Howto build a MAME cabinet with just a screwdriver in one day

For a post which actually contains original content, I figured I’d write up my experiences in building a MAME cabinet, which I did a couple of years back. Very basically, MAME is an emulator that allows you to play all the old arcade games (2D ones) on a PC. A MAME cabinet is a PC that is put into an arcade cabinet, so you end up with an arcade machine that has as many games as you want to put on it.

When building a cabinet, a good first thing to consider is budget. Altogether, my cabinet cost about $630 to build (not including cost for a spare PC, which I had lying around). The prices of major components were as follows:

  • Cabinet (Street Fighter 2 Champion Edition, of course), $500
  • Magic pieces (Components to bridge the arcade cabinet and the PC), $130
  • PC (I had used an Athlon 1 Ghz), $0

The cabinet before being modded:

Street Fighter 2 Championship Edition Cabinet

First of all, I’m going to describe how to do this on a JAMMA cabinet (which almost all reasonably new machines are), if you try it with a cabinet that isn’t JAMMA standard, the process will be very tough. Basically, JAMMA is a standard that allows games to be swapped between cabinets just by plugging in a new motherboard. Think of a JAMMA cabinet as a nintendo, and the motherboards as the cartridges. Its a similar idea.

The trick then is, how to bridge the JAMMA interface to the interface of your PC. The PC needs to do all the processing, but the images need to get from the PC to the monitor on the JAMMA cabinet, and likewise joystick inputs need to get from the cabinet to the PC. There are a good number of websites which describe how to do all this (tricky) wiring yourself, but its a pain in the ass and its pretty easy to make an error along the way. If you make a big mistake, you could blow out the CRT (monitor) on the cabinet, so its not worth messing around with.

The company Ultimarc makes alot of hardware for building MAME cabinets (no soldering required!) There are two components which are necessary to buy if you want to take the safe route, as i did. The first is the ArcadeVGA video card, which allows the PC to safely use the tube in the JAMMA cabinet as a monitor. The second piece is the J-Pac bridge, which is the interface between the PC and the cabinet. (I should point out that I have problems with the ArcadeVGA drivers that make my machine freeze during booting about 50% of the time, but if that happens after another restart its good to go.)

Here is a shot of how to hook up the J-Pac to both the PC and the JAMMA harness (Click for high-res):

J-Pac wiring details

A great place to find old arcade cabinets is on craigslist. Expect a cabinet in working condition to be anywhere from $200 to $1000. I bought one with 6 buttons per player so I could play everything I wanted straight away without having to break out a drill.

As for the PC to use, A 1Ghz is probably close to the minimum, and any 64 bit AMD or Pentium 4 class machine should work perfectly. The ArcadeVGA drivers are for windows, Windows XP is the right choice for the operating system.

Now, once you have all the pieces (working cabinet, ArcadeVGA, J-Pac, PC, and some wires and screws), you’re good to go. The steps to carry out are:

  1. Remove the old motherboard from the JAMMA cabinet.
  2. Plug the J-Pac into the JAMMA harness that the old motherboard was connected to.
  3. Mount the PC motherboard where the old motherboard was
  4. Put the ArcadeVGA card in the PC motherboard
  5. Plug the VGA from the PC to the J-Pac
  6. Plug the PS/2 or USB cables (depending on which J-Pac you bought) to the PC
  7. If you have more than 4 buttons per player, you’ll need to do some simple wiring from the button contacts on the machine to the J-Pac

In the end, your setup will look something like this (click for high res):

PC installed in arcade cabinet

This takes just a few hours. Really. Getting all the pieces in one place takes more time than actually building the cabinet.

At this point you are basically there. In my setup I have a trackpad sitting next to the joysticks so I can mouse around in Windows, and roll up keyboard that sits nearby in case I need the keyboard, which is rare. Sound also won’t be hooked up at this point, you can just plug an old set of PC speakers in and put them inside the cabinet. At this point you are done!

Once you fire the machine up, you can install windows, and then boot it:

MAME cabinet booting windows

Me and Mike play on this thing all the time. I highly reccomend King of Dragons as the christening game on the cabinet.

Questions? Post them in a comment and I’ll get back to you with the answer!

In a future post, I’ll describe the software setup of my machine (home server? multimedia pc?), and how to tackle the project on a tight budget.

Update: My post on emulators that work well with the ArcadeVGA video card.

Update: Some people were asking about running the J-Pac without the power supply of the arcade cabinet.  You can accomplish this with the I-Pac.

Update: A question about how to wire up the extra buttons was asked.  Here’s a diagram:

Info on how to wire the kick buttons to the IPac

Info on how to wire the kick buttons to the JPac

What this image shows is a side view of the 2nd players controls, upside down (this is how it looks if you flip it open and look at it from the cabinet’s right side).  The nice news is that the punch buttons and the joystick work automatically – nothing needed there.  To get the kick buttons working, you first need to daisy chain all the grounds together and then connect it to the connector for the ground (GND) on the J-Pac, which just means wire each ground to the next one, and the last one goes to the J-Pac.

