What inexpensive small PC or small PC build can be used for game emulation?

I'm looking for either a prebuilt or build that's not too expensive but is very small/portable-ish. Don't mind if an external power brick is required.

1 Answer

  • 2 months ago
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    Most people who build portable emulation boxes / multi-arcade machines tend to utilize Raspberry PI's for this.  There's various models available & packages available.

    In terms of cost, the price of the base unit can vary greatly.

    On the low end, you can pick up a Pi 0 for as little as $5...

    On the high end (recommended for your use purpose), a Pi 4B 8 GB model will run you $75.

    Please be aware that when I say "base unit", it only includes the CPU, RAM & I/O ports.  It does NOT include...

    * Storage Device (like an Micro/SD card OR USB storage drive)

    * Input devices (Keyboard, Mouse, ect.)

    * Display (utilizes a form of HDMI port for this)

    * Power Supply (utilizes micro-USB or USB-C connector & chargers)

    * Case (Just to make it look nice & clean if you're NOT putting it into something... but this is 100% optional)

    These are items you'll have to provide yourself, but you'll likely have some of this yourself or can pick stuff up fairly cheap.

    * Storage Device -- a 16 GB micro/SDHC card OR USB flash drive can purchased for as little as $10 or less.

    * Input devices -- You may likely have a spare keyboard or mouse, but may run you around $20 for a set.

    * Display -- Since the Pi's utilizes a form of HDMI, you can use a modern HDTV... but a micro / mini-HDMI to standard HMDI cable will run you around $20

    * Power Supply -- An 3A or higher wall charger (a fast-charging cellphone charger) would run you around $25.

    A running cost tally would up you at roughly $150 (+ taxes & shipping) if you had to purchase everything (excluding a TV for display).  Most emulation / multi-arcade builds tend to spend more on hardware (like arcade joysticks & buttons, speakers & monitor) & case supplies (like wood or plywood)... but this assuming you have access to a shop space & tools (like saws, drills, clamps & whatnot)... so such DIY projects can easily hit $300 - $500 in costs when all said & done.  HOWEVER, it's more up to you on how you want to make it & how fast you want to do it (as you you could just get the Pi & the necessary components now to get gaming now w/ a game controller & THEN get the case & control panel stuff later).

    The main reason why I'm recommending a Raspberry Pi is because it has an extremely small form factor (even if you put a pre-built case on it) as it's about a size of a box of candy (could be as small as tin of Altoids) & there's sites like RetroPie that can get you up & running for emulation, as it supports up to the 6th generation of consoles (like PS2 & Gamecube) with the newest models.  The site is fairly well documented, so you can get everything set up with minimal issues.

    How you choose to proceed is ultimately up to you, but I hope this helps you explore your options.

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