This article is part of the Old Games On New TVs series.
MiSTer is an FPGA-based open source platform that emulates classic consoles, arcade games, and computers. Each core aims to fully map and replicate the original hardware so even work-in-progress releases tend to have near-perfect compatibility. There's also built-in stuff like cheats, scan lines, LCD effects, and custom Game Boy palettes.
In recent months the project has gained momentum with new cores popping up at a steady clip:
In the Works - PlayStation 1, CPS1 (Street Fighter 2, Final Fight, Strider, etc.), Jaguar, Double Dragon
Popular - SNES, Genesis, Game Boy/GBC, Master System, NES, TurboGrafx 16, Game Gear, Amiga, many early arcade machines, and lots more
What if MAME was hardware-based with a broader scope? What if the Super NT/Mega SG required a bit more tinkering but had the potential to emulate nearly everything up to the Saturn and N64? What if my clunky rhetorical questions painted a decent enough picture of the MiSTer for you to let this paragraph slide?
It's not only a great platform for playing a shitload of your ROMs on a single authentic-feeling device with no perceptible input delay, but a genuine ongoing effort to preserve the inner workings of classic hardware.
I've had my MiSTer for a few months now and can't imagine playing the supported systems any other way. Once you load a core it feels exactly like using the original system. It's not just the fact that the input lag associated with emulation is gone. It's the entire presentation, from original bios screens to the timing and sound and save systems. Everything behaves exactly the way you remember.
This tiny device tucked under my tv perfectly recreates every Neo Geo, SNES, GBA, Sega CD, Genesis, and Game Boy game I have ever cared about. And just about every week I find out that there's a new supported system or arcade game.
If you have any interest in getting a MiSTer for yourself, the rest of this article contains everything I learned while putting mine together.
Purchase the board, a Terasic DE10-Nano for around $110-140. Slap on any addons you want (more on those below). Format the included SD card and cram it full of cores, ROMs, and the latest system files. Hook it up to your display along with a keyboard and controller. Plug it in and after a few seconds you'll see a menu like this:
Hit F12 on the keyboard to bring up the Menu core's settings. Here's where you'll define and remap your controller. Be sure to assign a button or combination of buttons to the OSD menu. Now you no longer need a keyboard.
Save your settings. Launch a core, open the OSD to tinker with its settings and define the button mapping, pick your game, and play.
SDRAM - Most cores require an SDRAM module. 128MB is the biggest you can get, and that's what I recommend. Settling for 64MB means missing out on some Neo Geo titles, and dropping to 32MB means not having access to chunks of the GBA library. Besides, with more cores for more demanding systems on the way you'll want all the memory you can have.
USB - The DE10-Nano's mini-USB port won't quite get the job done. You're going to need an otg USB hub for your keyboard/controller/Bluetooth dongle. I got this $7 hub which works perfectly and can be tucked under the MiSTer. There are also addon USB boards/connectors available from the above sellers.
Cooling - At the very least you'll want a 22mm x 22mm heatsink for the FPGA chip. I'd recommend this PCB Fan Plate + Heatsink combo for $15. If you need an IO board, it should also come with a heatsink + fan.
IO Board - Are you one of those PVM/KVM weirdos with a tv stand that has slowly turned into a drawn bow? I fear and envy you. The IO board has all the analog outputs you're looking for.
FAQ & Tips
How do I get rid of the static background?
Hit F1 to cycle through different backgrounds. If you want to make a custom background, just name it menu.png or menu.jpg and place it in your SD card's root then cycle to it.
Where can I get more filter options?
Grab the latest filter pack release. Put the Gamma and Filters folders in your SD card's root. Once you're inside a core, pull up the OSD and go to the second page. Under HDMI Scaler change the setting from "Filter - Internal" to "Filter - Custom". Now you can choose and apply a filter from the menu option below.
Which controller should I use?
If you want something with analog sticks and a second pair of triggers the 8Bitdo SN30/SF30 Pro line seems popular. I like the Retrobit Saturn pad for most cores. Nintendo games feel wrong with those buttons, though, so for them I use an SNES Classic controller plugged into an 8Bitdo GBros Adapter. Of course, there are MiSTer addons that let you plug in all sorts of classic controllers.
Something Awful is in the process of changing hands to a new owner. In the meantime we're pausing all updates and halting production on our propaganda comic partnership with Northrop Grumman.
Dear god this was an embarrassment to not only this site, but to all mankind
Yes, there are finally enough games for a new round of One Sentence Reviews
Play your entire PS1 library from a single SD card. But not your Brady Strategy Guides.
The cutting edge of video game articles.
Classic consoles connected to current (s)creens.