whitebox as in gallery, pixel as in video game

the whitebox is a special-purpose computer build to preserve and expose the history of console video game design. this project also revolves around the idea of educated criticism; it aims to facilitate a dialogue between the understudied history of the medium, the general public and future video game designers.

this gaming machine allows you, or in this case me, to curate selections of video games and present them to the public under the theoretical umbrella of an art exhibition; with whatever credibility that tired concept adds. with this setup you can for example: offer the public every unlicensed game made for NES to play with, or a selection of all the work made by Gunpei Yokoi or even the worst games from the golden age of arcades. the possibilities for critical crisscrossing are fun and endless.

this system relies on the use of emulators; an emulator "duplicates (provides an emulation of) the functions of one system using a different system"(wikipedia) so these emulators run ROM files: image dump files of the read-only memory chip from old game cartridges or arcade machines. the act of creating an ROM image simplifies the archiving and preservation of older software. to the companies that own these games as intellectual property you are only allowed to use ROMs created by yourself, if you own a physical copy of the game or if it isn't protected by the entertainment software association (ESA). under the current ridiculously one sided copyright laws digital sharing of ROMs is in fact very illegal. Hence me not offering any links to websites where ROMs can be obtained; for this google and bit torrent are your very good friends.

but then again, I don't see any companies trying to create a cohesive and widespread open-to-the public archive of video games for educational purposes either. maybe then we wouldn't have so many crap games ;)

this project was developed for the launch of NASA: Newark Artist Space Association, and I have to thank NYCResistor and Hackinteractive for all the much appreciated help.

To find out more about the first curated exhibition visit the project page.

Step 1: This Is What You Need


in fine detail:

hard drive: something bigger than 30Gs will be more than enough memory but will also give you enough flexibility to partition or to run different apps. I am using a western digital 80GB drive if you have a slim laptop hard drive then more power to you.

motherboard: I'm using a VIA VB7001 Mini-ITX Board, this is a compact motherboard complete with a 1.5GHz processor and on-board audio plus out ports for s-video, composite RCA and VGA, which will matter for when you need to connect the system to a TV, monitor or projector. this motherboard also needed some RAM memory so a 1GB stick will do fine.

power supply unit plus power adapter: so one of my concerns with this system was size, hence the mini motherboard, so this also means getting a power supply source that is also very small. I used the a PicoPSU-120, 120W 12V DC-DC along with a Power Adapter 12V DC/80W suitable for the PicoPSU.

dvd/cd drive: i used an old slimdrive DVD/CD drive from a dell laptop, if you do this as well then youll need a Slimline CD to 40-pin IDE to connect the drive to a secondary IDE slot in your motherboard.

Slimline DVD/CD to 40-pin IDE Adapter: this adapter is used to connect to the motherboard by converting the slimline connector to a standard 40 pin IDE connection. this also comes with a 3.5"mini power connector (floppy style) which is perfect because our PicoPSU can power it easily.

IDE ribbon cable: this is your basic meant-n-potatoes kind of ribbon cable, used to connect the newly adapted DVD drive to the motherboard. your motherboard should also come packed with one.

USB controllers: any USB enabled gamepad will do and there are tons of choices out there. you could retrofit your old NES or SNES controllers or use a xbox 360 gamepad, or even hack an old non USB xbox pad for this purpose. basically you choose your poison here.

USB cable: Dual USB Cable with individually mountable USB ports compatible with the motherboard of your choice. this cable will be used for the controllers and in my case they had to be soldered to the board, more on that later...

power switch: well I went all ballistic retro and used the NES power switch :> - also Raphael Abrams of NYCResistor was nice enough to gift me an extra one of these.

power LED: color is up to you.

tv out cables: this is up to the you or the situation, you can use composite RCA with most TV's and also s-video with some. VGA, S-video with monitors and projectors; I found this article on the subject very enlightening.

acrylic glass: for the case I used 2 sheets of 1/4 inch plexiglas, each sheet being 9 x 24 inches. these were then cut to my design with a lazer-cutter. so for bonding the material you'll need Weld-on 3 acrylic cement, this stuff smells bad and needs to be applied with a syringe.

