MAME Cab: The PC hardware build


YOU PUT CRAP IN, YOU GET CRAP OUT

You know, it’s amazing the amount of crap you find lying around your home if you look hard enough. I seem to acquire mainly 3 things;

#1 – old computers
#2 – old game consoles
#3 – old mobile phones

Well, among the many rare and extremely valuable computers ….

Sorry, among the crappola I had acquired was a Dell Optiplex that was taking up space and doing nothing, so I decided to make use of it. This Dell had been rescued by me from a builders skip 2 years previously. I had brought it home, booted it up and it worked perfectly. Obviously the first thing I did was to check the My Videos folder to see if there was anything compromising (fully intending to delete it instantly of course). Anyway, I formatted the hard disk and it had sat there for a couple of years waiting to be turned from a dead piece of crap into a working piece of crap.

MAME (especially older versions like the one we will be using) likes to run on certain hardware. It isn’t too fussy about motherboards or RAM or anything like that, it is more to do with graphics cards and sound cards where the issues lie, the favourites being ATI graphics cards and Creative Soundblaster sound cards.

Personally I have had better success with PCI graphics cards than VGA cards but ISA cards (if you ancient PC supports it) can be better still.

MAME will happily run with the on-board graphics on your motherboard but you may find that some of the more graphically intensive games only display in a smaller window if they display at all.

Another thing to bear in mind is the amount of RAM you have in the system. You don’t want your MAME cab to have to start paging so the more RAM you can throw in the better but to be honest 512 MB will be plenty for your needs.

With regard to disk space a relatively small Hard Disk will do, and something around 8 or 10 Gigabytes will be more than sufficient for running classic MAME games. However, once you start to run the newer versions of MAME and more modern games, then the disk space requirements soon begin to increase, For example, one of the latest releases of MAME supports a ROM set of around 40 Gigabytes. Ours will be around 6 Gigabytes.

As for input methods, to set up our system we won’t even need anything so modern and technical as a mouse, because a keyboard will be more than sufficient. Bring on the Command Line, remember that?

It turned out that the Optiplex having only a Pentium 3 450MHz processor was a little underpowered, despite running some games and running them well, it wasn’t powerful enough to run all of them. The same goes for the P3 667MHz unit I had too, so the general rule of thumb for our antiquated version of MAME is a processor of around 800MHz, and lo and behold I had one of those too.

Don’t worry about the Optiplex though, it has been put to good use as a NAS Server running FreeNAS which I can definitely recommend.

So now that you have your parts bin assembled into a working and bootable PC it is time to turn your attention to the software build, and though the software build is also as potentially infuriating as the hardware one, you won’t be cutting the ends of your fingers on crappy old circuit boards any more.

Tune in next week when I will no doubt bestow upon you the delights of configuring a working PC using nothing but the power of the Command Line ….

…. and Google. Lot’s of Google.

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