Retro Emulation: Adafruit’s PiGRRL kit

My first experience with any kind of hardware hacking or making was in the brief era where handheld emulators were all the rage. This was a few years before emulation was easy and free to put on Android. I spent my summer lawn mowing money on the $100 Dingoo Digital A-320. The stock operating system was hackable to allow different themes which was cool for awhile, but the real fun began when a special distro of Linux dubbed Dingux was released.

With Dingux I had my first introduction to flashing hardware and writing some very simple C programs. The real fun was getting the Homebrew games and ports like doom to run; there are often a lot more steps in getting experimental software to run. The community for the Dingoo faded gradually as Android emulators became easy to come by (Although there are still active Dingux developers doing there thing). It wasn’t until I came across the Adafruit kit that would see another handheld emulator. I was excited to get my hands dirty with some hardware even if it ended up being mostly a soldering project.

The Adafruit kit is based off of the Raspberry Pi A+, where previous versions were based on the larger B+. The screen is a 2.4″ version of the popular PiTFT screen from adafruit. The case is actually smaller than the Gameboy Color and actually doesn’t come in the kit, the expectation is that you will have some way to print it with a 3D printer.

During the build, the biggest trouble I had was fitting parts into the 3D printed case, I used a Lulzbot Mini with HIPS plastic. I have found that the dimensions of objects printed in HIPS  vary greatly from the file’s dimensions. I had to do a lot of filing. Another big problem that I found was fitting the battery in, I believe this was due to the gauge of wire that I used for connecting the controller buttons. ultimately the wires sticking out added enough thickness that I couldn’t fit the battery in and decided to just power it with micro USB.  Suprisingly, once I had everything soldered together, the whole thing booted up without a problem, I had expected to have to do at least a little troubleshooting but everything went well.

To anyone doing this build, I would suggest double checking the included parts against what is need for the final build. I had to source my own USB Wifi adaptor, which is key in getting new roms and emulator software.

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