How to build a MAME cabinet - A detailed guide and how to
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Cabinet Builders Wiki
 Arcade and MAME Cabinet builders encyclopedia...

49-Way joystick
Only used in a few games like Sinistar and Blaster. Much like the analog joystick but with only a limited amount of directions. In a MAME cabinet it would make more sense to use a analog joystick with more game support.

AIM-Trak - Ultimarc
The Ultimarc AimTrak Light Gun Module is a tiny PCB containing a camera and tracking logic which can be mounted inside any available gaming gun body including arcade guns and console guns such as Guncon. Some DIY assembly and creativity is needed for the PCB mounting.

Analog joystick
Joystick without microswitches and with a unlimited amount of directions. Often used in simulation games and often looks like a flight stick. Analog joysticks also discern how far the handle is pushed from center position. Games like Afterburner and Star Wars Trilogy use analog joysticks.

Arcade Monitor
See Monitors

Modified windows video card that supports the 15Khz signal for arcade monitors. This is the right choice if you are using a real arcade monitor. Some more recent games use higher resolutions and cannot be used with ArcadeVGA without a modification in the software.

Artwork is pictures/art on the marquee, bezel, kickplate and marquee. Often this is printet on self-adhensive paper or vinyl and can be difficult to mount if you have no experience. Some people design their artwork themselves and some uses reproductions of old original artwork. On Project MAME I have custom made my own artwork. You have to decide what is right for you to do.

Ball-top Joystick
Joystick with a colourful ball as handle. Often used in japaneese arcade cabinets. Sanwa and Seimitsu is known for quality ball-top joysticks. This is also the type of joystick that gives you a "claw-hand" as seen in the sitcom Friends. My hand was claw-like even before playing arcade games though.

Bartop Cabinet
Like the upright cabinet, but shorter. This makes it possible to place it on a table. This is the right solution if you are short on space for the upright cabinet. Personally I think bartop cabinets are half the fun and people will ask you why you cut your cabinet in half all the time.

The glass and/or artwork around and in front of your monitor. Makes the arcade cabinet a happy place ;)

Button Plug
Plug to cover a pushbutton hole not in use. Not used much in MAME cabinets as more pushbuttons is better.

See pushbuttons

The best Sega Dreamcast emulater. It's still buggy though. Official homepage.

Cheap-ass product. Very good for T-moulding and laminate, but poor for milling machines and paintwork. Use MDF Board if you are going to paint your arcade cabinet.

Cocktail Cabinet
The tabletop cabinet. The arcade parts is mounted in a table where players can play on each side of the table. This cabinet is a floor-space-eater :D

Coin Doors
This can be added as decoration or it can be connected to your encoder. I don't consider a coin door to be essential, but it is  a very nice touch none the less.

Control Panel
Panel in metal or wood for mounting your controls. You will get an excelent result if you place a picture between your control panel and a piece of plexi or lexan, you will probably need to use a metal panel to keep it thin though.
Your controlpanel should be atleast yay high... Ohh, you can't see my hand. Try somewhere between 92 and 105 cm high, depending on your own height.

Corner blocks
Also known as glue blocks. Wooden blocks glued to increase the strength of a corner joint or add support to a Arcade cabinet. Added by Bob Shott

CRT monitor
See monitors

Lasergame emulator. Dragon's Lair and Space Ace is probably the most famous of these games.

An emulator duplicates the functions of one system to another. You use an emulator to play Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis ect. on a PC. Or playing arcade games on a PC. An Emulator needs ROMS to work. See Roms. Some of the best  emulators to consider for a MAME cabinet is:
Chankast - Best Dreamcast emulator, still a bit buggy
Dolphin - Wii and Gamecube emulator
ePSXe - Best Playstation emulator
MAME - For arcade games
Fusion - For Sega Master System, Sega Genesis / Megadrive and more
Future Pinball - Advanced pinball emulator that benefits from shaders and Direct X
Nestopia - For Nintendo Entertainment System
PCSX2 - Great PS2 emulator
Project 64 - Nintendo 64 emulator
SNES9X - For super Nintendo
Visual Pinball - Arcade pinball emulator
WinUAE - For Amiga
ZinC - Playstation based arcade games
Zsnes - For Super Nintendo

These PCB boards will encode your arcade joystick and pushbuttons to keyboard inputs, to make them PC compatible. You can choose from a wide range of Ultimarc's I-PAC, J-PAC, A-PAC or KeyWiz models. The best choice at the moment probably is the Mini-Pac / Opti-pac. The Mini-Pac features optional complete wiring harness and support for optical input (trackball). This makes it a good choice for beginners as well as advanced users.
Another choice is to mod a keyboard, this is the right solution for the cheapo solder-freak, short of cash. Check for the Ultimarc homepage under links for more info.
Cheap USB encoders has begun to surface on Ebay (2013), and they seem to work fine and they are very cheap. This may be worth trying if on a budget.

