Picade Build and Cabinet Art

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Produced by Pimoroni, a British company based in Sheffield, the Picade is an all singing and dancing tabletop arcade cabinet that can be put together in an afternoon. For £180 you get everything needed to build your own working cabinet (minus the Raspberry Pi) such as:

  • Black powder-coated cabinet panels
  • Picade PCB (Arduino compatible with stereo 2.8W amplifier) pre-loaded with the Picade software.
  • LCD panel mount with protective overlay
  • 8″ LCD panel & driver board
  • 2x speakers
  • 3.5mm stereo panel mounted headphone socket
  • Attractive decals for the marquee and controls
  • HDMI, audio, and USB cables
  • A proper arcade joystick
  • Twelve micro-switch arcade buttons
  • Custom assembled wiring looms
  • All other fixings, fastenings, nuts, and bolts

The kit is primarily geared towards users of the Raspberry Pi, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t use it with a mini ITX board or Odroid. In fact the rear door on which you mount the logic board has markings for several different models of computer not just the Pi. Anticipating the needs of their customers, Pimoroni have designed the kit with the hacking and modding community in mind, something they do with a lot of their products.

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Everything you need to make your own arcade

In 2012 when Pimoroni began their Kickstarter for the Picade I had an opportunity to try a working unit, needless to say the experience was enough to leave me wanting one. It wasn’t until the early last year when I finally got one of their kits but sadly didn’t have any time to assemble it. So the kit sat waiting on my to do list till October came around, when finally my partner and I put it together over several evenings. Assembling the Picade is pretty straight forward so long as you follow the PDF guide provided on Pimoroni’s website. There is also a video guide but in my opinion it is in need of updating, as it led us astray more than once. In the end we resorted to consulting the PDF exclusively, my partner reading the instructions as I placed the pieces together. Contrary to what the video tutorial suggests, make sure to tighten all the screws and nuts using a screw driver, otherwise your cabinet will soon begin to wobble and come apart as mine did after a few plays of DigDug.

The black power coated finish of Picade really sets it off with an old arcade feel, the buttons and joystick are of good quality and fairly responsive to use. At some point I will likely swap them out for more 80s recessed style buttons, but for now they get the job done and look fine.img_20161123_154601

The Picade comes bundled with an 8” flat panel LCD screen. Originally the kit was available with a 12” panel but I understand supplies dried up and Pimoroni have been unable to source any more at a reasonable price. At first when I removed the panel from its packaging I thought it was mighty small and had some misgivings about its effectiveness for playing games on, but honesty I hadn’t need for concern. The 8” panel compliments the cabinet really well and once your in playing Pacman or Pole Position you really don’t notice it. The picture is clear, sharp and the colours a vibrant, my only regret is the absence of any scanlines, but that’s more a personal preference and something I can probably fix within the Retro Pie software.

With the cabinet built, it is just a case of flashing an SD card with the relevant Retro Pie image, which you can download via their website @ https://retropie.org.uk. Setup is relatively painless and straight forward and should see you up and running in no time at all. Something I did discovered on my first outing, is that RetroPie has more than one Mame emulator to choose from and some ROMs work better in one than they do the other. If you find like I did that a great many of img_20170217_185138your ROMs aren’t working, you may wish to try using the other Mame emulator. The reason this happens is down to the chipsets the Mame is running, different revisions can sometimes expect different files to be present within the ROM archive. Newer revisions tend to be more compatible but unfortunately the one available on Raspbian isn’t, which is why RetroPie comes with more then one Mame emulator. Swapping between the different versions can be as simple as copying your ROMsets to the appropriate folder on your SD card. It is also possible to change it from within Retropie, just after selecting your ROM the option appear on screen to change the default settings, this also includes which version of Mame is used to run the selected ROMset.

When put together, the Picade and Retro Pie compliment one another well and one can hardly imagine one without the other, both are polished and easily accessible products.

Unfinished Business

img_20170213_151551When I began to assemble the Picade, I knew from the get go that I wanted to design some custom cabinet art for it – something that harkened back to the days of my childhood with crazy neon colours and funky 8 bit sprites. One thing about the Picade is that the only decals that come with it are for the marque and the control panel, the sides of the cabinet are left alone. As pretty as the powder coating is, I couldn’t help feel there was something better to do with them, such as cover them up with something bright and retro! So I went about designing the art on my recently aqcuired 15” Powerbook G4. Anyone who says PPC has had its day can go suck a lemon as far as I’m concerned, as this laptop not only oozes style but clocking in at 1.55Ghz it runs Photoshop without breaking a sweat.

img_20170119_162942As you can probably see in the photos from an early stage there was a very distinct 80s theme going on. One thing I had to keep in mind was to make sure the decal art lined up with the side panels on the cabinet, as I wasn’t just contending with the outside edge of each panel but also the various screw holes and speaker grills that the decals would be covering.

