USB-C docks are fairly common and can be used with the Deck. However, the unique handheld console form factor of the Deck makes it awkward to prop it up on something. If you use an external monitor this isn’t a problem, but I want to tinker around in desktop mode on the Deck’s screen itself which is just fine. The dock also keeps the Deck up off the table and just makes it look nicer in your setup.
The dock itself is built with high-quality aluminum. It’s solid and has a bit of weight. My biggest fear was the cable that goes into the Deck itself. Thankfully is fairly thick and the point where it goes into the dock itself feels solid. It would take a massive tug to pull it out. I would have preferred a braided cable here. The end that goes into the Deck is bent at a 90-degree angle and is very solid and won’t go anywhere.
The ports themselves are tight as well and not loose. The three USB-A 3.0 ports are a nice touch. You can have a keyboard, mouse, and external drive. Any combo of USB accessories will not be limited with this dock. The HDMI port is a nice touch since it’s full size. I also like the addition of an ethernet port. It works well and has access and status lights. I would have preferred the ethernet port on the rear as well, but you can only fit so much back there. I also would have liked an additional USB-C port that may be on the opposite side of the ethernet port. Missed opportunities, but what’s here is fine.
The docking part itself has rubber pads to keep the Deck from moving around and is molded perfectly the to bottom. The actual dock itself has rubber pads on the bottom so a simple bump or shake won’t knock your Deck over. I was even able to hold the Deck while it was docked to use the controls for testing things and it wasn’t an issue. The dock is also light enough and small enough to fit into a bag. It’s a high-quality product and I also didn’t have issues displaying 60hz at 4K, but why you would want to do this with the Deck is beyond me. It can’t game in 4K. Maybe in desktop mode with YouTube videos? The option is there at least.
I haven’t been this excited about a handheld console since the Sony PSP, nor have I been as impressed. There have been many excellent handhelds by Nintendo and various Chinese third-party manufacturers, but nothing quite like the Steam Deck. If you have been living under a rock for the last year the Deck is the most powerful handheld ever made to date. Sporting custom AMD APU hardware and many fantastic and exciting features that make the Deck the next handheld that makes gamers envious.
The Deck was announced at a bad time. With the global COVID-19 pandemic driving sales of popular consumer electronics sky-high thanks to chip shortages and shipment delays, the Deck was a hot-ticket item for scalpers and general gamers alike. I set my alarm and smashed the refresh button on Steam when the pre-order went live. The server crashed and was down for 2 hours after this and I thought all hope was lost. I finally got through and placed my $5 deposit only to realize it was going to be a year or more before I got my unit. When the Deck finally started shipping in late February everyone started pre-ordering more and gamers got greener.
If you want you can check to see when your pre-order will ship thanks to a bunch of community members’ calculator. It’s not 100% accurate but gets more accurate as people input when their Deck shipped. Mine originally said the end of July, but it shipped at the beginning. Check it out here.
I got my pre-order purchase email on July 4th. Right as I hit the bed to go to sleep the email arrived. It took about 9 days to arrive after the purchase. As of my purchase, there are less than 100,000 Steam Decks in the wild (probably not including review units) and I feel incredibly privileged to get my unit so early. I feel the 4.5-month waiting period allowed the Deck to receive a lot of updates and improve some over time.
There are 3,000 “verified” games as of this review with a third of my library being verified. Being Deck verified means the game boots up and launches without any tinkering and has readable text, supports the Deck’s resolution, and can run at default graphics settings. Similar to how you would experience a game on a console. There is a “playable” flag that means it runs fine, but there’s some weirdness like default controls don’t work or the text is hard to read. Another third of my library is playable. The third flag is “unsupported” which means Valve tested the game and the developer needs to work on it more. Anti-cheat systems usually prevent launching or some sort of weird third-party stuff. Or the game doesn’t work with the current Media Runtime files (Valve’s end) or the latest versions of Proton or Glorious Eggroll Proton…yeah, more on that stuff later.
The unboxing experience was odd with the Deck. It almost feels cheap. There isn’t any type of fancy retail box. The Deck comes packed inside a blank shipping box with a paper insert instructing you to plug the Deck in and turn it on in multiple languages. The charger is in a separate box next to the Deck and the Deck itself is just wrapped up in plastic with a cardboard sleeve and inside its case. Yes, every Deck comes with a carrying case which is freaking revolutionary. This needs to be a standard. I’m assuming there will be final retail packaging once these things can be shipped and stay on store shelves after pre-orders are fulfilled.
The upgraded case is well worth it compared to the other two models. The interior cloth is more premium feeling and doesn’t attract as much dust. The strap inside is also black with higher quality material. The outside has a colored Deck logo and white zipper pulls. What really got me jazzed was the underside has a scoop punched into it with an elastic strap over it. This is for the charger! It’s freaking incredible and this should be a new standard for cases. The 512GB model comes with a sinch pouch for it with a Deck tag logo. I actually love this as it’s extra protection to keep the charger from falling out. You also get a cleaning microfiber cloth that says Steam Deck. It’s pretty cheap and you can get better cloths that will fit in the case, but it’s great for starters.
The other hardware bit that the other two models don’t get is the anti-glare etched glass. This has benefits and caveats such as slightly softer edges on everything and text being slightly soft. However, the colors are more saturated and look more vibrant while the screen itself isn’t quite as bright, but it does get darker at the lowest levels. There’s an excellent comparison video here. It’s not a deal breaker for the price difference, but it’s nice to have that premium option. The main difference is the internal storage space which is a continuing problem with consumer electronics and has been for the last 20 years.
Holding the Deck itself feels solid and of the quality, you would expect from Sony or Nintendo. It sounds silly, but it feels like a “real” handheld. While the Chinese ones have gotten better over the years in terms of higher quality plastics and tighter molds, the Deck is leagues above any of them. There’s no creaking, no sharp edges, no corners cut here. However, it’s insanely massive especially compared to the Nintendo Switch Lite. The upside is that the system is well balanced in the hand. It feels super solid and you can get a nice firm grip on it and it won’t cramp your hands. The layout of the buttons is similar to the Wii U gamepad, but with better ergonimics (the gamepad was dog crap let’s just all admit it). Everything is up top and at the far edges for minimum reach even on tiny hands. My 6-year-old was able to play this thing with no issues.
There are four rear buttons that sit right where your fingers wrap around the back but are tight enough buttons to not cause actuation by just holding the thing. You can easily squeeze your fingers to press these buttons and it freaking works. It doesn’t feel awkward or hard. I actually wanted to use these buttons in shooters because most of the weight of the console is already on those fingers. A firm, but not hard squeeze, will let you easily manipulate these buttons. A lot of R&D had to have gone into just this one feature.
There are also two trackpads below the analog sticks that also aren’t hard to reach. They are just large enough to move your thumb around on without struggling with the weight of the Deck. That’s the beauty of the ergonomic engineering that went into this thing. You can’t appreciate just photos alone. Holding this thing is a miracle and sets new standards for how larger handhelds should be made. These trackpads also have haptic feedback in them that can be adjusted in the settings. They also click which is great for using in desktop mode (more on that later) or games that need mouse control. The bumpers and triggers feel great and natural with the triggers having a good height to them similar to an Xbox controller and less like a PlayStation controller. The D-Pad needs credit as it’s great for fighters and allows rolling similar to the Xbox controller as well. The controls on this thing are absolutely perfect and I have zero complaints about them.
