Building a Rugged, Portable Rpi 3 Emulator

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So I’ve been wanting to build a portable Raspberry Pi emulator for a while, now that the Raspberry Pi 3 has enough horsepower to emulate up to N64 games. I figured it would make a fun project that would work well for going to the field.

Part List

Software Install

I used an image from MultiBootPi to get the software installed. His instructions are pretty straight-forward.

Display

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While it’s a good display, I’m having a heck of a hard time getting it to run Kodi. It has no internal scaler, so if you can’t force 800×480, it won’t display anything. None of the Kodi/OSMC/Libreelec builds I’ve tried have let me force that resolution, so it’s been a no-go on getting Kodi to work properly. That somewhat took the starch out of my idea, as I really wanted to be able to use this as a media player as well. Oh well, hopefully in the future I’ll have more time to trouble shoot it.

On the plus side, the power draw is very minimal.

USB Battery Pack

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The USB Battery Pack is one I’ve had for a while, and it’s major advantage is that it allows pass-through charging, meaning it will still provide power even while it’s plugged into the wall. This is a pretty difficult feature to find. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t provide quite enough power to the Rpi 3 to keep it from flashing the obnoxious lightning bolt icon indicating undervoltage. It still runs fine, so I had to override the warning.

  • In RetroPie, select “Quit”, “Quit Emulation Station”.
  • Type following: sudo nano /boot/config.txt
  • Add following line: avoid_warnings=1
  • Press Control+O to save
  • Press Control+X to exit
  • Type: sudo reboot

Controller

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The 8bitdo NES30 gave me some fits, but it’s just kinda fidgety at pairing. This guide helped me out quite a bit.

The Case

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My goal with this was to have a rugged, portable system that could go anywhere. The 1200 is about perfect. I wish it were just a LITTLE bit longer from front to back, as I can’t fit the mini keyboard in there.

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For now, I cut an opening in the top for the screen (sharp Victorinox bread knife), and plucked out the sections in the bottom for the battery case, Rpi 3, Jambox, and controller. There’s still room for the hard drive if I can get Kodi working. In the future I might get some custom laser-cut foam for the screen – it looks a little ragged.

Performance

Now, the part that matters. It rocks. It handles N64 games without overclock. I haven’t tried multiplayer, but Mario Kart 64 runs just fine in single player.

Battery Life

It’s surprisingly awesome off this 20,000mAh battery pack – following are how it broke down while running single player Mario Kart 64 in a stationary position:

15 minutes – 84%
1 hour – 78%
2 hours – 74%
4 hours – 63%
5 hours – 47%
7 hours – 19%
8 hours – 10%

Summary

It was a fun project, and the results are about what I expected. Now if I can just get Kodi working right…

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