Retro arcade building on a budget

Sometimes the challenge is not just to get these old games up and running, but it’s to get them up and running for as little cost as possible.

The main factors that will increase or decrease your budget are, how retro-you-wanna-go, the physical setup your aiming for and how much work you want to put in yourself.
Of course you can make decisions between the first two factors, but how much work you want to put in yourself may also be influenced by how handy you are.  That’s not only with a jigsaw and hammer but also with the software configuration.

So let’s take this a decision at a time and lay out the options.  Hopefully along the way I can provide some money saving ideas as well as good recommendations!

Step 1: Choose your build.  The options are,

Option 1 – Plug in to your existing TV – A cheap way of opening up retro gaming.  But beware, it means you’re taking the TV off other people which may limit your retro-gaming time.  It does however mean your setup will most likely be in a comfy, warm area of the house!
For me, this doesn’t quite cut it, as it’s not a real retro arcade experience.  Retro console experience yes, retro arcade no.
If you are going for this option, I would recommend,

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 (£40)Buy it from Amazon at a reasonable price.  RS Components also sell at a good price, but be wary that the upfront price doesn’t inc. VAT.
    This Amazon kit also includes your SD Card (16gb) and power supply, so you would struggle to buy those separate parts cheaper.


  • A HDMI cable (£5) – You’re using your existing TV, so connect this up with a HDMI cable.  You could shop on eBay and pick one up for under £5 or again Amazon are a good bet.
    As long as it is a high speed one, like this, you will be fine.
  • USB SNES controllers (£15) – Retroarch uses the SNES controller as it’s default setup, so it’s good to buy these for a straight forward instillation.  eBay can once again offer up many sellers and again Amazon also offer many options.  You get what you pay for.  The Buffalo SNES USB controller feels better quality than the iNNext ones, but you do get 2 iNNext SNES USB controllers for nearly the same price – and they do the job.

So this setup costs approx £60.  Which isn’t bad.  Don’t forget you can install Kodi on this also (You can even set Kodi up to run from your arcade interface), and you then also have a media streaming setup as well.  Not bad value.

Option 2 – A Bar-top arcade – My personal favorite and the option I chose for my very first build.  A bar-top arcade is portable enough to be placed in various rooms while still offering a true arcade experience.  It can be built on a budget and it gives that true arcade feel.

So, for this option you have a choice of building the bartop cabinate from scratch, or buying a kit.

The Cab

Bartop arcade kit (£60)- There are loads of these available on ebay (like this) and while they may not be quite as cheap as making it yourself, you at least know everything will fit together first time.

Bartop arcade DIY (£30) – If you want to save some monies on the cab, then you could follow plans like these,


I was able to buy 2 sheets of MDF to cover these sections.
I used a load of  rigid corner joints inside the cab to connect the panels together.  This meant no screws were visible on the outside of the cab.

The Artwork – Once you’ve built your cab, you really need it to look good.  So you have 2 options. Buy some Decals or Wraps which will look awesome if you take your time placing them on or you can cut out some stencils and spray paint the cab. The latter will obviously be cheaper, but you have to be very handy with a spray can to make it look as good as a Decal wrap.
Decal’s would cost, sides (£27), Marquee (£5), Control panel (£6.50), so basically you are looking at £38.50 for this option.
Spray paints, depend on the amount of colours you want to include, but a simple black and white cab (which can still look pretty awesome) could cost as little as £20.  But you will have to prime the wood first as well (£5) .

The Controls – As with the SNES controllers above, you pay for what you get.  The cost of the controls will also increase if you want illuminated buttons instead of standard buttons, or if you want a Bat top joystick instead of a Ball top.  But no matter what your choice, the fact you’re using arcade controls instead of a control pad, will mean a more authentic arcade experience.
There are some really good kits on ebay just search for arcade controls.  The way to cut down on the cost is to ensure you have everything you need in the kit.  This includes,


  • 16 Standard size buttons (this will give you enough for any game controls)
  • 4 Smaller buttons (these can be used for player 1 and 2 select and credits)
  • 2 Joysticks
  • A control board
  • A USB cable
  • The wires to connect the buttons and joysticks to the control board

This kind of kit costs approx £40

The Screen – The final piece to the jigsaw (almost/maybe) is the screen. Ideally you want a 4:3 LCD screen.  So search for “LCD Screen” on ebay and then filter by “4:3” aspect ratio.
This is where you can potentially save some good money.  You really need an LCD with HDMI input for the raspberry pi. But as soon as you filter by HDMI input you will notice there is pretty much only new screens available and you are certainly looking at over £100


Remove the HDMI filter and sort by the lowest price and you should be able to find some for literally a couple of pounds.  I’ve bought several at 99p!

Now, the issue is you have only a VGA input (make sure the monitor you buy has a VGA input!).


Now you can simply buy a HDMI to VGA Adapter (£6) and you have saved yourself a cool £100 (ish).

The Sound – You may have sound through your monitor, if so you just need a 3.5mm cable from the pi to the monitor.  If the monitor doesn’t have speakers then you could buy some compact 3.5mm speakers like this (£7) which will fit in the bottom of your cab easily.

You’re done.

Now depending on the options you chose.  If you went for the cheapest, you could sort this out for around £154,

  • Raspberry pi3 (£40)
  • HDMI Cable (£5)
  • Cab (DIY option) (£30)
  • Artwork (spray paint and primer) (£25)
  • Controls (£40)
  • LCD monitor (£1)
  • HDMI converter (£6)
  • Speakers (£7)


Whichever you choose you will be able to enjoy arcade gaming.  There are of course different cab options such as a cocktail cabinet or a full size cab.  The plans would change as will the amount of MDF and artwork you would require.  But the setup would generally be the same.

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