The side art is protected by 1mm thick sheet of clear acrylic that has been cut out to the same shape and size of both MDF side panels. Eventually I plan on making the marquee backlit so that the Picade logo and colours are more vivid to the eye.

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Raspberry Pi 4th Birthday Bash

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Held in Cambridge on the 5th and 6th of March at the Cambridge Computer Laboratory, the official Raspberry Pi birthday celebrates the fourth year since the release of the original Raspberry Pi Model B. Going from strength to strength since its initial release, the success of the Raspberry Pi can’t be denied. This is made even more apparent by the fact the birthday bash is a sold out event, with people coming from all around the country and also Europe to celebrate this tiny micro computer. Attending the event where Pihut, CPC, IQaudio, PiTop, { Code Club }, Pimoroni and LinuxUser Magazine, to name but a few. This only skims the surface, as the event was teeming with clever boffins with something to display. If you missed this year’s birthday bash, I highly recommend trying to attend one or any Pi event in your area in the future. The atmosphere is inspiring and the people warm and friendly.

End of Day One

Thoroughly geeked out, the first day was a blast. This was my first time at a Raspberry Pi event and I have to say, it was an eye opener. Making it certain that I’ll be attending more in the future. Over the Saturday, I met some wonderful, friendly people, such as the

Amazing Pi Laptops from Pi-Top

Amazing Pi Laptops from Pi-Top

fantastic peeps from LinuxUser, who are clearly just as passionate about retro gaming as they are about Linux. The dead give away to this was the Pi Zero powered Xbox controller on their table, running Retroarch. Not only was I invited to play a game of Doom, but they even gave me a copy of their Magazine, containing tips on the Linux Terminal. Now I ask you, who can turn their nose up at that, seriously? Next in line for a mention is the chap from Pi-top, if you’ve not heard about Pi-top, they produce two impressive cases specifically for the Raspberry PI and I highly recommend looking them up. Having played around with the laptop model of the Pi-top, I can honestly say I was impressed. As you can probably tell from the photo, the striking green case it certainly eye catching. Pimoroni were also present, showing off their popular Picade and Flotilla products, which as one can expect, drew in a crowd.

Raspberry Pi3

Released only days before the birthday bash, the Pi 3 comes with Bluetooth and wireless built in, not to mention an A53 processor, clocked at 1.25Ghz. 10x faster than the original Pi, the Pi 3 is a quad-core computer like the Pi 2, however unlike the P2, which uses a 32bit CPU, the Pi 3 is 64bit. This step up, will scientifically improve the performance of the Pi, placing feasibly within the same realm of some laptops and Atom based net tops.

At the time of its release, the Pi 2 Model B was considered by many, myself included, as a lightweight desktop computer. That being the case, the specs of the Pi 3 most certainly elevate the fruity micro from just an educational computer to something that could easily be used at home for surfing the net and playing games. And while the primary goal of the Pi is to get kids back into computers (something it is doing remarkably well), both the Spectrum and C64 of yester years, owe much of their success to the games that were developed for them. Many of the kids playing those games back in the day later become programmers in their own right. Perhaps it’s just nostalgia, but I would love to imagine there are a bunch of kids out there some place, learning Python or Scratch, developing the next Dizzy or Crash Bandicoot on their humble Raspberry Pi 2/3, perhaps because playing games on Retroarch, inspired them to do so.

 

Day Two

The beginning to the second day at the birthday bash, began with a sausage sandwich and a cup of tea. Not very technical I know, but essential if you want the grey matter in your noggin to boot up! Fuelled up, the first event on my schedule was to sit in on Eban Upton’s talk about the Rapberry Pi. I had intended to record the talk for you guys to hear, so I set my Nexus 5 recording throughout the session. Sadly the recording sounded more akin to a scuba diver dictating into a baked bean tin while riding upon a flatulent whale. Instead you’ll have to settle for a photo of the Eban I took just before he beganeban. The talk overall was insightful and fun, Eban was down to earth in explaining the development of the Pi 3. He also made a point of crediting the people behind its development, the faces we don’t see who work tirelessly to develop, innovate and burn much of the midnight oil in an effort to make the Pi 3 a reality.

There was also mention of the AstroPi, which recently travelled in to space, on its way to the international space station. Without the doubt, the Astro Pi is one of the most expensive Pi every built, requiring a specially built enclose and mounts, made from some pricey materials.

After the talk, I found myself chatting to Jon Prove, director of Sales for Pi Top, a cool guy, who is clearly enthusiastic about the Raspberry Pi in general. I’d already spoken to one of his colleagues the previous day. I had seen Jon, but he was knee deep in people interested in his product.

Later I caught a talk on Sonic Pi, an adaptable music generator which you can program to create a wide variety of sounds. At the party the night before, its creator, Dr Sam Aaron performed live. Being as it was my first exposure to Sonic Pi, I have to say I was impressed. At times the music Aaron was playing, sounded uncannily like Daft Punk. It certainly left me wanting to learn more about the software, which thanks to the talk I now feel a little more informed about.

