How to build your own Arcade Machine

My Custom Built MAME Arcade Cabinet!
My Custom Built MAME Arcade Cabinet!

I wanted to build a home arcade machine that could play all the classic video games as well as those console favorites.

I’ve played around with arcade emulators on my PC before so I knew a little bit about how it all worked. After months of researching and reading a lot of different websites, I came up with an economical plan that didn’t require too much time and the end result was a highly polished professional arcade system.

In this article I outline every component that was purchased, how much was spent, and my reasoning behind each one. I only wish I had this information when I started to build my own arcade as the majority of it was scattered throughout websites and forums. This is why I’m posting this information so you can save a lot of time and money. There are many factors to consider–You could drop $3,000 and buy a complete arcade system that plays maybe 100 games, or you could assemble your own for about half the price and play thousands of games. The choice was an easy one for me.

X-Arcade Machine

1. Arcade Cabinet

The arcade machine all starts with an empty cabinet. You have some options to consider–buy a used arcade machine and gut it, buy cabinet pieces to assemble, or just buy the plans and start from scratch. I decided to go the easiest route that still gave me control over the components so I ordered pre-cut pieces. I’m no stranger to power tools, but I felt the time it would take didn’t out way the costs of just buying the pieces and assembling.

DIY MAME Cabinet
MameRoom DYI Cabinet Kit
$460 + $125 shipping

I ordered the do-it-yourself UAII cabinet kit from MameRoom Designs. The cabinet arrived in multiple boxes and were of good quality. All the parts were labeled with lettered stickers and the build instructions were easy to follow. It wasn’t all puppy dogs and ice cream, as a lot of the pieces were damaged like they had been dropped. There were a couple pieces they forgot to send and a few were duplicates. I question their QA process, however, they were really good about it and immediately shipped new pieces.

Update: MameRoom Designs was purchased by another company since this article was published.

2. Arcade Controls

Arcade Controls
SlikStik Classic Unit – $500

You can build your own controls by ordering the individual buttons, trackball, spinner, wires, and what’s called an I-PAC controller and plug it into your PC or you can order pre-built controls that fit cleanly into the cabinet and easily connect to your PC. Once again I’m no stranger to wiring things up, but I do have that full time job that cuts into my time and I actually wanted to complete this before winter.

Midnight Blue Overlay
Midnight Blue Overlay – $80

I ordered the Classic Unit panel and added the midnight blue overlay. I highly recommend an overlay as it makes the controls look like a real arcade system. The painful thing is it took almost 5 weeks from when I ordered to the day it was delivered. The construction and overall quality is superb and definitely worth the wait.

X-Arcade Joystick: Relive Arcade Classics

The Classic Unit has has a trackball, spinner, and 2 main joysticks. They have other models available with 4 player controls too. Installation is as easy as plugging 3 USB cables into your PC. One cable is keyboard output which maps the joysticks and most buttons to regular keys, and two mouse cables for trackball and spinner knob.

Update: SlikStik has gone out of business since publishing this article.  Check out X-Arcade as a possibility.

3. 27” Television

Toshiba 27" TV
Toshiba 27″ TV

I bought a 27” Toshiba TV from a friend for $65 after spending weeks searching craigslist for one that had power-return. This feature isn’t something you hear much about but is important for a game cabinet. It means if power goes out, it will turn itself back on and to the correct channel. The reason you need this is you won’t have easy access to the power button and the bezel will cover the IR port so the remote won’t work either. The model I got also had S-Video and a high comb filter which displays graphics and text cleanly at 800×600 resolution. All the classic games look great on it.

4. PC – Dell 2.4 Ghz

Dell PC
Windows PC

This was my old PC and I put a fresh install of Windows XP Home Edition on it and used an old graphics card–the ATI all-in-wonder w/ S-Video out. I tried using a newer nVidia GeForce 4 card but the S-Video on it was horrible and after reading that other people had similar issues I would suggest sticking with ATI if your buying a new card.

One thing to note is a high-end graphics card isn’t really needed as emulators use more CPU than anything else.  I’d suggest going middle of the road for both your graphics card and CPU.  It doesn’t take much to power these retro games from 1980.

