Project: Home Arcade – 8 Months Later
In early September 2014, I wrote about my recently completed project to add a PC to the living room specifically to play MAME and classic console/computer games. Reader Jose recently asked how the whole thing is working out, and that’s a great question. Overall, I’m still very happy with how the project turned out. Hindsight being 20/20, however, there’s probably a couple of things I would change.
One of Jose’s questions was if I still used the system. Yes I do, and friends love to play it when they come over. It’s a really fun shared retro-experience. In fact, I use the system a little more than I thought I would. The MAME/Console PC does not get played as much as my PS4, but more than my PS3. This is one of the reasons I wanted to keep the price at-or-under the price of a PS4 or Xbox One.
So, let’s take a look at the individual components of Project: Home Arcade, and how they are faring 8 months later.
- Well built and easily upgradeable, with minimum bloat-ware.
- Attractive and quiet.
- Fast enough for my uses, but otherwise, it is a slow PC.
The ‘heart’ of the system is the Asus VivoPC VM40B. Asus has really built a great looking mini PC that is very quiet. It’s also pretty slow, as PC’s go these days. Running a 1.5GHz dual-core Celeron, with 4GB of RAM and a 5400RPM 3.5in Hard Drive, it’s not a speedster. One of the nicest things about the Asus is that it’s very easy to upgrade. Although the system is slow, again, compared to most PC’s out there, it’s still has more than enough power for what I use it for – 80’s arcade games and 80’s/90’s console/computer games. The VivoPC boots up in 30ish seconds, and, from the “Metro” UI in Windows 8.1, I can get to the Maximus-Arcade software and start playing very quickly.
Upgrade – 8/13/16: Approaching the two-year anniversary for Project: Arcade, the 30+ second boot times and general Windows slowness finally encouraged me to do a couple of upgrades on the Asus. The VM40B was slow when I got it, but the dual-core 1.5GHz Celeron is still just fast enough to be able to emulate the old 80’s games perfectly well. Even then, it is amazing what adding a SSD will do for performance. And, fortunately, Asus was kind enough to design this particular generation of ViviPC’s so that storage and RAM upgrades are straightforward and as painless as possible. Adding a $70 PNY CS22112 240GB SSD has dropped boot times from 30+ seconds to under 14 seconds. And games now load in a snap, instead of just a second or two. Upgrading from the base 4GB of RAM to 8GB of Corsair RAM3 for $36, together with the SSD upgrade, has made every Windows operation much faster. Both upgrades have improved the overall experience of using the system, and have probably extended its life by a couple of years.
- Built extremely well.
- Authentic arcade-controller experience.
- Single player only, unless you buy two.
- Shipping is a killer due to the weight.
The X-Arcade Solo is a wonderful joystick. Solid as a stone-wall, but comfortable to use. I love it. The Solo is outstanding for MAME and early-generation console and 8-bit computer gaming. But, because the Arcade/Console PC gets it’s heaviest use when I have guests, I really should have gone with X-Arcade’s Dual Joystick. Or gone all-in and picked up their Tankstick. Alas, I was too rigid with my original budget. I should have considered that no console, none, comes with a controller the caliber of a X-Arcade stick. It would have been better had I thought of it as an ‘accessory’ to the system, rather than part of the system. More deeply, I should have remembered that head-to-head gaming would be impossible, or really unfair, with the X-Arcade Solo. Fortunately, this is a mistake that could be easily, but not cheaply, corrected.
UPDATE – 3/5/2017: It seems that X-Arcade agrees, and the Solo joystick has been discontinued in favor of dual stick units.
- Reasonably priced.
- Not rechargeable (without using external rechargeable batteries).
- Logitech can make small, elegant, RF receivers. Microsoft includes a 4-5 foot thick and ugly cable, with a receiver on the end. Get with it, Microsoft…
As a controller for old console gaming, such as NES, Genesis, etc, I’ve been using Microsoft’s XBox360 Wireless Controller for Windows. It’s great. Frankly, and without any experience with the XboxOne Controller for Windows, the Xbox360 version is the best gamepad-style controller I’ve used for a PC. So far, the only upgrade to the entire system that I’ve done is to add a 2nd XBox360 Wireless Controller.
- Outstanding UI for ’10-foot’ living room scenarios, as well as arcade cabinets.
- Allows for an elegant way to access your ROM collection by platform, then by individual ROM.
- As of today, still included free with the purchase of a X-Arcade joystick.
- Initial set-up is a pain.
In my original article, I gushed over the Maximus-Arcade software, and nothing has changed. For guests, the UI is so simple and easy-to-use, it comes naturally. As some who has done a lot of work with user-experience, I just cannot overstate how much something like Maximus-Arcade brings to the experience. Non-techie friends would not challenge others to some Dig-Dug if getting things set up and running was a chore. Although it’s “just a front-end”, the entire project wouldn’t ‘just work’ without it. $25 is a lot to pay for, basically, a UI. But it’s worth it, life is just too short.
At this point in time, I still consider Project: Home Arcade to be a success.
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