Aglow with radiant awesomeness.
The Pac-Man
Cocktail Table Project
It's beauty singes your eyes.

Final Thoughts and Photos
What, you want a whole mess of pictures to prove this thing actually works? OK! Below are some "in situ" images I took of our beloved cabinet sitting in a very unfurnished room in our new place (many thanks to my lovely wife for the "Hot Rod Magazine" style images). Click each thumbnail for a larger high-res version of the image. Enjoy.
Hindsight is 20/20 : Power Considerations
There are some things you just don't think about while making the machine. When I originally built the cabinet, I wired the motherboard's power switch to a "hidden" pushbutton on the bottom of the cabinet - originally thinking I could use that button to turn the machine off and on. What I didn't consider was the powering on and off of the other components, the monitor and speakers.

See, the hybrid monitor from Happ doesn't have a power switch like a normal PC monitor. To turn it on, you plug it in; to turn it off, well, you unplug it. This presents a small problem, because unless you want to monitor to stay on all the time, the machine has to be unplugged after each time you use it - which can get annoying. Too bad the monitor doesn't support some "auto-off" function like most PC monitors, where it will actually "sleep" after a period of inactivity. The speakers present a similar problem, being that their power switch is inside the cabinet.

Originally in my cabinet, I hooked everything to a power strip. The power strip implementation presents some slight (but annoying) problems. However, with my strip solution and a neat BIOS trick, I was able to make the machine power on and boot by plugging it in. I then wrote a batch file that shutdown Windows and the PC after a user exited ArcadeOS, at which point I would have to manually unplug the cabinet to power down the monitor and speakers. With everything plugged into the power strip, when the computer shuts down - the monitor and speakers are still on. When I'm done playing with the cabinet - I have to unplug it. It wasn't the best solution, but it worked.

When I discovered that my switch wasn't going to cut it, I considered building one of the many relay solutions which other MAME cabinet owners have had success with, but never actually got around to it. I lived with my cabinet for nearly a year in this state. That's when a very kind reader of these pages sent me a simple and elegant solution.

The Smart Strip is a "current actuated" power strip. That means it has three types of plugs on it. One of the plugs is monitored for current consumption, six of the plugs are switched based on the monitored plug's state, and three plugs are "always on." Plug the computer's power supply into the "control" plug, and when it shuts down it's current draw drops off - which cuts the power from the six switched plugs, where any additional cabinet ingredients are powered. So now my monitor and speakers are switched off when the computer shuts down, effectively making the motherboard's power switch a "cabinet shutdown" switch.

The Smart Strip runs about $30, and is (in my opinion) a more elegant solution than building an equivalent relay. I like it because it's off-the-shelf and solved my problem instantly and easily. If you think it might be the solution you're after for your cabinet, check the costs page for more info on where to pick one up.
Build Your Own Cocktail Timeline
So, you wanna build a cocktail cabinet eh? Well, that's great! I can tell you that you're gonna have a lot of fun, and some challenges too. I've put together this quick "timeline" to help you plan. I know I would've appreciated something like this when I was starting out. Let me know if this helps you at all - and if you've got any suggestions, send 'em along and I'll do my best to work them in.

Step Considerations
Plan, Plan, Plan
  • Think about what you want. Make sure a cocktail cabinet is right for you. Remember you're limited to vertical games, and can only play 2-player "take turn" type games. Think about what games you want to play: do you need 4-way and/or 8-way joys? What kind and how many buttons do you need?

  • Consider display options. What kind of monitor will you be using? Remember that the type of monitor you plan to use often drives everything, from the cabinet design you can fit in, to the PC hardware you may need.

  • Consider cabinet options. Do you plan to build your own cabinet? Order a pre-built one? You have an existing cab you're planning to use? Whatever you go with, make sure it can accommodate your display solution (PC monitor, arcade monitor, hybrid, TV), and the PC hardware that will run the show.

