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Revision as of 05:31, 11 December 2013 by Felsir (talk | contribs) (Added a link to the restoration page.)
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This page is intended for those who want to build their own arcade machine or classic game controllers. If you're planning to restore an existing arcade cabinet, please take a look at the topic restoration.

There are a dizzying variety of skills, disciplines, methods, materials, and resources involved in this hobby. This FAQ is intended to provide a a general overview of basic topics and common terms for newcomers to the arcade and emulation community. It is designed to be a starting point for choosing useful search terms and asking better/more effective questions in the BYOAC Forums.

The original FAQ written in 2003 by CitznFish is available via the Internet Wayback Machine at http://web.archive.org/web/20081006130304/http://www.arcade-at-home.com/mame_faq.html

Cabinet Basics

Types of cabs
















Parts of a cab (diagram)

-- Marquee, retainers, light

-- Speakers

-- Control panel (CP), latches, overlay, player buttons, admin buttons (Coin, Start, Exit, Pause, etc.)

-- Kick panel

-- Coin door

-- Sideart (vinyl, stencil)

-- Power supply

-- Game board/MAME computer

-- Wiring harness

-- Smart strip

-- Leveling feet/casters

-- T-molding

What type of build meets my needs? (flowchart?)

-- Start by considering where you want to put/use the cab (measure doorways and available space)

-- Make a list of games you want to play, consider the number of simultaneous players you want to support, and select the computer you want/need to use.

-- That will lead you to what emulators and other software like front ends (MaLa, Hyperspin, etc.) you want/need.

-- From there, you can figure out what kind of controls (Joysticks, player buttons, admin buttons, spinner, trackball, gamepads?) you'll need to work with the games and emulators you want.

-- That leads to chosing the right encoder(s).

-- Browse for artwork/themes/design cues to use in the following steps.

-- Arrange the controls on the control panel. (CP) Cardboard test panel highly encouraged.

-- Select a monitor.

-- Design the rest of the cab around the monitor and CP.

-- Should I build a four player setup?

-- Regular vs. swappable vs. modular panels

-- What controls should I include?

What is the difference between an original arcade cab and a MAME cab?


JAMMA is a wiring standard developed in 1985 by Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association, Inc.

It allows you to easily change between JAMMA compatible game boards without re-wiring the cabinet.

The JAMMA standard uses a 56-pin edge connector on the board with inputs and outputs common to most video games.

These include:

- Power inputs (5v and 12v)

- Inputs for two players (each player has a joystick, three action buttons and one start button)

- Analog RGB video output with negative composite sync

- Mono sound output

- Inputs for coin, service, test, and tilt

JAMMA Games that have more than 3 action buttons, more than 2 players, or different control types use the JAMMA+ standard.

What type of wood to use?




What tools do I need?

-- Drill

-- Forstner bits, spade bits, holesaw

-- Jigsaw

-- Circular saw / sawboard

-- Tablesaw

-- Router

-- Dremel

-- L-square



-- 2/4/8-way

-- switchable, auto-switch

-- Analog

-- 49-way


-- 3 terminal buttons (NO, NC, COM)

-- 2 terminal buttons

-- Leaf buttons



Other specialized controls

Yokes, steering wheels, trigger stick, rotary joysticks, light guns, etc.

USB gamepads/controllers

Mounting options

-- Mounting plate

-- Top-mount

-- Under-mount (non-recessed)

-- Under-mount (recessed)

-- Carriage bolts

-- Threaded inserts

-- Support blocks


What is an encoder?

What ports do they use?



What type of encoder(s) do I need?

(keyboard, gamepad, optical, combination/hybrid?)

How many encoder inputs do I need for my control panel?

Basic wiring

Quick disconnect sizes

Most microswitches use 0.187" QDs. (4.8 mm)

Some use 0.250" QDs. (6 mm)

Most two tab buttons (Sanwa, Seimitsu, Goldleaf, etc.) and leaf switches use 0.110" QDs. (2.8 mm)


Commonly used AWG sizes

LED Lighting

Single color buttons

RGB buttons

LED controllers

Displays (Arcade CRT/Computer CRT/LCD/LED)

Differences: pros/cons

Types of connections

(composite, component, arcade, VGA, DVI, HDMI)

Input lag (Not response time)



(MAME, console emulators, pinball, flash games)

What is an emulator?

A software program that duplicates the hardware, firmware/software, and gameplay of an older game system.

What is a ROM?

For the original games - Read Only Memory chip(s) on the game board/cartridge that holds the program code for a game/game system. For emulators - .ZIP file(s) containing a dump of the game/game system code.

What are the different "flavors" of MAME?

MAME - The command line program that the other variants are based on. MAME32, MAMEUI, or MAMEUIFX - Graphic User Interface (GUI) versions of MAME.

Why won't this ROM work with the newer version of that emulator?

The game may not be fully functional yet. (Encryption issues, driver problems, incomplete ROM dumps, etc.) There may be a more accurate "dump" of that game's ROM used by the newer emulator -- emulator and ROM versions must be compatible. You may also need other driver files or a .CHD (Compressed Hunks of Data) hard drive image.

How can I tell if my ROMs and emulator are compatible?

Use clrmamepro http://mamedev.emulab.it/clrmamepro/ or your emulator's "Audit" function (if available) to check the version and filenames of ROMs compared to your emulator program version.

Front end

Other useful software

(Joy2key, DrVenture's controller remap?, AHK?, mrotate?)

Forum tips for asking questions that get good/faster answers:

- Search first, somebody else has probably encountered this problem before -- don't ask people to retype the same old answers to the same old questions.

- Take your time editing the post so it is specific, clear, and easy to read.

- Whenever possible, include decent pics/screencaps/diagrams.

- Include software/OS versions if applicable.

- Include your location when asking about parts/vendors or electrical wiring. (different countries use different wire colors and/or voltages)