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December 2015 Retro Gaming Article


December 15, 2015 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Wanna put a supercomputer in your MAME cabinet? Consider the Pine 64

When you need every single video game ever made at your fingertips, it's hard to beat the ease and cost of single board computers.
The need to upgrade a home computer often leads consumers to ponder the fate of their previous cpu. Some will recycle the monitor, mouse, and keyboard while others will cheerfully drive to the dump and fling the whole thing into a bin. I'm guessing a lot of MAME arcade cabinets stemmed from this scenario. Don't fling - Build and play!

Pine 64 single board supercomputer MAME doesn't require a powerhouse to drive it's ability to serve up the history of arcade gaming on a CRT. This makes that old PC a good candidate for a MAME project, since we all want to ditch the keyboard for robust arcade sticks and buttons. The "space bar" is not the best fire button ever designed.

The folks who devised the Raspberry Pi single board computer were about breaking barriers. Their intro product was compact. cost only $25, and gave promise to the idea of mass affordability of computers. One goal was to put computers in every classroom. That's a noble goal, that can also extend to putting an arcade in every home.

Using a Raspberry Pi you wouldn't be expected to resolve the colonization of Mars, run the New York Stock Exchange, or mine Bitcoins. It wasn't about power. It was about giving access to those who couldn't afford computers sold at traditional outlets - with snazzy versions of Windows. Computing had come to the common man. But give things a few years...

Pine 64 logo

Time Will Make It Faster

Time changes everything from emotions to technology. If you don't like the speed of today's computers, just wait for a year - they'll get faster. The same is true for single board computers that have opened up possibilities in class rooms, basement workshops, and many places in between.

The Pine 64 is the latest single board computer to come along, but it packs a serious increase to the computing horsepower found in such small devices. It centers around a 64 Bit Quad Core ARM Cortex A53 1.2 Ghz processor and a Dual core Mali 400 MP2 graphics processor. It's being called the world's first $15 supercomputer - not a bad title to achieve on a budget... while on Kickstarter.

Better Emulation

Along with power comes a great price. On Kickstarter, the Pine 64 can be obtained for $15. I'm sure those with far greater visions than I, can devise incredible projects around it. My first thought was better emulation. Yeah, I'm wallowing in my shallowness in wondering if the Pine 64 might enable improved emulation for some of the more taxing game consoles.

Pine 64 single board supercomputer Emulation is a common way to enjoy a wide array of video games across many consoles and computer platforms. However, one has to realize that recreating a former hardware solution via software takes a good deal of computing power. Stella will play your Atari 2600 favorites with far fewer resources than needed to bring a GameCube title to life. Emulating Sega's Saturn takes even more.

I'm not sure the Pine 64 is up to providing better console/computer emulation, but there are also a lot of front-end apps that might benefit from such a boost. Those emulating games on PCs have the benefit of using the keyboard to launch each emulator and select the desired game. That task is harder when you're limited to a joystick and several fire buttons.

Since it's a hassle to go from a sturdy arcade set up to a keyboard, when switching games on a MAME cabinet, we often use a front end application that lets us use the traditional arcade controls in place of a keyboard. I'm sure such front-end apps could benefit from a faster processor when tasked with combing large repositories of ROMs. It's not just about arcade titles. Homebrew MAME projects often include dozens (if not more) game consoles.

On the cautionary side: if you're interested in the Pine 64 as part of a retro gaming solution, MAME or console emulation, be sure the software you want to use is compatible. I've been looking into the various Raspberry Pi solutions before seeing the Pine 64 Kickstarter. Many of the front-end managers have been ported for the Raspberry Pi. Be sure all the pieces of the puzzle will work on the Pine 64. :)

The bottom line it more speed and processing power will always benefit and advance future endeavors. I hope the Pine 64 can also become a hero in the retro gaming realm.

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