When it comes to I/O and various holes in the Deck it won’t let you down there. Similar to the Switch there’s a large vent up top but also one in the back with the speakers located at the bottom front below the Steam and Quick Access buttons. There’s an open SD card slot at the bottom right and the fact that it doesn’t have a door means fewer parts to break. It’s recessed just right and won’t get the way at all. Valve needs a lot of credit for putting the USB-C charging port at the top of the unit. While this means it’s not super easy to dock it means no cable is in the way when you play which I can’t stand about handhelds. The PSP had the port right where you hold it, and only the DS had the port in the rear. Sony never caught onto this. The charger port is also slightly loose by design to give it some play so it doesn’t short out and start breaking. Good on Valve for also thinking about this ahead of time. If you notice your port is loose, this is normal.
The volume buttons have a nice click to them and the power button has a white LED next to it when it’s charging. It turns off when it’s done. There is also a 3.5mm headphone jack located up top as well which makes sense. It’s already pretty thick and excluding this would be a pretty bad move. The screen itself looks fantastic thanks to the higher than usual resolution for a handheld. However, the aspect ratio being 16:10 poses issues for a lot of games as most don’t support that resolution so you get black bars on the top and bottom. While the Switch OLED has the best handheld screen ever made, the Deck is probably a good second. It’s crisp, vibrant, and has great contrast as it’s the first major handheld with an IPS display that’s normally used in gaming monitors.
It’s no secret that Valve’s SteamOS home consoles were a flop a decade ago. SteamOS was mostly used for Linux players who were a small percent of Steam users. Thanks to the Deck and its popularity not only will Linux gaming boom, but SteamOS is seeing major improvements now and has finally found a home. Steam on the Deck is a tailored handheld experience. There is a special storefront for Deck verified games only, but you can also browse the rest of the store, access your profile, friends, inventory, and everything else you could do on Steam on desktops.
There are some issues with it. There’s a persistence bug that constantly reminds you to claim your Steam Deck awards even though I already did. You can’t remove notifications or clear them without clicking on every single one. Certain Steam pages require you to use the touch screen and scrolling through the long pages on games is a bit cluttered. It all works fine, but I hope there are many improvements made to make Steam more tailored for Deck in the future.
The settings are fairly typical for both a handheld and Steam itself. Most of your settings on Desktop are here such as family sharing, download speeds, uploading screenshots, cloud saving, and various adjustments to calibrate the thumbsticks and trackpads as well as adjusting haptic feedback. The Quick Access menu is where this makes it a portable PC. You have access to performance overlays, underclocking and under volting the GPU and AMD FSR 2.0 is available at the hardware level for every game. All you have to do is lower the game’s resolution and turn FSR on to increase your frames in power-hungry titles like Elden Ring and God of War. You can turn V-Sync on at the hardware level and turn it off and set the FPS level you desire. There’s a new 40FPS mode that helps games find a sweet spot without pushing the Deck to get higher frames to save battery life. You can also turn on VRS for pixelated games to reduce battery life. There’s a lot of tinkering involved with the Deck which we will get into more and this can both be fun for an enthusiast like myself or a nightmare for a casual gamer.
In the end, we all want to game on this thing. I will get to emulation later as that seems to be one of the main reasons that are making the Deck so popular. As for “verified” Deck games they work just fine. These are games that launch with no issues, the default control scheme works, and it can hit 30-40FPS at default settings at the minimum. You can tinker to eke out every frame by looking up guides and changing settings around paired with FSR. High-end games like Days Gone needed this. FSR is probably a boon for the Deck as it needs it. Yes, the fact that you can run these next-generation/current generation games on a handheld is a miracle itself. Even at 30FPS. A lot of gamers, however, are going to get into this expecting max settings for every game and get upset or disappointed. While my 3080ti rig can run everything at 2K with ray-tracing enabled and hit 60+FPS in every single game, that’s not the case here. This is a handheld that lets you pick up where you left off on the go. Sony tried doing this with their handhelds and it failed as it relied on the developers to implement this type of feature and release their game on both platforms. The Deck takes them out of the equation.
The caveat here is that this is Linux gaming. It’s not perfect and requires a wrapper for Windows-based games developed by Valve. Proton is needed to run every single game, but it’s still not perfect. While Valve’s current stable version works for most games some require Glorious Eggroll, or GE Proton, which is acquired through the Discover store. This is a faster-developed version of Valve’s main branch. It includes patches, fixes, and features that aren’t available yet. It’s as simple as going into the game’s properties in Steam and enabling GE Proton once it’s been downloaded and installed from the Discover store. It’s still not always that simple.
Some rare occasions need an older version, and some need Media Runtime files that are considered advanced Linux user stuff. I spent dozens of hours already tinkering and trying to get certain games to work and I can report that so far only one hasn’t worked for me. There is also a way to add other launchers such as Ubisoft Connect, EA Origin, Battle.net, and Epic Games Launcher, but it’s a bit complicated and those games aren’t always compatible with Steam Deck at all. For example, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 will not work on Steam Deck no matter what version of Proton you use. Maybe when and if it comes to Steam this can change, but then there’s the issue with older games. GOG Galaxy is available through the Hero Game Launcher and most of these games can work just fine. You can even install mods like on PC, but the paths and structure of Linux are so much different than Windows. Everything is buried under tons of folders and it can be confusing and quite daunting. Even Windows’ file structure is emulated in each and every game install. I was even able to get pirated games to work through Bottles in the Discover store to allow regular game installs to run. I will cover how to do all of this in another post as most Steam Deck deep-dive stuff is pretty fragmented right now.
Most of the time even untested or unsupported games worked out of the box in my own experience. Fallout76 is technically unsupported but works fine and runs surprisingly well on the deck gettings 30-45FPS with the graphics settings at medium-high. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Ultimate Edition is another unsupported game but works great with no tinkering needed. However, a game like Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition needed an older version of Proton and specific Media Runtime files installed through the terminal to work right. Grim Dawn had save issues where I had to copy the save manually from my other PC, create a character with the same name, and then overwrite the save files for it to recognize them. On top of that Grim Dawn didn’t recognize the standard controller layout or community profiles. I had to use a specific template and painstakingly remap the controller buttons correctly. This type of tinkering may keep a lot of gamers away especially if they just focus on the negative things like this.
When it comes to battery life it wildly varies. Desktop surfing can last 6 hours while a high-end game may drain it in 2. The battery life is comparable to the Switch. When it comes to things like heat and fan noise my unit is fairly quiet even when the fan is going full bore. The air coming out is incredibly hot but surprisingly doesn’t heat the Deck up like a phone would. The Deck has a fairly accurate battery counter based on your current usage including charge time. A full charge takes around 2 hours similar to the Switch.
