We can create our own retro arcade console with familiar games from our childhood with the Raspberry Pi, which offers versatility at a low price.
This board can be used with two very versatile operating systems such as Retropie and Recalbox.
We will talk about each of them in the following parts of this article.
We will also show you all the steps to install each of these operating systems on your MicroSD card. We show you the best places to download ROMs and put them on the MicroSD.
What is a Raspberry Pi and what can I do with it?
The Raspberry Pi is a bus computer with a microprocessor, video computer and RAM on a circuit board. It has a MicroSD card slot, which can replace the computer’s hard drive, and one or more USB ports.
The operating system is based on Linux, it could be Android or Unix, for example, which means that if you add a keyboard, mouse, monitor and some power cables, you have a complete computer.
Types of Raspberry Pi
There are two types of Raspberry Pi: class A, which has 256MB of memory and a single USB port, and the B model, which is the most widely used today and which doubles the memory to 512MB and allows for cable ports and many more USB ports.
So we can say that with a 700 MHz processor we will have different applications. Among them are:
As a video game console: This is a historical feature of this computer since on our PC we can play very simple games that we used to play when we were kids.
It can be used as a sensor in medicine: with this technology, doctors can observe different changes in our body when it is connected to certain medical devices.
It can be used to connect our computer to the television: thanks to WiFi and the XMBC application, we can turn our Raspberry Pi into a multimedia hub where we can control the television from our computer.
Surveillance: if we have a webcam, we can take photos and send a recording when the camera detects movement. To do this, we must download the “Motion Detection” software.
Artificial Intelligence: this is one of the most studied and developed items since from this device we can obtain hardware that works like a robot, so it can perform repetitive and synchronised tasks, determining the need by itself. For example, it can pick up rubbish from the floor, open windows or doors, etc.
Customisation: There are so many ways to use Raspberry Pi that you can let your imagination run wild and create different objects for leisure.
Not recommended for image editing and web browsing.
What do I need to turn my Raspberry Pi into a retro arcade machine?
To turn a Raspberry Pi class B into a retro game console, you will need the following items:
- A MicroSD memory card of 32GB or more.
- HDMI cable
- A plastic box that houses the Raspberry Pi board. These are usually transparent and have rubber gaskets to hold them in place.
- A 5-volt power cable with at least 3000 mAh of current.
- 3 heatsinks, one of them under the motherboard and the other two next to the processor.
- A USB keyboard, although it is true that we will rarely use it in the Recalbox, it is not the same when we work with the Retropie.
- We need a computer to run video games and create a MicroSD card that we can insert into the Raspberry Pi.
We have to choose the controls, which can be:
- Path or Arcade, which we prefer in terms of controls, durability and comfort.
- Common controllers
- 8Bitdo SF30 PRO wireless for Android, 8Bitdo M30 or SN30 both for Bluetooth, or directly we can 8Bitdo G BROS.
In addition to all this hardware, we need to install some software to format the board, update the Raspberry Pi and put images on the MicroSD card. We’ll look at each of these programs below.
How to turn a Raspberry Pi into a retro handheld game console
To turn your Raspberry Pi into a retro console with Retropie operating system, follow these steps.
1. Assembling the Raspberry Pi
The first step is to assemble all the hardware of our future console. We will place the heat sinks on the computer board.
We will place the component designed to reduce the temperature of the copper under the computer bus, and the other two on the flash drive, which is next to the CPU and RAM.
After assembling the Raspberry Pi we have to put it in a plastic box to protect it from dirt and bumps, for this, we put our console in the box and secure it with screws.
We check that all the electrical cables are in place and working properly. We also check the HDMI cable connection.
2. Control of OS updates
- Software installation and update.
- We have to download Retropie, depending on the Raspberry Pi model we have.
Remember that one of the main features of Retropie is the constant updates, so we have to keep it in mind to get the latest remasterings. To make these changes, we can click on:
If you need more help with the official installation, we can use the guide provided by the manufacturer.
3. Formatting the memory card
We have to format the MicroSD card so that we don’t make any mistakes when installing the cakes. To do this, we use the programme “EaseUS Format Micro SD Card”, which is available for Windows.
Carry out the following steps:
- Select the drive you want to format.
- Right-click and select “Format”.
- Then click OK.
4. Installing the images
Now we have to install Retropie on our memory card by following these steps:
Download the “Apple Pi Baker” program, which is available for macOS operating systems. If we are using Windows, we can follow the same steps that we will mention later to install Recalbox.
In this program, we will work on understanding the operating system. This process is automatic and only takes a few minutes.
5. Insert the MicroSD in Raspberry Pi
After loading the Retropie onto the memory card, we insert it into the computer and connect it to the Raspberry Pi. At this point, we connect the monitor to our Retropie console using an HDMI cable.
6. Log into Retropie
Once the emulation station is running, we can enter the menu to configure the Retropie in the best possible way.
To do this, follow the instructions below:
- Hold down the “F4” key.
- Then simultaneously press the “Ctrl + C” keys.
- At the command prompt, type followed by .
7. Add games
You can search for them on online sites which offers a wide selection.
How to turn your Raspberry Pi into a retro handheld console using Recalbox.
To turn your Raspberry Pi into a console with Recalbox, follow these steps:
- Assembling the hardware
As with Retropia, we must configure our Raspberry Pi following the steps outlined in the previous topic.
- Recalbox version
To get an updated version of Recalbox, we must download it using a file extractor program such as WinRAR.
- Format a MicroSD card
We must perform this step to get the best results and install the images correctly.
To do this, we will follow the steps below:
- Download the “SD Memory Card Formatter”.
- Insert the microSD card into your computer
- Select the reader we want to format, depending on the letter of your computer.
- Click on “Option”.
- Next, locate the “Format Type” option.
- Click on the “Quick” button.
- Find the alternative “Change format”.
- Click the “On” button.
- Save images
Next, we need to have a Recalbox image on our Micro-SD, for this, we need to download Win32 Disk Imager. After installing this application on your computer, follow the steps below:
- When our Micro-SD card is already on the computer, we open the program.
- Navigate to the location of the card and select the command that indicates the source of the reader.
- Then click on the “Write” button.
- Select “Yes”.
- Wait a few minutes and click “OK”.
- Enter Recalbox
At this point, we can remove the SD card from the computer, connect the keyboard and make the necessary settings. After completing these steps, you will find yourself in Recalbox.
- Different configurations
Next, we move on to the different settings that will allow us to make the configuration according to our preferences.
We can change:
- Aspect ratio.
- Smoothing the effects of the game and adjusting the different controls.
- Audio output volume
- Processor frequency
- Boot mode
- Recalbox Command Centre
Differences between Retropie vs Recalbox Which is better for your console?
The software used to play Retropia slots has some differences, which we will discuss below:
Retropia can be updated better because it has a larger community following than its competitors, which allows for different contributions that will improve each version.
Recalbox is not as customisable as its competitors because it is configurable almost out of the box. It is ideal for those who want to play games after spending an hour configuring the Raspberry Pi.
Both devices are powered by the Kodi multimedia system, which offers a very similar interface and looks and feel, so aesthetically they are similar.
Another feature common to both operating systems is support for online updates. In addition, we can highlight different settings for taking screenshots, as well as restoring different games or pausing games.
Based on all this, we can conclude that these two tools are very good to turn our Raspberry Pi into a retro arcade machine, everything depends on the intentions we have for the configuration.
If we want everything installed and configured almost factory, we must choose Recalbox, if we want to be able to solve all the problems that arise, we will choose Retropia.