Monday, 26 June 2017

Setting down my tools...

So I guess this is it.

After three years, four locations, and five (or was it six?) CRT monitors I've finally completed my quest.

I own a working bartop MAME cabinet that was built, in its entirety, for under £50.

And here she is:

First things first, a breakdown of the costs.

£00.00 - MDF: Donated by my boss
£00.00 - Screws and fixings: I do a lot of working with wood so my stocks are usually high
£00.00 - Glass: 'Re-purposed' from an old picture frame
£00.00 - Paint: Leftover from renovating an old chair
£00.00 - PC: Sourced from an old business acquaintance
£00.00 - Monitor: From Freegle
£00.00 - Speakers (Stereo): From Freegle, an added bonus with the monitor
£00.00 - Speaker (Single): A spare I had knocking around that some extra bass
£00.00 - Cooling fans: Recovered from an old laptop tray
£00.00 - LED Power button: Gift from +Dave Whiffin the guy I can blame this whole project on
£00.00 - GTX750 Graphics card: An unexpected, last minute, bonus addition - see below for more
£05.10 - Paint Primer: A necessary expense to get a decent finish when using MDF
£13.18 - Joystick and Buttons: From Ultracabs
£10.18 - USB controller for controls: From Ebay
£04.17 - Amplifier: From Ebay

£05.50 - Total Shipping

£38.13 - Total

I should have said under £40 - just to give it the James Bond finish.

You can see that, with the exception of the primer, all the costs can be attributed to items that are very specific to this kind of project. Everthing else is either more standard or re-purposed from bits and pieces I had lying around.

I should also mention that the listed cost for the amp is for a replacement. The original was £6.99 but I blew it up trying to figure out how to power it from the motherboard.
So although the above is the true value of parts that made it into the final build, you can add the extra seven quid to the cost of making it if you're feeling harsh.

The final push to finish was fairly straightforward. I had the whole thing assembled and finished for a day when a friend mentioned in passing that he'd found a stash of old graphics cards while moving and offered me the best of them - a GTX 750. So everything had to come apart again to fit that - but there was a fortunate bi-product of this.

Previously I had a couple of small conundrums with the fans I fitted to the rear of the cabinet.
Firstly, the usb power cable wasn't long enough. Fortunately a quick rummage in my cables box turned up a short extension lead; problem solved.

Secondly, it turned out the fans stayed on even after the machine was powered down.
After trying different sockets and playing with the power management settings in Windows to no avail I googled the issue.
Apparently this is a standard feature and most people, those that weren't saying something a bout a jumper, suggested a bios update and a tweak to the settings within.
My bios was up to date. I played with the settings I could find: No luck. The fans still purred away when the power was off.

I resolved that I'd just have to power off at the switch whenever possible. A less than ideal solution.

Fitting the graphics card was the first time I'd really looked at the motherboard since first attaching the power button years before. I had to fiddle with the clamp holding the cards in place and in doing so dropped the tiny screw that held it in place. It nestled on the mothered next to tiny jumper. I picked up the screw and the words 'USB 5v' were etched underneath.

So, having moved the jumper from the second and third pins to the first and second I now have cooling fans that power up and down when the rest of the machine does.

The final hurdle was cleared.

The machine was reassembled.

The project was finished!

So what's next?

Well. My father in law gave me a PC steering wheel and peddles a while ago. They're stored away somewhere, never used.

I'm thinking I might - with the budget restriction now lifted - build a pedestal for the unit and build them into it... we'll see.

But for now this last picture is for +Jeremy Riley - the closest thing you'll get to a "big grinning selfie" from me. Cheers for the support along the way!

Monday, 5 June 2017

Setting up the controls... for realsies!

 As I said last time; the next part of the construction was to assemble the control deck proper.

I’d had the majority of the buttons attached to a random lump of timber I had kicking around from way back when they were first delivered – this had allowed me to test out some games and better understand what I wanted from the button layout.

Check out this old post for more on that:

Now, with the paint fully dry on new deck, it was time to remove them from the prototype and into position on the real deal.

I’m not going to lie: This felt like a big moment.

I don’t think I could possibly be happier with the way it looks. The red looks class against the dark grey mid-sheen finish and it just in general looks the real deal.

Some initial concerns about cramped connection were allayed by pointing the terminals of the back row though the gaps of those in the front.

I’m fairly sure I don’t have them connected up in the same order as before but that’s a simple fix in the MAME configuration when it comes to it. Need to screw that pcb to the case somewhere too but that's no problem either.

So only one thing left to do - put the pieces I have together...

Now that's proper progress right there!

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Setting up a guide-jig...

With the three smaller sections of the front of cabinet all painted up and finished I gave the same treatment (Sand > Seal > Prime > Sand > Paint > Paint) to the main frame.
Considering it had been in a bulky, part-built state in the in-laws garage for 3 years it was remarkably free of damage.

The two layers of MDF I had glued together to use for sides were coming apart very slightly in a couple of places but nothing that didn’t disappear under three coats of paint.
This left just the main speaker and housing unfinished and, truth be told, generally in a bit of a mess.
Previously I had mounted the speaker into a piece of MDF and given it a coat of primer.
It looked pretty tatty but worse still it seemed as though the paint that had been in holes of the mesh had fallen through and dried solid – give it a shake and it sounded like it was half full of rice – not good.
I made the rather drastic decision to open up the speaker front and shake the bits out – I started with a drill hole but struggled to get much joy. So I resorted to the tin-snips.

Obviously this meant I had to do something about the new mess I’d made. The free sample of speaker cloth I got for the smaller speakers was quite a course weave, so to match it I cut a square from a hessian shopping bag and attacked it with the some leftover black paint I found in a tester pot tucked away in one the better half’s craft drawers.
Finally, I needed to create a new, neat front plate.
At some point in the preceding three years the remainder of my MDF stash has taken some water damage. Luckily I found a couple of pieces that were big enough but, at only 5mm thick, I was presented with a new problem when it came to routing a neat finish as the routing bit guide wheel is 3mm on its own.
I tried cutting a square out, clamping extra MDF as a guide underneath, and routing around both -  but there was too much movement and the result was a total disaster.

Plan B was to build a guide jig using two scraps of MDF and my workmate.

With the piece of MDF for the panel clamped firmly on top of this I drilled a hole big enough for the router bit through the centre and then ran the router out to the edge and followed the guide-jig around.
It was quick, easy, and worked perfectly.
After the usual prep and paint it was simple case of assembling the pieces and standing back and admiring the results.
The whole affair felt like a victory – just the sort of win I need to keep me moving forward.

Next up – getting that control deck together.