The Steam Deck also breaks new ground by making this a handheld portable desktop. With the official dock coming soon and unofficial ones already available you can plug a keyboard, mouse, and USB-C monitor in this thing or any other type of output that your dock supports. You can simply long press the power button and go straight into desktop mode. This brings up a Windows-like UI with a desktop, start menu, and various customizable settings like the splash screen, wallpaper, font, theme, cursor, and various other things. It’s a full desktop experience that also allows you to use a web browser like Chrome or Firefox and watch YouTube videos or type documents. This is unprecedented as even the Switch doesn’t allow this with its anti-consumer locked down system. With Valve doing this it might pressure the other parties to participate in open-source fully open firmware and UIs. This is good for the consumer.
The desktop mode is smooth and works great. You can easily switch back to Game Mode, which has another little issue. Games don’t run as well in desktop mode as the APU is underclocked here. The Deck is meant to fully run and be optimized in Game Mode only. You can’t access the Quick Menu settings for GPU control or FSR which is fine. When docked the Deck now lets you override the resolution to match your display. If you want to game with an external monitor this is when FSR will really come in handy, but I don’t see the appeal of this outside of lower-end less graphically demanding games. I use my dock for tinkering in Linux to add custom images to my Steam games, mod games, etc. I don’t think I’d game much on an external display. That’s what a desktop PC or laptop is for. For emulation, this might come in handy.
Another huge plus for the Steam Deck is that the open software means no waiting for firmware hacks or downgrades. You can just install emulators and go. There’s already a whole suite available called EmuDeck that installs the emulators of your choice and you just need to provide BIOS and ROMs. Many emulators are already configured for the Deck control and graphics wise. There’s even a specific Dolphin branch just for Metroid Prime Trilogy that allows for dual-analog control called Prime Hack. This is a whole new rabbit hole that I think more gamers will be willing to invest in over getting Steam games to work right. EmulationStation works great and so does Retroarch.
I have put hundreds of games on my SD card and thanks to EmuDeck everything mostly works out of the box including systems that couldn’t be emulated in handheld fashion before like the GameCube, Dreamcast, and PS2. The Deck is also capable of emulating PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and Switch games, but don’t get your hopes up. Even on PC the emulators are still maturing and don’t run well. Don’t expect the Deck to replace your Switch just yet. It can’t even run Breath of the Wild at a decent framerate, but the Yuzu emulator is still in its infancy. Same with RPCS3. These are also not as simple as dragging and dropping an ISO file into a folder. There are keys, encryption, emulated installation, patching, and a lot of work to get these newest systems up and running. For now, just enjoy the Wii and back.
The Steam Deck is a revolutionary device in more than just its graphical power. The openness of its software is what we need to break the shackles of locked-out proprietary video game console OS. Without needing to wait years for a hacked firmware, the Deck is ready to tinker with right out of the box. While emulators will never be officially supported, we can make anything run on here. It’s essentially a Linux or Windows computer. Yeah, I didn’t mention that yet. You can have a micro SD of Windows 11 on here to play Xbox Game Pass games or others that won’t run well on Linux. While this isn’t officially supported, Valve does provide drivers. This is crazy to think about in the current ecosystem of locked-out consoles.
This is a great system if you just want to play Steam games or just do emulation. Out of the box, the verified games work great and with 3,000 titles available already that’s usually more than a console’s entire life cycle. The Steam deck really teeters on the edge of a great casual gamer’s first PC and the more hardcore hacking/downgrading/emulation market. It serves both well, but each side needs to be patient and wait for better compatibility on the software side of everything from emulators to SteamOS. For such a vast and all-encompassing system that can do so much, it does it so well and so early on in its life. This could easily have been a huge disaster with constant crashes, overheating and melting units, and other issues, but clearly, Valve tested this thing like crazy.
My biggest complaint is the internal storage and that’s Valve’s fault. I mentioned at the beginning we have had 20 years of awful internal storage options from the iPod to the PS5. The base model at 64GB is unacceptable today. You can’t even fit a full install of most higher-end games like Call of Duty or Red Dead Redemption. Even the 256GB isn’t acceptable. The base model should have been 512GB with 1TB and 2TB options. $250 extra dollars for a 512GB NVMe SSD is crazy. This isn’t like the PS5 with brand new SSD tech. This is PC hardware that we can buy and install ourselves.
Thankfully you can and that’s another revolutionary thing Valve is doing which is the right to repair. iFixIt has all of the Steam Deck parts available for purchase to repair the system yourself. This includes being able to upgrade the SSD if needed, however, game load times are fine off of the SD card. I recommend a 1TB card or at least a 512GB to start. You can also use external drives, but then you’re tethered to another device. At least there are more options available, but internal storage is key. These devices are expensive and most people can’t upgrade their storage right away.
This is going to be a “normal” hardware review. I know people like tons of graphs, comparisons, and benchmarks, but I don’t have the extra PCs for this to be time-efficient, and other sites do this better. You will get here a “gamers” review based on the experience of using the card for two weeks.
Installing the GPU was as simple as it gets these days. This card only requires two 8-pin power connectors while some others require three. I did initially install this with a 750W PSU (Thermaltake Toughpower Gold RGB to be exact) and at first, it worked pretty okay for a few days. More on that later. It fits in a mid-size tower just fine. I put this inside of a Corsair 680X and it just barely cleared. There’s maybe 1 or 2mm between it and the front fans. My RTX 2080 was a bit smaller it seems, but this card is quite the beast. It takes up two rear slots (like most cards do these days) and has more Display Port connectors than HDMI which is needed for anything with a super high refresh rate and high resolution. I’m running two monitors. One 1080p 280Hz and one at 3440×1440 120Hz, however, to use G-Sync I have them both capped 3FPS lower than their max refresh rate. I didn’t have any issues upon boot. I did use DDU uninstaller on my 2080 driver and shut the PC down, and I disabled automatic Windows driver updates. So, upon boot, I installed a fresh 3080ti driver and I had zero issues.
This architecture, Ampere, is not very overclocking friendly. This particular third-party card comes overclocked from the factory (1710Mhz compared so stock 1665Mhz) so gains using MSI Afterburner’s OC Scanner yielded negligible results that would warrant more heat from the card. As it is, this GPU is power locked so you can’t increase it past 100% power so that leaves little room for anything else. With my 750W PSU, I was getting shutdowns in almost every game that pushed the card, so while it will use a bit more power than the stock card, my PSU didn’t like this. Even without overclocks, I was still getting shutdowns in certain games so I had to run out and get an 850W PSU. I have an Intel i7-8700 and 9 RGB fans plus a cooling pump, 3 M.2 drives, 2 2.5″ SSDs, and tons of USB devices (which are all RGB) so there’s quite a bit of extra draw outside of the CPU and GPU TDP combo. With a more powerful CPU that has 100+W of TPD, I doubt 750W would work even without lots of RGB, drives, and devices connected. I can’t test this thoroughly, but in my experience this just makes sense. The shutdowns stopped after the extra 100W was added.