  • What about the guts? We need a PC to run this beast. Think about what you have around, or what you're willing to spend. MAME is not an intensive application, so you don't need massive PC horsepower to have a successful MAME machine. More important than computing muscle is your graphics capability. What you need here will, in part, be dictated by the monitor solution you chose. Check the rest of this site for some pitfalls that I ran into with my choice of graphics solutions. Also mind things like hard disk size, mounting options, cooling, and any other peripherals (wireless LAN, cd-rom, floppy, etc.)

  • Decide on a preliminary budget. I know this part stinks, but what are you willing to spend? After you've decided on monitor, cabinet, and PC (the major costs of the project), you can safely begin pricing out all the other parts. Feel free to use my costs page to get a rough idea of what you may be spending.

  • Think about the control panels. Can you fit what you need in there? How do you want to lay it all out? Think about ease of play and feasibility. If you're like me, draw out some button/joy configurations and ask some friends what they think. Take into account the size limitations of your control panel and the keepouts for all your control elements. Make sure everything you want can be mounted, wired, and actually used.

  • Controls to PC: Do you need an IPAC?, how many inputs?, USB or PS2? Maybe a JPAC if you're converting over from an original cab with some reuse of existing parts? Any special considerations for trackballs or rotary joys? Any JAMMA conversion items?
  • Amass Materials
  • Order your monitor, controls and buttons, IPAC/JPAC/etc., and any artwork and misc. parts you'll need (check the itemized parts list page to see what all goes into it). If you're going to be "fitting" some cocktail underlay artwork to your cabinet - and you plan to use as the cabinet source, I would recommend waiting to order the cabinet until you can send along your actual underlay artwork for a custom cabinet top fit.

  • Assemble the PC. This is a good starting point, as you can do this while waiting for your ordered materials to come in. You'll need to get all the needed software: MAME, ArcadeOS (or other frontend), ROMs, drivers for your hardware, OS, and any other apps/files you want. Go ahead and build the drive and get it working, play around with MAME and configure things - get used to the commands and navigation of your frontend, etc.

  • If it's possible, test your monitor and controls. This may be too much trouble to go through for a test, but it's really nice to know that everything is functional before you put it all together and press "go" for the first time.

  • Check out your glass options. Call some local glass shops, and ask what they charge. To get the perfect cut piece of glass, it's best to loan out your cabinet top for the shop to use as a template. So in my case I had to wait on the underlay artwork to get the perfect cabinet top cut, and then wait on that cabinet top to get the perfect glass cut. You situation may vary, but if you're following my lead - you'll also run into this waiting game.
  • Assemble
  • As your parts start coming in and your PC is ready to go, you really have to start with the cabinet assembly. Either follow the instructions from, get to sawin' if you're a DIY type person, or relax and go to the next step if you were lucky enough to already have a cab (or bought a pre-assembled one). If you are assembling your own, make sure you take your time and don't sacrifice quality for speed. I know you can see it coming together now - but greatness takes time!

  • While the cabinet is being completed, you can start work on mounting your controls in whatever control panel solution you went with. Custom control panels? You better start thinking about drilling and placement. Old school or repro control panels? You have an easier go. At this point you can also start wiring up buttons and joys, leaving plenty of lead length in your wire for later. This is a tedious task, so don't underestimate the time it takes to wire all this up.

  • With the cabinet assembled, work on fitting your motherboard/PC inside. Whether you're mounting an entire chassis or just bare board, make sure you account for some airflow. Most likely you'll need some fans in the cabinet itself to circulate cool air and keep the internals at a safe temp. "Dry fit" all the parts first, making sure that you can fit them all in without and obstructions (watch out for coindoor and monitor or CRT gun clearance).

  • Once you've made sure all your pieces fit, it's time to start securing things. I recommend doing the monitor mounting last (but that's because I used the "shelf-mount" monitor from Happ, your display solution may require special attention from the get go). Get your PC hardware secured, speakers, IPAC, etc. Run your wires neatly and start hooking things up.

