Mar 30

Building a multi-platform Gaming PC, part 1

Category: Gaming,Linux   — Published by tengo on March 30, 2008 at 9:43 am

Over the years I've collected quite a few games. The problem is, they are literally scattered over multiple platforms and formats. Some are Commodore C64, PC games, lots of Commodore AMIGA disks while others are SNES/Super Famicom, Sega MegaDrive/Genesis, Sega Saturn, Nintendo64 cardridges and last but not least some real arcade ROMS. I own the originals and the original hardware that is needed to run them. But, let's be honest, it's a good load of legacy hardware and sooner or later they were left aside and found their way down the stairs. So, most of it is now stored in the basement catching dust. A fate, many owners of old SGI hardware know...

When you think about it, its a pity. A few games are fun to play, as much today as they were back then. What about another round of Super Mario Kart 64, the original F-Zero, Christmas NiGHTS, Katakis or The Outfoxies from the last post? You would have to schlep all that stuff into the living-room, wire it up, connect the proper joystick or gamepad and wait through hours of booting and loading times. To sum it all up: unbearable!

Entrance for emulators: An emulator is a piece of software that mimics the functionality and environment of one system on a, most likely, very different other system - thus enabling the user to run original software, written for the first system, on the second system. A good example of an emulator, not a traditional though, is the ScummVM. It emulates the original executables shipped with the Lucasfilm adventure games, as the original software, in most cases, won't run on modern hardware. The ScummVM creates an environment to interpret the old data files, thus giving the opportunity to replay some classic games.

Admittedly, knowing about the technology of emulators, you can run all these games on your office PC. But imagine how much fun it would be to have a dedicated machine for leisure. Like a HTPC. Cramming all the functionality into one system is sometimes quite cumbersome. And then there's the problem of location. You won't like to see your grey desktop box beneath the new Plasma-TV, at least your wife won't. So, the solution would be to build a dedicated gaming PC.

Let's define the specs:

  • We need a black case, preferably a small one, that will nicely blend into our living-room's environment.
  • It should be fast enough to run most emulators, thus giving us real multi-platform functionality.
  • It should be as quiet as possible. No need to build a silent-pc/quiet pc, which is mostly a project of its own - and a costly one. At least the machine shouldn't stress our nerves too much when running.
  • It should have no keyboard. Ever seen a VTR or Satellite Receiver with a keyboard? I think a keyboard reminds us too much of work and so our gaming PC should be more a console, no keys attached.
  • For high resolution compatibility with modern flat screen TVs, the graphics card should have an DVI video output (which can be easily converted to HDMI with an adaptor). At least the video board should have an S-Video output and Stereo-Cinch, so we can hook it up with standard TV hardware.
  • Emulators for C64, Amiga, N64, SNES, MegaDrive and MAME.
  • A reasonably sized harddrive, a proper and inexpensive Operation System, DVD drive, Gigabit LAN, etc is what we add as basic standards.

Let's start the actual assembling and testing in the next post: Building a multi-platform Gaming PC, part 2