The best of the free Playstation emulators. Official homepage.

Visual interface made to make it easy to choose games and run multiple emulators and multimedia functions from the same interface. The front-end also helps with the MAME settings. Personally I prefer GameEX, because of the easy configuration and advanced features. GameEX supports all emulators I know and helps you download the newest version. Highly recommended for both noobs and advanced users. Right now I am trying Maximus Arcade, because it has a much nicer look to it. Here is some other interesting and good front-ends:

AdvanceMenu Popular choice for Linux, OS X, Windows and DOS
ArcadeOS Good if you are using an arcademonitor and good old DOS
AtomicFE Can be configured to any emulator and application
Cabrio FE Open source front-end for Linux
GameEX One of the most advanced frontends. It is also at very good HTPC frontend for music and video. You have to pay to avoid disclaimers all the time :(.
Gamelauncher More or less what is says, both PC and Linux. Works with any emulator.
Hyperpin FE Variant of Hyperspin FE for virtual pinball cabinets.
Hyperspin FE Very nice looking and very graphical front-end for various emulators. Not for older PC's and only for Windows.
Kymaera Advanced open source front-end.
Khameleon Nice looking new windows interface, very refreshing.
MaLa  Popular freeware front-end. One of the best. Very advanced features.
MameWah Very popular and simplistic front-end for Linux / Ubuntu
Maximus Arcade Very nice looking front-end, but it's not free and it is based on Flash and that makes is super demanding on your hardware.
mGalaxy Simple and sleek interface for Windows
Wah!Cade Probably the best Apple front-end. It's free.
Ultrastyle Only MAME, maybe a tad outdated

Go to MAME frontends - The complete list for more info

Superb emulator for Sega Master System, Sega Genesis / Megadrive, 32X and MegaCD. Most front-ends supports Fusion.

Future Pinball
Advanced pinball simulator. Extremely nice graphics, but need a pretty powerfull pc to run it.

See front-ends


Don't use glass for your cabinet, it is dangerous and it is very hard to process. It is cleaning friendly though and you can use any chemical products on it. It will not get any scratches during normal use. Please use Lexan or Plexi instead, it much safer and easier to process.

Iron or plastic cover for speakers or ventilation holes. Almost the same as a grill, but the guard is stronger and more authentic for arcade cabinets.

Gun bundled with different versions of the Playstation game Time Crisis.

Manufacturer of quality control parts. Very good standard pushbuttons. Excelent joysticks for Streetfighter or other fighters. Often mounts well in wooden panels.

Hide OS
Try Instant Sheller or Quick Sheller

Hot Rod
Basically the same as X-arcade, but it's purple! See X-arcade.

Hyperpin FE
See front-ends.

Hyperspin FE
See front-ends.

An encoder from Ultimarc. See encoders.

Instant Sheller
Used to hide Windows and boot directly into front-end. Works  with Windows XP service pack 2 and above and Windows 7. Needs .Net framework. You can find it here.

An encoder from Ultimarc. See encoders.

There af 2, 4 and 8-ways joysticks. Most joystick can be configured to bout 4 and 8 ways. Some games are almost impossible to play with a 8-ways joystick, like Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. Ultimarc makes some models that changes between 4 and 8-way on the fly (while playing).

A little program that converts your joystick inputs to keyboard inputs. Some older emulators only recognizes keyboard input and not joystick input, this makes JoyToKey very usefull. You could also try Xpadder. Go to JoyToKey official homepage.

You can modify a keyboard to use as an encoder. See encoders.

The kickplate is the wooden board under the controlpanel. It is often covered in artwork. The kickplate also houses your coindoor.

See front-ends

See front-ends

Leaf Microswitch
Same as normal microswitch, but wit a short metal arm pushing the switch. Often used in joysticks and even i some pushbuttons.

See polycarbonate

Always use fluorescent light to save eskimos and whales! A fluorescent light strip will make an even and consistent lighting behind your marquee. It will also use less power than light bulbs, and produce less heat. On most arcade cabinets, the only place to consider light, is behind the marquee. Lighting pushbuttons is another way to pimp your cabinet, but they can be distracting. 


