Project: Arcade – 8 Months Later

MAME - Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

MAME – Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator

In early September 2014, I wrote about my recently completed project to add a PC to the living room specifically to play MAME and classic console/computer games. Reader Jose recently asked how the whole thing is working out, and that’s a great question. Overall, I’m still very happy with how the project turned out. Hindsight being 20/20, however, there’s probably a couple of things I would change.

One of Jose’s questions was if I still used the system. Yes I do, and friends love to play it when they come over. It’s a really fun shared retro-experience. In fact, I use the system a little more than I thought I would. The MAME/Console PC does not get played as much as my PS4, but more than my PS3. This is one of the reasons I wanted to keep the price at-or-under the price of a PS4 or Xbox One.

So, let’s take a look at the individual components of Project: Arcade, and how they are faring 8 months later.

VivoPC VM40B-021 – 

Pros:

  • Inexpensive.
  • Well built and easily upgradeable, with minimum bloat-ware.
  • Attractive and quiet.

Cons:

  • Fast enough for my uses, but otherwise, it is a slow PC.
Asus VivoPC VM40B

Asus VivoPC VM40B

The ‘heart’ of the system is the Asus VivoPC VM40B. Asus has really built a great looking mini PC that is very quiet. It’s also pretty slow, as PC’s go these days. Running a 1.5GHz dual-core Celeron, with 4GB of RAM and a 5400RPM 3.5in Hard Drive, it’s not a speedster. One of the nicest things about the Asus is that it’s very easy to upgrade. Although the system is slow, again, compared to most PC’s out there, it’s still has more than enough power for what I use it for – 80’s arcade games and 80’s/90’s console/computer games. The VivoPC boots up in 30ish seconds, and, from the “Metro” UI in Windows 8.1, I can get to the Maximus-Arcade software and start playing very quickly.

Upgrade – 8/13/16:  Approaching the two-year anniversary for Project: Arcade, the 30+ second boot times and general Windows slowness finally encouraged me to do a couple of upgrades on the Asus. The VM40B was slow when I got it, but the dual-core 1.5GHz Celeron is still just fast enough to be able to emulate the old 80’s games perfectly well. Even then, it is amazing what adding a SSD will do for performance. And, fortunately, Asus was kind enough to design this particular generation of ViviPC’s so that storage and RAM upgrades are straightforward and as painless as possible. Adding a $70 PNY CS22112 240GB SSD has dropped boot times from 30+ seconds to under 14 seconds. And games now load in a snap, instead of just a second or two. Upgrading from the base 4GB of RAM to 8GB of Corsair RAM3 for $36, together with the SSD upgrade, has made every Windows operation much faster.  Both upgrades have improved the overall experience of using the system, and have probably extended its life by a couple of years.

 

X-Arcade Solo Joystick –

Pros:

  • Built extremely well.
  • Authentic arcade-controller experience.

Cons:

  • Single player only, unless you buy two.
  • Shipping is a killer due to the weight.
X-Arcade Solo, left side

X-Arcade Solo

The X-Arcade Solo is a wonderful joystick. Solid as a stone-wall, but comfortable to use. I love it. The Solo is outstanding for MAME and early-generation console and 8-bit computer gaming. But, because the Arcade/Console PC gets it’s heaviest use when I have guests, I really should have gone with X-Arcade’s Dual Joystick. Or gone all-in and picked up their Tankstick. Alas, I was too rigid with my original budget. I should have considered that no console, none, comes with a controller the caliber of a X-Arcade stick. It would have been better had I thought of it as an ‘accessory’ to the system, rather than part of the system. More deeply, I should have remembered that head-to-head gaming would be impossible, or really unfair, with the X-Arcade Solo. Fortunately, this is a mistake that could be easily, but not cheaply, corrected.

UPDATE – 3/5/2017:  It seems that X-Arcade agrees, and the Solo joystick has been discontinued in favor of dual stick units.

 

X-Box 360 Wireless Controller4

Pros:

  • Responsive.
  • Comfortable.
  • Reasonably priced.

