By now, you surely know about MAME, the arcade emulator for computers. But even if you get a good gamepad or even an arcade joystick such as the HotRod, the arcade feeling still isn't there until you play standing up and staring at the monitor through the glass of a real cabinet (or something).

But what happens when you live in an apartment? Especially a small one? You just can't afford the floor space for a monster such as a full-size arcade cabinet. However, what would happen if you just shrinked the thing in size a bit and removed the (useless) bottom? This is the idea I had and this is the result.

Let me take you through my thinking process, part by part. You'll be able to see that if you think about it properly, you can really make something that can stand out from all the other MAME cabinets out there. Hey, mine even fits in my car's back seat (even if it did take a "minor" modification… more on that later).

Things to do: add more details, more photos and better descriptions about each part. Add a price list for the parts.


Commodore 1080 monitor (photo) Since I'm thinking small-sized cabinet, I had to start with a small monitor, and I happened to have some 1080 and 1084 Commodore monitors lying around. They can be connected via S-Video signals (you simply have to make a custom connection cable, more details on that later) and they look real good (for small TVs anyway). They're not too big at about 13.5" screen size (good thing for my cabinet), and if I ever need to replace one, they're cheap and (relatively) easy to find at flea markets. I already got three of those, and they're still working flawlessly even if they're 15-20 years old.

Sanded 1080 (photo) My cabinet being black, I needed to have the monitor's front border black too (for the monitor bezel and all). So I opened the 1080 (warning: don't do this unless you really know what you're doing. There's high electrical charges inside TVs and monitors) and sanded the front border with grade 280 sandpaper. I also used masking tape so I wouldn't scratch the Amiga sticker nor the rest of the case. It was also to prevent messing up the rest of the case while painting it.

Painted 1080 (photo) I painted the screen border black, then removed the masking tape. The result is quite good but was a lot of trouble for simply wanting a black screen border. In my opinion you'll save a lot of time by just using the TV or monitor you got right now and forget about the border color (of course, starting with a black casing monitor would've solved the problem right away).

The monitor is now being protected by a real glass (3/16") instead of Lucite. The Lucite sheet cost me about 15$CAN (sheet + cutting), and was easily scratched. The glass was a special order, but only cost me 8$CAN. So forget about Lucite or plexiglass, and use real glass. It's better and it costs less.


Right from the start, I already knew what MAME I was going to use: the MS-DOS version. I didn't want to wait more than a few seconds for the cabinet to "boot", I didn't want to waste almost 250MB for the operating system (you'll see why) and I didn't want to mess around with "drivers" for the hardware. The MS-DOS version is also faster because the computer doesn't have to drag a big operating system behind it. Another bonus in using MS-DOS is very easy to see: if you add the filesize of a barebone MS-DOS system and the MAME emulator, you end up using less than 5MB of storage space. Old arcade game roms don't take much space, the average classic games being under 512KB (a few good or more recent games taking more than a few MB, especially Neo-Geo and 1990+ games).

800MB 2.5 inches IDE FlashDrive (photo) The total storage space required is quite low, and I found cheap 800MB Flash Drives on eBay. Using a FlashDrive is a really good idea since the computer will have no moving parts whatsoever, which is a good thing for an arcade cabinet.


Controls (photo) I now understand why most people use keyboard hacks for their arcade cabinets. All the other options simply aren't supported for all the required software. So the keyboard option is the only way to be sure your controls will work with front-end menus, various emulators, etc…

At first I wanted to use SNES gamepad circuitry (supported natively by DOS MAME), but then I wanted to add other emulators in my cabinet (NES, etc…) and a front-end menu. Not all of them support the SNES gamepad, so I had no choice but to make my own keyboard-hacked controls. I used a cheap 10$CAN "Cicero" keyboard I bought from a local store, and it was a mistake. Cheap keyboards are cheaply made, and have no soldering points or holes, and I had to solder wires on ISA-like connectors. This ain't fun. My advice: find out what keyboards have nice small boards with wire holes for the keyboard matrix. It'll be much easier to make your own controls.

