If you are planning to buy a TV box or gamepad to run RetroX this guide will give you the available choices. We included all the info that we recommend you to have at hand when purchasing a device, but you can also skip all the text and check our summary table at the end of this document.
There are two main architectures: Intel and ARM. Most devices are ARM based and they are supported by all emulators, on the other hand Intel devices are not so common and some emulators will not work on them. Currently Commodore Amiga and newer versions of MAME are not supported on Intel devices.
If you see the specs of the CPU in the device, there are two important values: The number for cores (dual, quad, octa) and the “speed” in Ghz.
- Cores: The emulators will use at most two cores, so having four or eight cores will not make a difference for emulation.
- Ghz: The speed (Ghz) will make a difference in what systems you will be able to emulate as follows:
- Less than 1.6Ghz: your device will struggle to run Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS, N64 and some MAME games. Modern MAME games will not be playable, It may run Playstation games but because that emulator is really well optimized. I won’t run Dreamcast and PSP games.
- 1.6Ghz and above: Your device will run most Commodore Amiga, MS-DOS and N64 games. It will run Playstation, but modern MAME games will not be playable. Most probably it won’t run Dreamcast and PSP games.
- 1.8Ghz and above: Your device will run most systems. Dreamcast and PSP games performance will depend on the chipset. See the table at the end of this document.
On the memory side, always prefer a machine with 2GB of RAM. RetroX will run fine in a machine with 1GB of RAM, but if you plan to use your device for other apps, opening too many applications will easily slow down your system.
RetroX is firmware agnostic, but probably you will use your box for other apps like Netflix and YouTube. You will find two kind of Android firmwares
- Android for mobiles: Most chinese generic boxes will use the same Android operating system that you find in tablets and phones. They will require a pointer and the apps will not be ready to run using only a remote or a game controller. Also these boxes can’t run Netflix in HD, only 480p. You will be able to install most apps because they are designed for mobile devices, but many will not use your TV screen appropriately, with small fonts or white – eye burner – screens.
- Android TV: This is a special Android version for TV devices, all the system can be used with a controller or simple TV remote. Netflix will run in HD in certified devices (Nvidia Shield TV, Amazon Fire, Xiaomi Mi Box 2016+). You will not be able to use all the apps, but only the apps that are designed for Android TV. Although you can sideload mobile apps, they will ruin the TV experience.
We have tested a lot of devices for RetroX and they can do a lot more than only emulation. Here are some special remarks on some of these devices.
NVIDIA Shield TV
If you can afford it, buy this one. This is the most powerful Android TV device that you will find, if the Shield can’t run something, no other device can.
Some notable features:
- Android TV operating system
- Support for Netflix HD
- Constantly updated
- Voice controlled
- Remote and Gamepad have a jack for phones
- Can be used as a Plex and NAS server to share files and media in your network
- There are many modern games that are designed to run in this device. The hardware is more powerful than the PS3 and Xbox 360 game consoles.
Raspberry Pi 3
You may be surpirsed to see this device in the list, but yes, we have created an Android TV + RetroX + FileX ready to use SD card image and called it Frambu.
This is a very popular device mostly used with Linux and RetroPie/EmulationStation on it. People that like to build their own stuff probably have that working for them, but we still wanted to let Raspberry Pi users try the automatic way of retrogaming with RetroX.
Now, as a device we must say that it’s very slow compared with most Android boxes, but you will be able to run most systems on it without issues.
As you may see in the comparison matrix, PSP is not working and Dreamcast has graphical glitches. PSP can be discarded because even faster devices can’t handle PSP well. On the other hand Dreamcast runs at full speed, only that it has graphical glitches.
We’ve been looking for more info about this glitches and found that there is a hardware limitation because the original Dreamcast had a 32 bit Z-Buffer, while the hardware on the RPi only has a 24 bit Z-Buffer. So Dreamcast will rown slow (software render) or with glitches (hardware render). As per Reicast issue tracker there is no indications that this will be fixed at some point.
Xiaomi Mi Box 2016+
If you can’t afford Shield TV or you are looking for an affordable second or third device, this is for you.
