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Join us in this new series as we put into practise products from our store, knowledge from our how-to guides and the wider community and experience working with gaming setups, retro and modern, for many years. From the ground up we will be building a new games room in a spare bedroom, looking at how to get the most out of the available space and what gear we would recommend.
Part of the design brief I had in mind for the new room was to eliminate or at least minimise any kind of cable swapping and that includes power cables and plugs. With that in mind, we’re going to need a lot of power sockets. The four available power sockets in this room aren’t going to go very far in a setup like this, so it’s time to get some power strips. Ideally, four individual strips, but the possibility of needing to “daisy chain” some cannot be ruled out.
AC distribution, how much is too much?
While some folks may baulk at the prospect, chaining power strips together isn’t really dangerous. Dangerous situations occur when a single wall socket is overloaded, perhaps by running something like an electric heater, washing machine and CRT TV all from the same socket. Games consoles draw relatively little power, even high end gaming PCs with multiple graphics cards aren’t guzzling the kind of juice they once did. since we are only ever going to be using one or possibly two gaming machines at a time, there shouldn’t be any kind of electrical overload safety risk.
While that may soothe any fears about electrical safety, there are still pitfalls. The previous setup we built in the UK had daisy chained power strips and suffered from significant amounts of noise from the mains. I was able to eliminate much of this using better quality power strips but as we are building this setup from the ground up, I decided to take some extra steps this time to avoid any major problems going forward.
At the Wall
2 x Tacima 6 Way Mains Conditioner and Radio Frequency Interference Filter. Available at Amazon and various retailers.
I have tried several ways of cutting down on noise from the mains and these Tacima mains conditioners were by far the most effective. I tried a few of their other products, including their plug in mains conditioner, but I couldn’t tell any difference whatsoever with those.
Running a UPS is a good idea to protect your consoles against bricking if there’s a sudden power failure during a firmware update or similar operation. What’s more, if you choose a UPS with a pure sine wave generator, you can ensure you get good clean power with minimal interference. This is the kind of thing those more expensive audiophile power conditioners do, but usually a UPS like this will do it at a fraction of the price.
A UPS like this should have plenty of juice for running games consoles, only something like a monster gaming PC could possibly tax it. If you want to run your monitor off of the UPS however, be sure to take that into account too. CRTs are the most power hungry, so you probably want to avoid connecting them to your UPS if possible.
We initially started out with two of these units, but decided to add a third when we became short of sockets.
Turn one socket into 12 with this power strip that’s designed for use in rack mount cabinets but is perfectly happy sat on the floor or mounted on a wall too.
You can get these 12 way power distribution units with and without surge protection. Behind the UPS, surge protection should be unnecessary.
Two of the UPS units have 12 way power distribution units connected to them, giving us 24 UPS backed up power sockets for all the consoles, switches, monitors etc. To connect these, we used a simple C14 to UK/ROI mains adapter.
Non critical and more power hungry devices like a CRT monitor can connect direct to the Tacima’s. The final UPS in the setup provided power to a monitor and 10 further devices using another of these C14 to UK/ROI mains adapters.
One common and often overlooked aspect in a setup like this is DC power distribution. Consoles like your NES and SNES need DC power, usually you get this by using an AC to DC power supply, often referred to as a “wall wart”.
You might reasonably think that, to get the cleanest, noise free power to your retro consoles that you should bin all your old power adapters and replace them with nice, modern alternatives. Unfortunately that is not always the case. More modern AC/DC power supply units are far more efficient than the older units that came with electronics in the 80s and 90s, but are actually somewhat noisier than these older units. This is because almost all modern power supplies are switching or switch mode power supplies. If you’re interested, you can read up on the differences between the two types here.
Of course, failing capacitors in older PSUs, or just general poor build quality can make them perform badly too, so don’t think that going for original PSU units is any guarantee of quality either.
Were you an Amiga user back in the 80s and 90s? If so, great choice of computer! Remember how you used to warm your feet on that old Amiga power supply? That waste heat is because it was an old linear type design. Of course, Commodore being Commodore, their power supplies were linear and not actually all that noise free either.
By now you have probably come to the conclusion that the best solution would be a modern, linear mode power supply for your retro consoles. One that was as efficient as possible for a linear design, without injecting the kind of noise that switching power supplies often do. Such things do exist, but they aren’t terribly common. Modern electrical devices are designed for switched mode PSUs and will run perfectly well with them. As we are all trying to save energy, it makes sense to phase out the less efficient linear adapters. There are more environmentally friendly ways to warm your feet, after all.
