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Here’s how to build the ultimate retro gaming machine with Raspberry Pi or Pi 2

raspberry pi retro game guide  mini pc
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Updated 3/20/2015: We’ve confirmed this information also applies to the Raspberry Pi 2, which is quicker than its predecessor, and have changed the guide to reflect this. 

We all have that special place in our hearts for those awesome games of yesteryear on consoles like the NES, SNES and Atari 2600. But it isn’t feasible to keep three of these older consoles all attached to a single TV. Instead, here’s a way to put all your favorite classic games in a single device that’s smaller than a deck of cards. Using the Raspberry Pi 2 or Raspberry Pi B+ and a special piece of software called RetroPie, here’s how you too can build the ultimate retro gaming machine, compatible with thousands of classic games.

Related: A $35 computer can run Windows 10? Latest Raspberry Pi is a powerhouse

Difficulty: Moderate

Having some experience with Linux and command-line interfaces will make this far easier, but anyone following our guide should be able to get this up and running without any trouble. There’s also a huge community of Raspberry Pi and RetroPie users who are often happy to answer your questions, as well as plenty of information online about RetroPie, the software we use.

Note: When we tell you what commands to enter, they’ll be shown in quotation marks, “like this.” Be sure to enter or follow everything in between those quotation marks for accuracy.

Raspberry Pi 2 mini PC

Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Getting Started

This guide has been successfully tested with both the new Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi B+. We recommend the Raspberry Pi 2 as it has six times the processing power of the B+ version and can emulate more demanding games, such as those for PlayStation and the Nintendo 64.

The most important software we’ll be using for this is RetroPie, an emulation kit that lets you run all sorts of classic games on a Raspberry Pi. If you’re using a Raspberry Pi, RetroPie comes as an image file you can write to your memory card, just like you’d burn an ISO to a CD.

We’ll also need some free software for your PC or Mac. You’ll need a way to burn images, as well as a SFTP program, which will let you transfer files to your Raspberry Pi.

For the PC, the two programs you’ll need are Win32 Disk Imager and CyberDuck.

For the Mac, you’ll want to download Apple-Pi Baker and CyberDuck. We’ll explain how to use this software later.

Installing RetroPie

To get started, you’ll want to download the RetroPie image provided by the PetRockBlog team. Make sure you pick the right version designed for your Raspberry Pi! Once downloaded, unpack it until you get the .img file you need. This file should be placed in a folder or desktop that you can easily access. Insert your memory card into your computer (you might need a USB card reader, depending on your computer) and follow the instructions below, depending on your operating system:

PC:

  1. Go to Windows Explorer and right click your micro SD’s drive letter. Ensure it’s formatted to FAT32 by selecting “Properties” and checking the file system type.
  2. If it’s not FAT32, right click the micro SD’s drive letter and click “Format.” Select “FAT32” For the File System type and click “Start.” This will erase everything on the drive!
  3. Launch Win32 Disk Imager. Click the folder icon on the right and select the .img file of RetroPie you unpacked earlier. You might need 7-Zip to unpack the .img.gz file.
  4. Under “Device” select the drive letter of your micro SD card. Make absolutely sure this is correct or you will format the wrong drive!
  5. Click “Write” and let Win32 Disk Imager do its magic. This will replace everything on the micro SD card with a Retropie image.
  6. If any errors occur or the disk imaging does not complete, reboot your computer and try again.

Mac:

  1. Launch Apple-Pi Baker. Make sure you’ve selected your micro SD card under “Pi-Crust.”
  2. Click “Prepare for Noobs” to format your drive to FAT32. This will erase everything on the drive!
  3. Under “Pi-Ingredients,” click the “…” button and select the .img file you unpacked of RetroPie.
  4. Click “Restore Backup” to begin the writing process. Make absolutely sure you’ve selected the correct micro SD card!
  5. If any errors occur or the disk imaging does not complete, reboot your computer and try again.

Once completed, the memory card may appear to have a different, much smaller size on your computer. Don’t worry! Since this memory card is formatted for Linux, it won’t appear normal in other operating systems. You’re actually all set to start configuring your RetroPie installation from the Raspberry Pi itself.

Next Page: Setting up your RetroPie Installation

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