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Possible Arcade Build and Questions

Atari 5200 Guy

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Hey Atarians!

I have been thinking (I know, dangerous) for a while now about trying to build my own PC based arcade machine.  At least get the guts of it put together and working.  What triggered that idea is the fact I found a bunch of computer parts in our dumpster.  Someone threw out about 5 motherboards with processors and cooling fans still attached, a few brand name towers still loaded, and hard drives.  I saved two motherboards, one of which was still in a Compaq tower.  I am unsure of age but they might be newer than the other desktops I already own.  I have not yet went through them yet to get a complete list of what is there but I do know one motherboard has an Intel chipset and another one has an AMD/ATi chipset.  Unfortunately the one with the AMD chipset someone ripped the PCIe port off of it leaving behind all the pins.  My thought is if it has video on board I can still use it if I cut all the pins down.  Either that or replace the port completely.  The Intel board appears physically unharmed.

Both boards are from ASUS which usually makes decent motherboards.  None of them have any RAM and I only managed to save one power supply.  There are a couple of optical drives in the tower as well to add to the three or four I already had.  Hard drives are not a problem either.  I already had some older IDE hard drives of 80 GB or less and have now added two more to the army of PC parts.  One is a Hitachi Deskstar (I assume IBM style Deskstar) that's 80 GB and the other is a Seagate Barracuda 100 GB.  Both are 7200 RPM drives.  I haven't tested them yet to see if they work or if any of this stuff works or will work. 

My thought is that I can use these to build at least one working MAME arcade.  I'm open for suggestions and also interested how others made their MAME arcade.  I'm mostly interested in arcade games up to maybe 1990.  I know I'd be missing a lot but that era contains most of the game I enjoy playing the most.  Also, would I really need a high powered graphics card or could I go without that PCIe port.  

As soon as I can I will take pics of the hardware and get a list of their features.  I don't even know what processors are on them but I don't want to rip them out yet as I don't have any thermo paste at the moment.

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You do not need a fancy graphics card for a MAME cab for old arcade games.  If any of those have on-board graphics, give that a shot first. 

The biggest decision you'll have to make is what kind of controls to use.  In my opinion, your best bet is to buy a little controller USB board that you can use to wire in your own controls, then add a nice stick and arcade buttons.  There's lots of info on that on youtube.  It doesn't have to cost much. 

And then the other huge PITA is configuring the system.  Getting it to boot directly into some kind of front end and then configuring the controls to let you choose an emulator and game.  It's tough.  But do-able. 

Good luck!  Let us know what you've got there computer wise.  But I've found almost any PC hardware will do just fine.  I'm running MAME from an old Raspberry Pi, and even that has enough horsepower to do arcade games just fine.




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Ready for some pics?


This is the AMD model. Date on the cooling fan is from October 2006 so it just celebrated it's 13th birthday (Ooooo...13.  Evil number LOL).  The processor is an AMD Sempron 3200+ (I pulled the fan to check) running at 1.8 GHz (I finally got an AMD setup).  RAM is missing which is DDR 400 MHz unbuffered non-ECC up to 4 GB so 1 GB per slot is the max.  It was made for HP/Compaq computers.  This one was by itself and already pulled.  It does have on board video but not exactly sure what kind.  With this having the ATi architecture it is possible that the video is some form of ATI graphics.  It has a parallel port, too, which is often missing in more modern machines.  4 USB (2 are 2.0), SATA, IDE, Floppy (yep, saved one of those, too), and on-board AC97 audio.  Standard stuff.  I will have to replace the 2032 clock battery.


That's the only thing majorly wrong with it.  I can snip those at the board level and be OK.  The motherboard won't even know it's missing.  It's a shame someone damaged the board like this but I won't be using it any way for my needs.  I can repurpose this without that being an issue.  At least the board is clean.  I didn't have to clean it.  I will put fresh CPU thermal paste on it when I get ready to fire it up.  The processor has already been cleaned free of the old paste.

So I only need the following:

  • DDR 400 MHz RAM (I don't think I have any but will have to check)
  • 2032 battery

I saved a power supply that supports this board.  I also have plenty of hard drives which I can dedicate one to the OS and another to all the arcade stuff.    

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At least Ubuntu is free.  I'll have to research what all front ends are available for that OS.  I can temporarily use a original XBOX controller I modded for use with a USB port.  Boot speed wouldn't bother me and I'd be able to make use of a few older hard drives I have.  I think I have one SATA hard drive but no cables for it.  It, too, was found in our dumpster a long time ago. 

1 hour ago, RickR said:

I'll bet someone Hulk'ed out a video card without pushing the little release clip.  It is a shame. 

 That's probably what happened for that port to be that damaged.

42 minutes ago, RickR said:

One more thing came to my mind....in our area, Dollar Tree sells button batteries (including 2032's) 2 per pack for $1. 

I'll have to check our DT store out and see if they have those there.  I know I've seen AA and AAA size but not the button batteries.  Then again I didn't look hard for those either.  

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I may have found my first issue to try to work around.  Ubuntu.  Latest version requires a dual core 2 GHz processor and 4 GB of RAM but I did find an older version I might be able to use.  XenialXerus (16.04) only requires a 1 GHz processor, 1.5 GB RAM, and 10 GB HDD space.  So I might try that one.  Now to search for a front end.

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I have not got pics yet but the other mobo is an Asus P4GV-LA, also made for HP/Compaq.  While it can contain a Pentium 4/Celeron processor it only has a 400 MHz front side bus and can only have up to 2 GB of DDR 333 MHz RAM.  That might have worked if I was going to use Windows for an arcade OS but I'm wanting to use Ubuntu since it's free and I don't have to worry about upgrades.  I'm just wanting a set it and forget it aspect where all I have to worry about is adding games once in a while.  At this point the AMD seems to be the better performer.  At least this board has a battery so I can pull it and place it in the AMD setup.  I'm still planning to go to DT to see if our store has those 2032 batteries.

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I think I still have a Windows XP CD around here somewhere. I also have a Windows 7 CD.  I know how to hack XP to where you never see the OS at all and have it boot straight into the front end.  I'd have to find MaLa again which I had at one point on an older laptop that mysteriously died.  It was turning out to be a great MAME machine when it stopped turning on for whatever reason.  MaLa also seems to be dead as well so I may not be able to find it.  You had to register it before you could use it.  

5 minutes ago, RickR said:

I'm looking around for a 775 motherboard for you (but no luck yet).  Because a Core 2 Duo can run anything.  Even Windows 10.  I'll keep looking.


Don't go to that much trouble, bud.  If I can get the AMD going it should suffice.  I really appreciate it though.  The AMD setup is almost identical to the laptop I once had that was running MAME with a front end.  It should handle the games I would want to load up on a MAME cab. 

I don't really plan on going to far into the 1990's with games.  From the 1970's up to 1990's should be enough and is the target era that has the games I would play.  Taito, Konami, Namco, Nintendo (if I can find those), Sega, Capcom, Williams, Data East...those games are what I'm after.  Out Run, Space Harrier (which I know require some horsepower) will be the ones that will cause any issues due to their twin 16-bit setups.  Gyruss, Space Invaders, Dig Dug, things like that will run on just about any hardware from the mid 2000's up without problems as long as the ROMs are complete.

I guess I better get MAME and some ROMS to play around with on the computer I'm using now to get an idea of what I am after.  Once that is done I will have a template I can port over to the Linux setup.

I also looked for DDR RAM and all I found was some for laptops.  I have none for desktops.

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