at your discretion.

racketboy wrote:Video Output/Aspect Ratios
* Output via HDMI to a modern TV. Should lag be a worry?
* Would the system be smart enough to keep the aspect ratio accurate for a game while making the best use of screen space on a TV?
* Any other considerations I am overlooking?

*YES! Lag should be a serious concern, especially for arcade games! Some HDTV sets have a "game" mode to reduce lag. Some computer monitors lag more than others. I suggest you look up the specs for the monitor you intend to use.
*I think you can configure these settings in a game-by-game basis. It's tedious setup, but it's the best way I know of to make sure the aspect ratio is always right. Also, be aware that some HDTV sets also like to "help" adjust your aspect ratio for you. :roll: You might need to disable this in your TV menu.
*Here's something related that you may have overlooked: Consider a VESA mount that can rotate your monitor ninety degrees. This is especially helpful for arcade shoot 'em ups and vertical monitor games such as Donkey Kong.

Links to review:
I found this project that gave some ideas, but didn't really cover all the details[/quote]
Here's a link to consider:
https://www.amazon.com/Retro-Bit-Genera ... B01M3MXULZ
You can easily add more ROMs to the Retro Bit Generations. Reviews indicate that the build quality is poor, but on the other hand, the darn thing is down to thirty-seven dollars on Amazon now. Granted, it's not the sleekest-looking box, but it's small enough to hide behind the TV set. The Retro-Bit Generations probably gives you a taste of what you're looking for. I think for that low a price point, it's practically an impulse purchase. :wink:
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by racketboy Wed Dec 27, 2017 2:45 pm

Awesome thanks for the responses -- yeah I realized there's a lot here -- I was starting to think I may need to break it up into multiple threads.
I'll take some time to process your responses and get back with you!

If anyone else wants to chime in, please do!

I actually have a Mac Mini laying around. I used one before my iMac. It's still fairly current as far as Mac Minis go, but it wouldn't theoretically add expense for me :) I wish it was black, but oh well ;)

I was thinking if I was running Windows, Dropbox could be a nice way to be able to update my ROMs library and such from my main machine.

As far as lag goes, is there any advantage out outputting to a CRT of any type?
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by samsonlonghair Wed Dec 27, 2017 3:28 pm

racketboy wrote:As far as lag goes, is there any advantage out outputting to a CRT of any type?

Absolutely there is! It's not always practical, but if you output VGA to a CRT monitor, you will experience practically zero lag.
racketboy wrote:I actually have a Mac Mini laying around. I used one before my iMac. It's still fairly current as far as Mac Minis go, but it wouldn't theoretically add expense for me :) I wish it was black, but oh well ;)

Well, I can't blame you for using the computer you already have handy. What is the model identifier for your Mac Mini? I'm curious to know the specs. I'm kinda nerdy for Macintosh hardware. :mrgreen:
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by racketboy Wed Dec 27, 2017 4:30 pm

Sweet thanks!
Model A1347 EMC 2840
Has an SSD too
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by samsonlonghair Thu Dec 28, 2017 3:53 pm

racketboy wrote:Sweet thanks!
Model A1347 EMC 2840
Has an SSD too

Thanks for providing that info, Racket!

The Solid State Drive is a great feature. An SSD dramatically improves boot time, so your startup should be easy breezy. An SSD also speeds up your operating system. This helps irrespective of whether you're using Windows or MacOS X. Both read/write speeds and file search speeds are significantly faster with an SSD. Practically every piece of software you use will benefit from SSD over a traditional Hard Disk Drive..

I looked up your model and emc numbers on EveryMac(dot)com and found four configurations. All four were sent into production starting in 2014. I see what you mean when you said, "fairly current as far as Mac Minis go". You're exactly right about that, Racket. Apple still sells these same four Mac Minis today. These Mac Minis come with Haswell dual-core processors with on-board graphics chips. Unfortunately, these 2014 Mac Minis cannot be easily upgraded; the processor and memory are soldered directly to the motherboard. The specs you have are the specs you keep*.

*One exception: :idea:
The only upgrade path you can take is to add an extra drive. These Mac Minis have room for a single laptop-size drive and a "blade" form factor SSD that connects to the PCIe bus. Apple uses a proprietary interface connector for the SSD. As far as I can tell, this is neither M.2 nor any other standard form factor, so you cannot source a cheap replacement for the non-standard SSD. I'm glad you already have an SSD in your Mac Mini because sourcing and installing one after the fact is neither cheap nor easy.

This basically just leaves you with room for one laptop-size SATA drive -- be it Hard Disk Drive or Solid State Drive. A second drive could be handy for increased storage. You could store large files such as Saturn or SegaCD ISO files in this secondary hard drive.

