How to Build a Kick-Ass MAME Arcade Cabinet from an Old PC

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If you were born in the 70s or 80s, chances are good that a big part of your childhood was spent wasting quarters at the local arcade, or in front of the Pac-Man machine at your local pizza place. Sure, games have become a lot more complex since then, but the old titles had a lot of charm, and in some cases a level of skill and patience-rewarding challenge that hasn’t been matched since.

Sadly, the arcade is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Now that PCs and game consoles have become so powerful, the only way for arcades to compete has been to offer games with enormous, complicated controls, which end up costing a dollar or more per play. And besides, that’s only if you happen to live next to one of the very few remaining full-sized arcades. For most people, the closest thing they’ve got to an arcade is the worn-out Initial D machine at their local multiplex.

But you can bring the classic arcade experience back to life, in your own house. With a MAME arcade machine, you and your friends can play your favorite old games, on the authentic controls they were made for. In this article, we’re going to show you, step-by-step and with a lot of pictures, exactly how to build the custom arcade machine you’ve always dreamed about using old PC parts. We’re going to describe how we built our MAME cabinet, but we’re also going to describe all the choices we made along the way, including cabinet style, monitor and controls, so you can put together a machine that’s just right for you.

Part 1: The Cabinet

When you think about an arcade machine, what comes to mind? For most people, it’s the cabinet. From the classic standup cabinets like Centipede, with its loud sideart, to the behemoth six-player, two-screen X-Men machines, to the sit-down cocktail Galaga cabinets, every games was its own distinct experience. They were more than just video games, they were furniture .

With that in mind, picking what style of cabinet you want to build for your MAME machine is one of the toughest and most important decisions you’ll have to make. Although exactly what your cabinet will look like is totally up to you, there are three basic styles of cabinet: the upright, the cocktail, and the bartop. We’ll provide a description of each of these types, as well as a breakdown of that cabinet’s pros and cons.

The Upright Cabinet

Image Credit: BYOAC Wiki

The Cocktail Cabinet

“Cocktail”-style arcade machines are essentially a screen set into a table, with controls on one, two or three sides. Traditional cocktail cabinet games with two sets of controls are generally meant to be played by two players on opposite sides of the table taking turns, with the screen rotating 180 degrees between turns so that each player sees the screen as upright.