Scott Hanselman

Building your own Arcade Cabinet for Geeks - Part 6 - Computer Hardware and Software

June 06, 2009 Comment on this post [2] Posted in Arcade
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This is the sixth part of a multi-part series I'm going to do about assembling an Arcade Cabinet for my house. This series has two disclaimers:

Software Disclaimer 1: There's all sorts of legal issues around emulating arcade games. This series of posts has nothing to do with that. I do own some original arcade boards, but if you want to emulate arcade games with MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), you can search the 'tubes. What I'm doing here is putting a computer in a pretty box.

Hardware Disclaimer 2: Many folks that build arcade cabinets have a purist view of how these things should be done. They will prefer original Arcade CRT monitors and more expensive, higher quality parts. I am more of a pragmatist. I also have no idea what I'm doing, so I've also got ignorance on my side.


I, like most geeks, have a number of old computers lying around. I picked the best one, a Pentium 4 I used to use as a Media Center. It has a gig of RAM, runs Windows XP SP3 and has a nice fast ATI video card. I figured since I am just as interested in regular games as I am in Arcade Classics, it'd behoove me to have a decent machine in there.

IMG_0108 IMG_0300

The insides are HUGE as I yanked out the original arcade guts. There's lots of room and the back has two holes cut with screendoor material over them. I haven't had a heat problem yet, but I suspose I could easily add a small desk fan to blow air out the back. It would turn on with the rest of the equipment.

I setup a Microsoft Wireless Desktop 6000 mouse and keyboard (to avoid cords) and I may mount a sack or something on the back to hold them. I also plugged in a Wireless Xbox Controller and Xbox USB Gaming Receiver for games like Far Cry.


I put lots of emulators for classics like C64, SNS, Ataris and other old hardware I have lying around. I set a few important BIOS settings that you shouldn't miss.


  • Set your Power BIOS setting to "Always On" or "On After Power Loss."
  • Set your BIOS to "quick" or "silent" in order to speed up the boot.
  • Use "msconfig.exe" to set the time that Windows waits to boot up to some small number like 3 seconds.
  • Configure XP to automatically logon as some user of your choice, per KB3152321.

There's a number of popular "Front Ends" that you can put in your Startup Folder. Some folks replace Explorer.exe as the shell, but I think that's excessive. I just set my launcher to start immediately .

If you're looking for the prettiest, most "art focused" front end, then there is no other front-end than HyperSpin. It uses a file-based system of transparent PNGs and AVIs along with a compositing engine to make a truly beautiful circular menuing system.

Software is one of those things I'll spend the next year getting just the way I want it.

Next Up: Success and Conclusion

  1. Cabinet and Power
  2. Monitor and Mounting
  3. Control Panel
  4. Sound and Lights
  5. Paint and Art
  6. Computer Hardware and Software
  7. Success and Conclusion

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 10, 2009 22:52
`No Comments? OMG, this is SICK, SICK, (uh, sorry) SIQ!
My 6 year old would have to go back in diapers if I built this because he'd crap his pants. In fact, so would I!

We have a Wii but it is too much trouble to switch the inputs, unpack the controllers, switch the game (uh, anybody seen maternational?) and the games are just too much these days. I miss the days of Mari Bros where you just trample a few turtles and feel better for having done it.

...and Metroid. I sure loved Metroid.
February 17, 2010 20:12
nice very very nice,

I gotta say gonna an xbox to build mine... an emu called coin ops and also final burn....

Hyperspin-fe looks pretty freakin cool

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.