For a retro gaming setup though, linear is perhaps justifiable given the nature of these older electronic devices and how prone vintage electronics and analogue RGB is to noise. In this setup I opted to use two of these 25W High-end 2 Way Linear Power Supplies, available from eBay. Each PSU has two outputs, one at 9 volts and one at 12 volts (the seller will configure them to output whatever voltages you want, but those are the most common for retro gamers).
A word of warning, make sure to pick up the 25 watt model if you want to run your Dreamcast (with a PicoPSU). The 25 watt model was enough to power my Dreamcast with a USB-GDROM, but the 15 watt model could only manage to to this for a few moments before shutting down.
These PSUs cost around 85 euros each. If you are thinking that 85 euro is a little bit too much to spend on a PSU for each of your consoles, even in a high end setup, then I would totally agree with you. Luckily, a solution is available in the form of DC barrel jack splitters and converters that are readily available and often sold in the CCTV market. By using adapters and splitters like this, you can connect the PSU to multiple consoles in your setup.
If you need to reverse polarity (a lot of older consoles need negative tip PSUs, be especially careful with the Atari Jaguar which basically self destructs if you connect a positive tip PSU to it) you can use a polarity changing cable like this.
Finding a DC cable to suit the PC Engine Supergrafx and the US SNES was the most difficult part. In the end, I took an adapter from a PSU I’d ordered some time ago from Retro Game Supply. I’ve found their PSUs to vary in quality quite a bit, but they aren’t expensive and picking one up means you have a spare for emergencies or for when you visit a friend.
Running in this configuration also has the advantage that you can turn the power supply off at the front with a simple flick of a switch. Leaving wall-wart power supplies plugged in and turned on actually consumes electricity even when the devices they are powering aren’t turned on. While you may be guzzling more electricity due to running a linear power supply, you don’t need to worry about fumbling at the back of your setup to turn off lots of different PSUs.
If you go down this DC distribution route, remember you can only power one console at a time from each output on the linear PSU. If you try two or more, you will very likely get some nasty picture noise, plus I really have no idea if it is even safe to do this in this configuration. This one system at a time rule does include those peculiar machines that require two or more power bricks, like the notorious Megadrive, 32x and Sega CD trio. In this instance I would power the Megadrive from the eBay PSU, the 32x from the second eBay PSU and use an original Sega wall-wart for the Sega CD.
Some consoles, like Dreamcast, Saturn and PS1, will require modifications before they can run from a DC power supply like this. There are likely to be few systems you simply can’t find adapters for too, but they can be run from either their original PSUs or a high quality replacement. Test any replacement carefully, you shouldn’t assume that a high quality switched PSU won’t do the job, or that a tired old linear model will work perfectly either.
As an alternative to these expensive linear PSUs, our good friend and creator of the M1 Mini Mega and SSDS3 bypass amp FirebrandX recommends the Triad series of switched mode PSUs. More details on them can be found here.
With that all sorted out, there are two more items of note that ended up in our system.
Sabrent 60 Watt (12 Amp) 10-Port Family-Sized Desktop USB Rapid Charger. Available at Amazon and various retailers.
Chances are you will have a bunch of sundry items in your setup, such as controller chargers and connectivity helpers (like the Dr HDMI that we will be looking at later). Powering each of these from its own AC/DC adapter would be wasteful, both in terms of using up valuable sockets and wasting power on multiple AC/DC conversions.
Instead, why not buy one of these power hubs? You get 10 USB power sockets from one plug, letting you charge all manner of controllers and gizmos. We have no idea if the power you get from this device is particularly clean, but since an Xbox or PlayStation controller doesn’t care about that, neither should you.
Mercury Remote Control Mains Socket Adaptors – Set of 5. Available from Amazon and various retailers.
As our power sockets are going to be hidden away behind furniture, these remote control sockets will allow us to turn on and off the various power strips without needing physical access to them. Not only can that save the planet and your electricity bill, but, if you have equipment in your setup that’s noisy and only needed occasionally, you can isolate it behind one of these and turn it on only when needed.
The remote for these handy sockets is radio frequency so line of sight is not required. The battery lasts for years (this particular set has been in use for the better part of a decade without going flat). Our only criticism is that five sockets is a little limited, we could have easily made use of six or more.
With power all figured out, we will take a quick look at lighting and networking in our next article.