Dr Sam Aaron rocking with SonicPi

Dr Sam Aaron rocking with SonicPi

Not all the vendors who attended the first day, were present on the Sunday. CPCs table was unoccupied, but left on their table were freebies and a note, wishing everyone a fun day and to help themselves to one of the goodies they had left behind, ranging from Pi shaped coasters, pens, stickers and even some Pi cases. Now wasn’t that jolly well nice of them? FYI, I nabbed a coaster!

One of the nice features of the event was the layout, the ground floor held all the vendors and talks, the second and third floor were for workshops and also quiet spaces. Handy if you happen to be carrying around your G4 iBook and wanting to quickly jot down notes for your blog. Thank goodness I bought a new battery as the old one would never have lasted long enough!


Pimoroni Pihub Review

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PiHub By Pimoroni

 As some of you know, I dabble on an off with the Raspberry Pi. As a casual user, I use my pi mostly for playing with linux and the odd gaming session. The Pi is a fun little computer, so long as you don’t expect to much from
it. As an indie games platform it offers a lot of fun, so much that I have even felt myself being drawn to writing a program on the tiny computer.

Anyone who has used a raspberry pi for any length of time, will know that cables can soon start to mount up. It’s amazing that such a tiny computer can take up so much room. The RPi can work fine as a stand alone computer, but start adding a wifi dongle, keyboard, mouse, USB memory stick, card reader and suddenly you’ve run out of USB ports. There are solutions to get around the RPi’s two usb ports, but none of them are simple or straight forward as buying a powered USB hub. First and foremost if you buy a hub for your RPI, you have to get one that comes with its own power supply.

On early models of the RPi, the USB ports were fitted with polyfuses designed to protect the tiny computer from devices that might try and draw too much power, such as external hard drives or web cams. Later models did away with the two fuses and now the RPi has just one fuse. While the latest design has improved matters, you are still stuck with just the two ports which is where a power hub like the Pihub comes in, alleviating your power woes and freeing you from two port hell. The Pihub is the creation of Pimoroni, the UK company that also brought us the Picade. Their website offers supplies to a wide audience of tinkerers, modders and electronic hobbyists. One of their recent offerings to the RPi community was the Pihub, aptly named as the housing of the Pihub is in the shape of the Raspberry Pi emblem. Adorned with green leaves and red berry colours, as hubs go it is by far the cutest I’ve seen. The case is but one cool feature of this little device, and the hardware inside is pretty impressive as well. When buying your Pihub, you have the option to opt-out of  buying it with the accompanying power supply. While this might seem like a good way to save money, I would recommend spending the extra money for the PSU as it is well worth the money. Rated at 5.2 volts and 3mA/h, it is more than capable of powering the RPi along with anything else you might want to throw at it. Struggling with external CDROM drives and USB hard drive are a thing of the past. pihub_4
Unimpeded by polyfuses like the RPi, the Pihub offers the full USB 2.0 package, with a multi TT (transaction Translator) chip for bringing USB 1.1 devices in line with the high bus speeds of USB 2.0. Some devices use only
one TT chip, sharing a single 12mb/s data channel amongst several USB ports, which can significantly impede your performance and lead to a bottle neck effect, unlike the Pihub which has been designed to provide high performance. Designed with 4x USB ports, one of which is specifically engineered to power your Raspberry Pi
computer. Providing a dedicated 1.1 Amp supply, it means no longer needing two separate power supplies, you can run everything from just the one psu. For me this is a massive selling point because I found the increasing number of bits i needed for my Pi really annoying. My desk has been turned from crazy cable jungle to almost down right respectable.   While yes, powering the RPi from the Pihub does mean your taking up one of the ports. You’re still left with three full USB 2.0 standard ports as well as the spare port on your RPi. Overall I think the trade-off it worth it.
Speaking with Paul Beech from Pimoroni, he informed me the Pihub had specifically been designed with high quality chips to guarantee 100% compatibility with the RPi. This is no doubt due to the number of cheap hubs on the market, that are less then RPi friendly. Populated-panelsIn an odd turn of events, I actually observed how compatible the Pihub really was in general. After plugging my wifi dongle and mouse in to the Pihub, I connected it to a Windows XP machine. On booting, XP didn’t even ask for drivers, instead logged me straight on to the local area network through the wireless adaptor. I’ve seen few hubs work this seamlessly. High praise has to go to the chaps at Pimoroni. In conclusion, the Pihub is well worth the £20 if you’re on the market for a decent usb hub for your RPi or PC in general. 10% of profits are given back to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, who use the money to help educate future generations of geeks.

Till next time, keep on geeking!

The Pihub can be found via the Pimoroni store at
http://www.pimoroni.co.uk