Update: If you don’t have an old PC to use then you might consider buying a Raspberry Pi 2 which costs much less than a PC and is powerful enough to run arcade emulators.

5. Lighted Marquee

Mame Marquee
Mame Marquee – $20

I ordered the marquee from Mame Marquee. I think the blue lightning effect looks sharp and matches the midnight blue overlay on the control panel.
I bought a Fluorescent Light Fixture from Happ Controls. It didn’t come with a plug so I had to take an old extension cord and splice it together.

Fluorescent Light Fixture
Fluorescent Light Fixture – $10
Happ Controls
Plexiglas – $8
Local Hardware Store

Finally I bought two pieces of clear Plexiglas cut to fit from my local hardware store, sandwiched the Marquee in between the two pieces, and installed the light fixture behind it. The lightning bolts coming out of the Mame logo look awesome when lighted.

Update: Mame Marquee website is no longer available and Happ Controls has become Suzo-Happ.

6. Monitor Bezel

Monitor Bezel
27″ Monitor Bezel
Happ Controls

Ordered the 27” Monitor bezel from Happ Controls and used a utility knife to trim to fit. This hides everything on the TV except the screen. I got lucky in that it fit perfectly against the screen and the T-molding held it in place without Velcro or tape.


7. Sound

Audio Speakers
Cyber Acoustic Speakers – $30
Best Buy

I used a sub-woofer I already had and bought Cyber Acoustic Speakers to mount above the pre-cut speaker holes. Keep in mind that your arcade can also double as a jukebox, so make sure you get something that sounds decent.

I removed the screens from these speakers which revealed 6 empty holes. I took a couple screws and put them halfway into the cabinet and then slide the speakers onto the screws. It held pretty good by itself, but I also reinforced it with some good old duct tape.

8. Smart Power Strip

Smart Powerstrip
SCTG4 – $30
Smart Home USA

This is a really slick power strip that allows you to have one device be the control power for numerous other devices. For example, my PC is the control so if I power it up then the strip powers on the other devices which include the TV, marquee lights, and sound.

If I shutdown the PC then all the other devices will also shutdown. I can access the PC’s power button by opening the coin door.

9. Coin Door

Coin Door
Coin Door – $55
Part# 40-0008-02
Happ Controls

The coin door was the last touch to the arcade which is just for looks and has no real function. The arcade games do require a coin to be inserted prior to playing. However, the control panel has coin buttons to trigger this event.

Reject Button
Blue Reject Buttons (2) – $10
Part# 42-0517-02
Happ Controls

The door was ordered from Happ Controls and came with yellow coin reject buttons. You can save money by not ordering the entire coin door system as the UAII plans state, but instead just get what you see from the outside. I have listed this part number on the right and it’s all you need.

The coin door comes with yellow buttons installed which didn’t fit my color scheme so I ordered blue buttons and swapped them out. I took an old power supply and wired up the included 14V light bulbs. It was a nice final touch to the arcade.

10. Game Emulators

MAME Emulator
MAME Emulator – Free!

Emulators are what you need to drive your arcade games which are called ROMs. Your PC is way more powerful than the original hardware that ran all those classic games and there is a whole community dedicated towards writing emulators to play them. There are many emulators out there and what follows are my favorites:

MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is probably the best known emulator in the world and plays the majority of your classic arcade games. If your running Windows, you’ll want to use Mame32 which gives a nice GUI around the MAME engine. You’ll need MAME to run games like Pac-Man, Joust, Asteroids, Donkey Kong, Golden Tee, and about 3,000 more.

Nestopia SNES Emulator
Nestopia SNES Emulator – Free!

SNES has numerous emulators and I found Nestopia to be the easiest to get up and running. Super Mario Brothers and Zelda are games you just have to play.

Fusion Sega Emulator
Kega Fusion Sega Emulator – Free!

The Sega Genesis has a great emulator called Fusion. The fast paced Sonic the Hedgehog makes it a requirement to download.


Stella Atari 2600 Emulator
Stella Atari 2600 Emulator – Free!

The Atari 2600 can be played using the Stella emulator. This console was introduced in 1977 and the games were very simple. If you remember Combat, Pitfall, and Kaboom! then you have to get it.

