Introduction: PC Powered Bartop Arcade Machine Running LaunchBox

The BarCade machine is an arcade, built into Windows 10 with Big Box, that can play some the biggest retro games ever! Sonic? Got it. Pokemon Pinball? We have that. Street Fighter? Check. And so much more. The BarCade can fill many of your gaming needs, with consoles like GameBoy, NES, and even Windows games, all with the retro arcade feel. Many of the games support multiplayer as well, so you, your friends, and family can play and compete against each other, with classic buttons and joystick features. The interface is also completely customizable, to suit your interface needs. You can add more emulators than the stock product, as any emulators that run on windows, will also run on the arcade, thanks to being built of Windows 10.

Step 1: The Parts List

Just so you know first of all how much this should cost I put just over $200 CAD into my arcade machine by using mostly used parts and things I had laying around but for most people I think the cost should be around $300-$600+ depending on how fancy you want it to be as well as how powerful a computer you want.

Parts and Tools List:

  • A windows XP or higher PC
    • Minimum specs: Core 2 Duo, 1 GB of RAM and a dedicated graphics card 8600gt or better
    • For windows games get the recommended specifications for the game
    • I'm using an AMD Phenom ii X2 245 overclocked @ 3.66 GHz, GeForce GTX 560 and a 1TB hard drive
  • A 4:3 aspect ratio LCD monitor is recommended but others will work. An old tube screen monitor or TV could work but the cabinet is not designed for a tube screen display
  • Arcade button kit. This is the one I used and the seller has others. This is also a good seller
  • Joystick extender. The joystick I used was slightly too short for my liking.
  • Basic woodworking tools like a jigsaw, hand saw, wood glue, hammer and nails to build the cabinet. You could alternatively buy a pre-made cabinet from a place like eBay or buy an old arcade machine and gut the internals
  • A power bar
  • 2 speakers. I salvaged mine from a mid range set of computer speakers
  • Dual channel 15 watt amplifier. If you can salvage a pair speakers that already have an amplifier built in this is not needed
  • 5-18 volt wall power adapter for audio amplifier. The higher the voltage the higher the wattage and therefore the speakers will be louder
  • Soldering iron
  • Side cutters
  • Wire
  • Craft knife
  • Paint or stain of your choice
  • Wood screws
  • PCIe or USB internet adapter for wireless internet or ethernet cable for wired internet
  • Rotary Tool
  • Double sided tape

Step 2: Making the Cabinet and Mounting the Hardware

You should follow the video I have linked for making the cabinet as I just decided to go for it and I wish now that I had actually watched this video because my case did not turn out as well as I had hoped.

I used the cabinet design from the video and have provided the download but you can also get it from this website which has some more information on using a Raspberry PI instead of a PC if you are interested.

One difference I would like to point is that shouldn't have to do all the complex button wiring in the video If you choose to use the same button kit as I did. All the buttons plug into a controller board and have pre-made wires.

On a side note I have personally used the arcade machines used in this video and would highly recommend you do not mount the reset switch in an easy to reach spot so that the person you are playing with doesn't just reset the machine when they are losing.

I have also included some layouts for the position of the motherboard, power supply, hard drive and power bar. The first one is the layout I chose to use but some of the other layouts can save space and make room for anything else you might want to put in the cabinet.

To actually mount the parts I used shortest wood screws I hat at the time to mount the motherboard but they where still too long so I used a rotary tool to cut off all the ends of the screws where the came out through the bottom. For the power supply and hard drive just use some decently strong double sided tape. If like me if the hard drive is not flat on the bottom just sandwich the hard drive between two things and use foam tape on the sides of the hard drive to keep it in place. Finally the power bar can either be doubled sided taped down or screwed down using the wall mount holes some of them have on the bottom.

Step 3: Preping the Buttons

First of all after making sure everything made it from china safely its time to connect the included wires to the buttons. The package should come with a set of instructions showing what colour wires connect where on the LED illuminated switches. If you do not have these instructions or they are damaged I have included a photocopy.

After you have connected all the wires you will notice there are still the one and two player buttons left and the plugs will not fit into the controller board. You will have to cut off one of the tabs on the connector so it can fit into the one of the 3 pin sockets on the controller board and be used as a standard input button. I have included pictures showing this. If you wish to use these buttons as one of the special functions on the controller board (Auto, Clear, Turbo or Mode) you will not need to modify the connector. More information about the special functions can be foud at the link at the bottom of this step.

Now is the time to test all the buttons and joysticks. Connect as may of the buttons and joysticks as needed to the two controller boards then connect them to a comuter. You may notice some of the buttons will most likely not light up. This is because some LED's are not in the right position and you should open up the button by twisting and pulling the bottom section of the button to remove it then flipping the position of the LED. To test the actual functionality of the buttons and joystick connect the controller board to a windows XP or higher PC and open "Set up USB game controllers" from the start menu. You should see " Generic USB Joystick" or something like that in the list of connected controllers. Highlight it and select properties. You now have information on what button is being pressed as well as the position of the joystick. I'm sure this is also possible on Mac and Linux but LaunchBox doesn't run on them anyway.

