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Build a Portable Retro Gaming Console With Raspberry Pi

May 18, 2023May 18, 2023

Want to enjoy classic gaming on the go? Make your own portable retro games machine using a Raspberry Pi and a few other components.

If you're a fan of retro gaming and want to play classic games to bring back fond memories from your childhood, there's no need to search eBay for old games consoles when you can build your own retro games system. We will take you through the process of building a portable DIY retro gaming console with a Raspberry Pi using the open-source RetroPie software.

RetroPie is an open-source software package that allows you to turn your Raspberry Pi 3, 4 or Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W into a classic retro gaming machine. The software package contains a wide range of emulators, including:

RetroPie is continuously updated by enthusiasts and community developers adding new features. It also offers tons of customization options, including software tools to configure your Raspberry Pi as a retro-gaming machine.

Besides Raspberry Pi, it's possible to install RetroPie on an ODroid C1/C2, or a Windows/Linux PC.

You will need the following items to build your own retro gaming console using Raspberry Pi and RetroPie software:

Once you have all the parts, you can continue with the installation and assembly.

There are two different ways to install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi:

Alternatively, you could download and install any of these retro gaming disk images instead of RetroPie:

Along with a different front-end menu system and customization options, some of these offer a different range of emulators.

At this stage, you can connect the touchscreen display to the Raspberry Pi. Our example build uses the DFRobot 7" touchscreen display. You can use any small display between 5" and 10", such as the official 7" Raspberry Pi display, whichever is available.

To enable auto-login and ensure RetroPie starts as soon as the Raspberry starts or boots, you first need to connect to the Raspberry Pi via SSH to access it remotely from another computer.

Power on the Raspberry Pi and connect it to your router using a LAN cable. You can use the Fing app or check your router's DHCP settings to find the Raspberry Pi's IP address so you can SSH in.

Once you are connected via SSH to the Raspberry Pi, follow these steps to enable auto-login (if not already enabled) and start the RetroPie emulator automatically on boot.

When you restart, RetroPie will automatically start on the boot—there's no need to run a command anymore.

On the first boot, you will see a screen to configure your USB game controller. Makes sure you have one plugged in. You may also use any Xbox or PlayStation controller (except DualSense) via a USB adapter to work with your retro gaming console.

On this screen, you need to map the controls by clicking the buttons on the controller. Complete the on-screen instructions and then move to the next part where you will add the games.

You can add the games, aka ROMS, to the RetroPie console via a USB drive. Alternatively, you can install the retropie-manager to enable a web interface to manage RetroPie games and ROMs.

You can download the ROMs from the internet, for whichever emulator you want to use. Copy the ROMs to the USB drive and then connect it to Raspberry Pi.

If using the web interface, upload the ROMs directly, and then you can start playing the classic games on your Raspberry Pi.

You may also follow these steps to upload game ROMs:

Once you restart the Raspberry Pi, you will see and play the new games (added ROMs) in RetroPie.

To make this retro gaming console completely portable, you can use a UPS HAT or battery pack for the Raspberry Pi. There are various battery packs available, powered by lithium-ion batteries. To learn more, you can refer to our guide to Raspberry Pi battery packs for your retro gaming console.

Alternatively, you could use a power bank with 5V/3A USB output to power the Raspberry Pi or build your own DIY battery pack to power the retro gaming console and play your favorite games on the go. For the latter, you will need:

Once you have the required items, you can refer to the following diagram to connect them and make a DIY battery pack for your retro gaming console.

The battery backup time will vary depending on the battery capacity and display size you choose.

For the finishing touch, you may well want to put your portable retro games console in its own case. The size and shape will depend on the exact components you're using, in particular the type of display. A wide range of cases are available to buy, such as this NeeGo case to house a Raspberry Pi 4 and official 7-inch touch display. Alternatively, you can opt to 3D print one from STL files, such as this similar case on Thingiverse.

If you are going to use a battery and the Adafruit PowerBoost 1000 module as discussed earlier, you can download this tablet-style case from Thingiverse and then your 3D printer to make it or get it printed by a 3D printing service provider. Make sure to use the official Raspberry Pi 7-inch display to fit all components in these particular 3D-printed cases.

By using a small display and a DIY battery pack, you can build a completely portable retro gaming console with your Raspberry Pi 3, 4 or Zero 2 W that you can carry with you anywhere. All you will need is a controller to play the classic games on the go. To give this project a clean look, you could buy or 3D print a suitable 3D case and assemble all the components in it.

Ravi is an expert tech explainer, an IoT enthusiast, and a Linux lover with a background in big data and app development. He's a tech geek with over 7 years of experience in creating DIY tech and how-to guides on data recovery, file repair, Exchange Server, Outlook, Microsoft 365, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and smart home.

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