Now there could be other reasons for this. The PSU could have been dying (it’s about 5 years old), there could have been some capacitors going out, and the PSU could have been designed to just not like sudden spikes so close to the wattage limit. I’m not sure, and I can’t test this out properly, but for anyone else having this issue or buying this card think about upgrading your PSU as well. Hardware-wise these were the only issues I had. Now for temps, I’m getting around 48c at idle and full blast gaming with ray-tracing on I never pass 65c. I also don’t have my fans at full blast either. The fans on the GPU seem to do a great job and it runs cooler than my RTX 2080 which would get into the low 70s, but it does have a higher idle temp. My ambient temperature is rather mild all year round maybe around 50F or 10C and during testing, I did have outside temp increases due to summer coming along to around 75F or 23C and it still ran in the mid-60s. This might change if temps get blisteringly hot.
As for gaming. Yeah, this is what the 2000 series should have been. The second-generation RT cores make a huge difference. The 2080 couldn’t do ray-tracing for squat outside of 1080p and even then it was iffy. The 3080ti can do 2K ray-tracing maxed out and get above 60FPS with no sweat. Contro, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Quake II RTX, Amid Evil, and a few others went close to 100FPS at 2K. Other games like Dying Light 2, Metro Exodus,Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, and Cyberpunk 2077 still dipped under 60 or stayed right at 60. Cyberpunk 2077 was probably the worst performing ray-tracing-wise. Non-ray-traced games fly on this thing and only Fallout 76 dipped below 60FPS, but that’s because it’s an unoptimized piece of crap so it doesn’t count (it’s still a fun game these days, but seriously screw the Gambryo AKA The Creation Engine engine to Hell and back). Games like Horizon: Zero Dawn Complete Edition, God of War, Far Cry 6, Days Gone, and Borderlands 3 all ran well above 60 shooting past 100 in some cases at 2K.
I can tell you that many of those games didn’t hit 60FPS maxed out in on the 2080 which is stupid. However, it now comes down to price. I paid below MSRP for my card. I waited until the supply came back up as I refuse to pay scalpers a dime. I got mine for $1,149. That’s the price of two next-gen consoles or a low-end gaming PC alone. These prices are insane, and I only paid them because I can afford to, but 5 years ago it never would have happened. There are many who are priced out of these better cards. Is it worth the difference from the 3080 or even the 3070? It depends on how you game. If ray-tracing is super important to you or gaming above 1080p then yes, this is what you should be getting. If you just have a 1080p monitor then smaller cards would be fine. If you want higher frames then this would be a great buy, but again I don’t have the fancy charts and graphs like other sites do. This is just one PC gamer’s opinion and experience compared to the previous generation. I think it’s worth the purchase, but that doesn’t mean I like the price by the way, but if you paid the $2,000+ for scalping prices shame on you and I don’t have one ounce of pity.
RGB-wise, the card is sad. It just has a small logo in the corner that lights up and can easily be blocked by power cables. Gigabyte has terrible software and hasn’t been updated or revamped in almost 10 years. Their software is basically a terrible clone of what MSI Afterburner can do. There’s a silent mode you can switch to, but I don’t see the point in this. You do need it to change the RGB colors of the card, and it just barely works. So shame on Gigabyte for never updating their terrible software.
The Sega Saturn has always been a system that felt like unobtanium to me. It’s expensive, fiddly, has a very obscure and small library, most of the good games are Japanese imports, there are very few accessories and they are big and expensive, and on top of all that, the games are insanely priced. Saturn games are some of the highest-priced games of any system. These days there are things like optical disc emulators, RAM cart hacks, and things like the Satiator that allow you to run games through the video CD port. A lot of people are defensive and go to bat for their favorite way to emulator games on native hardware. I get it. There is no correct way to do it with each having strengths and weaknesses. I went with the TerraOnion MODE due to its high build quality and support as well as its multiple storage options.
I will run through an install of TerraOnion MODE, but unlike most install videos or articles I want to talk about snags and problems I ran into that other people might discover. I want this to be a comprehensive resource for beginners to just buy a Saturn second-hand and know what to get and how to set things up correctly. I will also talk about proper video setup, and again like various disc emulators, there are numerous ways to get good quality video out of the Saturn.
“When you have Sega Saturn, nothing else matters”
Do I want a Japanese, European, or US console? For disc-based gaming, this matters as the Saturn is region locked. There are also Saturns with a power supply mounted to the lid (VA0 model) but are not that common. Most disc emulators work on any console since it unlocks the region locking, but thankfully most hacks for the Saturn have every version in mind. Usually, you can rest easy without seeking out a specific model, unlike the Dreamcast.
So, even if your Saturn doesn’t read discs this is a great option for you. There are also other mods like the ReSaturn that replace the power supply completely if yours is failing. It’s a good idea to open up your Saturn and check the capacitors on the PSU for leakage.
There are also new shell mods you can swap your guts into if your Saturn is in bad shape cosmetically. Overall, these are some mods to consider and systems to look out for when shopping for a Saturn.
It Needs to Look Good
The first thing you probably want to invest in after getting a Saturn system is the video output. There are two main things you need to consider. Good S-Video or Component cables and a good upscaler. I went with the Retrotink 2X Pro and HD Retrovision component cables. Yes, these are expensive but worth their weight in gold. I have never seen a retro console look so crisp and nice as this setup. While that’s the high-end of things there are also cheaper ways to hook up your Saturn and that also includes the TV you’re playing on.
Of course, this is mostly if you’re gaming on a newer HD TV. Buying cheap composite or S-video upscalers on eBay isn’t going to get you good results. Even plugging the console into the back of your TV would be better than those awful upscalers. However, there are cheaper routes and that might be to just buy a CRT TV. They are going up in price due to retro collectors, but you can get many locally for free. While the tube itself might be aged it’s the most authentic experience.
With that said, there are other upscalers that do a good job like an OSSC, but these can be a little much for just casual players who want a good picture. Cables are a huge thing as well. Don’t get cheap S-video cables off of eBay. Most S-video cables actually don’t have the Chroma/Luma in the actual S-video part and are empty. Most are fake that just feed in composite. If you have a Retrotink you can find fake cables by plugging into the S-video and it will be in black and white or won’t display correctly under the S-video input. A correctly wired cable won’t do this. There are some better-known brands out there like KMD. I own one for my N64 and it displays S-video correctly. If you can find them, proper S-video cables won’t have a yellow plug.
Optical Disc Emulators – Pros and Woes
These range from carts to full-on boards, and while there are plenty of good choices I’m going to cover the TerraOnion MODE. It’s a very well-made board with both positives and negatives to it, but overall I am very please with it. I’ve had it for two weeks now and figured out some kinks and bugs using various hardware and software that I thought people might run into. A lot of these issues I had to figure out myself as there just isn’t enough info out there.
Installing the MODE is pretty straightforward, but new casual users may be a bit scared to dive into this. If you already did some other mods listed before like the ReSaturn or checked the PSU for leaking caps then you clearly shouldn’t have an issue up until this point. The Saturn is a very single device in the end. Just a disc drive, motherboard, and power supply. Literally only three components in this thing. One thing I do recommend when installing the MODE is StoneAge Gamer’s 3D printed bracket mount. I personally also don’t see the need to use an actual hard drive in this thing and I will get to that later, but they also make an adapter to allow easy access to the drive.