Daphne is an emulator that plays those classic arcade laser disc games. As a kid I remember watching others play Dragon’s Lair but I never did because it was too expensive. Now you can play as much as you like without a bankroll of quarters.

Daphne Emulator
Daphne Emulator – Free!

The ROMs (games) are very easy to find by searching Google, but remember most of them are copyright so you’ll need to check if your legally allowed to run them. 😉

The hardest thing to find were the laserdisc’s for Daphne. You can buy them online or use bittorrent to download the MPEG files.

Update: Mame32 emulator was renamed to MameUI.

11. Front Loader

Front Loader
Maximus Arcade – $25
GameEx – $25
AtomicFE – Free!

I wanted my arcade system to look like a real arcade system and not a Windows PC. This requires removing the Windows boot-up screen, login screen, mouse cursors, and background colors. It is actually possible to customize it so there is no trace of Windows. The best resource I found for doing all of this can be found here:  Wiki – Hiding Windows.

I wanted the arcade to boot directly into what’s called a front loader. Front loaders provide an easy way to select an emulator and game to play without ever seeing Windows Explorer. There are many front loaders out there, some free, some cost a few bucks, and after trying almost 20 different ones I decided on Maximus Arcade. It is very easy to configure and navigate games with a joystick or trackball. It also includes a MP3 player jukebox which is a nice feature.

The best free front loader I found was AtomicFE. Another good front loader to check out is GameEx which is far more extensive than all others but looked too much like Windows Media Center for my taste.

My Dream Arcade Machine

Final Arcade ResultI have over 7,000 different games available on my arcade system. I use the favorites menu to keep track of the ones my friends and I play the most. If I had to create a most played list it would include:

1. Golden Tee 2k
2. Berzerk
3. Track and Field
4. Hyper Sports
5. Missile Commander
6. Galaga
7. Dragon’s Lair
8. NBA Jam
9. Defender
10. Super Mario Brothers 1 and 3
11. Zelda
12. Joust
13. Q-Bert
14. Pac Man
15. Ms. Pac Man
16. Centipede
17. Street Fighter
18. Mortal Kombat 3
19. Dig Dug
20. Asteroids

Final Arcade ResultIt’s been a lot of fun discovering coin-operated arcade games that I played as a kid and competing with my friends for the highest score. Now that it’s in my bar room next to the kegulator there has been many late nights of drinking, gaming, and tough talk.

I wish I could say this project is done, but something tells me I’ll be tweaking it for years to come.

I highly recommend building your own arcade system. The process of building it was almost as fun as playing the games themselves. Almost. :)

X-Arcade Joystick

79 thoughts on “How to build your own Arcade Machine”

  1. hi man i really like your project ,i’m kendrick and i’m an arcade engineer i fix arcade machines at my job ,and i’m working on a project like you do ,i’m working on a classic pacman cabinet that i’ve made and i can see where you’ve made a game list ,witch program did you use and how did you set it up ,i want may machine to be like your

    1. All the links to the software I used are in the article. Let me know if you are looking for anything specific or if they are not working.

      1. You’ve inspired me… I’m saving your page, and starting my own in a few weeks.
        BTW, my wife is going to hate you for this

    2. I have a ninja assault arcade game. cannot line the guns up no matter what….great job on the mame machine, found yours by looking how to build one, responding to Kendrick post, was hoping you might have some insight to what might be hindering my alignment of the guns on my Namco ninja assault game. thanks in advance….lee

      1. Get into the test mode and go to calibration. If after calibration the guns are still off by let’s say and inch to the right, get back into calibrate screen and this time aim your gun an inch to the right (or maybe left) of where it wants you to aim. See how this affects your play.

    3. Thanx for this informations, i will use them to build my machine! But I can tell, nowadays you can build a machine like this with almost ZERO costs (if you have the time, but not the money) , people throw away all the stuff you use for it.. for controllers also go to scrapyards, fleamarkets or look into electronic-store containers. Then use a free Front End. Also i want to weld a rusty crazy Cabinet in MetalSlug look.
      D.I.Y or die! – Cheers from Switzerland

  2. hi, I really admire what you have made , I started to build an arcade myself and I can’t seem to find a way to make dragon’s lair work , could you tell me how you did it please ?