operating system: my recommendation for OS is Ubuntu; it is free, linux based, open source and mad hood. of course you can use your preferred system with Windows being the most popular option and I will briefly cover that as well but this instructable will mainly focus on open source tools.

emulators: there are many flavors of emulators out there and ideally you would get one for every console ever made, thus broadening your critical scope. thankfully the collective brain of Wikipedia compiled a list for us here.

spray paint: for a nice finish

other stuff: like patience, epoxy or gorilla glue, a well lit, ventilated, clean and comfortable working area plus wire strippers, screws, screwdriver, wires, a soldering kit, tape etc etc. if you don't have something then MacGyver it but always be on the safe side. I really should have documented my soldering burns....

Why not just use puppy arcade instead of installing over 5 emulators i mean it has ever emulator everything needed to use it and isn't focused at web browsing.
I have to say that i really like this idea and i have started to build something like this myself, except im using a full size atx board instead, i intend to build it with a similar style of the xbox 360. (minus the rrod)
make that mini atx now
Awesome Instructable!! I think you could use a Beagle Board  instead of the computer mother board and the hard drive :-)
ah that sounds interesting, I'll have to look it up.<br />
You can just go to <a href="http://http://beagleboard.org/" rel="nofollow">www.beagleboard.org</a>.
O.O small!
&nbsp;Where can i buy the motherboard. i clicked the link and i couldnt find a way to buy it
the link is just to a description of the motherboard, the company itself sells wholesale so just do a search for an online shop or search google marketplace.&nbsp; I got mine here: http://www.mini-itx.com/store/?c=34&nbsp; <br />
put some leds in the case to make it light up
&nbsp;preferably blue LEDs...
First of all i'm a big fan of Retro gaming and think your ible is awesome! I was looking around Instructables and found a few more people doing these kind of projects, so I ended up making a group that's called &quot;<a href="../../../group/smallformfactor/">Small Form Factor</a> &quot;. It's a group devoted to sharing info. on small DIY&nbsp;computer projects/concepts. Please Join if you are interested. I forgot to mention that I have added your instructable to the group along with a bunch of others. I hope you don't mind.
The hardware looks fun and easy and all. I just don't like the programming that much...
About how much did it cost you to make that?
maybe 400 bucks all in all Spray Guard. I use it as an extra pc now and then when it isn't being used as a gaming machine.
I've been working on something similar for a few days and just stumbled across this ible. I just want to say this is awesome.
seems easy enough'u'.
if you haven't figured out how to use a usb controller with ubuntu yet, i would recommend the logitech precision, its cheap and it works right off the bat, but it doesn't have analog sticks :\
oh thanks - I figured it out yeah but thats a good option as well.
All I can say is...Simply....Amazing How is your xbox controler so thin? Is it an xbox controler?
it is yeah , slim version also I think the foreshortening of the picture might may it seem extra slim.... anyway cheers for the input :)
where do you buy the slim xbox 360 controler?
anywhere really, I got mine at a nearby Gamestop shop. Its a Mad Catz brand controller and this should help you find the same one if you are interested: <br/><a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.google.com/products?q=xbox+360+mad+catz+controller&amp;hl=en">http://www.google.com/products?q=xbox+360+mad+catz+controller&amp;hl=en</a><br/>
Thanks Lenny, my hands are small and wrapping them across the controller is very much unconfortable
no problem :)
great instructable lenny!!!
Thanks a lot everybody! The core idea behind the project is based on taking current ideas (arcade PC) and making it easy to expose to the general public, there is a lot that can be done with this set up once you get going and I plan on having another exhibition in Seoul in the near future. cheers
This is EPIC! Congratulations.
This is VERY nicely done! I was planning on building an arcade machine to do the versame thing, but have limited funds and limited space...this is the next best thing! Kudos!
Great build. I really like that you made it a Ubuntu as well.
That is amazing!! The game mods arn't all that new for a multi unit, yet that case is mind blowing!! Thanks heaps. The concept of the I'ble is also exceptional.
The case construction alone is pretty amazing. I used that kind of glue when making a 3d chess set out of perspex.
"The case construction alone is pretty amazing." You got that right. ;-)

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Bio: make me make you
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