If you’re into arcade games, and you enjoy the old school games like Pac-Man, Galaga, or Street Fighter, you should consider the idea of buying or building your very own MAME cabinet for your game room or theater room setup!
MAME originally stood for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, but lately they’ve just been calling the system MAME as a brand rather than an acronym. MAME is a software that runs on a PC, Raspberry Pi or other hardware and emulates old arcade machine hardware in a software platform.
MAME Cabinet Basics
A “MAME cabinet” is sort of a generic term given to any arcade cabinet that has MAME internals instead of original hardware. It can fit into any of these three classes:
- Custom Built MAME Cabinets – These are cabinets built at home, generally using arcade cabinet plans. They may be completely custom designs or they may be remakes of older cabinets (e.g. the Defender cabinet).
- Retrofit MAME Cabinets – These are cabinets which started out life as a specific arcade cabinet. For example, a Pac-Man or Donkey Kong cabinet that was converted to a MAME cabinet when the original hardware failed.
- Store Bought MAME Cabinets – These are cabinets built by manufacturers as a MAME cabinet from the very beginning. See our cautions on this option below.
So the question is which path should you take to get your MAME cabinet? There’s a lot to consider and so many different options and choices available even within each of these three broad categories! Let’s break it down!
Custom Building a MAME Cabinet
Custom building a MAME cabinet can be both enjoyable and very rewarding. If you are even the slightest bit handy, own a screwdriver and can afford a $25 jigsaw you can most likely build your very own MAME arcade machine.
Back in 2015, I wanted my very own arcade machine and could not afford to spend thousands on one from eBay. Eventually I decided to build my very own from scratch. Back then there were no plans or guides on the internet. So after building my arcade I created a set of plans for it to share with others. I love it so much, that I’ve built many different arcade since and have made plans for each one!
Our plans aren’t just some PDF template that a guy made in his basement. These are high quality plans. We also offer high-quality full-size arcade templates printed on card stock we can mail to your door.
If you’re interested in our plans and designs, click any of the pictures below:
If you do decide to build your own you’re going to need to decide which guts to put in it. There are several options such as PC build, a RetroPie setup, or a even JAMMA (although JAMMA isn’t technically MAME).
In addition to a PC or Raspberry Pi, you’ll need a set of arcade joysticks and buttons, with a USB encoder. The USB encoder is the brains that connect the joysticks and buttons to your PC or Pi. If you decide to go with JAMMA, you won’t need an encoder, instead you’ll need a JAMMA harness.
Lastly, you’ll need some arcade artwork for your cabinet.
Retrofitting a MAME Cabinet
If you feel like building your own is maybe out of your league the second option might be a winner. Buy an existing cabinet and retrofit it with MAME components!
Retrofitting can actually be a bonus depending on how you go about it. A friend of mine bought an old Ms. Pac-Man machine that didn’t work. He pulled all of the guts out of it and sold each one of them (working or dead) on eBay. He made enough money on the sale of the parts to pay for the cabinet and a new LCD retrofit monitor! That’s a score!
If you retrofit a cabinet with MAME you’re likely going to need a few things:
- If you don’t replace the monitor and keep the existing CGA CRT monitor, you’re going to need a GBS-8200 CGA video convertor. This will allow you to hook your PC to the existing monitor using a VGA port.
- You’ll also need a way to connect your joysticks. Which means an encoder board or two. The encoder connects to your PC or Pi and tells it when the buttons are pressed.
Another simpler way (not technically MAME) is to leave everything in the cabinet original except for the motherboard. You can replace the motherboard with a 750 in 1 Multicade board. This board comes with 750 old school games already loaded and connects to the standard JAMMA harness already in the arcade. It’s a simple unplug and replace.
Multicade boards also have a VGA port and some even have HDMI making it easy to upgrade to an LCD monitor now or later. However it should be noted that there are those in the MAME cabinet community who believe that anything other than a CRT is arcade blasphemy!
Buying a MAME Cabinet
The last option that many people (typically those with some extra cash and no time) choose, is to simply buy a MAME cabinet from several sources.
This isn’t a bad approach and we understand not everyone is able to build or retrofit a MAME cabinet. However, we’d like to pass some caution with this approach. If you’re just shopping eBay or some other marketplace it is very likely the machine is junk: That is filled with crappy parts that will quickly fail, LCD screens with terrible viewing angles, and full of pirated games and possible malware.
You’ll need to take some time and make sure you are buying from a reputable brand. And even those come with some drawbacks. For example, Arcade1Up makes a very nice machine. However, it’s only 2/3rd scale and needs to be mounted on a riser base so normal adults can use it.
If you want a MAME cabinet in your game room and you are even the slightest bit handy, our recommendation is to build your own! The rewards are definitely worth and the journey is one you will remember the entire rest of your life. It’s an experience and a journey!
The second option we highly recommend is retrofitting an existing arcade. This is a great way to reduce the level of effort but still take a fantastic journey. You’ll also learn a lot about arcade machines in the process and be well prepared to fix it should something go wrong in the future.