Cons:

  • Not rechargeable (without using external rechargeable batteries).
  • Logitech can make small, elegant, RF receivers. Microsoft includes a 4-5 foot thick and ugly cable, with a receiver on the end. Get with it, Microsoft…
XBox360 Wireless Controller for Windows

XBox360 Wireless Controller for Windows

As a controller for old console gaming, such as NES, Genesis, etc, I’ve been using Microsoft’s XBox360 Wireless Controller for Windows. It’s great. Frankly, and without any experience with the XboxOne Controller for Windows, the Xbox360 version is the best gamepad-style controller I’ve used for a PC. So far, the only upgrade to the entire system that I’ve done is to add a 2nd XBox360 Wireless Controller.

 

Maximus-Arcade “Front-end” Software

Pros:

  • Outstanding UI for ’10-foot’ living room scenarios, as well as arcade cabinets.
  • Allows for an elegant way to access your ROM collection by platform, then by individual ROM.
  • As of today, still included free with the purchase of a X-Arcade joystick.

Cons:

  • Windows-only.
  • Initial set-up is a pain.
Maximus-Arcade front-end UI

Maximus-Arcade front-end UI

In my original article, I gushed over the Maximus-Arcade software, and nothing has changed. For guests, the UI is so simple and easy-to-use, it comes naturally. As some who has done a lot of work with user-experience, I just cannot overstate how much something like Maximus-Arcade brings to the experience. Non-techie friends would not challenge others to some Dig-Dug if getting things set up and running was a chore. Although it’s “just a front-end”, the entire project wouldn’t ‘just work’ without it. $25 is a lot to pay for, basically, a UI. But it’s worth it, life is just too short.

At this point in time, I still consider Project: Arcade to be a success.

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3, 4. Amazon Referral Link

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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6 Responses

  1. Loved the article. I have a question for you. I just bought the dual joystick, and begrudgingly built a Windows 10 on my Macbook Pro bootcamp 🙁

    I have the Maximus software and now, need the Emulators and Roms, and I am freaking out trying to get them without getting viruses and malware on that Windows partition. every site I’ve found looks sketchy as hell, and I just feel lost trying to find a collection. Can you please steer me somewhere safe???

    • Mike Knotts says:

      Hi Greg,

      Thanks! And, nice, I’m glad to hear you went with the dual stick. Since you have a MBP, you have a bit of an advantage over the virus’ and malware. The emulator software should be safe to download, don’t worry. While the MAME website looks circa 1999, I’ve downloaded the software multiple times and haven’t had any problems. If you are looking for other emulators, this is a pretty good general resource – http://www.emulator-zone.com

      As for ROMs, yea, that can be a challenge. And, an additional wrinkle is that, if there is a major update to MAME, sometimes that will break compatibility with a ROM… someone will have to update the ROM file, and then you’ll need to download that all over again. Fortunately, that’s pretty rare. While I can’t point you to a specific site, I’d say that you can probably find most ROMs through BitTorrent. If you’ve never used BT before, just Google “BitTorrent Mac”, and download a “BitTorrent Client”. An app called “Transmission” is a popular Mac BT client. Then it’s a matter of finding a BitTorrent search engine, something Google can help find, and finally, searching for your ROM(s). You should be safe downloading and extracting a BitTorrent file on the Mac side. Then copy just the .rom files you want to play on a USB drive. Boot to Win10 and copy ROMs from the USB drive. Most of these torrents are going to contain hundreds, even thousands of ROMs.

      Have fun!

  2. cokenias says:

    Thanks, Mike. I was unable to play the game on a fanless AMD A4 chip at 1.5ghz. It comes up, but stutters. Looking for a tiny PC I can hide in my parents living room. Maybe this is it…

  3. cokenias says:

    Hey, thanks for all the info. I’m looking for a quiet, small system that will play Gauntlet II. I see you have that rom. Does it play at full speed?

    • Mike Knotts says:

      Hi there, I’m glad the article was useful. You know, that screenshot comes from the Maximus Arcade site, and I don’t actually have that ROM. Because Gauntlet II should be a sprite/DirectDraw based game, I’d expect that it should work perfectly fine. If you want to emulate 3D games and systems (PS1+), you’d probably want a system with a beefier CPU and GPU.

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