    1. Yeah that one was one of the more difficult games to get running as I recall. Try out various emulator versions and ROMs until you get a combination that works.

  3. Thanks for putting this together. It helps noobs like me get my feet wet and build a baseline for what exactly I want to do. Share more projects like this. Curious to know if you set up your own mapset for the buttons or you used a pre-configured one from an i-pac or some other device.

  4. Incredible job ! I had the idea of building something like it , but the resources and experience shared is highly appreciated and will help me a lot ! Have a nice time with your buddies playing your favorite games and think of any beer holders around this magnificent machine ! :)

  5. I have completed my setup. I have an external power supply which runs into a power pack where my pc connects into. How can I get my desktop to boot up from turning the hardware switch to the on position on the external power supply? Right now I toggle external power supply on which powers on power pack inside case, which fires up all fans n LEDs, I just need my desktop to boot up too instead of me having to stick arm into cabinet to toggle on desktop. Any suggestions?

    1. I used the PC as the master control for everything else on the powerstrip, so I have to open up the coin door and hit the power button which will in turn power up everything else.

      1. I’m late to the article, but you could probably wire a switch to the power button pins on the motherboard and have that accessible on the outside of the cabinet.

      2. I have the same power strip that you showed. I use my PC as the controller. It will shut off the Tv fine but won’t turn it back on. Any thoughts? It is a newer LCD tv instead of a crt.

    2. Depending on the pc you are using, there are power options that you can tweak that tell the pc to turn back on automatically after power has been lost. Which allows you to have an external switch mounted in an easier-to-reach location that would turn on your pc. There are lots of options. You can install a backup power supply that connects through usb to the pc that tells it to initial a shut down sequence when power is lost, that allows you to again mount an external swith for power. Good luck.

  6. Hi there my name is Frank I was hoping that you could help me ,….I have recently bought a PAC 2 Arcade Game ( stand up machine with joystick buttons coin slot etc …..which has 60+ games on it I believe it is a Chinese retrofit some of the games that I want are not on it and I’m hoping to get the 120 + game pack ,….is there a way of converting this 60 game pack to the 128 I have the machine the box the controls everything and it works now I just want to put on more games

  7. This is interesting. I’d like to put something together but with an MCU board instead of a PC. The boards I have are from Parallax, and have VGA and Composite video output with regular audio, and we can load from Micro SD card. I’d like to try to get a coin uinit working with it, might be simple like a coin might connect the circuit and the board can pick it up on GPIO input to see when a coin is inserted.

    Another thing would be the controllers, I’d probably need to find one with individual outputs, where you apply voltage to all potentiometers and then read back voltage from the key/button outputs. I’m not sure if they make them like this anymore. It’s all USB stuff.

  8. I love your cabinet!! My wife and kids are bugging the hell out of me to make one like this for family fun… yeah right lol.. I have never use MAME and I am having problems getting it to work. has something changed over the years since you made yours to now. I have spent over a week trying to get even one thing to work. They make it sound so easy but I’m finding it very confusing with the amount of miss-information out there about it. I know that I can do this without hesitation but I don’t want to start until I can get the emulator to work with a computer on a desk first with a nice frontend. Is there any help you could give me on how to set this up. And just to let you know I do not know much about command line computer work.

    1. Thanks Shea! Glad you like my cabinet. I think that’s a good first step. Hopefully all my links still work above for downloading the software you need. Let me know if that’s not the case. I’d certainly start with MAME. Cheers

  9. Hey greetings, im a huge retro gaming fan, and I really want to build my own Arcade System, is there any chance that you can help me with it? with instructions, pictures, most of all the wiring part, I really appreciate your help.

      1. Hey Todd, awesome job, I have decided I want to make one of these but it seems all the websites seems to have been sold and or gone out of business.

        Also I noticed you didn’t put any specifics into the software end of how you set things up, if it just like a normal. PC and boot from the emulators or did you have an interface set up to auto boot to a menu system?