See monitors

4 or 8 way joystick witch can be shiftet from the top. This makes it perfect for both 4 way and 8 way games. The MagStik is centered by a magnet instead of a spring.

MagStik Plus
4 or 8 way joystick witch can be shiftet from the top. This makes it perfect for both 4 way and 8 way games. The MagStik is centered by a magnet instead of a spring.

Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. MAME is an emulator designed to recreate the hardware of arcade game systems in software, with the intent of preserving gaming history and preventing games from being lost or forgotten. Some MAME roms are free to use but most are illegal to copy. Official MAME homepage here.

MAME Cabinet

A cabinet featuring a PC running MAME and other emulators. The cabinet often looks like a real original arcade cabinet, but can also be a totally custom design like Project MAME on this homepage. Many people use a original arcade cabinet to modify to a MAME cabinet. Personally I don't think it is the best solution, but often it is easier.

See front-ends

The banner in the top of the machine, often used with light on the back of the marquee art. Usually the picture/art is printed on high quality photopaper and is placed between 2 pieces of 3mm polycarbonate of plexiglass.

Maximus Arcade
See front-ends

MDF board
Better than chipboard if you are going to paint rather than using T-moulding and laminate for your cabinet. Very easy to process and excelent for milling machines. Use atleast 16mm for cabinet sides. For backpanels 4mm - 12mm is enough, but it would be cheaper to use a chipboard for backpanel. So many choices to make...

A switch used in pushbuttons and most joysticks. They have this clicking noise you are most likely to have heard at some point in your life. Industrial grade microswithes can last for atleast 10.000.000 annoying clicks. By the way, Sanwa makes some switches that have a silent click. But your wife will find some other things to complaint about I promise.
I recommend the Cherry switches.

Basically there is 4 options for your cabinet screen. Number one being the best solution, number 4 being the worst. BUT this is not always the case!

1. Real Arcade Monitor
2. TFT monitor
3. TV
4. CRT PC monitor

1: Arcade Monitor. A real arcade monitor has just the right look and picture. You can choose from a wide range of sizes. But is takes alot of room in your cabinet and is pretty expensive. I also require a special arcade graphic adaptor and often is only runs low resolutions.

2: TFT/LCD monitor. This doesn't take up much space. This means you can be very creative when designing the cabinet, not being bound to designing the cabinet based on the huge arcade monitor or TV. If the monitor runs in other resolutions than the native resolution, it has a soft look to it, almost like a real arcade monitor. You will need atleast a 8ms response time. A TFT monitor uses less power than other monitors and TV, and it can show a wide range of resolutions.
Unfortunately a LCD monitor isn't as easy to mount and it's rather expensive. Also 20" is the largest size in 4:3 LCD monitors.

3. TV. Cheap solution. You can get a wide range of sizes from 14" to 32" or more. Almost has the samme look as a arcade monitor. You will need to have a SVHS out on your graphics adaptor and/or you will alto need to modify a scart cable to make the TV turn on when you start the machine. The TV has a max resolutions of 640x480 and this makes it a pain to use your operating system. This is not the easiest solution by any means.

4. CRT monitor. This is very easy to connect to your computer. You can find them in many sizes almost for free on ebay or local garage sales. But it has some downsides. The tube of a CRT monitor is extremely deep comparet to the size of the screen. This makes it a pain to fit it into a cabinet, the result being a small monitor and a large cabinet. We wan't it the other way.
The monitor is also dead sharp in any resolutions and this is not a good thing in this case, the games WILL look terrible. Often you can adjust the sharpness on the PCB inside the monitor, but this is not for everyone to do, I can be quite deadly!


One of the best Nintendo Entertainment System emulators. Official homepage.

OS - Operating System for Mame cabinet
There are a few choices to make. I think the time has run out for DOS. But here is a small list with pro's and con's.

DOS - Ultra fast boot-time, runs on Stone age hardware. Drivers and front-end support is weak spot and getting worse. Personally I think it's too out-dated, but is boots like a rocket.
- Average to fast boot-time, free, runs on old hardware. Drivers and front-end support is medium to good. I only recommend it only because it's free and user created.
OS X - The Apple OS. Pretty fast boot-time, usually runs on older hardware. Poor front-end and emulator support.
OS/2 Warp
- Are you kidding me???
- Same as Linux
Windows 98
- Fast boot-time, runs on older hardware. XP has better support for more front-ends. I recommend 98 for the fastest possible boot.

