Arcade1Up JAMMA Arcade Cabinet
For a long time I've been obsessed with the idea of making my own arcade cabinet, looking at plans/learning about JAMMA, and getting a sense of what I'd actually need to do it. At first I just wanted to make a MAME setup cause I'm a big fan of emulation as a way of preservation, but as I got more into collecting physical games for consoles, I wanted to have a way to play REAL hardware if I could, plus I don't like the idea of input lag/other stuff that comes with emulating.
RetroPies are okay, but not for me
A few years back I bought and built a kit from RetroBuiltGames, it's a RetroPie kit and uses a Raspberry Pi to play ROMs/Emulators with an EmulationStation frontend. Honestly it's a GREAT kit and I loved building it. Would totally recommend it to someone wanting a fun DIY project, or even something to build with their kids in a weekend.
You can find info about the same kit here.
I used this to get my feet wet with learning how micro-switches/joysticks work mostly and wiring and soldering everything, and how to fix mistakes. It still works great and I'm still pretty proud of it, but I was growing away from having a master emulation device like that.
Lets talk about JAMMA
The great thing about the JAMMA standard is it's actually very simple to understand/implement. It's very simple to wire yourself and (pending everything is grounded, heh heh hehhhhhh) you can make your own crazy setup if you just follow the pins of the harness.
Once you have a JAMMA harness hooked in, you can (and I'm saying this in finger quotes since it could be situational per game) plug in another JAMMA compatible game and it'll use the same video/audio/input pins as the one you just pulled out. Easy metaphor of this is treating it like a console, back in the day a vendor could just ship a board/new vinyl wraps/marquee/etc and switch a whole cabinet to a new game at a low cost compared to buying a whole new one for one game. Super cool.
Arcade1Up Cabinets are cheap
For the record, I don't think these cabinets are worth the money… for their vanilla value. ~$400-500 CAD for a cabinet with ONE or maybe THREE games when you could DIY your own solution… especially since they are just emulating too, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
As I was looking for different local-ish places that make arcade cabinet builds. Some of the prices were kind of insane, maybe $1200 CAD minimum for an empty cabinet with no monitor/brain/controls. I didn't care THAT much. I was looking at random Kijiji ads and saw one that was selling a modded Arcade1Up Galaga machine and a lightbulb went off in my head. “Wait… WHAT?! Of course!“ You could just use the monitor/controls of these cabinets and throw in your own brain! Duh!
So I went out to my local CanadaComputers and found a suitable Arcade1Up cabinet that would fit my needs. I picked the Marvel Super Heroes model, mostly because it has 6 buttons per player (along with 2 start buttons) so I wouldn't need to make my own control deck for the most part. You get these machines as a flatpack box and have to build it Ikea-style, so you already get a sort of sense of how to take it apart later.
Let's put in a new brain
The “brain” that comes with the Arcade1Up machines is a 1 chip ARM (I'm guessing?) thing similar to a Raspberry Pi in size. Taking this out of the equation is trivial, just a couple of screws/cables to unplug and it's out. The monitor cable is non-standard and doesn't go straight to HDMI, so I needed to get the controller board that originally came with the monitor. This can differ between cabinet models but mine ended up being a
DV170YGM-N10 model, so I found the controller board pretty easily on Amazon. This gives us the more-common VGA/HDMI ports to the monitor, as well as the OG monitor control buttons if we ever need them.
The JAMMA part was a bit daunting, but luckily the guys at DIYRetroArcade sell almost everything you need to convert these to a JAMMA machine as a kit. The kit also comes with a Pandora's Box board so you can start playing games (maybe not super legally) right away. The tutorial video they provided was REALLY well done too and explains things I had no idea about pretty well (mostly around the arcade power supply/EMI filter stuff), embedded below:
That's all great and dandy, but I didn't want to run a Pandora's Box specifically, I wanted the option to run ACTUAL JAMMA boards from the 80s/90s if I wanted to collect them. I already have a CPS2 board for Gigawing, which works great with a Supergun (I use this one to test) so I wanted the option to use it/other games with “real hardware”. With the DIY kit it assumes you're going to use the HDMI port from the Pandora's Box as your video out, but if you use legitimate JAMMA boards they won't have a video out on a board (usually), they rely on the JAMMA harness for all the outputs.
So I actually needed ONE more board, and some custom soldering/cabling to convert the RGB/Sync out to VGA/HDMI separately, which then goes to the monitor. I ended up going with this guy which comes with all the cables I would need to connect/solder to the JAMMA harness. That way it can output a true JAMMA “signal” and I can switch out game boards as I please, in theory. I'm saying this as the RGB converter is still on the way, but if it ends up not being the solution I'll remove this paragraph entirely :D
TLDR; my Arcade1Up JAMMA Setup is…
- An Arcade1Up machine, I used the Marvel Super Heroes cabinet since it came with 2 joysticks and 14 button holes already (though if you are making your own control deck it doesn't really matter).
- An LCD Controller board for the monitor, I used this one since it was made for the monitor that came with my cabinet, but if you google your monitor model you can find them pretty easily.
- Joysticks/Buttons/JAMMA cables, oh my! DIYRetroArcade sells whole kits of this stuff for this purpose here along with a Pandora's Box unit if you just want to emulate stuff. They also include a power supply and EMI filter to wire this all correctly, which seemed daunting but was actually pretty straight forward. They don't sell the LCD Controller board as part of the bundle since they wouldn't know your exact monitor model.
- (If you want to run actual JAMMA boards) RGB Converter Card, which turns the RGB signal from your JAMMA cable into a VGA signal to plug into the monitor. If you're happy with an emulation/Pandora's Box solution, just use the HDMI off the Pandora's Box. I picked something like this though there's other solutions that go to HDMI or splitting the signal too.
Price list was about:
- ~$500 - Arcade1Up Cabinet
- ~$80 - LCD Controller Board (though you could probably get it cheaper somewhere)
- ~$200 - Power Supply/Buttons/Joysticks/Speakers/Pandora's Box Kit
- ~$60 - RGB to VGA/HDMI Board
So for probably sub-$1000 I'd say that's pretty great considering the size/capabilities it has now. Plus compared to a “real” cabinet, its very light and easy to move around if I need to, while still being capable of JAMMA boards. You could retro-retro-fit it to run a PC/Raspberry Pi too since it still has HDMI through the LCD Board, so it leaves a LOT of options open.
Stuff I'd do differently
- The Sanwa joystick placement is jank on both sides, cable kind of hugs the button it's near which isn't awful and works fine, but unneeded pressure on the pins it's connected to. Easy fix for this is just to get a different control deck where it's a bit more spaced out but I uhh, don't care enough.
- Spending money on stuff I didn't need, I probably wasted ~$200 on unneeded parts. Researching how to do this and learning about what I need for a legitimate JAMMA solution is kind of all over the place so I don't really blame myself, but it was kind of the driving factor for writing something up so someone else doesn't make the same mistakes.
I'm considering doing this all over again but using one of their Vertical cabinets and having a dedicated shmup machine, but I'm letting that idea boil a bit before I jump into all this again.
I've said JAMMA so much in this that it's becoming a weird thing to keep saying >_>. Anyways I hope this helps someone and feel free to poke me about questions about this stuff :)