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How to Build Your Own Arcade Machine From an Old Computer

Wiring the Controls

We've reached what is possibly the most challenging part of building your arcade machine. Wiring takes time, patience and skill. There's also an element of trial and error involved, particularly if you're not accustomed to handling wires. Depending on the method you've chosen to connect your controls to your computer, you may need the following:

  • Wires in the 22- to 28-gauge range (.326 to .081 square millimeters) for the controls
  • 18-gauge wire (.821 square millimeters) for wiring that will connect to AC power or ground
  • Wire cutters, strippers and crimpers
  • Soldering iron and solder

You'll have to connect each control to the key encoder by crimping or soldering the wires to the appropriate connectors. You can link the ground wire connectors in series to a common ground. The key encoder (or other interface) should connect to your computer using a connecter and a standard cable -- usually a keyboard cable. You can run the MAME program to test your controls once you've wired them to the encoder. It's a slow process -- you have to determine which keystrokes your controls are simulating and then map those keystrokes to the correct control settings in MAME.


Let's say you've wired up an arcade control system to an encoder. You push the left joystick up and look to see with which keystroke that action corresponds. You notice that it corresponds with T. You would need to tell MAME that the T keystroke should map to player one pushing up on the joystick. You'll need to repeat this procedure over and over again to map every action for your system.

You'll also need to install a power strip or junction box inside your machine if you want to limit your cabinet to just one exterior cable. You can plug your various components into the strip or junction box. You may even want to install an exterior power switch to activate your computer and other electronics so that you don't have to open the cabinet to switch on your machine.

Wiring can become a complicated task, particularly if you want to maximize the number of inputs. We recommend you look at some of the following Web sites to learn more about wiring and interfaces:

It's a lot of work, but for the dedicated hobbyist there's no better payoff than building a working MAME machine. In the end, you'll have a full arcade stored in a single cabinet. Game on!

Learn more about arcade games and other topics through the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Basement Boomerang. "Arcade Games Cabinet." (March 12, 2009)
  • Build Your Own Arcade Controls. (March 11, 2009)
  • Jeff Ultimate MAME Cabinet Project. (March 10, 2009)
  • MAME. (March 9, 2009)
  • Moore, Todd. "How to build your own Arcade System." TM Soft. Jan. 20, 2007. (March 13, 2009)
  • Powers, William. "Classic Cabinets." (March 17, 2009)