  • At this point you should have an assembled, working cabinet. Test your controls in this "real world" environment. Make sure your OS and MAME setup is working now that we've planted it in the cabinet. Monitor the temp inside the cabinet and watch for potential overheating situations. Play some games and make sure everything works and is configured to your liking.
  • Aesthetics
  • Now it's time to make it all look nice! Put down any underlay artwork you might have, clip down your nice new glass (clean both sides before you screw it down!). Make sure you've blown any dust/dirt out of the display and bezel area, and wiped the monitor glass with Windex.

  • If you haven't done it already, optimize BIOS and Windows boot delays so you can get into the games as fast as possible. Now it's time to tinker with Windows startup screens (replacing them with cool MAME logos, etc.), change any boot sounds, etc. Basically you want to be as happy with your finished product as possible.
  • Maintenance
  • MAME & ArcadeOS: If you're daring, you can try and keep up with the latest versions of MAME and ArcadeOS, and the latest ROMsets. To be honest, I tend to be in the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" camp. But it's personal preference.

  • Consider making a backup of your "golden" hard drive configuration. I used Symantec's Ghost to make a restorable image of my MAME system once it was 100% setup and working. That way, if my hard drive fails - I can create a backup from the image and be up and running again with a new drive in no time.

  • I know I've said it a million times, but pay attention to the temperatures in the cabinet. Too hot means less life from your new machine. If it's heating up in there, install some fans to circulate the air. You'll be glad you did.

  • Frequently Asked Questions
    1. What do you think of the Vision Pro 19” Monitor?
    2. How do you get the games to “flip” for each player?
    3. What about upgrading MAME and/or ROMsets?
    4. Where are the keyboard and mouse?
    5. How do you power on/off, or boot, the machine?
    6. How did you mount the monitor, is it screwed into the cabinet?
    7. Do you update this site?

    1. What do you think of the Vision Pro 19” Monitor?

    I have no reservations whatsoever about recommending the Vision Pro monitor to anyone considering an arcade project. I’ve had nothing but good experiences with it from the moment I plugged it in. Being that it has a standard VGA interface, the hookup to a video card is a snap – and the picture quality is excellent. I’ve got a buddy who’s using an old arcade monitor with a J-PAC in his Galaga cabinet, and he’s always saying how jealous he is of my cabinet’s display. Mounting the monitor is relatively easy as well. The only thing worth a little extra consideration is the powering on and off, which I discuss in detail in the
    “Hindsight is 20/20” section above. Other than that, if you want the absolute best mix of quality and “drop-in” functionality – I’d definitely consider the Vision Pro.
    2. How do you get the games to “flip” for each player?

    Since the MAME ROMs are just rips of the game images from the original cabinets - they also support whatever "configuration" options these old games had. Most game manufacturers would make a single ROM, and build in several software options that would then be tied via hardware to DIP switches in the game cabinet.

    Almost all older ROMs had a DIP switch to tell the game whether it was installed in an "upright" or "cocktail" cabinet. All you do hit TAB when in a ROM to access the MAME configuration menu for that game. Then you can set the DIP switch to "cocktail" once, and ArcadeOS remembers. The game then takes care of the player rotation by itself. Other DIP switches take care of things like number of lives, difficulty, etc. I've added the list of MAME keyboard commands below. TAB is the magic key that gets you into the configuration menu where you can flip the ROM's virtual DIP switches.
    Tab          Toggles the configuration menu
    Tilde        Toggles the On Screen Display. Use the up and down arrow keys to
                 select the parameter (global volume, mixing level, gamma
                 correction etc.), left and right to arrow keys to modify it.
    P            Pauses the game
    Shift+P      While paused, advances to next frame
    F1           toggle raster effects in some games
    F2           Service Mode
    F3           Resets the game
    F4           Shows the game palette, decoded GFX, and any tilemaps
                 Cursor left/right changes between palette, GFX and tilemaps
                 Cursor up/down cycle through valid palettes
                 Page up/down scroll through the palette and GFX
                 Page up/down, D, G scroll the tilemap display
                 Ctrl & Shift are modifiers to change movement speed.
                 F4 or Esc returns to the emulation.
                 Note: Not all games have decoded graphics and/or tilemaps.
    F5           Toggle debugger (only in debug build)
    F6           Toggle cheat mode (if started with "-cheat")
    F7           Load a 'Save State'. You will be requested to press a key to
                 determine which Save State you wish to load. Note that the 'Save
                 State' feature is for developing drivers and not intended for
                 users. It is incomplete and works only on a number of drivers. Use
                 at own risk.
    Shift+F7     Create a 'Save State'. Requires an additional keypress to identify
                 the state.
    F8           Decrease frame skip on the fly
    F9           Increase frame skip on the fly
    F10          Toggles speed throttling
    F11          Toggles speed display
    Shift+F11    Toggles profiler display (debug builds only)
    F12          Saves a screen snapshot. The default target directory is SNAP.
    ESC          Exits emulator
    3. What about upgrading MAME and/or ROMsets?

