Following the arrival of a brand new version of the Picade – reviewed in The MagPi #74 – Pimoroni has given the same treatment to the Picade Console. Unlike its bigger brother, this retro gaming machine lacks its own screen, so you need to connect it up to a TV or monitor via HDMI. It does, however, pack an internal speaker so you’ll still get sound even if your monitor doesn’t have any. All you need to add is an HDMI cable, microSD card (with the RetroPie OS on it), and a Raspberry Pi – any 40-pin model will work, but we’d recommend a Pi 3B+ for emulating some of the more powerful retro systems.
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Putting the Picade Console together
The lack of a screen does make the Picade Console a whole lot easier to assemble than the full-size Picade. Made up of five black powder-coated MDF panels (with helpful labels), its ‘cabinet’ is essentially identical to the Picade’s control console section, but with an extra rear cut-out for the Pi’s HDMI port. Assembly instructions are on the back of an A3 poster, or you can use the online ones.
It took us around an hour to put together. The panels are connected using plastic brackets and metal M3 nuts and bolts. The only tricky part was reaching in to place the tiny nuts on the side bolts (tip: put a bit of Blu Tack on your finger). For the top section, the supplied artwork (or your own) is sandwiched between the black panel and a clear Perspex one. A microswitched joystick (with ball top) and push-fit arcade buttons are then inserted – or you could customise it with your own, such as Pimoroni’s Plasma buttons (see boxout).
Once the mini speaker is fitted, you can mount a Raspberry Pi on the base and add the key part of the system: the new Picade X HAT. Also available separately (£15 / $16) for those who want to build their own custom arcade machine, the HAT has easy-to-use DuPont connectors for the numerous joystick and button wires. The only slight issue with the Picade Console – which is more compact than its original incarnation – is that there’s not a lot of room inside for all the wiring.
The Picade X HAT also features a built-in I2S DAC and amplifier for the internal speaker, and power management that allows you to safely shut down the Raspberry Pi with the illuminated power button on the side of the cabinet.
With everything assembled, you just need to plug in a keyboard for the simple software setup: installing the Picade X HAT driver with a one-line Terminal command. With RetroPie running, it’s a case of setting up the joystick directions and buttons to your liking and – once you’ve added some ROM files – you’re ready to play your favourite retro games.
As with the full-size Picade, the unit feels robust, with rubber feet to keep it secure on a desk or table. The arcade controls are solid, although the buttons are leaf-spring rather than microswitched. One slight drawback of the Picade Console’s smaller form factor is that the side utility buttons are nearer the front and on occasion we knocked them accidentally while playing. Other than that, it’s just as impressive as the Picade, but considerably less expensive.
With a robust case and controls, and smart Picade X HAT board, it provides an arcade-style experience on your TV screen at a very attractive price.
Board: Picade X HAT
Controls: Joystick, 6 × arcade buttons, 4 × utility buttons, illuminated power button
Speaker: 2.5-inch, 3W, 4Ω
Dimensions: 245×120×140 mm
£60 / $64 via Pimoroni
This Raspberry Pi project first appeared in The MagPi #77 and was written by Phil King.