How to Convert an Old Arcade Cabinet into a MAME Cabinet

Written by allen douglas
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How to Convert an Old Arcade Cabinet into a MAME Cabinet
Gamers may feel that a joystick does not measure up to real arcade controls. (Video Game Gear image by Alhazm Salemi from

There never seemed to be enough quarters to satisfy the avid gamer's arcade-game passion, particularly in the early to mid-1980s, before home gaming consoles began to offer games with similar quality. Even though home gaming systems have taken over a major share of the arcade industry, most gamers still feel that there is something missing: the control and feel of a real arcade cabinet. With the introduction of MAME (multiple arcade machine emulator) technology in 1997, the opportunity to play many different arcade games on one cabinet has opened up a new world for arcade-game enthusiasts, allowing them to create home games with authentic arcade feel.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Computer
  • Stand-up arcade cabinet with 19" monitor
  • 19" or 20" computer monitor
  • Power strip
  • MAME program
  • Arcade controls (joysticks and push buttons)
  • Arcade control encoder
  • Plywood
  • Contact paper
  • Drill
  • Coated wire (any gauge)
  • Soldering iron and solder
  • Piece of transparency or mylar
  • Plexiglas
  • Fluorescent light fixture
  • Cardboard
  • Cardstock or photo paper
  • Glue

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  1. 1

    Paint or clean up your arcade cabinet. If the cabinet has had years of abuse or has been spray-painted several times to cover up the original artwork, remove the paint and repaint the cabinet with a fresh coat in the colour of your choice. This will give the cabinet a clean look and offers the most potential for customisation. If the cabinet has the original paint and artwork from a good classic game, just clean up the cabinet.

  2. 2

    Remove the old arcade monitor. Do not touch any of the wiring coming out of the back of the monitor tube, as monitor tubes are connected to a high-voltage capacitor. Store the monitor in a safe location, and keep the brackets and bolts for later.

  3. 3

    Remove the plastic casing of the computer monitor. Use extreme caution, as the back of the computer monitor also has a high-voltage capacitor. Never touch this part or any of the wiring coming out of the back of the monitor tube.

  4. 4

    Secure the arcade cabinet monitor brackets to the holes on the front of the computer monitor. Use wood blocks or metal brackets to fit up the computer monitor holes with the arcade cabinet brackets.

  5. 5

    Place a power strip in the bottom of the arcade cabinet to power the computer monitor.

  6. 6

    Install the computer in the arcade cabinet by placing it either in a computer case on the floor of the cabinet or on a wood or metal sheet somewhere in the cabinet. Ground the computer motherboard to a wheel bolt on the bottom of the arcade cabinet using a coated wire.

  7. 7

    Connect a decent graphics card, RAM, a sound card, a CD-ROM drive and a 3.5" floppy disk drive to the computer. For set-up and maintenance, also install a keyboard and mouse. Connect the computer monitor to the graphics card output using a VGA cable. Plug the computer in to the power strip.

  8. 8

    Download the latest version of the MAME software from Choose either the Windows version or, for a non-Windows installation, the "all platforms" version.

  9. 9

    Install a MAME front-end program to control the arcade cabinet while loading different games. ArcadeOS works well for DOS installations, and UltraMAME or Emu Loader run well under Windows.

  10. 10

    Remove the old arcade control panel and save any working joysticks and push buttons. Measure the length, width and thickness of the old panel. Get a piece of plywood cut to the same length, width and thickness.

  11. 11

    Sketch the configuration of the joystick and push buttons on the plywood in pencil. Drill 1-1/4"-diameter holes for the joysticks and push buttons. Place a piece of contact paper, in a colour that matches the cabinet, on top of the plywood. Remove the contact paper over the 1-1/4" holes. Install the joysticks and push buttons in the drilled holes and tighten.

  12. 12

    Plug the keyboard encoder cord into the USB port or PS/2 port of the computer, based on the specific encoder model purchased. Connect one end of an insulated wire to the ground terminal on the encoder board, and connect the other end of the wire to the first push button or joystick micro-switch "ground" or "com" terminal. Daisy-chain an insulated wire to each "ground" or "com" terminal on each micro-switch for each joystick and push button.

  13. 13

    Look at the default wiring schematic for the encoder PCB. Match up the default wiring with the MAME defaults for joystick 1 and 2 and for the Player 1 and Player 2 push buttons. Typically, the encoders have the defaults labelled at the terminals. Connect each "NO" or "+" terminal on each micro-switch to a match with the default wiring labelled on the encoder circuit-board terminal.

  14. 14

    Create or download a marquee image and print it onto transparency or mylar. Measure the marquee opening at the top of the arcade cabinet and attach the marquee image to a Plexiglas piece sized to fit the marquee opening. Replace the old fluorescent light fixture in the arcade cabinet with a new fluorescent light fixture with a 110-volt standard plug. Plug the marquee light fixture into the power strip. Mount the Plexiglas marquee in the marquee opening using the brackets on the old arcade cabinet.

  15. 15

    Create a monitor bezel by cutting a cardboard display board to fit around the monitor. Print the bezel graphics onto thick stock paper or photo paper, and glue to the display board. For a better look, pay to have the bezel graphics printed on a large-format printer.

  16. 16

    Create working coin mechanisms by connecting the coin door coin mechanisms to the control panel encoder. Connect a coated wire to the "+" or "NO" terminal on the coin door micro-switch, then connect the other end to the "coin" label on the encoder. Connect another wire to the "ground" or "com" terminal on both the coin door micro-switch and the keyboard encoder. Repeat this process for the second coin mechanism.

Tips and warnings

  • There are several styles of arcade-game cabinets, such as a 19" stand-up, 25" stand up, sit-down driving, stand-up driving and cocktail table. Generally, the easiest cabinet to find and convert to a MAME cabinet is a stand-up type with a 19" monitor because most classic games used this type of cabinet, and the monitor is cheaper.
  • Many collectors of desirable classic arcade games, such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, classic Williams games and Atari games, would think it taboo to convert one of these games to a MAME cabinet, but there are ways to minimise the changes so the game can be converted back later.
  • To set up a DOS MAME machine, choose a SoundBlaster sound card, as they are easiest to configure. Also, choose a name-brand graphics card or a card for which you have the DOS drivers to keep things easy.
  • Never touch the wiring or the monitor tube on a computer monitor or an old arcade monitor. They each have a very high-voltage capacitor and can be very dangerous.

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