Windows ME
- Much like Windows 98.
Windows XP
- Average boot-time, runs on older hardware. EXCELLENT front-end support. Probably the best choice all-round. But again, average boot-time. I recommend XP for the best hardware, emulator and front-end support.
Windows Vista
- Slow boot-time, needs newest hardware. Good front-end support, but should be excellent at some point. Prefer 32-bit at this moment.
Windows 7
- Fast boot-time, needs new hardware. Good front-end support, but soon to be excellent at some point. Prefer 32-bit at this moment, but many emulators are already appearing in 64-bit version.
Windows 8
- This could be the new best choice due to the fast start-up and shut-down times. Less demanding than Windows 7.

OS - Hide OS
There are several ways to hide the OS. The Windows experience will destroy the illusion of the arcade cabinet. Instant Sheller is a application for hiding the OS while using GameEX, but it works with other frond-ends too. You could also try Quick Sheller. Find them here:
Instant Sheller and Quick Sheller. You can also hide the OS by configurating your reg. database in Windows XP. Here is a good guide to hide the OS, it's made for the Maximus Arcade front-end, but will adapt to any front-end. Find it here.

New Android based console, that is very good for emulation purposes and this could be something to be considered for a mame cabinet.

Paddles look like spinners, but their rotation is limited, where it's free on a spinner. Paddles are usually used for breakout style games like Arkanoid. Today most people use spinners for paddle games. See spinners.

Paint - Painting your arcade cabinet
Acrylic paint is fast drying and has no smell to it. This is the way to go to avoid brain damage. But it is not as strong as oil-based paint and will dry too fast leaving you with a poor finish.
Oil-based paint is not very healthy and smells for a long time. It is much stronger than acrylic paint and gives a much much better finish. This is definately the way to go unless you wan't kids at some point in your life :D

Superb Sony Playstation 2 emulator. Works with most games. Official homepage

This is excelent for bezel, marquee, controlpanel overlay ect. but not as forgiving as polycarbonate/Lexan. Cracks easy but is cheaper.

This materiel is so much easier to use than Plexi or glass. It is also known as Lexan, but it is one and same thing. YOU will NOT get cracks when drilling or cutting. This is excelent for bezel, marquee, controlpanel overlay ect. It can also be bend like metal without heating it with butan torch like plexiglass. This is more expensive than Plexiglass though.

Project 64
One of the best Nintendo 64 emulators around. Very good front-end support. This is the emulator to get. Official homepage.

Project MAME
A time consuming project started by me. I wanted to make a MAME arcade cabinet from scratch and did it. I suggest you do the same to justify the hundreds of hours I have use on this project. Just kidding, I was alot of fun, alot more fun than writing this WIKI :D

PSP - Sony PSP
This is absolutely the number one choice for handheld MAME emulation. This could be interesting to mod into a micro MAME cabinet.

Colourful Arcade cabinet buttons. Normally pushbottons have microswitches or leaf microswithes. The normal hole-size for a standard pushbutton is 28mm. Some japaneese pushbuttons like Sanwa or Seimitsu are mounted in 24mm holes though, so be aware.
Pushbottons comes in a wide range of colours and even some illuminated versions.
Also remember to get the 1 & 2 player pushbuttons. The amount of pushbuttons needed for MAME is six buttons + player buttons for the most button demanding games.

Consider having extra buttons for: Pause, volume and exit game.

Quick Sheller
Used to hide OS, just like Instant Sheller, but doesn't need .NET Framework. Download it here.

A copy of the data in the original game microchips. YOU WON'T FIND ANY ROMS HERE AND DON'T ASK ABOUT THEM AS MOST ROMS ARE ILLEGAL. That said, some roms are made legal by authors and some are actually homebrew and freeware.


Japanese quality joysticks and buttons. Often made to be mounted on a metal controlpanel. To me, Sanwa balltop joysticks is legendary for games like Pacman, Galaga and other non fighting games. For fighting games I recommed Happ competition or others like Happ.

Japaneese manufacturer of joystick and pushbuttons amongst other things. Very similar to Sanwa. Quality fairly high but maybe a bit lower than Sanwa.

Side Art
Artwork on the side of the cabinet. You can paint it, but you will probably get a better result by buying it or getting it printed on foil. I have used posters and wallpaper adhensive, cheap solution.

Manufacturer of controlparts, controlpanels and arcade cabinets. Some say they are bankrupt.

Small PNG or JPG pictures used in emulators such as MAME to show the gameplay in games. You can find whole collections of snapshots on the internet. For MAME the files is often mamed Remember to place it in your /snap/ folder.