The Optional Power Cable
Now one snag I ran into when installing was for the “optional” power cable. It’s needed for running mechanical drives as the Saturn doesn’t have enough juice to power them, but I recommend installing the cable regardless just to relieve strain off of it. The installation shows pushing the leads into the power supply clip but doesn’t explain how. I watched a few videos and no one has covered this. When you push the power supply down into the motherboard the pins will push a metal “pincher” to the left of the pins. If you press the PSU down slowly you will see this in action. The leads need to get “pinched” by this. I tried sticking them in while the PSU is installed and it just won’t work. You need to fully lift the front side of the PSU and stick the leads into the correct spots. Hold them firmly down and then press the PSU down onto the pins and the “pincher” will firmly hold those wires in place. The other alternative is to just solder the wires directly on the pincher area.
Firmware Updates and Freezing on Boot
Other than that snag the installation went smoothly and I had no issues. Now comes the majority of issues with the software. When I botted up the MODE there wasn’t any explanation on how it actually works. My Saturn booted straight into the CD player mode and I didn’t understand why. Without changing settings you need to put the lid on! I then got into the MODE and it froze up and wouldn’t do anything. After several reboots, the MODE would just read games and freeze. I then updated the firmware and this worked. Remember, the MODE will only auto-detect firmware on SD cards and USB drives. I couldn’t get into the menu to access the update on my 2.5″ laptop drive so that was a major issue. I don’t know what caused the freezing but this fixed it.
Action Replay Flash Carts Not Working
This was one of the biggest headaches I had. The Action Replay 4M carts you can get everywhere are supposed to work with the MODE, but mine didn’t. I didn’t have one with the physical switch, but the auto-switching one. When you plug one of these in their menu takes priority over an ODE because it’s technically just a disc. While this is fine and it works it’s irritating to have to quit the menu of the flash cart to get into the ODE menu. You have to erase the boot menu from the flash cart and make it a standard “dummy” cart. With MODE this is fine as there are manual save backups. You can now easily just fill up your save RAM and then back it all up on the MODE for more games. I will walk you through the process of making an Action Replay an annoying free dummy cart.
The first thing you need to do is download a boot loader called Pseudo Saturn Kai. This is a “game” you can put on an SD Card and launch from the main menu of the MODE. It’s important to download and install the tools cue/iso so you can actually erase the entire menu. This is found in the full version of the download. The lite version for “other” ODEs just erases the firmware, but still boots to PSK every time. We also don’t want to boot into another menu. Remember, you can always restore the flash cart back to the way it was through this utility as well. Just remember what firmware version your flash cart had.
Load up the utilities and go to the save manager and press the R button and go to erase boot menu. This will now turn your cart into a standard RAM cart. Mine works flawlessly for 1MB and 4MB games. I tested nearly every game that uses one and didn’t have any issues.
My Flash Cart Isn’t Being Recognized
This is common and it probably isn’t the cart itself. When you insert the cart to erase the menu you might notice that the detection of the cart in yellow text flashes or it seems the cart is wiggly. This is usually a dirty RAM slot or one that’s too loose or too tight. There are two screws in the RAM slot and you can try tightening it first to see if that works, but if not you need to loosen it. Sega didn’t solder the RAM slot to the board so 6 to 7 turns with a screwdriver on each screw should help until they’re really loose. Mine had this issue as I would load up games and it would only see the cart sometimes despite the cart working fine. Loosening the screws fixed this and I no longer had to set the cart in softly, head-on and not at an angle, or pull it out a couple of millimeters. It’s not the best fix, but it’s better than sticking paper between the cart and the slot.
I’m not the best at reviewing monitors, CPUs, GPUs, or anything that needs lots of graphs, comparisons, statistics, and whatnot. I can give you my honest opinion as someone who’s picky about their displays, however. I purchased a second monitor to go on top of my 34″ ultrawide as I was tired of games not being natively supported for 21:9 ratios. This way I could play games in ultrawide or 16:9 and it wouldn’t matter anymore. I also wanted something that had G-Sync and looked bright, crisp, and had great color.
First off, I have to say that the HDR400 is pretty useless right off the bat. Sadly, Windows 10 doesn’t have a feature for HDR400 (8-bit HDR) to auto-detect it when games are running. You either have to turn HDR on all the time or leave it off, and the pay-off for that inconvenience isn’t worth it. HDR is barely noticeable on this monitor, but I won’t knock it too hard for that as I didn’t get this monitor for HDR anyways.
The fact that this monitor is 280hz at 1080p is pretty amazing. While higher-end games won’t ever get that framerate, graphically simple games like CS: GO, Overwatch, Warcraft, and any game made before 2015 might run that high if you have a GPU capable of it. The monitor has Asus’ own anti-blur tech built-in, and unless your games are over 60FPS it won’t’ do you any good, but I honestly didn’t see a huge difference with it enabled. There are various other OSD settings like better dark levels which is a must. Dark areas resonate and pop more with this setting enabled. There are other various presets as well, but the Racing default out of the box was just fine. This is a well-calibrated monitor out of the box which is always nice. Once you get a calibrated profile off of tftcentral and calibrate it via the recommended settings the monitor seemed less bright and the colors looked really good.
Physically, the monitor is nothing special. The base has a weird red ring that I mistook for lighting up, but it does have a vertical arm that the monitor can slide up and down on. I personally mounted the monitor to my desk and the 100×100 VESA mount was just fine. The buttons are easy to get to, but the monitor has a long wake-up time and when I first plugged it in I thought my monitor was dead. My ultrawide wakes up instantly, but this one takes almost 10 seconds, at least on DisplayPort. I also liked the power brick that was supplied. It has a barrel plug and the brick is round and flat almost like a laptop brick and can be easily tucked away.
When playing games the monitor was bright and sharp and crisp. Even at the low 60FPS end things looked good, and at 280FPS things just fly and I didn’t notice any smearing or ghosting. G-Sync of course is the way to go for best responsiveness and removing all tearing. There are minor issues with IPS panels like edge bleeding and it’s not the brightest monitor, only 400 nits, but it looks fine in bright and dark rooms. Overall, this is a great monitor for the price range and I don’t have many complaints.
Well, I finally pulled the trigger and bought a system I thought there was no point to. I was on vacation in Oregon, the local Target finally had some in stock, and I said, “What the hell? It can’t be that bad” The box itself is more vertical and more compact than the original models which I found strange. Smarter packaging techniques I guess. Once I pulled the tablet itself out of the system it looked bigger, but I wasn’t sure. The bezels were nearly non-existent and the bottom and top edges were smooth and round. Overall, the tablet itself felt the same, maybe just a bit heavier.
The white Joycons were beautiful. A brand new color we haven’t seen yet and it makes the Switch look very smart and less like a child’s tablet. Those weren’t any different, but the straps looked different. They have the same white and black straps that the Skyward Sword Joycons had. I guess this is the new standard now. The dock was probably the biggest physical difference. While it’s white and looks beautiful and adds to the smart higher-end electronic look of the OLED the back was different. There’s a quarter circle cut out for cables and the back flap isn’t hinged. It just comes off which is kind of annoying. However, there’s no USB A port back there, but a LAN port now!
Other than these noticeable differences at first glance, the HDMI cable, charger, and grip are all the exact same.
