How to Build Your Own Arcade Machine From an Old Computer

Choosing an Arcade Monitor and Computer

The first thing you need to keep in mind is that the designers of MAME wanted to create a way to preserve video games -- the ability to play the games is simply a byproduct. That means that while the goal of the emulator is to recreate the arcade machine hardware's behavior as faithfully as possible, it doesn't always translate into a playable game. Programmers are always working to improve MAME, and older versions may not support all ROMs. Some games may run but will be extremely slow. You should test your ROMs with the version of MAME you prefer before jumping into an arcade machine project.

According to the MAME Web site, the minimum requirements for running MAME on a computer are:

  • Any MMX-capable AMD or Intel processor
  • Windows 98 or later
  • DirectX 5.0 or later
  • A DirectDraw or Direct3D capable graphics card
  • Any DirectSound capable sound card

Most modern PCs blow the doors off of these minimal requirements. The more powerful a computer is, the better it will be at handling the processing requirements of MAME. Computers that have a graphics card with a graphics processing unit (GPU) may fare better than machines with basic graphics cards. Because MAME is attempting to reproduce the behavior of hardware, it requires a lot of processing power. Because of this, some games may run poorly no matter how fast your machine is.

There are other versions of MAME called ports that will run on machines with a Mac or Linux-based operating system. If you download the basic PC version of MAME, you'll see that it's a command-line system. That means you must type in commands to change settings and run ROMs. If you prefer, you can download a MAME frontend that incorporates a graphical user interface (GUI). A good GUI will eliminate the need to incorporate a keyboard into the final arcade machine.

You'll also need a monitor for your game. Some MAME enthusiasts prefer cathode ray tube (CRT) television sets to computer monitors. They argue that computer monitors provide too sharp a picture and detract from the real arcade experience. If you choose a television, make sure your computer and TV can connect with the right cables. A CRT with an S-Video port and a computer containing a graphics card with its own S-Video port works well, but there are other options. To find out more, read How to Connect Your Computer to Your TV.