You wire the grounds to the middle contact; the lowest (from this perspective) contact isn’t connected to anything.  The topmost contact is then wired to the JPac in the appropriate spot.  Player2 short kick goes to 2sw4, player 2 forward goes to 2sw5, roundhouse to 2sw6.  I dont think I need to point out you do the same thing for player 1, which goes to 1sw4, 5, 6, respectively.

Very easy stuff, no soldering needed – I used wire here that was heavier gauge than necessary.  If you have speaker wire hanging around I think that would do the trick nicely.

25 Responses

  1. [place funny comment here]

  2. original content.
    well done.

    allow me to respond in kind.

  3. […] build a MAME cabinet for $400 Posted on January 3, 2008 by diarrheaBot In my previous post, I wrote about my experiences building a MAME cabinet.  Here, I’m going to explain how to build one as cheaply as possible.  As I wrote in my […]

  4. […] Posted on January 18, 2008 by diarrheaBot On previous posts, I wrote on Howto build a MAME cabinet with just a screwdriver in one day, and Howto build a MAME cabinet […]

  5. Its a good project but dont get angry with me when i say this and im sure other people will agree.

    You cant just buy a working classic arcade cabinet and rip it apart just to put a pc into it.

  6. Ruv:

    I can appreciate where you’re coming from, but I’m not sure this can really be described as “ripping apart” (what I talk about doing in the bargain build can be, though).

    With the setup described here, converting the entire thing back requires taking out 12 screws, and plugging the original board back in (which I have done). It’s less than 5 minutes work – and back exactly how it came from the factory.

    It’s not like we’re talking about putting a chevy small block into a mustang now. That’s some wrong stuff right there.

  7. Hi man! Super howto. I have just a question: i have a cabinet jamma but what if i broke jamma’s motherboard and jamma’s power supply? What i’m looking to understand is if the J-Pac work also with the only Power Suppy OF THE PC and not of the Jamma cabinet. Can then i use the cabinet without its own motherboard and without its power supply? (for the monitor i wont use the arcade one but a standard…)

  8. Hi Shella,

    I actuually didn’t know the answer to this, so I had to check it out. I just unplugged the J-Pac from the harness, and rebooted the computer. It looks like the J-Pac gets its power from the computer, and not the Jamma harness because all the lights (self test, sync ok, sync in) on the J-Pac were lit up. Its hard to tell because of the flash, but they’re all on.

    I couldn’t tell for sure though, because the monitor blacks out when the J-Pac isn’t plugged in.

    So I think it should work, but you may want to check in the Ultimarc Forums, or email Ultimarc.

    I’d like to know what the answer is, so itd be excellent if you posted back once you knew.

  9. So, did you leave the original power supply in the machine? Is that what you have powering the monitor?

  10. Yes, in my machine I have the cabinet power supply running the Jamma monitor, and then the PC power supply running everything else.

  11. Okay so, do you have the power disconected that runs from the original power supply to the J-Pac or do you have that connected? The reason I ask is if I don’t have a Jamma board in my cabinet it won’t power on (no marquee lite, no coin lights and I’m assuming no monitor power).

  12. In my cabinet the original power supply is still connected to everything as it is in a stock cabinet (including monitor) – but I think the J-Pac may actually take power off the PC as opposed to the cabinet power supply – not sure.

  13. The J-Pac is USB powered. The only thing I don’t see mentioned is how you connected power to the PC power supply, and how/where you placed the on and reset switches for the PC. Does the coin mech work like the 5 and 6 keys in mame to add credits? Anyhow any input is appreciated. I have a line on a Street Fighter II for 200.00 and really think i’m going to give this a go.

  14. The power supply on my cabinet had another outlet built into it, so i just plugged my comp into there. otherwise you can just drill a hole in the back of the cabinet and route the plug for the PC through there.

    I mounted the on/off switch hidden inside the cabinet, right inside where the door where the coin mechanisms are, so I just open that door, reach inside a bit, and hit the switch to turn on the PC.

    Yes, 5,6 are just like dropping coins into the machine.

    You should give it a shot, its not too much work.

  15. i have 6 buttons per player how is the wiring from the button contacts on the machine to the J-Pac done
    please explain

  16. Thanks for the question – I’ll post some pics later today with more info.

  17. Done. Check the end of the post.

  18. thanx mate i also have a credit button can that be hooked up aswell

  19. !! How could you do that to such a beautiful original street fighter CE cab….Heresy! :* ( snif….

    good work though 🙂 Couldn’t bring myself to do it to my CE cab, but good project for another one.

  20. I have a 4 player jamma cabinet. Is there extra wiring when hooking up a JPac for it?

  21. I have a 4-player cabinet and I was wondering if extra wiring would be needed when installing the JPac?

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