When I first powered on the Switch the difference in screen quality was noticeable even with just the Nintendo logo flashing. The colors are brighter, sharper, more vibrant, and somehow the screen just has a smoother feeling to it. Almost like it has a higher refresh rate, but I know it doesn’t have one. It just felt that way. The usual setup process was the same as any Switch, but I did notice the internal memory has been doubled to 64GB which is great for anyone just starting out and doesn’t have a massive library. You won’t need an SD card for a while at least.
The OLED feels heavier in the hand and it is slightly bigger. The screen ate up the large LCD bezels of the original models and then expanded out about 0.1mm so the screen size expanded a whopping 0.8″ and it shows. The bezel-less design is so clean and sleek that I can’t go back to the original model or even to the Lite. Games look amazing in motion on this thing, and then there’s the controversy about the Vibrant mode exclusive to the OLED model. The Vibrant mode pushes the saturation a bit and doesn’t look good on some games, and you can really see it on the home screen, but it works well in games that are full of color or are very dark. Flashes of color pop in dark areas and it just looks so good. I didn’t realize the upgrade would be this noticeable, but it’s stark if you hold any other Switch model up in comparison. The colors, even on the Standard contrast mode, make the other models look dull and less colorful in comparison.
With a huge 7″ screen a sizeable upgrade is nothing to scoff at. The next best thing to hold up that giant screen and the heavier Switch is the kickstand. This is probably the second biggest change as the stand goes along the entire back of the Switch and is basically a metal plate that folds out almost flat. You get steeper and shallower tilting angles this way and it no longer basically stands straight up. This is great if your sitting higher or standing and can lay the Switch flatter. With the metal design it no longer constantly pops off and is leaning on one side of the Switch. The MicroSD slot is also just underneath here and is easy to access. This should have been on the original model, but we won’t go there.
The OLED’s 4310mAh battery is exactly the same as the older model, but it lasts a bit longer thanks to the OLED’s better power management, but it also depends on the game. Brighter and more colorful games will drain the battery faster than darker ones. Nintendo claims a wide range of 4 hours to 9 hours and 5.5 hours playing Breathe of the Wild. On average you will get around 5 hours of life for most 3D Switch games, and more with 2D games. One thing I see anyone failing to mention is the improved top buttons. The power button is now oval instead of round and less inlaid, and the volume rocker is thinner and sticks out a bit more. All these buttons have more of a subtle sharper click and aren’t as mushy a feeling. However, the game card door no longer has a notch for your finger and instead has a small gap for a fingernail and is harder to open. It’s also rectangular instead of a rounded door.
Lastly, I want to mention the speakers. They have improved quite a bit and are the third-best upgrade for the Switch and add another plus to edge towards a purchase. I didn’t know this going in, but the speakers are larger (or at least more exposed) and are located on the bottom of the system instead of the back. The speaker’s grilles are right where the kickstand opens and go right along to just under the screen. The sound is louder, clearer, and overall more of what I expect from the fantastic sound quality of Nintendo’s 3DS lineup. The 3DS has fantastic handheld speakers and has always been hard to beat. When it comes to your old Switch cases this will fit as it’s only 0.1mm longer than the standard Switch and it fit for me even in a tight case. I also want to mention that the white OLED just seems like an added bonus for the cost and it looks smarter and sleeker than the black model does. It’s not as eye-catching.
Overall, the Switch OLED is a phenomenal upgrade over the standard and can justify the extra $50 price increase. With almost a single inch larger screen, better and louder speakers, a bigger and better-designed kickstand, better top buttons, a LAN port in the dock, and seemingly better battery life thanks to the OLED screen’s better power management, there’s so much going on here that is hard to see on the surface. No, there are no upgrades under the hood, the overall design is the same, but the gorgeous display with the Vibrant setting (on some games) just makes this the best handheld screen on the market and surpasses the 2012 original Vita OLED screen which had the crown for the best handheld screen until now. If you can’t justify the extra cost for another Switch just know that of course, no single thing is worth the cost increase, but everything added together makes this an amazing package.
*Note* The OLED model DOES have 5GHz wifi. During testing, it wasn’t seeing any 5GHz connections for a few days, but it’s working now.
Everyone has probably owned or at least used an iPad at some point in their lives. Everyone now owns a smartphone, so where do e-readers come into the mix? Everyone has heard of a Kindle before at this point. Some might even remember the tablet or e-reader race of the late 2010s by Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Borders. In the end, Amazon won as they are the Apple to e-readers. But, what makes e-readers so much different than tablets? It’s the e-ink inside that makes them special. With this special display, it makes the readers only usable for a niche audience and totally limits the reader to just text and black and white images. This may sound like old and ancient technology, but when you’re dealing with novels you don’t need OLED or LCD displays as they just drain batteries.
I have pondered getting an e-reader for over a decade now. While the tech itself hasn’t changed too much over that time, the Kindle now has multiple models for various types of readers and budgets. Just a couple of weeks ago I was at the Amazon 4-Star store in our local Bellvue, WA mall with the family and I hadn’t seen a Kindle in person in about a decade. I picked up the Oasis and fell in love with it. While I’m a huge advocate for physical books and grew up getting lost in fantasy and sci-fi novels I just don’t have the room for any more novels. I already own several dozen and they take up a lot of space. I love the feeling of turning a physical page, the smell of a new book, going to Barnes & Noble and reading the backs and first few pages, and exploring for a new book. It’s an adventure that never gets old.
These days I love the compact idea of a kindle. A simple device that’s just for reading. No distractions are possible. I’ve tried reading books on iPads and Android tablets and it’s just not comfortable. They’re too big, too bright, and you can easily get distracted by other apps and notifications. Again, this may sound stupid to some, but the Kindles are just for reading and that’s it. I went straight for broke and picked up the 32GB Champagne Gold Oasis 3, the highest-end and top-end Kindle model you can get now. With ads supported it came out to $279. The ads part is in form of the splash screen which shows an ad for various Kindle things. Not too intrusive as you only see this screen for a few seconds a day and it saves you $20 if that matters to you. You can always turn off ad support in your Amazon account and pay the $20. This also unlocks book covers as splash screens instead which is much nicer.
I also picked up a nice leather hard flip case for the Kindle. These are expensive, mine was $50, but man are they nice! Super high-quality cases. The packaging is very minimal and only comes with a USB micro-B cable (yuck) instead of USB-C which is pretty dumb even for a 2019 device. The device itself is incredibly sleek, lightweight, and the physical buttons on the “bump” are what attracted me. I like anything physical on a device as long as it doesn’t gimp the design itself and these buttons are awesome. The touchscreen swiping works well enough, but you can change how the buttons turn pages by selecting which one goes forward or back. These feel perfect in the hand, especially for those like myself who have large hands. The 7″ display looks bright and crisp and anyone who has never used e-ink before will be surprised that the screen has to “refresh” in a weird way. The entire display flashes white and then fills in black in the areas it needs. When turning pages it won’t do a hard refresh and you can see a faint outline of everything that showed before it, but it’s not distracting. Hard refreshes are used when doing anything else on the screen including shopping on the Kindle Store.