  10. Hey Todd,
    A good friend just gave me a machine similar to yours. I am a complete(!) noob to mame’s and this tech. I played these games many years ago and that’s about it. Anyways, on the free machine I have, there are thousands of games, and MAME like you mentioned. There are also different control systems (Atari and NES, etc) with their associated games. The problem I have is a bunch of the games don’t work. Some load but don’t function. Some just have a black screen. How do I go about digging into them and repairing or reloading them? Also, would it be helpful to hook a mouse and keyboard up before I try to attempt anything?

    Thanks and Cheers!

    1. Hi Chris, My cabinet has a pull-out drawer under the controls that has a keyboard and mouse already connected. You will need that for sure. It’s pretty common that a game ROM might not work. A lot of times you’ll need to configure the controls for a specific game. Sometimes the ROM just doesn’t work at all. Upgrading the emulator or finding a new ROM is the first thing you should try. But sometimes the ROMs are not fully supported by the emulator or your computer is just too slow to run them. It’s a process but hopefully a fun one. Good luck! ~Todd

      1. I’ve plugged a keyboard and mouse in. I see new areas where I have access like in any windows based machine. Where do I go from here?
        How do I update the emulator?

        1. Hey Chris, I’min the process of building my own cabinet similar to what Todd did (love this article, Todd). To update your emulator, you’ll need to download a new version from the internet. EmuParadise is a great site for emulators and related resources. It’s unclear from your post if your cabinet is built on a Windows machine or Linux, or what; but in any case, you’ll need to be able to get to file system to install a newer version of the emulator and update any ROMs that may be outdated/malfunctioning.

  11. Hey Todd, I’ve been toying with the idea of building a mame for years. Can you tell me the total cost of building one from scratch, and maybe have you a link to plans to build a cabinet from raw materials? I’m in the UK.
    Ps great site, well written and very interesting!

  12. Greetings Todd….thanks for all the wisdom! Question – could you not use a flat screen computer monitor as opposed to the 27in tv? I’ve got an old 4-player NBA Jams cabinet that I’m hoping to convert.
    Also, could you use a Apple OS (Mac-mini perhaps) instead of Windows?

  13. Hi there,

    I ordered a spacie machine online. I have an issue where some of the games that i try to play.. The screen is cut in half and swapped over. So the right half of the screen is on the left and the left is on the right. Pretty much making it impossible to play the game.. it tends to be the newer games. eg – marvel vs capcom, street fighter III etc.
    Any ideas on how i can fix this?


    1. If using Mame you can configure the specific button controls used in each game. Check the Mame docs for more info on setting it up.

  14. You are the man todd much appreciated from novices like myself to come across this article for the building blocks of a mame arcade game. Love your work

  15. I just wanted to add to your list of front ends. Another great free front-end is Hyperspin. And of course you would want to add Rocketlauncher to the set up as well. These 2 programs together make for a really nice front-end.

    Although it is a bit complicated to set up, there a number of how-to videos on youtube to aid you. I will give one piece of advice, the Hyperspin download comes with an old version of Hyperlaunch that you won’t use (Rocket Launcher replaced it). Simply install the new rocket launcher folder in the hyperspin folder and run the transition tool from the Rocketlauncher download.

    Great article! I found the information on hiding windows very useful for my own arcade.

  16. Sweet cab. Might I recommend pang and pigskin as mame games you should try with friends if you haven’t already? Some of my favourites.

  17. I’m really impressed by the finished cabinet, looks really good Todd! Found this site at random because I was looking to build something similar but like the two player table version arcade games. This article has given me many great ideas, thank you. Caris.

  18. looks great – i bought a stand up mame street fighter – but i’m not too good with maintaining it! a couple of the buttons aren’t working – i think it’s a pretty simple process to re-allocate them but i’m not sure how.. don’t suppose you could advise? would be grateful!

  19. This is a sweet article. I was wondering, could I use a Raspberry Pi running Linux instead of a full windows computer in a cabinet like this? I imagine I’d still need a couple ad-ons for the Raspberry Pi to get it sufficient, but your judgement is better than mine.

    1. Thanks! I have a friend that has MAME running with good results on a Raspberry Pi 2. I certainly think it’s worth giving a try given how cheap those devices are…

  20. Hey, this was a great read! I have been interested in this for a while. I have one question that you may or may not be able to answer for me.

    Is there any possible way to have the machine on with the selected game’s demo and intro videos playing before a player decides to play?