Apple sells some Mac Minis with a "Fusion Drive" configuration. This is Apple marketing speak for an SSD and an HDD combined into a single volume in a method similar to (but not identical to) a RAID0 configuration. I do not recommend RAIDing together SSD and HDD drives; I believe you're better off with separate drives for separate data. Always remember to keep your operating system and applications on the SSD. You can use the other drive for media storage, archives, or anything else you like.


Of the four Mac Minis with that model and emc number, two are mid-range models with Core i5 processors clocked at 2.6 or 2.8 GHz. I also see a high-end model core i7 clocked at 3.0 GHz. These three models all come with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM and integrated Iris 5100 graphics chips. These three are all ideal candidates for your arcade console. You could emulate practically any 1990s arcade game with this hardware. The high-end core i7 3.0 GHz could run early 2000s arcade games.

There's also a low-end Mac Mini with the same model number and emc number. This is the cheapest Mac that apple sells. The Core i5 processor is clocked at a measly 1.4 GHz. This cheap unit utilizes integrated "HD Graphics 5000" chips with considerably worse performance than the Iris 5100 chips of the other three Mac Minis. The standard memory configuration is only 4GB of RAM. Since the RAM is soldered straight to the motherboard, you can only "upgrade" the RAM on the day you order it. The standard drive configuration is an HDD rather than an SSD, so I'm assuming this is NOT the Mac Mini you bought. It's a good thing, too. This low-end Mac Mini could still function as an arcade console, but not as well as its big brothers. You could still emulate 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s arcade games. Running arcade games from the latter half of the 1990s may require you to enable frame skipping.
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Re: Building a Arcade Console for 2018

by isiolia Thu Dec 28, 2017 8:11 pm

While I would not argue that a PC (or Mac Mini) based machine would be much more powerful, personally I think it smarter to start with a Raspberry Pi setup.

First, because the investment is minor - setting aside any potential controller purchases or something that you might get either way, a Raspberry Pi 3 still has a $35 MSRP, and only strictly requires a micro SD card and a micro USB power adapter - things you literally might have around from an old phone or something. Now, most likely, you'll end up paying a few bucks more than that on Amazon, or just grabbing a kit (the official one is about $60). Plus, there are a wide range of other potential uses for one if it winds up not cutting it or simply not being used.

Additionally, while not necessarily the only single-board computer out there, or route to putting emulators on one... there aren't really that many models of Raspberry Pi out there, so support can be pretty specific with regard to getting a preconfigured image, or looking up how to tweak something.

By contrast, a full-on computer setup tends to either cost more, or encompasses retasking a far more robust device that could be either be better used elsewhere, or might just be bigger/louder/more power hungry than really necessary. Obviously, if that's what it takes to do what's needed, then it'd make sense to go that route. However, to me, there's not a lot of harm in trying the cheap route first in this situation.


* Are the only interfaces essentially RetroPie skins?
AFAIK, more properly, the typical thing for quite a lot of emulators out there these days stems more from Libretro (and RetroArch by association). RetroPie and Recalbox use the EmulationStation frontend, but there's also Lakka that uses the "official" Libretro frontend. There are, no doubt, other combinations or projects. All that to say, RetroPie is less the basis of Raspberry Pie emulation as it is perhaps the most common suggestion.

* Are there certain limitations of the generation of arcade games this could handle
I think the thing about arcade emulation is that it technically encompasses so much that it's hard to give a definitive answer. I think most of the common type stuff like CPS2 or NeoGeo should be fine though, as the Pi 3 is a more powerful device in general than many of the PCs/Macs/modded consoles people started with for that.

* Are there any higher-end cases (in black) that would looks as good as a home theatre PC/Apple TV?
The official case and similar are pretty unobtrusive. The bigger consideration, I would say, is that it falls into the category of devices that are so small that the cables end up being the bigger mess/concern. That said, the size also makes it very flexible with regard to an enclosure. You could, for instance, use a larger case than necessary to give it some heft or give a clean appearance (or completely disguise it).

* Having 4 USB ports would be nice
Raspberry Pi 3 has four USB ports standard. Though, depending on case/location in room/etc, a hub may be preferable anyway.



For computer stuff, if you didn't already have a Mac Mini I would say to look at refurbished small form factor business PCs. Not as svelte as a Mac Mini or Intel NUC (or similar), but small enough to fit in where you're talking about (ballpark them as Xbox size, say) and still be fairly serviceable. Business models have the advantage of often being leased, leading to ready availability of refurbished hardware.
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