The newer e-readers now have built-in wifi 2.4Ghz and can shop the Kindle Store which is really nice. Book downloads are usually in the kilobytes to a few megabytes at the most and take seconds to download. After you download what you need you can put the Kindle in airplane mode to disable the antennas to save lots of battery life. The Oasis does have the shortest life of the three current readers available, but this is mostly due to the added LEDs on the screen to light the display. The Oasis 3 has 25 LEDs and displays 16 levels of grayscale. This better lighting will use more battery life but it’s still nothing to scoff at. I bought this Kindle almost two weeks ago and I am still on the first charge I’ve already finished a novel and I am four chapters into a new one. The batter is sitting around 40% right now as I type this review. That’s fantastic! I would have had to have charged a regular tablet a dozen times over for the same period of time. I haven’t tested using Bluetooth for audio books, but you will obviously get a much lower battery life using these.
The Oasis 3 has some nice built-in software features for easier reading. You can adjust the font, font size, spacing, margins, and set the display to an automatic schedule to turn on the yellow lights for less eye strain. There’s also a dark mode so the screen is white text on black backgrounds which I much prefer. You can also highlight text, take notes, and look up words online, but these all drain the battery and I find unnecessary, to say the least. The warmth and brightness will mostly affect the battery if you turn everything else off, but the Oasis 3 also has a 300ppi display and that also drains more battery compared to other models. It looks incredibly sharp, just as sharp, or maybe sharper, than an actual novel.
Overall, after reading my first novel I have to say I keep my Kindle with me everywhere I go that I know I will have some downtime. I bring it to bed, the bathroom, to work, and anywhere that I might have to sit in the car for a long period of time. It’s so portable and compact that it fits in your pocket or a bag and you don’t need to bring a charger for it. You could easily bring it on a one or two-week trip and never charge it during that time. I read the thing for about 1-2 hours per day for the last two weeks and it was very enjoyable. While the refresh rate of e-ink displays is almost zero, navigating the Kindle Store isn’t that bad, and having a wishlist ready to go for books helps as well.
With this being the high-end model I can only recommend this to people who want physical buttons or a much sharper and brighter display as it’s well worth the extra price. You can even knock the price down to $250 by just getting the 8GB ad-supported model. I also recommend the excellent high-quality cases despite the high price point. This is for hardcore readers only as well. Don’t expect to read comics and graphic novels with this device. You’re just going to get straight-up text reading out of this, but remember the display is built for this by design and regular tablets are not. You can read this thing for hours on end and not get any eye strain. It’s a wonderful device for all ages and I can’t recommend it enough despite the price being too high for some. Think about this though. After about 20 novels purchases you’ve paid for the Kindle itself and saved that much room in your house.
The Game & Watch series is Nintendo’s first foray into video games and handhelds like the GameBoy Micro, and even the DS drew inspiration from it. It’s also not going to attract the attention of anyone under 25 who isn’t just curious or truly into retro gaming. The original Mario Bros. release was underwhelming as it didn’t have much value for your money. They could have easily added the entire NES Mario library at no extra cost but chose not to. It seems Nintendo listened this time as the entire Zelda NES library is included here in a nice package with extras.
The unboxing experience is quite nice here for such a small proprietary device. The handheld comes out in a display box (more on that later), some of the usual safety pamphlet stuff Nintendo does, and a code to redeem 300 platinum coins on Nintendo.com (which are used to redeem things that actually matter like physical items). The device itself is inside a foam sleeve and that’s your lot. The charger is hidden away inside a “compartment” of the display box and this is a tiny three-inch USB-C cable, but any cable will work. This one just so happens to be Nintendo branded so collectors might want to hold on to it and not lose it. When you power on the device you will be greeted with a splash screen of Link himself and plopped right into the “main” screen which is the clock. If you press the Pause/Set button you can enter the system’s settings that allow you to change the sound and brightness and turn off sleep mode (if plugged in).
Once you have your time set you can go into the game selection screen and can choose between the original Zelda, The Adventure of Link, and Link’s Awakening. You can also play the Game & Watch series Vermin which stars Link himself. You can then use the Timer app as well. So, these sound great on their own right? Well, this entire device is chock-full of Easter eggs and features that you will probably miss or never know about without playing around or reading about them. First, the Timer and Clock screens both have playable games built into them. The Clock features several screens and Link will take 12 hours to complete the “game” or you can control him yourself. There are hidden Easter eggs here such as fairies appearing when the clock says 2:22, and other things happening when all digits are the same number. The game’s lighting will affect the time of day as well which is really neat. There are also several language versions for each game and you can experience their regional differences. This is more of a historical curiosity thing for most, but it’s nice these were all included.
The Timer app has three backgrounds you can cycle through and a time attack mode. Every game has cheats built-in that will give you full hearts if you hold A for five seconds while starting a new game. The Clock screen can switch from the 8-bit ticking sound (which is really freaking annoying by the way) to the game’s music and sound effects. There is also an auto-save feature that resumes right where you left off. You can easily switch between all three games and never lose your spot. There’s also a manual-save mode by holding A+B+Select+Start. Vermin has an extra hard C mode if you press A for five seconds, and the Clock screen will also cycle through 11 different backgrounds before going into sleep mode.
If that isn’t enough to keep you busy for a while (seriously this would be a great stocking stuffer as it’s great value for your money) you get a nice little cardboard display that has a fold-out stand in the back which is made from the tray the device sits in. This isn’t going to hold up over time so I suggest you get a third-party stand or something that someone else made for the long-term. Collectors will probably not want to use this either. And, as a nice little bonus, the rear tri-force logo lights up when it’s on.
So, that’s your lot. Three fantastic and iconic Zelda titles and the Game & Watch title to tie it all in with fun interactive apps. The device itself is what you would expect from Nintendo. It’s lightweight but has sturdy plastic and the screen is gorgeous with sharp colors and a vivid picture. The speaker is great too and spits out 8-bit tunes clearly and doesn’t sound tinny or anything like that. While these games are emulated ROMs they don’t have any issues and work just fine. The D-pad feels amazing and while the two face buttons are a bit rubbery, they’re fine for this device. It just looks gorgeous and is a fantastic piece to display as well. Overall, this is how these need to be done in the future and is well worth the $50.
I have a fascination with arcade hardware, but it’s just too big and expensive to own a real one. While I have covered the Arcade 1Up Mortal Kombat cabinet, it just seems that you really need to put a personal touch on something and build it yourself, or heavily mod an already made one to make it feel proper. The Pimoroni Picade was the next best thing as I already had a Raspberry Pi 4 laying around from a Retropie project I tried and gave up on. This was a long journey of fiddling, learning, and searching for answers as the software side was way more complicated and troublesome than the hardware build. I’ll cover the hardware part in this review, but I have something coming up that will cover a full guide on settings up a Retropie for Dummies. Not just for the Picade, but in general as there isn’t one online that exists.