    1. I created a mame cab out of an NBA Hangtime machine. It runs Maximus Arcade frontend on a Windows 8 PC hooked up to a 55″ mitsubishi rear projection. 4 player, 6 buttons each and a trackball. No driver issues.

  21. I recently bought two SanFransico Rush games. I’m having trouble linking the two together. Not sure if I have the correct parts. What do I need?

  22. I have access to 2 free arcade cabinets, Rampart & an original Golden Tee. Would you recommend getting one or both of these, then gutting them for a preassembled starting point or are the controllers built specifically for certain cabinet sizes?

    1. i would suggest getting both

      have seen a few images of a golden tee, its quite big on the front panel, so could be converted into a 4 player mabye?

      not sure on a rampart cab size, but mabye have one for gun or fighting games and the other for games that require 3 or more players would be my suggestion.

      i bought a “police trainer” cab, and converted it to a hdtv setup and it has 2 super woofer speakers in the bottom, a surround bass box in the middle, and also takes use of the top speakers which came with the cab, and i use a g27 on it for my pc and ps3 games.

      i do have a double joystick thing which fits in the unit also, but i take that to events i do.

      could be worth you having a look at what budget you can set to it and work from that, and see if you like the setup.

      for me, my plan was for me to hard wire a coin mech and use it at home as a personal savings bank via mame.

      that way it would emulate the real-deal cabs of arcade by inserting coins in a 9 second panic to continue, but also saving money at the same time haha

      hope this helps

  23. I bought a cocktail table arcade unit, but the stickers on the top were cut badly. The company I bought it from said they just installed the electronics. Does anyone know where I can get stickers for the top and sides?

    I’d also like to change out the motherboard for the 412 games instead of 60. Any ideas?

  24. Todd, great info. Thanks for sharing. Your system rocks! As a software engineer myself, I roll my eyes with all of the folks asking for free support!

  25. Great job on this. Question: Will several emulators work with the same front loader? Can you customize it so it pulls roms from the correct emulator?


    1. Different versions of the same emulator? That I don’t know… I’m thinking the front loader I use doesn’t support that but I haven’t upgraded in a while.

  26. I’ve been wanting to open a barcade( bar/arcade) for a while now, and I’m curious, say if i built 200 of my own rom playing cabinet arcade machines… Is it legal to charge people to play these or let the public play them free after buying food or drinks? Because I know emulators play copies of original games that are copyrighted, and I’m pretty sure nintendo, among other game developers don’t take lightly to commercializing their copyrighted games, etc. But while reading this article a couple of things comes to mind like MAME for instance, is this software open source? Is MAME an emulator company that makes money off running copywrighted material? And mostly, could I get in legal trouble by an auditor if I opened an arcade running several machines Much like the one you’ve built in this post?

  27. I bought the Maximus front end and I have a tankstick

    The maximus website is a joke as it is years out of date. What specific version of mame are you running. Is it 32 or 64 bit? 32 bit is no longer updated so I wanted to use 64

    Is it mame or mameui ? I have romsets 139 and 153 with updates to 158

  28. I built my arcade from your site also, I used everything that you did and had wonderful time putting it together with my son. I did move and had to use another computer. And now the controls don’t work on my SlikStik CO2 Unit.
    I was wondering if you have the SlikStik Utilities Installation CD or know where I can get them?
    I do have I-Pack Software for Win 32 Post
    I do need SlikStik Files for CO2 Unit Post
    and I do need SlikStik Mame setup Files Post.
    Thank very much for your time.
    If anyone else is reading this post and you have the files, that I can use, please contact me.

  29. Do you know if anyone has built a stand-alone console/enclosure including a complete control panel and PC that connects to a flat screen/sound system via A/V cables (component or HDMI)?
    Thank you. I love your article. I was in the coin-operated games business for more than 25 years. Before and after that, I was in the computer business, both hardware and software, with an expertise in database design and programming.

  30. Nice work, I built an Arcade cabinet back in 2001 and thought I would offer an idea regarding the TV and power. You can take a small drill bit and drill a small hole in the bezel in front of the IR port on the TV so you can easily turn the TV on/off. You can’t even really see the hole unless you really look for it.

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