Picture of MAME Cabinet in 4 key steps
This Instructable is more like a guideline than a true step by step Instructable. It is about converting - rather than building from scratch - an Arcade Cabinet into a MAME Cabinet. It is more a guideline because there are many different type of Arcade Cabinets, with different setup and hardware.

Per Wikipedia, an "arcade cabinet, also known as an video arcade machine or video coin-op, is the housing within which an video arcade game's hardware resides."

I'm simplifying, but by definition you can run only one game at a time into an arcade cabinet. If you want to run another game on it, you'll have to change the proprietary hardware inside. But since we're at it, why not replacing all the proprietary hardware with a computer running MAME?

Arcade cabinet and MAME

MAME which stands for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator is a software that allows to run and emulate approximately 3700 different arcade games such as, among the most famous ones Ms Pac Man, Metal Slug, Street Fighter II, Galaga etc.

MAME can run on many different platforms such as Windows, Unix, OS X etc. but by simply playing it on a desktop computer, even though the games are exactly the same as their arcade counterparts, it lacks the look & feel of the original arcade (see attached picture of a desktop PC running...Metal Slug with MAME).

An Arcade Cabinet conversion into a MAME Cabinet consists of:

  • removing the original proprietary electronic game board (PCB) inside a cabinet,
  • replacing it with a computer (a PC) and
  • interfacing it (display, controls, sound etc.)

This is what I detail here in this Instructable. First of all, I'd like to point out there are many different ways of converting an Arcade Cabinet into a MAME Cabinet. The way I did it is not the way, however this is the way that fitted my specifications the most.

Indeed, I wanted my cabinet to look as close to the exact thing as the original and by seeing it from the outside I wanted it in a way that no one could tell if it's a regular Arcade Cabinet or a MAME Cabinet. That means:

  • Keeping the original display monitor (in no way I wanted to use a PC screen, LCD screen or even a TV).
  • Keeping the originals pushbuttons and joysticks.
  • Being coin operated.

I wanted the hardware being as much as integrated as possible ; that means:

  • "one power switch turn it all",
  • no inside keyboard,
  • no inside mouse,
  • no computer case,
  • no floppy or DVD drive,
  • etc.

Concerning the software, I wanted something robust, low tech and low cost that simply allow from booting up, to select a game, play it before finally turning everything off.

Before continuing further I'd also like to point out while you may find most arcade games easily out of the Internet, you must (on a legal standpoint) own the original game before you can run it with MAME. When you run a game with MAME for the first time, MAME display a reminder of this type,see attached screen shot.

Build a cabinet from scratch vs. conversion

Since I wanted something as close to the original, I started with an old cabinet that I have then converted. Of course, you can build a MAME cabinet from scratch but this is beyond the scope of my Instrucable. However you can easily find many information on the Internet about how to built your own enclosure cabinet from scratch.

Let me tell you there is a controversy within the arcade community with converting a cabinet rather than building one from scratch, because some old cabinets may be very rare and unique (think about an original Space Invaders or Pac-Man game Cabinet!) ; by converting a cabinet rather than restoring it to it's original state, it would only accentuate the rarity trend, and most of all destroy a piece of history that just needed some TLC instead. So if you decide to convert rather than building from scratch a cabinet, choose it wisely ! That means choose a generic cabinet instead of a dedicated cabinet.

Get a Cabinet and Prepare it

Anyway. I found my cabinet off of Craigslist, see attached screen shot of the original ad (you can also try eBay, or your local Video Arcade) ; it was sold as "working" but coming without any game board. Also, it wasn't a rare dedicated cabinet, but more like a generic cabinet without any "historic" relevance. That's exactly what I wanted for my project and I bought it for a little over $ 100.

When you convert or even build from scratch a MAME cabinet, there are mainly four critical steps you have to go thru:

  • the ATX power supply power up,
  • the VGA to the arcade monitor hookup,
  • the control interfacing and
  • the software set up.

This is what my Instructable is about. So let me detail each steps...

