Planning on building a dedicated retro gaming system? If so, you’ve probably heard about the Raspberry Pi. But why is Raspberry Pi retro gaming so popular?
it’s probably because these computers are affordable and flexible enough to handle most platforms up to the early 2000s.
If you’re planning on using a Raspberry Pi, several other things are needed for a robust and reliable Raspberry Pi retro gaming center. Before looking at the software, let’s first take a look at the hardware.
The Raspberry Pi
Since its 2012 release, the Raspberry Pi has had several iterations, each more powerful than the one before. These days, you have two options that are ideal for retro gaming, depending on the scale of the project:
- Raspberry Pi 4 B 8GB — features a 1.5 GHz 64/32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A72 system-on-a-chip (SOC) with 8GB RAM (shared with the GPU). 2GB and 4GB versions are also available, Measures 3.370 inches × 2.224 inches (85.60 mm × 56.5 mm). Has wireless networking and Bluetooth built in, and dual micro-HDMI out.
- Raspberry Pi Zero W — uses a 1 GHz single-core ARM1176JZF-S SOC with 512 MB (shared with the GPU). This more compact device is 2.56 inches × 1.18 inches (65 mm × 30 mm). Speaking broadly, the Pi Zero is more suited to portable gaming projects, or for installing within a TV set. The Pi Zero W model has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and mini-HDMI out.
Older pre-Raspberry Pi 3 models can also be used, but they’re likely to be less reliable, thanks to lower hardware specifications. Raspberry Pi 3 boards are fine, but for the best results, use the most recent model.
Other Hardware and Cables You’ll Need
A Raspberry Pi alone own isn’t enough to start gaming. Some extra hardware and cables are required, some of which you might have already, and some you may need to buy.
Get a Case
You should keep your Raspberry Pi safe and secure in a dedicated case. The options here are considerable, ranging from the lightweight, official Raspberry Pi case to small form factor cases like the DeskPi Pro or Argon One. Along the way, you might consider retro-themed Raspberry Pi cases such as the Nes4Pi, which ship with controllers.
Whatever case you choose, be sure to select one that is compatible with your chosen Raspberry Pi. While the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 models can share cases, there are differences between the early Raspberry Pi B boards and later models. Meanwhile, the Raspberry Pi Zero is a different proposition entirely, as is the Raspberry Pi A. Careful consideration of what you’re buying will help you to avoid mistakes.
While a desktop computer or laptop has a hard disk drive or solid-state drive (SSD), a Raspberry Pi boots from a microSD card. This is where the boot script and operating system are installed, and where emulators and game ROMs are stored. Think of it as the Pi’s hard disk drive.
Flash media is ridiculously affordable – for instance, you can grab a SanDisk 32GB class 10 microSD card for under a tenner. That should be more than enough space in most cases. If not, add some USB storage.
As each Raspberry Pi model increases the specification, so cooling becomes more important. This is particularly important when emulating later games consoles. To deal with this, a Raspberry Pi-compatible heat sink (and even a fan) will help to dissipate the heat, and maintain performance.
while it’s possible to run a Raspberry Pi using a phone charger or a standard microUSB to USB A cable, a dedicated adaptor is the best option. This way, the correct ampage is delivered to the computer, improving performance.
Keyboard and mouse
In addition to these devices, you’ll also need a keyboard and mouse (for setup, or for playing some games),
USB game controller.
Retro-style controllers are good, but the Pi will also support Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 controllers if these are more to your liking.
Raspberry Pi Retro Gaming Starts from £5
You’ve probably noticed that all of this is probably going to come to more than £35. You’ll certainly be able to get hold of the rest for under £100, but if you’re just getting started, reuse anything you can, and buy small. For instance, you probably won’t need more than an 8 GB microSD card. A case shouldn’t cost more than £10, and neither should a power adaptor. Heat sinks are inexpensive, but often not necessary for an initial setup.
If you want someone else to select the hardware for you, several Raspberry Pi retro gaming starter kits are available to buy online.
With your Raspberry Pi retro gaming system hardware purchased, you’re ready to install an operating system.
Gaming since 1984, retro gaming since 2004. Contributes to Linux Format magazine and MakeUseOf.com.