In the past few months, I’ve been thinking about setting up a place in my home where I could play video games from my youth. Having no time and money to invest in buying old consoles, emulation came as the best solution for me. Great emulators exist for the systems I mostly care about: NES, GameBoy, SNES, Sega Genesis and Nintendo 64. I wanted the whole installation process to be as painless as possible, I wanted good emulation performance, and most of all, I wanted the system to be very easy to use. As a bonus came portability, and I’ll talk about it in a few lines.
RetroPie and Lakka: emulation kings
While searching for an emulation Linux distribution, I found RetroPie, a nice Raspbian-based distro built to turn your RaspberryPi into a retro gaming emulation machine. I already own several RaspberryPi, and didn’t feel to invest in yet another one. Then I thought: “Do I want to dedicate one of my computers to this task?”. The answer was “no”. There came Lakka, a distribution that promises to turn almost any computer into an old school gaming machine. Nice! More than that: you don’t have to install it. You can leave it on a USB flash drive, and carry it with your controllers to play wherever you go. That’s even better!
A USB thumb drive and controllers is all you’ll need
One of my goals in all this was to invest as little as possible. So no new box of any kind as any computer already in the house will do, and no new expensive hardware like external hard drives. One thing though, my old USB controllers had only the four basic buttons, no start or select buttons, and their d-pads were really not the best. After reading people’s comments on Reddit and Amazon, I decided to go with two refurbished Logitech Gamepad F310 that arrived with minor scratches, but I really don’t care at all as they work like new. I was told and also read that these two other models will do a fantastic job (and in fact, Lakka supports a very long list of controllers natively):
Next, you’ll need a USB flash drive on which to copy an image of Lakka. Almost any USB drive will do the trick, at least for older console emulators like NES and SNES. But if you’re looking for maximum performance while going with portable option like I did, a USB 3.0 drive, optimized for random 4KB read/write will give you the best results. Here’s an excellent choice based on several online benchmarks: the Kingston HyperX Savage 64GB.
Now you’ll need to copy an image of Lakka to the USB flash drive. Simply visit Lakka’s website and follow their easy instructions.
Copy Lakka on the USB thumb drive
For this job, whether you are on Windows, Linux or MacOS, I truly recommend using Etcher. This visual tool is the easiest to use, and you don’t even have to install it. Two easy steps and it copies any system image on a USB thumb drive or SD card.
Copy your roms
Your newly created Lakka system is ready, but it’s missing ROMs. I’ll suppose you already have some, and whether they are legal or not is none of my business. Connect the USB drive to the computer where your ROMs reside. You’ll see two partitions on the drive. The first one holds the operating system. The second is much more Lakka related, and has a “roms” folder at its root. Just copy all your ROM files in there, organized or not. Follow Lakka’s documentation to make the system scan for new ROMs. Lakka will automatically show gaming console menus for the ROMs it finds, hence, no need to install any emulator, they are already good to go!
Boot from the USB thumb drive and start playing
Take your Lakka thumb drive and connect it to the computer you want to play on. Boot the computer, and access its boot menu or BIOS/UEFI by pressing the F2 or del key when a message on the screen says to do so. If you can’t find how to do it, you’ll most likely find the answer with simple googling. From your computer’s boot menu, find and select your USB thumb drive and boot from it. When Lakka’s screen appears, decide whether you simply want to launch Lakka (portable mode) or install it on the computer. Connect your gaming controllers, if not done already. Then a confirmation message will appear at the bottom of the screen with your controller’s model name in it.
There you go! If you have any question at this point, I suggest you read Lakka’s documentation but everything should run pretty smoothly.