Hello! tks for the helpful info...but i don't understand this step about mainboard power on:

To solve this problem, I soldered together PIN # 14 (Green which is PS-ON) and PIN # 15 (Black which is COM) of the 20-pin ATX power supply connector. After this modification, the monitor and the motherboard would turn On and Off with the command of one level switch.

I've look your pic but i didn't see any RED cable +5v (the 20 of ATX) solder to other 2 ATX power connector...

JerryBoi8312 years ago
Hello I just finished building a "WeeCade" or Bartop MAME Arcade and have ALL the parts needed like the Mobo, PSU, Monitor and all the rest but im having a VERY difficult time because i want to know how to power the Mobo, Monitor, and Speakers all from the PSU. My son's birthday is in 4 days and i wanted this to be his surprise birthday present. I need help asap so if you or anyone could help i would greatly appreciate it. Please help Chrismake or anyone who can, please email me to "deeznuts4298@yahoo.com".

Thanks again!
A rough thought, but I would suggest a modular psu if u don't have not, as then u can manually mod a wire to create an adaptor for the monitor, and speakers...
1000w would be more than sufficient i think, anyone with more knowledge please correct as nessisary :-)

It would give enough juice to get some decent stability...

I'm contemplating on one I'm doing, mabye using a remote, and attach wires to the individual components via rf to turn em on :-)
ps. i want all to turn on from one switch like you did yours
supermorph2 years ago
Question on switch:
Pc cases are soft buttons, and the switch you show looks like a flick switch that doesn't go back to neutral position, so do you press it on then off in your case?

I'm building a manual game/mame box from scratch with a pc case for less wires hanging...

And was thinking of either extending the power switch or doing what you did,
With trying to figure the 4 second caveat (and make it kid proof lol)
I just bought and installed the Star Wars Arcade in my garage (http://wp.me/p1F8Wq-p1). Next step is your MAME cabinet. "Street Fighter II" here I come!!

-Dork Dad
how much did that thing cost.
kyleslab3 years ago
This is great because it highlights all of the main things
that must be done. I also liked how you integrated it as much as possible, no
keyboard or mouse inside and you kept it very authentic. The interface
part was a great help because I was going to build an arcade cabinet but didn't
because I thought I would have to buy the pricey controls. I'm using an emulator
called Stella, I will have to find out what the keyboard coding for my emulator is so I can do the same thing you did. Thanks, I have been looking for interface help on
Instructables for a while and now I found it.
alexmoi5 years ago
was thinking of fallowing your tutorial to build my own little arcde for the kids. Got all the parts. Got a intel celeron 733 mhz pc with a 32 mb graphic card. Everythign goes good. I install Freedos, but after installation, freedos won't boot on it's own. Am i doing something wrong?
jenkinch5 years ago
This is a great instructable, I am curently gathering parts to make one of these myself. I would just like to add a few things. I work for an amusement company  and work on these games every day. Most of the issues with making one of these can be solved with this:
It connects directly to the wire harness in these games with whats called a jamma connector and then connects to the PC, which then gets rid of all the complicated wiring. It fixes the monitor frequency issue and adds a sound amp so you can use the original speakers in the game. Also for the powering up issue most newer video games out right now (Big Buck Pro/Safari, Tokyo Drift, All the Merit Megatouchs) use normal computer inside them (Dell optiplexs, merit uses normal Asus and Foxconn Motherboards) You can set inside the bios of the computer to power on after power failure and they will boot up every time the game is turned on. With those two things you have a plug and Play Mame Arcade game! No Soldering or wiring except power to the computer!
taris_kah5 years ago
What wattage power supply did you use? Any idea what the wattagerequirements are on the screens?

mwwdesign6 years ago
Excellent 'ible. Keep it up!
slimguy3796 years ago
wow,iu already built mine but your way is very nice, im suprised this is not featured.mad props
chrismake (author)  slimguy3796 years ago
slimguy379 --> Thanks. In all modesty, I'm surprised too. ;o)
dont feel bad i felt a few of mine were worthy but i guess not. actually alot that i slapped together became featured
Decepticon6 years ago
That's a pretty good writeup on a conversion. I only wish I could find a used cabinet (in decent condition) to use. I plan on building my own cabinet once I get all the parts together.