The buttons layout is a mix between Super Street Fighter and Neo-Geo layouts. There's the joystick, the "coin" and start buttons and three control buttons. I might add a mouse-spinwheel in the future though, for games such as Arkanoid. Or maybe a mouse-trackball, for games such as Marble Madness. Or maybe I'll make different control panels for that.

Update: the control panel now has proper "1/2 players" buttons, red/yellow/green/blue buttons (instead of only blue) and is now using a Mini-PAC interface.


Photo of the computer inside my MAME cabinet My MAME Arcade Cabinet uses an Intel Celeron 1.7 GHz cpu, a Gigabyte 8ILM-T4 motherboard with 256 MB DDR PC2700, a Sound Blaster PCI 128 (CT4750) and an ATI Rage Pro Turbo PCI (using the S-Video out).

The motherboard is mounted on a Masonite panel (the white surface in the photo), which is itself screwed at the bottom of the cabinet (allowing for easy removal yet strong assembly). With a cabinet this small, you just can't use a normal computer case (it's way too big).


400 Watts Power Supply (photo) The power supply is a 400 Watts EnerMax ATX jammed right under the control panel and the monitor, just left of the motherboard. It connects to a normal house wall-type connector and is held in place with a metal plate screwed at the bottom of the cabinet.

Please note: this is the picture of my old no-name power supply. See the picture above for a photo of the actual power supply.

Power Outlets (photo) Here is the wall connector along where the ATX power supply is connected, along with the monitor. That wall connector is wired to a regular computer case-type power connector on the outside so there's no actual wire coming out of the cabinet. I simply use a regular PC/monitor power cable to connect the whole cabinet. The neon and the amplificator for the speakers are connected directly to the ATX power supply (via a hard drive power connector). I simply turn the PC on and the neon and speakers are powered at the same time. I guess I should've added a power switch of some sort since the monitor's power button is in the front (and I can't access it because of the monitor glass). For the time being, the power cable will act as the power switch…

Power Outlets in box (photo) Ok, I guess leaving that power connector floating in mid-air wasn't really a good idea. So I added a real connector box and screwed the whole thing on the inside of the cabinet. Here you can also see the power cable from the ATX power supply. The 2nd input will be used by the 1080. The neon and speakers are connected to the ATX power supply.


MAME Marquee (photo) I got my marquee graphic from Oscar Controls and printed it on banner paper on my Epson Stylus Color 600 using the 720 dpi setting. The result is pretty amazing.

Marquee Neon

Neon for marquee (photo) The backlight comes from a small 12", 12V/500mA neon that can run on a small power supply or a few AA batteries. So I simply connected it to a drive connector of the PC power supply.


Cabinet (photo) I had a lot of help from my cousin and my father in building the cabinet. When you live in an apartment, there's not much you can do beside leech from your family. I went to my cousin's shop with the 1080 and we began making the cabinet. We built it to be as compact as possible, but still left room for the PC motherboard, the power supply, and the regular shape of a cabinet for the speakers and marquee. One mistake I made was that I thought it would fit in my car. After about 10 hours of work, we tried to get it inside my car's back seat - after 5 minutes we realized it just wouldn't fit no matter how we tried. We had to take the cabinet back to the shop. It was midnight, and I decided to sleep on it. The next morning, we went back to work and decided to cut the head of the cabinet and add hooks and pins so it could be assembled easily after transport. In the end, the result was very good for only 12 hours of work.

One last major modification I'll have to do is make holes somewhere to let air move more freely (and probably add a fan or two) so the CPU won't melt or something. As it is right now, imagine a Celeron 1.7 GHz inside a no-holes computer case. It gets way too hot.

Finished cabinet (photo) The next step for the cabinet was to add the finishing touches: black laminate, T-molding, marquee, monitor bezel.

Please note: this picture isn't up-to-date. My cabinet now has a black-painted base on which to stand on like a real arcade cabinet. The base is made from 5 panels which can be disasembled, so the whole thing can still fit in my car anyway.

The blue buttons have now been replaced with red, yellow, green and blue buttons (the usual Neo-Geo pattern), with the top row being yellow, green and blue to fit the bottom row. The generic white buttons have also been replaced with proper "1 Player" and "2 Players" icon buttons.

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