The Redump set for PlayStation 1 USA is 385GB (just the games, no demo/samplers etc) in 7zip format; 7zip is not supported by the Beetle PSX core so when I originally added the PSX library to my Launchbox/RetroArch setup I just extracted every game. This took up a significant portion of the 1TB drive I was using to store all ROMs; additionally Redump uses separate BIN files for every track on the CD so a single game would have multiple BIN files plus the CUE. I found by accident an old Reddit post where I learned that you can compress BIN/CUE into Mame’s CHD format which is supported by the Beetle PSX core; the result is you will have a single compressed file for each PSX game that is comparable to the original 7zip in size and directly playable.
To do this conversion you need chdman.exe which can be found inside the MAME Official Windows Binary packages located here – mame0201b_64bit.exe was the latest release when I did the conversion.
Extract chdman.exe from mame0201b_64bit.exe into the same folder as your PSX BIN/CUE files. Then you can just run one command to convert everything to CHD:
Expect this to run for a long time; on the Redump set, this conversion took about 1.5 days on an i7-4770K and a 2.5″ 1TB Seagate FireCuda hybrid drive. You should also have free space equal to at least 1.5x the size of the Redump set before running the command.
For the last couple of years I’ve been doing my retrogaming with a combination EmulationStation and RetroArch. At first I was using a Zotac mini PC for the hardware and Lubuntu for the OS; at the time I also used this PC to play movies using Kodi. Looking back I’m not sure how that PC was able to emulate anything at full speed but I remember games running pretty well. EmulationStation on the other hand took forever to scrape metadata especially with the complete ROM sets for most systems. Eventually the Zotac was replaced by an Intel Skull Canyon NUC running Ubuntu. The NUC worked a million times better than the Zotac but with Retroarch on Ubuntu it seemed like configs were broken every time I ran apt-get update. I decided it was time to do a new setup for emulation; with a combination of new and old parts I was able to build another PC with the following specs:
Intel Core i7-4770K
Noctua NH-L9I CPU Fan
16GB Crucial Ballistix Sport VLP DDR3-1600
500GB Samsung 840 EVO
1TB Seagate Firecuda
Gigabyte Radeon R9 Nano
Fractal Design Node 202
600 Watt Corsair SF600 SFX Power Supply
2x Noctua 120mm NF-S12A Case Fans
The Node 202 is a compact ITX case which made cable management fairly challenging but I think I managed to pull off a decent job:
For this new build I used Windows 10 for the OS and replaced EmulationStation front-end with LaunchBox. It has an alternate mode similar to Steam’s Big Picture Mode that’s perfect for gaming on a big screen TV:
As you can see from the video, you get a short intro for each platform and gameplay footage per game if you have an EmuMovies account enabled for scraping. If EmuMovies doesn’t have gameplay footage then LaunchBox will usually at least display a screenshot of the game’s title screen. LaunchBox is a big step up from EmulationStation aesthetically; it’s also a big step up for storage requirements. I have the No-Intro ROM sets for the following systems: NES, SNES, N64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Master System, Genesis, 32X, Game Gear and TurboGrafx 16. On top of this I have the complete ROM set for FBA 0.2.97.43 and the USA Redump PSX collection. With these platforms scraped in LaunchBox, the folder size weighs in at 152.4GB:
It should be no surprise Video is the largest subfolder at 81GB followed by Images at 48.4GB; I scraped my ROM collection with the default settings in LaunchBox so it’s possible to get a slimmer install by leaving out game manuals and other types of images like front/back box art, cartridge art, screenshots, etc.
The 4770K and R9 Nano are a few years old at this point but are more than enough to handle RetroArch at 4K. The best part of this new build is I can use shader presets that brought my NUC to a crawl. My favorite shader so far is CRT-Royale – an advanced shader preset designed to recreate the look of a CRT monitor. You can see from the screenshots below it even recreates soft glow around sprites against a black background:
For controllers, I have the 8BitDo SN30 Pro and SF30 Pro, Xbox Wireless Controllers, and Qanba Q4 RAF arcade sticks. Both the 8BitDo and Xbox controllers are paired via Plugable’s USB Bluetooth 4.0 Adapter. The adapter is supported out of the box with Windows 10 and pairing the controllers was easy. I set my input driver in RetroArch to dinput which makes every controller show up as generic “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device”; the advantage here is I can pick up any of the Xbox or 8BitDo controllers and start playing. My default config in RetroArch uses Bluetooth controllers while I have a separate config for the FB Alpha core so the sticks are used for Arcade games. If you use mixed controllers, I recommend using devreorder – it’s a program that allows you to define the order in which controllers are enumerated in Windows. I have it set so the Qanba sticks are first, followed by the Bluetooth controllers. This way RetroArch will always see the sticks and controllers in the same order; without it my sticks would stop working if one of the Bluetooth controllers shut off from idle (when the controller shuts off, RetroArch would enumerate input devices again and my stick would no longer be assigned to Player 1).
