Introduction: Build Your Own Mini Arcade Cabinet With Raspberry Pi

The Porta-Pi Mini Arcade is a desktop-sized, fully functional, mini arcade cabinet measuring just under 13 x 9 x 10 inches (HxWxD).

This Porta-Pi Arcade turns your Raspberry Pi in a mini arcade machine. Of course you could stuff any other retro console inside, but the RPi is so versatile, powerful and awesome that I stuck with it to build this mini arcade.

The Porta-Pi Arcade Kit features:

  • Precision Laser Cut Cabinet, made from 0.25 inch Oak Plywood .
  • 7" (800x480 HDMI/VGA/Composite) LCD screen
  • (1) Commercial arcade joystick (micro-switch style)
  • (10) Commercial arcade buttons and micro-switches
  • Speakers (3" mid-range) with amplifier PCB (2W, Stereo Class D)

All running off a 5v 2A power supply!

Step 1:

Start with an idea, and test it out.

I started with a proof of concept shown above. I made this from 1/2" plywood using a template I made with a cereal box. It was a little crude but I was proud of it, and everyone who saw this chunky machine loved it. I then, decided to make another one, but this time pour my heart into a new design. I also tried to engineer it so I could build another if I wanted... That was the hard part.

The cabinet design took over 200 hours of drafting, prototyping, and 'improving'. But like any good design, the cabinet fits common off-the-self commercial arcade parts, an OEM 7" tablet screen, and other common parts. This mini arcade can be laser cut, assembled, glued, and wired in under 8 hours. (I've built over 60 of these so far). Getting that build-an-arcade-in-a-day time took over 11 months of constant tinkering, designing, and engineering. A couple thousand hours of work over the course of 2 years. The video (next page) shows how the laser cut pieces are assembled (you can also build this design with 1/4" acrylic plastic). The rest of the video shows how to install and wire the monitor, LCD driver board, speakers, amplifier, arcade buttons, 8 way joystick, and raspberry pi.


So what about the software?! The software was an entire other story that took months and months to figure out. Back in 2012 I started messing with Retro Pie (an awesome compilation of retro emulators with a slick front end for the Raspberry Pi computer). After months of troubleshooting and frustrating nights with Linux, I got a stable image with the code needed to run the arcade controls hardwired into the Raspberry Pi's GPIO pins. I have the image available for download at my blog! You dont want to go through the headaches I went through; so I saved you the trouble :) Be sure to stop by the petRockBlog and see their great work with RetroPie.

Step 2: Gather Your Materials

Download the BOM to see what items are needed to build this mini arcade.

Step 3: How I Built the Porta Pi Mini Arcade

The 1/4" oak plywood cabinet is glued using wood glue. Everything else is shown in the videos.

Step 4: See It in Action!

Thanks for watching everyone!


Step 5: Bonus! Portable Battery Power!

Portable electronics are only as good as their batteries. And batteries are expensive. Why not use the batteries you already have? Like cordless drill batteries? They are beefy, readily available and cheap* (when they go on sale).

To make a battery pack you will need:

  • An extra battery charger that fits your drill batteries (Ryobi brand shown)
  • A Buck converter (DC-DC step down converted) $12-25 on ebay
  • Some extra wire, hot glue, and flexibility in the design.
  • A Male DC cord (or whatever plug you want to use) $2
  • Dremmel

I bought a Buck converter (well, two different ones actually). Sure, you can make one: There are all-in-one IC's available that only require a few passive components to make the circuit. But, I like the quick solution (and cheaper one too).

I found an extra Ryobi charger in a junk pile. I gutted it. Soldered new copper wires to the battery terminals, added a double-pole-single throw switch at the battery end. Then, added this nice DC-DC step-down converter (buck) with output current and voltage displays. The converter has an adjustable output 5-30V with an input range of 0.8-32V. Load regulation is speced at 0.5% which is close to the actual performance. Why a buck vs. a linear regulator? For efficiency. I have a couple Lithium-ion drill batteries which are 18V. My Porta Pi Arcade needs 5V. Linear regulars dissipate the excess voltage through heat. Buck converters (step-down converters) switch the power on and off to provide power to the load. Buck converters are much more efficient at converting power. Making the most out of your battery source. I really like the output display. I milled out a view window so you can see the output. The rest I did with a dremmel (which got away from me a few times). I bought the step-down converter on ebay. It's one of those Chinese "gadgets". It is spec'ed to output up to 5A. I cant see the marking on the IC's and just to be safe I dont expect to sink more that 3A from this. Just to be safe. I've tested my luck running close to the written specs on many of these DIY circuit parts and I've always lost that bet around 90% of the listed limits. It works rather well. A great mod you can do for anything application. The converter was $11.xx shipped.

I also bought this beefy MeanWell buck converter which is also listed for max output of 5A (same as the tiny 'gadget' one for half the price!!!). The MeanWell brand is the larger one encased in a metal enclosure. Now you tell me which one of these converters is lying about their max ratings?

I wired up the MeanWell converter and ran the Porta Pi Arcade with a fully charged battery. Total run time was 2hr 45min with the volume set to a whisper. The MeanWell converter has perfect performance. The tiny 'gadget' converter did the job, but the Rapsberry Pi would occasionally "hiccup" when the CPU changed it's power demand; the converter supplying the power could not transition fast enough to match this demand. If you think you want to take on this project, remember: You get what you pay for!

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