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  1. #1

    Challenge: Building an emulation box

    So, here and back on FA I've sometimes posted some 'projects' of mine, like a couple of XBMC HTPCs and controller colored shells and ect, but my roommate put forward a request to me and it's something I'd like some feedback on since I'm not quite sure the best way to go about it.

    She wants an retro emulation box. That is, a PC, hooked up to her TV, that just plays all her favorite retro games via emulators. At first I considered some sorta premade thing, but she'd like to use retro controllers via USb adaptors and such, and that doesn't play well on Android like say, an Ouya, where you'd have to use an Ouya controller. She wants her classic controllers, but wants the games at 1080p.

    I used to follow the MAME scene, and I know that in MAME there's various frontends available which allow you to interface, launch games, and otherwise interact all via a graphical prettiness. No need to haul out the mouse and keyboard to navigate Windows under it. So it wouldn't be dissimilar from my HTPCs, only instead you'd have a front end trying to interact with a wide range of emulators it'd launch.

    Also unsure on hardware, but she wants something small. I'm thinking of something like this little nettop to do the job: http://www.nmicrovip.ca/asus-eee-box...e-refurbished/

    With a dual core Atom D2700, HDMI output, built in wifi, it should cut the musterd for everything even up to and including the N64/PS1, shouldn't it?

  2. #2
    You might look into a mini-ITX board and a low-profile graphics card. Usually they come with better CPUs which is where most of the bottlenecking is going to be. With a mini-ITX form-factor case they still end up being pretty small (often on par with a GameCube).

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Socks the Fox View Post
    You might look into a mini-ITX board and a low-profile graphics card. Usually they come with better CPUs which is where most of the bottlenecking is going to be. With a mini-ITX form-factor case they still end up being pretty small (often on par with a GameCube).
    While that's an option, I've been asked for something small, and when you get into the ITX stuff, costs tend to go up. Relative to emulation, a D2550 or a D2700 seems pretty darn powerful. I recall getting pretty great emulation for N64 and PS1 back on my single core Intel Celeron M 1.3ghz laptop, and the current dualy Atoms blow that out of the water. I don't think that GameCube or PS2 emulation is something that'd being targeted here.

  4. #4
    True, the power you'll need depends heavily on what you're intending to emulate.

    I was gonna see if I could find a nice cheap barebones computer that had a bit more oomph than an Atom (the D2700 is marked End of Life on Intel's website) but really they either had bad reviews or ended up 400+ without wireless.

    I managed to toss together a mini-ITX for around $300 USD that wasn't too bad; not top of the line but not bottom of the barrel either. It's probably a touch big but OTOH if your friend wants to get into more heavy emulation like PS2+ then it's a lot more upgradable. However I'm not the bestest evar when it comes to picking parts quickly and mostly went with the cheapest that had decent reviews, worked with the other bits I had picked, and looked like it would still work well with what it was intended for, so I'd probably take my advice with a grain of salt

  5. #5
    Premium User Krespo's Avatar


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    I cant help at all with hardware, but for emulation software have you considered RetroArch? It has a GUI frontend that works with a controller, and emulates everything your roommate is looking for. Big surprise for me is the libretro cores for N64 and PS1 are pretty damn good.

    Edit: actually now that I thought about it I did have a netbook with an Atom processor before, it handled N64 and PS1 emulation flawlessly if that's any help.
    Last edited by Krespo; 02-16-2014 at 07:19 PM.

  6. #6
    Not to throw a monkey wrench in the proverbial bean curd but has anyone actually run a NES/SNES/N64 game on a 1080p tv? It makes it look horrible. Plus you might have input lag to deal with if you're using HDMI.
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  7. #7
    Premium User Krespo's Avatar


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    Quote Originally Posted by TeenageAngst View Post
    Not to throw a monkey wrench in the proverbial bean curd but has anyone actually run a NES/SNES/N64 game on a 1080p tv? It makes it look horrible. Plus you might have input lag to deal with if you're using HDMI.
    This is what filters are for.

  8. #8
    Premium User Runefox's Avatar


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    Quote Originally Posted by TeenageAngst View Post
    Not to throw a monkey wrench in the proverbial bean curd but has anyone actually run a NES/SNES/N64 game on a 1080p tv? It makes it look horrible. Plus you might have input lag to deal with if you're using HDMI.
    HDMI doesn't cause input lag in itself, it's the TV's processing that does. Many TV's include a game mode that disables all but the basic controls to reduce that to a minimum.

    1080p (and 720p) is a pretty stupid resolution all told. Vertically, it's not a multiple of any common resolution. The good news though is that while you won't get 1:1 pixel mapping by doing a 4.5x blowup to hit 1080p from a 240p source, the amount of leeway quadrupling the size of the pixels gives means it's not going to be that bad visually. Add something like an NTSC filter for some nostalgia feels and you're pretty good. Just don't stretch it wide is all. If you wanted to make it so that it actually does hit that magical 1:1, you could run your classic games at 1280x960. 60px borders on the top and bottom, but it's an even multiplication so there's no distortion.

    Anyway, I'm hesitant to say the Atom would be enough horsepower for that with newer emulators favoring accuracy, but of course, nobody is benchmarking low-end parts. An alternative if you already have a Windows license would be something like this build, which is only a couple bucks more and isn't a refurb. Being that the Pentium G3xxx series are Haswell cores without hyperthreading and memory locked at 1333, it should run circles around the Atom. Maybe it'll even handle bsnes / Higan on its accuracy core.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by TeenageAngst View Post
    Not to throw a monkey wrench in the proverbial bean curd but has anyone actually run a NES/SNES/N64 game on a 1080p tv? It makes it look horrible. Plus you might have input lag to deal with if you're using HDMI.
    Sure, it looks great. We're talking about emulation and outputting at 1080p, not hooking up a composite video cable to an HDTV and seeing the ugliness in that signal. As for input lag, that's not an issue. We have other consoles, modern consoles, do you think we'd have not enabled the zero lag game mode by now?

    Quote Originally Posted by Loafy View Post
    I cant help at all with hardware, but for emulation software have you considered RetroArch? It has a GUI frontend that works with a controller, and emulates everything your roommate is looking for. Big surprise for me is the libretro cores for N64 and PS1 are pretty damn good.

    Edit: actually now that I thought about it I did have a netbook with an Atom processor before, it handled N64 and PS1 emulation flawlessly if that's any help.
    Yeah, front end is what I think we should discuss first. I'll go look into RetroArch and GameEx is something I'm also looking at. Trying to figure out what'll be best to go with here and what other options exists. But I certainly think that a frontend is the first thing to sort out.

  10. #10
    Sure, it looks great. We're talking about emulation and outputting at 1080p, not hooking up a composite video cable to an HDTV and seeing the ugliness in that signal. As for input lag, that's not an issue. We have other consoles, modern consoles, do you think we'd have not enabled the zero lag game mode by now?
    Considering fighting game competitions only allow specific types of monitors for use during tournaments, no.
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