Superb Super Nintendo emulator witch is also widely available for many many platforms, including ports for Nintendo Wii, Macintosh, Unix, Linux etc. Truly recommended. Official homepage: SNES9X

Sound System for MAME cabinet
Most people use 2.1 speakers for PC. They connect car speakers to the subwoofer instead of the original sattlites. They are easier to mount and often produce much better sound.


A good and cheap choice is to use a PC subwoofer and a set of car-speakers. Car speakers is easy to mount and sounds way better than the PC sattelites. They are also easy to replace.

Speed Shifter
Used to shift between high and low speed in racing arcade games such as Sega's Out Run or in the classic Pole Position.

Rotary Control part used for games like Arkanoid and Pong. Very precise control. It more or less looks like an old volume control. Ultimarc makes excelent spinners for USB and PS/2. Some people have modified a PC mouse to be a spinner.

Spinners rotates an unlimited time around it's own axis, just like a mouse wheel. Paddles looks like spinners, but they are limited to go around 360 degrees or less. These are used for paddle games like Arkanoid, but you can use a spinner too.

Excellent USB spinner from Ultimarc. Fit's in a standard 28mm hole.

Moulding that protects and hide the rough chipboard edges. T-moulding can be found in many colours. You need a milling machine to cut furrows in the chipboard to mount the moulding. If you use a MDF board, you can sand and paint the egdes instead. This requires less tools.

Small pictures of the title screen of a game used in most emulators such as MAME. It makes is much easier to navigate your games. "Snaps" is pictures of the actual gameplay instead.

Just like it's PC counterpart, it's a mouse replacement with a much larger trackball. Often used for golf, minigolf and games like Missile Command, Centipede and Rampart. A classic trackball gold game is Golden Tee Golf.

See monitors

Ultrastik 360 (Ultimarc)
Probably the most advanced joystick to be used in your cabinet. This joystick automatically emulates various types of joysticks including 2-way, 4-way, 8-way, 49-way and analog. This is the ultimate choice for your MAME cabinet if you plan to play many different kinds of games / genres. It is a bit expensive though, but totally worth the dough. Check Ultimarc homepage for info.

Upright Cabinet
The traditional upright cabinet type, where you have to stand up or use bar chairs to play.

Vector graphics
Adobe Illustrator is vector graphics and fonts are vector too. Vector can be scaled as much as you like, without loosing detail. This makes it excelent for artwork. Remember to use vector and not bitmap for the best result. Vector also keeps the file size smaller than TIFF or other bitmap formats. But vector can't be used for photos.

Visual Pinball
Visual Pinball / PinMAME. This is the MAME of pinball emulation. Some people have used a lot of time to recreate classic pinball tables in 3D. Together with the original ROMS from the pinball machines, you will get almost perfect emulation of the pinball experience. The VP forums is the best ressource for more info.

See front-ends

Expect your cabinet to be heavy. Somewhere between 120 to 200 pounds or 50 to 100 KG, depending on your monitor and design. Project MAME is 132 pounds or 61 KG.

Remember to mount wheels under your arcade cabinet. It is almost impossible to move around a cabinet without wheels. Also makes the cabinet higher and thats good, because most people makes their first cabinet too low.

Wii - Nintendo Wii
The Nintendo Wii is becoming one of our favorite gaming consoles for emulations because it is so easy to mod and install applications on via the Homebrew channel. Could be the new hardware to use in your future MAME cabinet if you are mostly interested in older games. Also interesting because of Virtual Console, one of the only places to legally buy games for older systems.

Ultimate Amiga Emulator for windows. The best Amiga emulator. It can be very tricky to use and even more tricky to work with your Front-end. This emulator often makes beginners throw in the tovel. WinUAE homepage.


Arcade controls for PC and numerous consoles like X-box, Playstation etc. Build quality is pretty high, but not as high as many Happ and Sanwa parts. This is a okay solutions for beginners, but I recommend building your own controls using mini pac or I-pac.

A little program that converts your joystick inputs to keyboard inputs. Some older emulators only recognizes keyboard input and not joystick input, this make Xpadder very usefull. Go to Xpadder official homepage.

The best Super Nintendo emulator and maybe the one of the best emulators made. Most front-ends support Zsnes. Official homepage.

If you decide to make your own MAME cabinet using my drawings, please feel free to make a donation,  as I'm trying to raise enough money to make a new up-right cabinet, that's hard to do as a student.

[ Copyright koenigs 2008 ]