If you want to set up LaunchBox and RetroArch for yourself, I recommend getting RetroArch working first as LaunchBox is just a front-end that will launch RetroArch with the game you choose. There’s a decent guide for setting up RetroArch from Lifehacker here and the Youtube channel for LaunchBox has a good video on setting up both RetroArch and LaunchBox. The Lifehacker guide doesn’t mention which RetroArch cores to use so I recommend you try out the following:
Nestopia UE (NES)
bsnes mercury Accuracy (SNES)
Gambatte (Game Boy/Game Boy Color)
mGBA (Game Boy Advance)
Genesis Plus GX (Master System, Genesis, and Game Gear)
Beetle SGX (TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine SuperGrafx)
Beetle PSX (Playstation 1)
FB Alpha (Arcade)
Most of these cores are the defaults shown in the setup video from LaunchBox. FB Alpha doesn’t emulate every Arcade game like MAME does but covers most of the ones I care about like Capcom CPS and Neo Geo games. I prefer using FB Alpha over MAME because the MAME cores require additional setup for controller inputs; the whole point of using RetroArch is to have a unified interface and set up your configuration once.
Pi-hole is a DNS sinkhole designed to block ads at the network level by acting as your DNS server; it’s like using AdBlock for every device on your network. It’s especially useful for iOS and Android devices since Pi-hole can block ads in both the browser and apps.
Installation on my Ubuntu 16.04 box was dead simple:
After running it for almost a week, I accumulated the following stats below; it’s amazing how many requests were blocked since I’m already using uBlock in Chrome.
After rebooting the system Pi-hole was running on, I noticed the DNS resolution was broken because the dnsmasq service was not running:
samfisher@Skullbox:~$service dnsmasq status
●dnsmasq.service-dnsmasq-Alightweight DHCP andcaching DNS server
Aug0516:24:18Skullbox systemd:dnsmasq.service:Failed with result'exit-code'.
Apparently there is a bug in Ubuntu 16.04 with the dnsmasq service trying to start before network interface is up. Thanks to this, I was able to fix it by adding the highlighted lines below to the [Unit] section of /lib/systemd/system/dnsmasq.service:
Description=dnsmasq-Alightweight DHCP andcaching DNS server
Recently I managed to get my hands on the GDEMU – an SD card reader that takes the place of the Sega Dreamcast’s optical drive. With it you can place multiple Dreamcast game images on an SD card and load whatever game you want from a simple menu system named GDmenu. I set mine up with a SanDisk Extreme Pro 128GB SDXC and was able to fit all the games I cared about. The best part is you can play 1:1 dumps of Dreamcast games instead of burning rips to CD-Rs or scouring eBay for original discs. There is a noticeable decrease in loading times as well since there are no moving parts.
In addition to the GDEMU upgrade, I also replaced the original 30mm Dreamcast fan with a 40mm Noctua NF-A4x10 5V using a 3D printed mounting kit I bought off eBay (listing is gone but you can find the files for the kit here). Supposedly the Dreamcast runs hotter with the GDEMU because the GDEMU doesn’t use the 12v rail on the PSU which causes it to spike in voltage thus creating extra heat. There are some guides on the internet for either adding a resistor to load the 12v rail or removing the regulator for 12v entirely. I decided it was simpler to add a 12v fan for load and provide additional cooling to the PSU; I put a 40mm Noctua NF-A4x20 FLX in the back blowing into the PSU. Even with 2 fans, this entire setup is nearly silent compared to a stock Dreamcast.
I’ve been working on a new emulator build using Windows, Launchbox, and Retroarch. For my controllers I’ve always used Qanba Q4RAF sticks for arcade games and Xbox 360 controllers for consoles. I decided it was time to upgrade the controllers to something newer so I decided to pick up the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro Controllers. They’re basically replicas of the old SNES controller in both the Super Nintendo (SN30 Pro) and Super Famicom (SF30 Pro) colors. You can find plenty of in-depth reviews of these controllers on YouTube or Google; overall I’m quite pleased with these controllers for emulation usage.
Some things I noticed:
Everyone says to update the firmware out of the box; my SF30 Pro was already v1.25 (newest at the time of this post) but my SN30 Pro was v1.22.
The D-Pad on my SN30 Pro feels more worn and isn’t as stiff as my SF30 Pro’s D-Pad.
They pair quite easily with Windows 10 over Bluetooth; you can also use them wired (flat style USB-C cable is included)
You can pair both the SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro to your Windows PC for multiplayer games; they show up in Windows as “8Bitdo SF30 Pro” and “8Bitdo SN30 Pro” respectively. Not sure what happens if you have 2x SF30 Pros or 2x SN30 Pros since they share the same device name.
Works great with RetroArch; shows up as “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device”. If you have the SF30 Pro and SN30 Pro paired, then they will appear as “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device (#1)” and “Bluetooth XINPUT compatible input device (#2)”.