Now that you know all the buttons work its time to add the lettering. Start by taking the top half of the button off by twisting and pulling from the center like before but this time pinch the two plastic tabs protruding out the bottom of the barrel so you can pull the entire center of the button out of its housing. Then the button should come apart and have 3 parts: the housing, center piece and a spring. Take the center piece and pull off the coloured plastic cap from the top. there should be a little plastic disc in the center where you can print out your button letter on a piece of paper and either tape or glue it to this disc. One thing to note is that the disc is supposed to have little tabs on the underside to keep it from spinning in the button to keep the letters the right way up but on mine some of the tabs seemed to have been cut off. In that case I just used a bit of hot glue to keep them in place.

Finally it is also possible to make it so that the buttons illuminate on press but would require taking apart the connector and moving the position of the wires. There is a picture of this includes as well as more information about this and the controller board can be found here.

Step 4: Mounting the Buttons and Joystick

The button layout I chose the Sega Astro City layout from this website. You can choose which layout you think is best and I recommend printing them out to see where your fingers rest then decide which one feels best. For mounting I am going to use the simple bottom mount method but other more complex and strong mounting methods can be found here. The bottom mount method is the easiest and simplest you just use countersunk screws that go through the face of the arcade machine and nuts on the other side to hold the joystick in place. The buttons just mount with the nut on the threaded shaft of the button.

For the actual lettering and functionality of the buttons buttons I had it set up so the top row was Y, X, L, R and the bottom row was B, A, Select, Start but I found that this setup was cumbersome and ended up with the top row being L, Select, Start, R and the bottom row being B, A, Y, X so that all of the main action buttons where on the bottom row. I personally like this setup better but you might want to try out each.

Step 5: Setting Up the Audio System

The audio system consists of a separate power supply to deliver clean power to the audio amp and two speakers on each side or above the display depending on how you cut your case. Do note this audio amp does not have a built in volume knob and therefore you will have to use the built in volume control in the emulator or windows.

The amplifier has nine connection points on it. the three on the right are for audio in, the two on the top are for power and the four on the left are for left and right speaker out. This part caused me the most issues because at first I was powering the amplifier off of the computer power supply but this caused a ton of his in the speakers. I only figured this out when I powered the amplifier off of a power supply fixing the problem. I should of found this out earlier but now I just use a separate power brick specifically for the amplifier. Aside from power issues I have put a picture of a diagram showing how the audio amplifier should be wired.

If you cant solder I recommend watching some YouTube videos on it as it is a good skill to have but if you don't want to you can alternatively buy an audio amp like this that had connectors that you just put the wire in and tighten the screw.

I mounted the speaker and audio amplifier to the back of the front cover using very short wood screws. I also used plastic mini dixie cups sold as shot glass cups that I found at the dollar store with the bottom cut off and the existing speaker mesh over the top to use as speaker grills.

Step 6: Setting Up LaunchBox

First of all LaunchBox is actually has two parts LaunchBox and BigBox. Launchbox is free and is where you will do most of your work like adding emulators and artwork while BigBox will cost you either $50 or $20 depending on the license. BigBox is the part that will make your arcade machine actually look like a traditional arcade giving you a nice menu system to look at with multiple themes, videos and artwork. This is what is known as a front end.

For actually setting up LaunchBox and BigBox you can either configure it yourself or you can download my set up copy of LaunchBox I use on my arcade. Obviously I can't give you my license key plus some non shareware games and roms have also been removed so I have included a readme file that lists all the missing files plus their names and location. Either way I would recommend you read ahead at least set up one emulator so you know how LaunchBox works before you just use my setup.

Setting up LaunchBox is actually very nice because it is very well documented and their YouTube channel has tutorials on all but one of the emulators I used in my build. I have linked t a tutorial for setting up SNES emulation through an emulator called Retroarch. Retroarch is a multi emulator that will cover most if not all of the systems you might want to emulate. It uses different "cores" within Retroarch to emulate different machines. These cores are essentially emulators modified to work with Retroarch. Most of the LaunchBox tutorials use Retroarch as it means not having to install lots of separate emulators and therefore you don't have to set them all up separately.

The only emulator I had difficulty with was Intellivision. I ended up using this tutorial and just excluded the part where you had to copy the RocketLauncher files and configure of RocketLauncher. Note that I have only tested this on the standalone 0.188 version on MAME. Not the version of MAME running in Retroarch.

If you are wondering what RocketLauncher is check out the RocketLauncher about padge. In general it is a separate program used to manage ROM's and emulators letting you use RocketLauncher specific tools and the ability to easily switch front ends.

Step 7: Miscellaneous Stuff

Here are just some of the things that don't fit into any of the steps but are worth putting in anyway

All the website links: (joystick ebay link) (ebay seller for arcade parts) (joystick shaft extender) (15 watt audio amp) (case design and more) (information on joystick controller board) (button layout and more) (what is RocketLauncher page) (alternate audio amp)