Join Date: Jul 2001
Location: Big Lake, USA
Building your own MAME cabinet, Part One- The cabinet.
Earlier, someone had asked me to write a tutorial on how to build a MAME cabinet. Since I am too damned lazy to construct a website, and there has been a little interest on this forum, I will "grace" this forum with a step-by-step (hopefully omitting nothing) tutorial on how to go about building a MAME (and other emulators) cabinet for your recreation room, den, or kitchen. While this project may seem daunting, and since there are a lot of "junk" sites outlining the building of a cabinet, I thought I'd share my experiences and recommendations with you so in the event that you ever decide to build your own cabinet, you will have some advice and opinions that you may (or may not) find valuable.
Let's say you are thinking of undergoing the project of building your own cabinet. Where do you start? Well, the first thing to do is aquire the cabinet itself. Depending on where you are and your diplomatic prowse, this can either be a easy or a hard part of the project.
**Getting your hands on a cabinet**
There are a few ways of getting a hold of a cabinet. The easiest way is to buy one, but other people have actually BUILT cabinets. Unless you are a master of carpentry, I don't suggest this route. However, if you have the skills, there is no reason that you can't build one yourself. Just keep in mind that building on from scratch will require the purchase of all the stuff you can't build from lumber, like the monitor and the wiring. There are templates available to you on the Internet if you look hard enough, but the "effort to results" ratio may be a bit lower than if you just buy an actual arcade game.
So, where do you look for a cabinet, and what should you buy? The first place to look is for local dealers by your home. Just be aware that some video game operators don't want to deal with home users, since they tend to be wishy-washy and require an amount of time to bargain with, and might ask for technical help after they bring their game home. Your best bet is to go in to a operators location in person and flash some cash. But before you go in, know what you want to buy. If you want a cocktail machine, be sure to tell them right off the bat. If you opt for an upright, tell them the cabinet specs that you are looking for. I suggest a cabinet with a 25' monitor and a large control panel area (like a Teenage Mutant Ninja (Hero) Turtles, Mortal Kombat, or NBA Jam. Get a bigger cabinet if you can afford it, since the panel will generally be larger and you can install as many controls as you like.
Another good place to get a cabinet is an auction. Sometimes you can get a cabinet REALLY cheap, however, other times people will bid stuff up to absurd levels. Handle these things like you would on EBay, and use your descretion. What is a cabinet worth to you?
Last place to look is the local newspaper and Internet sites. The newspaper will, on rare occasion, run a want ad selling arcade stuff. The Internet is a bit trickier, since more often that not you will be dealing with people who live very far away from you. If you are on a budget, look for a seller close to you. If money is no object, this route will probably be your best bet... But shipping can be a killer, so be careful!
Be prepared to spend anywhere from nothing (it can happen) to 1000$ USD for a great cabinet.
**What to look for**
If you are like me, you hate buying stuff "blind" over EBay and such. Personally, I like to actually touch whatever I am going to drop a bundle of cash on. If I am going to spend over 100$ USD on ANYTHING, I want it to be at least salvagable if not serviceable. Check for water damage first. If there is rotting around the base of the cabinet, this usually means whatever electronics are inside has been exposed to humidity and may fail somewhere down the line. Monitor repair can be costly, so it is important to make sure it works if you plan to use it for your cabinet. Secondly, look for rodent infestation. While a family of mice may or may not have urinated all over the electronics, it is best to get a clean cabinet so any troubles with such things can be averted. Last, check for "hacks" in the wiring. Back when I used to be a service tech for arcade equipment, it was more important to have the equipment working than to keep it aesthetically correct. If you see a lot of electrical tape and bizarre soldering jobs, you might want to avoid the cabinet. The hacks can cause trouble when you try to install the computer and such. Last, get a JAMMA cabinet! This will make for ease of installation and will make your life easier. If a non-JAMMA cabinet falls within your price range, go ahead and grab it, but be aware that you will have to work harder to get your MAME machine up and running.
-note- A JAMMA machine is a machine that has been wired for the industry-standard "JAMMA" connectors, which is the defacto way modernish arcade equipment has been constructed. If you get a machine from the 90's, most likely it will have been wired for JAMMA.
The way APFelon got his cabinet- I was lucky enough to have a friend sell me his cabinet after he got married. It was a 25' Wrestlefest cabinet, perfect for a MAME project. I decided to keep the monitor in it and wired it for use with my computer.
My next installment will detail the hardware aspect of the MAME cabinet, and describe how to get your computer to work with MAME. Following installments will deal with software and cosmetics.
Any questions, feel free to ask!