    What about it? No, really… my answer is simple: I don’t do it. You’re welcome to try and keep up with the latest MAME and accompanying ROMsets, but I choose not to. To me, there are too many potential issues with updating the emulation software and supported games to balance out the benefits of doing so. I mean, this thing already plays hundreds of games – do I really need to update all my software just so I can play some ultra-rare Danish port of Championship Mah-Jong Tournament III? No thanks.
    4. Where are the keyboard and mouse?

    Nowhere! I designed my cabinet so I wouldn’t need to have a keyboard and mouse attached. If I ever need to change anything under Windows, I simply use the wireless network in my house to
    remotely control the cabinet using VNC, where I can change things from any computer. In the rare occurrence that I need to change something at the BIOS or pre-Windows load level, I would need to plug a keyboard into the I-PAC. You can get around this by using a wireless keyboard and mouse – but since I never edit the BIOS and use VNC under Windows, I don’t have a need for them.
    5. How do you power on/off, or boot, the machine?

    I’ve added a detailed discussion on this to my
    “Hindsight is 20/20” section, go on, check it out!
    6. How did you mount the monitor, is it screwed into the cabinet?

    Good question, it's one that bugged me too. The monitor attach is kinda complicated, since you have to worry about getting a secure attachment and making sure the display is centered in the topside cutout.

    The monitor isn't really bolted directly to the wood. I used small shim pieces for all four mounting brackets on the monitor. I attached the shims to the cabinet side, then attached the monitor to the shims. There was a fair amount of guesswork and dry-mounting involved to make sure the monitor was both high/low and left/right centered in the bezel cutout.

    You can kind of get an idea of what I mean by checking the
    "monitor" section of the "assembly" page at my site - in that last picture you can see the right shim attached to the monitor and cabinet top. I did all the attaching to shims with heavy-duty wood screws, and the shims are attached to the cabinet with the same. It went like this: three long wood screws through the shim piece into the cabinet side/top (spaced at either end and middle of the shim). Then two screws through the monitor mounting hardware into the cab-attached shim (spaced in between the three screws already in the shim). Doing that on all four sides gave me a much stronger mounting that I ever thought it would... that monitor isn't going anywhere.

    Make sure you’re also thinking of the weight of the monitor on that hinged side. It's super heavy - and you always have to put something down under the hinge when you swing that side out so it doesn't just break the hinge. I use a small footstool to rest the monitor hinged side on when I need to get in there (which is hardly ever).
    7. Do you update this site?

    My main goal with this site was to get the content up and put the whole thing on "autopilot." However, I do come back and occasionally do some touch-ups here and there. I try to let reader feedback shape most of the changes, and I'll continue to add to this FAQ as more questions get repeatedly asked. Other than that, this thing is done! Come to think of it, so is my cabinet... and Ms. Pac Man is taunting me right now! Gotta run, hope you enjoy the pages.