I have to say that the unboxing experience here was a real treat. The box itself looks nice and is in full-color print and has tons of information on it. This looks like something you would see on a store shelf. It has enough information on the outside and tells you quite a bit about what you’re going to get into. When you pull the lid off the documentation is all on top including an envelope bursting with dozens of stickers, an info sheet on Pico-8, and a redeemable code. This isn’t really my thing, but it’s a program that allows you to share and create 8-bit style games. You also get a full-size poster! The cabinet itself is sectioned into four boxes and well organized too. The instructions are actually online and are actually well done. I was worried as they were mostly just text with a few low-res photos and no video. A video does exist on YouTube, but there are no close-ups and it only gives you a rough idea of where things go. I honestly found the descriptions perfectly fine. They were very detailed and described mostly everything very well. I was a little confused at first with the bags of screws, but the instructions even tell you to grab “the big bag of screws” or “use the plastic screws and nuts” which really helped. Once you unpack each box and separate them you get an idea of what you have and it seems overwhelming at first. There are easily three dozen or more parts here. Once I got to building the cabinet I was able to learn the ins and outs of the cabinet and I felt if anything went wrong I knew all the shortcuts of how to get to each part the easiest.
You will need a Philips screwdriver, a power adapter for your Pi preferably the Canakit one (which I have), or an official Pi adapter. I also recommend a pair of needle-nose pliers and a flathead screwdriver (small one) as the crimps for the buttons can sometimes need adjusting.
Building the cabinet was actually quite fun and fairly straightforward. It took me around 2 hours to build the entire thing. I do personally recommend buying real Sanwa buttons as the ones that come with the Picade are garbage. After about an hour of using them, they start binding up badly and squeak. The joystick is perfectly fine and feels like a higher quality Sanwa clone, but these buttons are just unacceptable. Two buttons would stick and stay down after a couple of presses, so the playing games was pretty much a no-go until my Sanwa buttons came in. I spent that week messing with the Retropie software and tweaking. Standard 30mm Sanwa buttons fit right in perfectly with no issues and they feel a million times better. I decided to leave the standard side buttons since you don’t use them very often, but these also started binding up, sticking, and squeaking about two weeks in, so I will have to replace those as well. With the Picade already costing $250 and adding $40 for buttons that are really racking up the price point.
I also found that the standard artwork was fairly boring and will use the template to create my own. Despite those minor issues, the Plexi is sturdy and solid, and the wood panels are powder coated nicely and feel really solid. My only build quality issue is that the marquee is a little loose and could use some slightly smaller cutouts to hold the Plexi panels in place. The rubber feet hold up nicely and keep the Picade from sliding around, and I love that everything is easily accessible. You can access the buttons by taking off the two mounting screws for the control panel and the back is held on with a single tab and a rubber band. The screen OSD controls have their own cut-out and mount and the SD card is accessible via a slot at the bottom. This is not just sturdy and fun to build, but also easily serviceable for further customization without the need to dismantle the entire thing.
The Initial Play Test
First, I highly recommend using a wireless keyboard with the Picade as you don’t want wires hanging out. I’ve used this keyboard for over a year and it has a great layout, buttons, and the battery lasts forever. Rii Mini Wireless Keyboard
There really aren’t any instructions on how to use Retropie or customize it. There are some software steps you must take to get the screen and Pi Hat working for the control panel, but I ran into an issue right away. While the fix to get the HDMI settings to stick correctly worked, and setting up Wifi, the update for the Pi Hat didn’t work and I had to hunt down a fix for nearly an hour as without this the controls just won’t work. The link that you are given to put into the command line is correct, but the firmware for your Pi might be outdated. I had to do the following commands to get the link to register and work.
Then I typed in the instructions to install the Picade drivers and it worked. They should really add these instructions to the official documentation as some people may never figure this out and get incredibly frustrated.
I do want to mention that the LCD screen is gorgeous. It’s a true 4:3 aspect ratio with a 1024×768 resolution which is perfect for a Pi to render at. I didn’t really need to mess with the OSD settings as they seemed perfect out of the box. The giant 10″ display with the small bezel just looks so good and it runs at 60hz!
After this, there are instructions on how to get Retropie going by “burning” an image to your SD card. I highly recommend 64GB or higher. Once you pop in your SD card and start up Retropie… there are no further instructions. You just spent $250 and 2-3 hours of your time only to set up the controls and that’s it. There’s no guide on what to do after this and you must spend hours researching and fiddling and figuring out what to do. Arcade games are the main reason people will buy this and this has been one of the most complicated, delicate, and fiddly things I have ever done project-wise. I will post a full guide on setting up Retropie with pretty much every issue you could possibly run into and how to easily customize it without needing to Google every single thing like I had to do. It took me a total of three weeks to fully customize and set up my Picade the way I want.
Alienware isn’t really known for amazing gaming peripherals, in fact, due to their own ecosystem, some people put them dead last, but they aren’t low quality or anything. They are just aimed toward Alienware owners because their design and aesthetic matches the current generation of PCs and laptops that are out. This is only the second Alienware keyboard I’ve ever used as the last one was released almost a decade ago. I have to say, this keyboard definitely caters to this generation of computers, and especially my Area-51m R2 in white. I have the matching mouse and headset, so why not try the keyboard right?
Well, I’ve always been against using full-size keyboards with laptops so what’s the point? There’s a keyboard built into the thing! However, with the emergence in popularity with 60% mini keyboards, I decided to try this first at a lower cost, and while I don’t mind it, a full-size keyboard does not pair well with a laptop, especially with a chunky braided cable. Even wrapped up and held with a cable tie the thing was always in the way and the cable was so stiff I couldn’t really get it to sit where I wanted it constantly pushed the keyboard back and hit my mousepad and whatnot. While this isn’t an issue on a desktop I’m not going to knock points for this as it’s obviously a full-size keyboard meant for desktop PCs.
When it comes to looks Alienware nailed their current design blueprint. It matches my laptop perfectly and looks minimalistic. This isn’t a flashy keyboard with lots of macros and gimmicky spinning things and whoopdy-doo-dads. There’s a volume wheel and that’s pretty much it outside of standard FN media keys. The low profile is nice and thanks to this the keys are raised up away from the base plate. I did notice some deck flex in this thing, probably due to the low profile design, but it wasn’t noticeable while typing. The keys themselves are Cherry MX Reds so there is some clicky noise when typing. There are multiple RGB lighting zones, but for those who don’t want to install the Alienware Command Center for RGB control the keyboard has built-in lighting effects to cycle through which look nice. I didn’t have to install any drivers on my Area-51m R2 and Command Center just recognized it. There was no firmware update needed either.
Typing on the keyboard feels nice. The response of the Cherry Reds is great, but I did hear a little pinging when typing, but it was only with particularly hard presses. There is a USB 3.0 passthrough on the keyboard, but it requires a separate cable to be plugged in, so what’s the point of the passthrough then? I guess it could bring a USB slot closer to you as an advantage, but if you don’t need a USB slot closer to you right at your keyboard then don’t bother plugging it in. Overall, the keyboard is mostly recommended for current Alienware owners who want to keep their aesthetics matching, but for anyone else I wouldn’t really bother as there’s not too remarkable about this keyboard that the competition hasn’t already done or done better. But, if you want a minimalistic RGB keyboard with nothing fancy going on then this is a great choice as most gaming keyboards can be pretty gimmicky and flashy.