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Time spent doing maintenance (real hdw vs emu)



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  1. 1. Which method of classic gaming and computing takes the least time (from a maintenance point of view)?

    • Emulation
    • Real Hardware

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Most of us assume that emulated hardware requires no maintenance. This isn't entirely true. And here's why. Because both classic gaming and vintage computing via emulation isn't precisely 100% perfect, emulators are in a constant state of flux. Every couple of months a new version comes out - sporting new virtual add ons, or big fixes or some other change.


So my question is which style of gaming/computing requires the least amount of maintenance time?

#1 Emulation?

#2 Real Hardware?


#1 Emulation- If an emulator setup is left alone it'll perform the same way today as it did yesterday as it will tomorrow. It's pretty much a static thing. No maintenance need be done other than caring for the host hardware. But in order to enjoy the latest enhancement and improvements time need be spent. Consider the updates and continued evolution time needs to be spent doing many things like reviewing configuration files and change logs, renaming and moving bioses & roms, installing new executables and their support libraries and ensuring that no new bugs crept into the update. Include time to report bugs. Front ends and file organization and documentation curation and deduplication also get included. Not forgetting the time consumed conducting online searches and learning about a setting which is new an unfamiliar. And what if the host hardware has to be swapped in part or whole? How does that factor in? And last but not least, the maintenance of the host hardware itself, which can potentially encompass all of the above and below. Remember that the host OS goes through its own set of changes as it evolves, unless you're sticking with a static install. But you still have to ensure disk+file integrity, keep fans clean, connectors secure, and do other general PC maintenance tasks. Don't forget and include software compatibility issues such as your emulator playing nice with your PC's desktop's settings and controller settings. Host drivers? That too.


#2 Real Hardware- Compare that against a vintage VCS or NES or any classic computing platform. Real physical hardware needs its own form of maintenance like contact and connector cleaning, fixing cracked solder joints, dusting shelves and consoles, cleaning drive heads, setting up everdrives and SD storage solutions, matching older hardware to newer displays, adjusting CRTs, cleaning controllers and other fitments and accessories. Lubing switches. Replacing joystick contacts or weak dried out capacitors or intermittent ICs. Doing video mods. Maybe even factor in the time necessary to hunt down and purchase select pieces of hardware and software. And most definitely count in the time spent cleaning and organizing the room in which they're kept. Sorting and straightening and matching boxes with carts and printed manuals, that too.



Edited by Keatah
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Well I got distracted by my 2 year old niece coming in and running off with my Wii U pad, and hit the wrong answer- I thought the poll was for most maintenance. I give least to emulation- most of the upkeep there is done within the confines of computer operations. Even someone like me, who isn't especially fluent in operating file management, can at least look up an FAQ or get a walkthrough and muddle through. With physical hardware, not only do I not have the right parts to open up everything, even if I could and had an excellent guide for which-does-what... I still can't solder. I need to basically get training on the skills I need to even attempt my own work on my systems. It's a big part of why my Intellivison is still broken.

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For me, real hardware is by far less maintenance. Stuff usually either works or it doesn't. Sure, I had to adjust the control pots on my 5200 once or twice a year, but that's a 5 minute job. If I pick up a dirty cart at a flea market or yard sale I might have to spend a minute or two cleaning it. That's about it. I've had some emulators that have been pretty much plug-and-play, but others have been a lot of trouble. It's easy to sink 30 minutes into trying to figure out how to get something to work... or why it worked a year ago but an OS update broke it, update version, uninstall something, reinstall something else... bah, I'm just done with that kind of thng. I used to kind of enjoy it (to some degree) in the DOS days, but no more. I'm lucky if I spend 30 minutes playing games in an entire month, I don't have time to mess around with that stuff. Now, hardware emulators like the Flashback units have been pretty reliable - no issues whatsoever.

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I don't really have any experience with modern emulators and raspberry pi and whatever else is in that scene these days. Last time I played an emulator was probably nesticle on my work computer back around 2000.


I have spent time cleaning and maintaining my real hardware collection, though. Taking an old system you bought at a garage sale apart and blowing out the dust and dead roaches and such. Having a ten year old bottle of rubbing alcohol that is used one cotton swab at a time. Listening to the white noise static on channel 3 of an old tv while taking the cartridge out of the system to look at the contacts when the only reward for pressing the power button was a flashing screen yet again. Trying to remember which one of the three identical rf adapters you have was the "good" one because every time you find it you forget to mark it some way. ... ... ... I can't imagine that sitting at the computer finding and downloading the latest updates or patches or versions or whatever would be anywhere near as rewarding. At least for me.

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No doubt at all: real hardware is easier to USE, and generally designed to be low effort on maintenance. Any significant work is generally just related to pure age and wear (or careless handling). Probably the most work, for me, in maintaining my hardware is cleaning carts, and that's just endemic to the medium. My CDs and DVDs stay clean and unscratched. Mechanical parts sometimes wear out, but I have lots of duplicates (primarily thinking of controllers, and the occasional disk drive).


Once I have something I enjoy emulated, I don't change it. BUT, getting something new emulated correctly always throws me into research and debug mode, and many times I've given up rather than throw more valuable time away, especially if it's boring or frustrating work (like disassembling, cleaning/repairing and reassembling certain controllers). I don't upgrade emulators, or operating systems, for that matter, unless I have no choice... you never get all the promises, and you always find hurdles.


You pretty much have to be a "computer guy" to rely on emulation. No special skills for the pnp gamer.

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Really the only maintenance I have with real hardware is occasionally updating an everdrive or optical drive emulator firmware. That's about it. If you're using real carts maybe some cleaning. sure there may be some video mods you want to do, but that's pretty much a one time thing unless the system breaks.


Emulators are constantly being revised, new filters to try, new and better frontends, controller drivers and mappings etc.. etc.. Especially with systems that aren't 100% like Saturn, N64 etc... There's always a new plugin combo to try. If your main setup crashes, or you want a newer more feature heavy device you're then setting up everything again.


Basically with real hardware most time is spent at the setup (putting together your entertainment center), and once your satisfied it's pretty much smooth sailing. Major updates to consider are widely spaced, like a new development for a video mod. Those don't happen everyday.


Emulaton has a huge setup investment time wise, probably more so than real hardware. But it just feels like a never ending process of tweaking and experimentation afterwards.

Edited by keepdreamin
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