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PC vs Raspberry Pi for Arcades

We get a lot of questions through our comments, feedback pages, and emails every single day.  One of those questions is “Should I pick a PC or a Rasbperry Pi for my arcade build?” It’s really not surprising that the PC vs Raspberry Pi debate is a long running one, and like many debates some are centered around a holy war, while some have merit.

There are actually good reasons to pick a PC over a RPi2/3 build, but we have to be honest here. It’s not very often.  Let’s dive in!

PC vs Raspberry Pi for Arcade Cabinets

Before making a decision on any platform, one should seek to understand their use case. It’s also helpful to look to the future to understand what you might want to do down the road and plan for that as best as possible.

Is your primary goal to play emulated 8-bit arcade games from the 1970’s? Or is it to play emulated console games from 1990’s? Those are entirely two different beasts! Some will likely say something along the lines of “Well, if you’re playing console games from the 1990’s, why are you putting it in an arcade cabinet?” Come on! This is a silly question! Today’s modern emulated arcade cabinets can play games from the 1970’s all the way to today’s modern games like Call of Duty and Halo! There’s really nothing that is off the table. It’s even quite common for arcades of today to have HDMI switchers with actual full XBOX One and PlayStation 4 systems packed inside, right next to a Raspberry Pi 3! Let’s not lose focus that this is all about having fun. If we lose sight of that we’re off in left field chasing after bigfoot!

With that out of the way let’s take our first look at the different pros and cons of PC vs Raspberry Pi builds.

Pros and Cons of Using a Raspberry Pi

There are quite a few pros and cons to using a Raspberry Pi in your arcade cabinet build. Let’s go over some of them!

Raspberry Pi for ArcadePROs of using a Raspberry Pi in an Arcade:

  • Price: For many this will be at the top of the list. A Raspberry Pi 3 new in box is about $30. Used ones can be had for less than $20 on eBay. It’s next to impossible to compete with that from the PC side.
  • Energy Use: The Raspberry Pi runs on a USB charger and consumes only 1.2 watts of electricity when operating.  Compare this to a typical PC running a 300 watt power supply.
  • Simple Setup: Installing a Raspberry Pi and setting up RetroPie is an absolute breeze that will take the average person less than 15 minutes. The go to software in these builds is RetroPie.
  • GPIO: This is a big one! The RPi offers General Purpose Input/Output pins on the board header. This opens a world of options for adding arcade cabinet shakers, relays for flashing lights, and all kinds of other cool features.
  • PC Game Ports: A lot of more recent retro games originally designed for the PC have been ported to native ARM code. This makes playing games such as Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, and others super easy.

CONs of using a Raspberry Pi in an Arcade:

  • Processing Power: Let’s face it, for $35 dollars you’re not going to get a lot of horsepower from an RPi. This means some newer software just isn’t going to be an option.
  • Modern Games: While there are emulators for modern systems, you won’t be able to play them on a Raspberry Pi, mostly due to lack of a discrete graphics card and GPU performance.

PC For an ArcadePROs of using a PC in an Arcade:

  • Processing Power: We have to list this at the very top, and its honestly in most cases going to be the deciding factor on whether to use a PC or not.  With a PC and modern GPU you can play any game there is to offer on your arcade, past, present, and even future.
  • Expand ability: With a PC you can generally install PCI expansion cards to add additional capabilities.

CONs of using a PC in an Arcade:

  • Energy Requirements: A PC is going to use 100X the energy even with the most efficient of PCs. Generally 300 watts to 1000 watts depending on the build.  Compare that to the 1.2 watts consumed by the RPi.
  • Size: You’ll need more space inside your arcade cabinet to fit a PC, which may limit your cabinet choices.
  • Cooling: With that larger size and increased power need you’re going to have to add a fan for additional cooling of the cabinet.

RELATED: Fun Raspberry Pi Projects

The Bottom Line: PC vs Raspberry Pi

Every arcade is different, and every build is unique.  Requirements vary from gamer to gamer. When you face the PC vs Raspberry Pi dilemma know that there are lots of choices. I’ve even seen some builders put a full size PC and a Raspberry Pi in the same cabinet using an HDMI/USB switch in the middle to switch between them.

Take some time and look at what games you really want to play. For most this is going to be the deciding factor.  Good luck on your build!

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