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Getting started with a MAME cabinet?


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I'm thinking about building a MAME cabinet; the guts of it are probably not really a problem for me, but I really don't know where to begin for the cabinet itself. I'm ok with the idea of buying something new specifically made for MAME, or with customizing an old cabinet, but I have a feeling the latter would actually be more difficult. Really this is one of those things that I'm most curious to know what *other* people do, because I figure other people know better than me what works best. What's the easiest and most common way to go about doing this?


Also, I would guess there are probably some sites out there dedicated to building and maintaining MAME cabinets - any recommendations?


Thanks in advance.


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My $0.02:


Building your own cabinet from scratch – advantages:


- Customization. You have the opportunity to make everything exactly as you want it, from the controls to the display to the size to the artwork, etc.

- Pride in your work. You’ll have a “one of a kind” to be proud of

- No limits. In theory, anything is possible – limited only by your creativity, budget, and handy-man skills.



Building your own cabinet from scratch – disadvantages:


- Cost. To do a really nice cabinet from scratch can be expensive – I estimate mine (built in 2011) cost me about $1000 when all was said and done, and I’ve put more money into it since to improve some things. You could probably cheap out here and there to save some money (for example, quality artwork alone can cost a few hundred bucks depending on what you want to do, but is not really necessary.) IMO, you can only cheap out so much without severely detracting from the end result

- Tools. In addition to the parts and materials themselves, most people are probably going to have to borrow or buy several tools – saws, router, special router bits, etc.

- Space. You need a fair bit of space to set up shop and a make a complete mess with sawdust, etc.

- Required skills. The woodworking required for a MAME cabinet is not rocket science, but some ability (or at least, patience and willingness to learn) will be needed

- Time. The project will take a loooooong-ass time if you’ve never built one before. From the time you spend designing things, planning, researching, gathering parts, gathering materials, cutting, building, painting, finessing… I didn’t keep track but I spent what felt like hundreds of hours on mine (totally worth it in the end, though)



Converting an old arcade cabinet to MAME – advantages:


- Cost. You can probably find an empty cabinet for next to nothing, which saves hundreds of bucks on materials.

- Fewer tools and skills needed.

- Reduced scope of project. You can focus on your controller design and artwork and not have to fuss about every single mundane detail of the build, because much of it is already done (e.g., integrating a marquee, assembling the main structure of the cabinet, installing t-molding, and the like)

- Time. You’ll probably shorten the duration of the project.



Converting an old arcade cabinet to MAME – disadvantages:


- Death threats. If you select the wrong cabinet, many in the online community will want your head on a stake because you’ve desecrated an arcade game by converting it to MAME. The fact that it was probably minutes away from being worm food when you swooped in to rescue it is beside the point.

- Constraints on design. You’re limited in what you can do with your display, control panel, etc. because you need to do everything within the constraints of the existing structure.

- Finishing work. Depending on the condition of the cabinet, you will probably have to do a lot of touch-up work to get it looking as clean and new as a scratch built project



As you mentioned, there are cabinet “kits” you can buy from various sources, which you assemble like Ikea furniture and outfit with your desired controls, display, guts, and artwork. I can’t really comment on these because I’ve never seen one or played on one. By all means look into it, but I have a feeling that anybody selling such a thing would have to put a pretty hefty price tag on it to make it worth their time, especially if it’s going to be a nice sturdy cabinet. That last part is very important, because a wobbly cabinet SUCKS.


The best online source of information I know of for this sort of thing is the forum over at arcadecontrols.com. They've got a bunch of guys over there who have built some pretty impressive stuff and have lots of experience and insight.


Have fun!

Edited by Cynicaster
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I bought a prefab kit off the internet to put together a RPI3 barcade cabinet for the kids. It was about 300+ bucks for the cabinet, the sanwa sticks and the artwork. However you have to also supply your own monitor, t-molding, speakers and the RPI3 of course. So it wasn't cheap at all, but I guess it came out pretty nice in the end. So take it for what you will. I don't have a lot of time so the Ikea style assembly was a plus.

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Thanks for the advice so far. Yeah, I was thinking for me, scratch-building is probably beyond my abilities/space and converting an existing cabinet is probably going to be down to blind luck (the only "cabinet" I know of even somewhat close to me is a Ms. Pac-Man cocktail table at a thrift store nearby... for $1,800). So I was really thinking about doing the IKEA style thing, though I'd love to have a more or less full size cabinet. Actually one of those Neo Geo mini cabinets would probably be ideal (I'm planning to do this in a basement with low ceilings), but I'm not sure if there's a prefab kit that size available.

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