This device is in the range of powerful devices just below the Shield TV with a fraction of the price. It is Android TV based and has support for Netflix HD.
The downside is that they removed a lot of things that are normal in other devices to bring down the costs: There is only Bluetooth, WiFi and one USB port available. There is no SD card or Ethernet port, and the internal memory is only 8GB.
Amazon Fire TV
This is a great device if you are an Amazon customer. It has Netflix HD and it integrates very well with the Amazon services, but it lacks Google Services, so you don’t have access to Google Play, neither can use the Android TV YouTube client. It is powerful enough to run N64 games, but we haven’t tested it with Dreamcast or PSP games.
Amazon Fire TV Stick
This device is only 1.5Ghz but it does very well with the most optimized emulators. Many systems run fine, including the PlayStation emulator. Where this device struggles is in N64 emulation and above, where you will find frame skipping and sound shuttering. In any case, we may say that it is a good device for the price. Consider if you want a second or third device and you don’t want to spend much money.
It has Netflix HD like the regular Fire TV box, but it is just a stick that plugs into your TV, so forget about USB ports or SD card ports.
Minix NEO devices
We have tried the X5 and X7, which are based in the RK3066 and RK3188 chipsets (see more below). These are standard Android devices (not Android TV). They may have the stronger community support in these kind of devices, even the community have created firmware updates that were officially sponsored by Minix later.
These devices come in two forms, a “standard” one and a “mini” one. The mini has no bluetooth so you will need to use a wired controller, and the WiFi reception is not so good. Only if you plan tu use the device with ethernet and a wired controller, you can safely go with the “mini” version.
Xiaomi Mi Box Mini
This is a very small and cheap device. It will run fine most system but it doesn’t run Playstation well. Also you will need to hack on it unless you can read chinese. The device is ready to use with its own chinese store, and you will need to work your own way to load apps on it.
The physical design is fantastic, the remote is one of the best included remotes. A faster edition with an english interface would rock.
This device is based in the Amlogic S812 chipset which is powerful enough to run most systems. Out of the box the device lacks power and no emulator runs fine, which is not what we expected considering the powerful chipset. Finally we found that the CPU governor, which is what throttles the CPU speed to give more power or avoiding overheating, was using a setting not good for emulators. Changing the CPU governor to Interactive solved the issue, but if you leave in that mode, it will got a some heat with time. The device came rooted, so the CPU governor is easily modified with tools like No-frills CPU Control.
This device is based in the RK3368 chipset, which is powerful enough to run most systems supported by RetroX. There is no much to say about this device only that we didn’t like the included launcher. Everything else is fine.
You will find that most Android devices use the same chipsets, you will only find differences in the enclosing cases, the ports available and the firmware. To know how RetroX will run, we have been creating the following reference matrix as we make our testing.
This is what we used as a reference:
- Modern MAME: DoDonPachi
- PSX: Crash Bandicoot
- N64: Super Mario 64
- Dreamcast: Rayman 2
- PSP 3D: Out Run 2006 Coast to Coast
- PSP 2D: Ultimate Ghost and Goblins
(Note that N64, Dreamcast and PSP are not perfect emulator, some games have glitches in all devices).
This is how we describe the performance
- No: Not Playable
- Slow: Playable, but skip many frames
- Playable: Playable, skip some frames
- Almost: Playable at full rate most of the time
- Great: Works great
- Pending: Not tested yet
- Crashes: The emulator crashes
- Glitches: Works but with graphical / audio glitches
|Device||Modern MAME||PSX||N64||Dreamcast||PSP 3D||PSP 2D|
|Raspberry Pi 3||Great||Almost||Playable||Glitches||Crashes||Crashes|
|Xiaomi MiBox Mini||Pending||No||No||No||No||No|
|Xiaomi MiBox TV 2016+||Great||Great||Great||Great||Slow||Playable|
|Amazon Fire TV||Pending||Great||Great||Pending||Pending||Pending|
|Amazon Fire Stick||Pending||Great||Slow||Pending||Pending||Pending|