Building the arcade machine part 1

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It’s worth checking eBay for old cabs or cabinet kits before you commit to buying any wood. I ordered the laser cut MDF for my bartop from a seller on eBay, which set me back £40. Much cheaper than doing it myself and a much better job than I could have done.

My bartop’s designed to take a widescreen 19 inch monitor. Most older arcade games are in 4:3 format, but this is going in the kitchen, so I’d like to throw a movie on from time-to-time. It’ll be running a Raspberry Pi 3, which is more than capable of emulating Playstation games and running Kodi.

Prepping the Cab

After sanding, I filled any gaps with wood filler. My cabinet isn’t routed for t-moulding, so I ran wood filler around the front edges and smoothed with my thumb for a rounded finish. Once set I coated the cabinet inside and out with an oil based MDF primer.

Next step was to spray the cabinet inside and out with a matte black primer. The rear panel is going to stay black. I’m going to wrap the top of the cabinet, Control Panel and front in black carbon fibre car wrap. Before I do that though, I’m going to paint the sides of the cabinet in three thin coats of off-white emulsion using a foam roller.

The Monitor

I’m going for a small footprint but I want to use the largest screen possible, so I’ll be using a reclaimed 15.4″ Samsung laptop screen (LTN154AT07-H01). Once removed from the laptop, the screen itself is just a panel. In order to power it and run the firmware that tells it it’s a screen, I’ll need to use an LCD Controller Board.

I’m using a ‘HDMI + DVI + VGA LCD Controller Board Lvds Inverter Kit’. It comes with a range of inputs but since the Pi has HDMI out, that’s the one I’m interested in. The board itself is powered by a 12v laptop charger, which it also uses to power the screen. It contains the specific firmware required for my model of laptop monitor. Again, I bought this on eBay. The seller requested monitor manufacturer and model number and they flashed the firmware for me.

You could just use a standard computer monitor, remove the plastic housing and use the monitor’s inputs. If I build another cab I’ll still probably go for the stripped down LCD screen route simply because it gives more room to play with inside the cabinet.

The Control Panel

Control Panel kits are readily available. Mine came with a Sanwa Joystick, eight 30mm buttons and two 28mm buttons. It also came with the control board and wires to connect the buttons and stick. The board connects the buttons to the Pi via USB. Most of these kits are plug-and-play and are recognised by Retropie as a controller. The 30mm buttons will emulate that classic Street Fighter layout, while the two 28mm will serve as start/select and coin.

Joysticks fall in to a couple of categories. The Japanese style ball top and the American style bat top. I prefer the ball top but it all boils down to preference and the games you played growing up. A couple more considerations when it comes to your stick are the ‘gate’ and spring tension. The gate controls the movement of the joystick. Circular gates allow for smooth curves, while octagonal gates allow for more precise inputs.

The Computer

Originally I used a Raspberry Pi 2, but I’ve since upgraded to a Pi 3, which offers a couple of significant quality of life upgrades. If you’re considering a Raspberry Pi build; I’d recommend the Pi 3 over the 2 for a couple of reasons.

  • Built-in Wi-Fi means I don’t have to open the back of the machine up and dig out the older laptop to transfer ROMS via ethernet cable. Now, I just FTP in using Filezilla and transfer files over my home network.
  • Bluetooth on the chip means I can use a WiiU Pro or PS3 Controller when playing SNES/Megadrive/N64/Playstation games. Goodbye single player machine, hello four player machine.
  • Faster processor and more RAM means better CPS2 and N64 emulation and, in some instances, acceptable Dreamcast Emulation.


Nestled behind the Marquee is a portable bluetooth speaker. I’t needs 5v for power but since it uses micro-USB, it can draw power from one of the Raspberry Pi’s USB inputs. Unfortunately, Retropie doesn’t output audio via bluetooth and since we’re using the HDMI purely for video, the audio has to come from the Pi’s 3.5mm audio out and in to the speaker’s AUX input.


I’m using a 64gb micro SD. That’s enough for the entire Megadrive, SNES and GBA libraries, plus all the major Capcom arcade fighters from SFII to MvC with room for Tekken 3 and some change. Retropie can be configured to use a hard drive or a network drive, which is all the more reason to go for the Pi 3 with its built in Wi-Fi.