Atari 2600 RetroPie Gaming Console Project Build

Last Updated February 25, 2021 by . First Published in 2018.

Converting an old, non-functioning Atari 2600 to a RetroPie Gaming Console using a Raspberry Pi micro controller and some nifty electronics.

Atari 2600 RetroPie Gaming Console Project Build

During a clear-out of a neighbors garage several years ago, we came across some interesting retro gaming equipment. While he was totally unimpressed with the computers, I was really excited about the find. However, that excitement was premature. Upon closer inspection, the consoles we found have been exposed to the elements for a good few years and were in a bad state. Water damage, spiders, insects and other forms of life had made their way into them. They were in a bad way.

With an optimistic head, I decided to open up the case and see what was inside, and more importantly its condition.

What I found was disappointing, but not unexpected. The insides were pretty much trashed by the elements. Metal contacts corroded through, physical switches rusted solid, capacitors burst. Not good. Rather disappointed, I put the pieces back together, into a new box and up in the attic where they lay for several years.

Recently, while clearing out my own attic, I found these again and thought to myself "Wouldn't it make a great Raspberry Pi project!". And here we are.

This is my RetroPie Gaming Console build log using a Raspberry Pi.

I will be using a Raspberry Pi 3 with a PowerBlock power swich as well as a few other bits and bobs I have lying around.

The plan is to mount the Raspberry Pi inside the Atari 2600, replace the switches and link the power and reset switches on the case to the PowerBlock. I'll run extenders from the Pi to the rear of the case for Power and HDMI and two USB extenders to the front for the controllers to plug into. I plan on using my old USB SNES controllers for this.

I will be using RetroPie to run the emulation.

I have removed all the insides from the Atari 2600 and given the case a really good clean and refurbished the wood effect panel. I was surprised at how well the plastics came out with a little soap and elbow grease.

Having removed the insides and cleaned up the interior, I set about installing the various cables that the Pi needs, as well as extension leads for power, USB and HDMI. I cut out some old plastic to make a new back panel which I glued to the inside of the case and this allows the USB cables to be monted in the position of the old controller ports. I cut a new hole for the HDMI port to sit. I also cut a hole on the uderside where the chanel select switch used to be. This will allow me to plug in a USB flash drive for updates.

I was able to clean up and restore a couple of the switches and have hooked up the original power and reset switches to be power and reset for the PowerBlock.

After the trial fitting I realised I needed to re-adjust the position slightly and I used another HDMI extension cable to get from the new port on the back to the Raspberry Pi. Once all the components were in it was just a case of putting the pieces back together. As a final finishing touch I glued an old cartridge into the old cartridge slot.

Installing RetroPie

RetroPie installs like most other Raspberry Pi firmwares, you can find some instructions on the link below.

Once it has been installed, you can power up the Raspberry Pi and EmulationStation will load prompting you to configure controllers. Follow the onscreen instructions to configure your gamepads and controllers.

The next step is to install some ROMS. There are various ways of transferring ROMS to the RetroPie Gaming Console, however the quickest and easiest method I found was via a USB thumb drive.

Format the drive to FAT32 or exFAT and create a folder called retropie. Plug it into the RetroPie system and wait for the activity light to stop flashing, then remove the drive and plug it back into a computer or laptop. RetroPie has created all the folders it needs within the retropie folder. Simply copy your ROMS into the appropriate /retropie/roms/{emulator} folder. Unplug the USB drive, plug it back into the RetroPie gaming console and wait for the activity light to stop flashing. RetroPie has now copied all the new ROMS onto the internal storage and all that is needed to do now is to refresh the ROM list and start playing. You can refresh the ROMs list in EmulationStation by pressing F4, or press Start on your controller > Quit > Restart EmulationStation.


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