Retro Gaming Face-Off: Raspberry Pi vs PC vs Retro Minis

Whether you have fond memories of playing Banjo-Kazooie on the Nintendo 64 as a kid or are just curious about what it was like to use dusty, old 8-bit consoles from before you were born, there are many reasons to play games from retro consoles. And because of the exploding popularity of retro gaming, there are now four main ways to play. You can use emulation software that runs on a modern PC, use a different set of emulators on a Raspberry Pi, get your hands on a retro console mini like the NES Classic Edition or, if you can find one in good condition, buy an original console and cartridges / discs.

But just what is the best option for playing retro games? To find out, we compared these retro gaming platforms based on five key criteria: cost, game selection, controls, performance and accuracy, and overall play experience. Let’s see how well they stack up against each other. 

Testing

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Retro Gaming Face-Off

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)
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Retro Gaming Face-Off

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

For this face-off, I set up and gamed on the following devices:  

  • Raspberry Pi 4B with 4GB of RAM, running the popular RetroPie emulation platform (see how to set up RetroPie), which includes a UI and more than a dozen preloaded emulators for individual consoles. I installed RetroPie and configured its settings menu to display the frame and temp where possible (Note, this method does not work well for N64, Dreamcast or PS1, so I was unable to test the framerate for those). This test was mainly about eyeballing different games based on choppiness and frame rate latency. Also, I noticed the Pi would often run warm when running demanding games such as Super Mario 64, Doom 64, and specific fighting games. We’ll touch more on this topic later.
  • PC Emulators: Currently, I have a PC specced out with an AMD Ryzen 5 3600 CPU, AMD Radeon RX 5500 graphics, and 2x 8GB DDR4 Ballistix 3600 MHz. PC emulators provide one of the quintessential ways to play retro games, because of their ease of use, normally solid performance and tons of online support and information. You’ll easily be able to find, download, and play within a matter of seconds.

    For this category, I used 3 different PC emulators: ePXe for the PS1, Project 64 for the Nintendo 64 and Snes9X for the Super Nintendo. I tested the framerate using a frame rate and CPU counter tied to my motherboard’s BIOS.

  • Retro minis: There’s also official retro mini-consoles released by companies like Sega and Nintendo with collections of old games running on proprietary emulators. I tested this trend with the Super Nintendo Mini, Sega Genesis Mini and PlayStation Mini, three. For a preview: I used a standard flat screen monitor to compare the Super Nintendo Mini with the original SNES and found that the visual experience was very accurate and mirrored the original well. Button input was not an issue either, with each press being registered in a timely manner. The Sega Genesis Mini and PlayStation Mini had remarkably similar results.
  • Original consoles: I tested the Super Nintendo, Playstation 1, and Sega Genesis using a Panasonic CRT TV with AV out and a flat-screen Acer Predator monitor with an AVI to HDMI converter. I noticed that these consoles run better on an old school CRTV, due to the analog being a direct signal, as opposed to converting to a digital signal. I’ll cover this more in the performance section.
Video Game Platform Video Game
PlayStation 1 Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage
  Twisted Metal
  Tekken 2
Super NES Super Mario World
  Donkey Kong Country
  Killer Instinct
Sega Genesis Sonic The Hedgehog 3
  Street Fighter II Champion Edition
  Toejam and Earl

Cost


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I'm a true gamer. I'm not a pro gamer but ill never stop playing games. My choice of console is PlayStation, but each to their own. I unfortunately do not get as much time as i would like to still play games, but when i do, i love it!

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