The Arcade Cab Project Part 2: Parts and components

This is a continuation the prior post about about the – as of now – hypothetical arcade cab project. I thought I should start listing some details of the “Mark I” as listed in part I.

This project was largely inspired by a few posts on the /r/cade subreddit. It looked relatively easy and I thought I could put together somewhat fast. My version evolved a little though as I had no interest in using a Raspberry Pi and I wanted to also have some steam games.

The case was for an actual VHS camera. I found it at a thrift store and paid for it as if I wanted the camera with case. I had to rip out the padding and clean it out (I took apart the camera because I thought it would be interesting then sent it to e-waste). I think the whole thing was around $30.

I then found an article (maybe youtube video, don’t remember) that implied there was some sort of danger of static build up inside of a container like this case. And I just so happened to have purchased a product called “liquid electrical tape”. Just liked the name I guess. Although I get the feeling that’s just non-conductive black paint. Anyway, before I had done anything with this VHS camera case, I painted the inside of the case along with the second case I had purchased (that will be used for Mark II).

Not sure if it was required but at least it looks cool. This second case I bought from a different store already empty and was only $5 or so. And is far superior in every way both inside and out. Just works out that way sometimes.

RCA camcorder case: set for Mark I

Moving back to Mark I, one thing I need to figure out is how to mount the different parts on the inside. Which sounds like it should be easy but but I’ve been fretting about it. Really I should just do what I have in mind to Mark I and not worry about it. I mean I have to glue down some pieces of MDF possibly with some long stand offs or just screw shafts sticking up so I can securely attach things like the motherboard, over-complicated “power bus”, USB hub, speakers at least one fan, and a few other things.

I’m gluing pieces down and attaching that way because I don’t want to screw in screws from the outside. I’d like to keep the look of it from the outside. And how would I not make this harder than it has to be if I did the easy thing like screwing things in from the outside? Does that sound like me? (No, that does not sound like me.)

One thing I’ll mention that I have been on the look out for off-and-on for these past 5+ years is good working monitors: I’ve decided I want a relatively small 4:3 LCD screen for at least the mark I and II versions and also that I want to run everything on one PSU. Which means it all has to be DC.

Okay, technically I could have a power strip with a big line of wall warts and power bricks so each thing converted AC to DC effectively and on its own. I just didn’t want to do that. I wanted to have one power brick that converts AC to DC once with each item getting the juice it requires. Thus my use of the term power bus albeit a very lose use.

I’ve found a few screens that fit criteria, I want to say they’re around 11 – 12 inches diagonal – and they all run on 12V DC at about 3 amps. At least that’s what the power specs on the back say. More on that later. An all of them are 1024×768. I remember that resolution from 20+ years ago. There are still device being sold with screens that are 1366×768 which is just the 1024 one with a 16:9 ratio.

As for the PC, I suppose I would need a physically very small one anyway. But I also wanted a very low power one. I mean as far as wattage.

As a side note: units of electricity include volts, amps and watts. Watts is merely volts multiplied by amps. Knowing the total watts required is important for things like picking a power supply and/or knowing how long or if a thing can run on a battery (batteries often have watt-hour or amp-hour ratings). Probably more on this later.

When I first started I was experimenting with these little – as I called them – “puck PCs” that were just Atom SoCs. They ran on only 5 volts/3 amps but got extremely hot. Because Intel, that’s why. The PuckPC, if you’re wondering, is still available on Amazon and is called a “WinTel mini PC”. It seems to be available under multiple brands but they all look identical and have identical components.

Side note: I if you'd like to see an example of the Wintel PuckPC along with my "modding skills", here is my image gallery from 2016:

Eventually I gave up on the “puck PC” devices. For one thing they kept crapping out on me (the logic boards just stop working). And for another the prices haven’t really gone down while more powerful and temperature controlled CPU SoCs have come down. In other words if it’s an Atom z8350 for $140 or a Celeron J1900 for $140 there’s no reason to get the atom, even if the atom form factor is physically much smaller (and the Celeron requires 12 volts). It’s just too much of a headache. You’d think the old Atoms would start to drift down in price.

A good thing to go next: I’ve finally settled on a PC. You’d think I’d have done that sooner than 5+ years later but nope. Here I am finally locking down a decision on the PC: I’ve selected a “bare bones” edition of a Gigabyte BRIX.

Here are the specs:

  • Model: GB-BXBT-1900 (rev 1.3)
  • 1.58 GHz Intel Celeron J1900 (is it dual core/hyper-threaded or actually quad core? doesn’t matter)
  • 1x slot SO-DIMM DDR3: DIY replaceable/upgradable RAM (I think upper limit of 8GB, which is installed)
  • DIY replaceable/upgradable 2.5″ storage device (I installed a 960GB SSD)
  • Power requirements: 12 volts 3 amps
  • 1xUSB 3 port; 2x USB 2 ports
  • greatest feature of all: power on PC from USB key press/mouse key push
  • wifi/Ethernet included
  • Both HDMI port and VGA ports

Ya that J1900 is going to be a big, big bottleneck. But it’s easy to look past it given all the other advantages.

For instance the prior model of mini PC I was using were the variations of the Z83 mini PC. The ones I had were only HDMI out only which seemed to have an issue with my HDMI/VGA adapter and/or the 4:3 screens I was trying to use resulting in a “no signal” during the time the device was booting (this makes it hard to install windows or adjust UEFI settings).

But the Brix has an actual VGA port so no issues with the 4:3 screens. The device doesn’t have an issue though Windows 10 eventually might as these are 1024×768 resolution. Have to hope the UI keeps it together.

Also, the “power on from USB” feature will come in a lot of handy. I was concerned a little that I would have to re-solder a power button to some wires. But with this power on feature I won’t have to worry about that.

I’ll also have to worry about the I/O panel on the back, how get the power cord from the bottom half of the case up to the lid for the screen, how to ultimately get that AC power in to the case to be distributed and a lot of other things. But I think I’m going to break all that up into separate posts.

As long as I’m mentioning components, there will also be speakers of some kind. I’ve picked a couple of random USB-powered speaker combos over the years so I actually have this covered. These first versions will just be in little VHS cases after all, I’m not exactly aiming at theater sound. I guess I could add a stereo output to the back I/O panel to have headphones as an option if nothing else.

Additional links
Arcade Project, part 1
/r/cade sub on reddit

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