Saturday, April 22, 2017

Project: Preview | MAKERbuino Console

Today I've got a very exciting review of a product that just successfully finished funding: the MAKERbuino DIY game console by Albert Gajšak out of Croatia. Many thanks to him for obliging a review and for all his hard work. You can find more about him and the console on Kickstarter and their website, where you can also preorder a MAKERbuino of your own:

Stick around and I'll fill you in on this terrific piece of tech.


Review - The MAKERbuino Console

What is MAKERbuino? In short, it's a game console for Makers who are tired of prebuilt games consoles and want the experience and joy of building, programming, and playing their very own video games. That they've created themselves.

The kit I recieved included both a preassembled and DIY version of the MAKERbuino. And boy does the console look sharp. And there's so much to do with it. It actually took a bit longer to review this console than I had expected because I wanted to make sure I covered every aspect of the device.

My package included:

-1x Preassembled MAKERbuino

-1x DIY MAKERbuino Kit

-1x Preloaded MicroSD card

It all fits inside a quite small package. Even though it's larger than its spiritual cousin, the Gamebuino, the MAKERbuino still leaves a pretty small footprint.

The Hardware:

The MAKERbuino is, first and foremost, a DIY console. Yes, you can buy a preassembled unit, but that takes half the fun out of it! There's something thrilling about putting together something like this- especially if you've never gotten the chance to solder before. Speaking of which, this DIY kit does require tools. However, if you happened to leave your soldering iron in your other suit, you can always buy the bundle from the MAKERbuino store which includes the necessary tools.

MAKERbuino is based of the Arduino development platform, a robust, popular, and open-source microcontroller system. Arduino allows you to write, compile, and run your own programs through their IDE. Written in C++, it's easy for you to pick up and start writing programs right away!


There are a lot of different parts to this console, which may seem a little daunting at first. But the website offers clear, easy-to-understand assembly instructions.

Here's a list of all the hardware included in the DIY kit:

  • MAKERbuino PCB
  • laser CNC cut acrylic casing (has three pieces)  
  • ATmega328P-PU microcontroller
  • 28 pin IC socket (for the ATmega328)  
  • Nokia 5110 graphic LCD breakout board
  • Li-Po charger board with micro USB port (TP4056 charging circuit)
  • Li-Po battery, 3.7V, 600mAh with male JST connector
  • female JST battery connector  
  • 128MB SD card preloaded with games (for storing, loading and streaming files and programs)  
  • SD socket
  • 16Mhz crystal
  • 3.3v voltage regulator (MCP1702-3302E)
  • 4 pin angle anti-reverse pin header (for i2c ports) x2
  • 3.5mm headphone socket
  • 2N2222A NPN transistor
  • 100uF capacitor x3
  • 100nf capacitor x2
  • 22pf capacitor x2
  • 100Ω resistor
  • 10kΩ resistor x24.7kΩ resistor x2
  • 2kΩ resistor
  • 1kΩ trim-potentiometer x2
  • 1N4148 diode 
  • big clicky pushbutton with corresponding button cap x7
  • mini slide toggle switch x2
  • 8Ω, 0.5W, 28mm diameter speaker
  • ISP port angle header pins
  • Serial port angle header pins
  • Breakout port angle header pins  
  • FTDI USB to rs232 adapter board (a board for conneccting your MAKERbuino to the computer)  
  • Set of screws, nuts and spacers needed for fixating the screen and the casing

It may seem like too much to keep track of, but everything's pretty easy to figure out. And the instructions are simple and straightforward.

We've mainly reviewed the presassembled model so far, but we'll update this article once we've thoroughly reviewed the DIY model as well.

Our unit came in a lovely red PCB with matching buttons. (Same PCB color for the DIY model as well) Everything was in working order, and the oversized buttons feel solid and responsive. The buttons actually have caps on them, so you can swap out the colored caps for nearly endless color combinations.

The included MicroSD card (and adapter) is only 128MB large, but that's all you'll need for this system. The .HEX files that the games are loaded from are tiny, meaning you can fit plenty of code onto that card without any worries.

The screen is the same kind used in the Nokia 5110, wwhich makes sense. This console looks like the child of a Nokia candybar phone and the Gameboy Micro. Which is actually a pretty cool thing. The screen is sharp and clear, and a dial on the bottom controls the screen's backlight.

The other dial controls the speaker volume. (There's also a switch to toggle the volume on/off) The sound is nice and loud, although like any project like this the louder you go the tinnier it sounds. But it's still pretty impressive how the different tunes and sound effect are incorporated into the games.

You also have your various ports around the edges of the console. Besides the MicroUSB for power, the MAKERbuino also includes (2) I2C ports (for multiplayer daisy-chaining), ICSP, serial port (for programming it) and extra breakout holes. The serial port will be covered more in the next section.

The battery is a 600mAh Li-Po. And it can last a long time. When we pulled it out of the box, it was already charged up and ready to go. You can definitely get quite a few hours of gameplay before you have to hook it up to a USB charger.

Like I mentioned earlier, the MAKERbuino is the sort of spiritual cousin to the smaller Arduino-based console, Gamebuino. Successfully crowdfunded on Indiegogo in 2014, Gamebuino was the creation of Aurelien Rodot and was a major inspiration for the MAKERbuino.

The Software:

One of the best parts about MAKERbuino being related to the Gamebuino is that it is fully compatible with the entire game library and programming tools that Gamebuino already has developed! This makes it a LOT easy to develop for this console, since there is already a heavily-involved community that's written tons of programs, demos, and random bits of code and guides on how to use the system.

Like I mentioned, the SD card included is preloaded with a TON of games already. Some of my favorite gems included Paqman, Super Crate Buino, and Maruino. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There is just sooo much to do with this console.

If the games written by the community isn't enough to sate your appetite, you can always write your own! MAKERbuino is fully compatible with the Arduino IDE (the development tool) and has preexisting libraries of code to make the process easier.

And it's not just games you can play on the MAKERbuino. There are also apps written that allow you to play audio files, paint on a canvas, and more. If it doesn't exist, you could be the first to write it!

Every game I tried was snappy and responsive, with no noticeable bugs. Loading the SD card game menu takes a little while, but it's understandable, considering this is all running off a single microcontroller.

The easiest way to load games onto your MAKERbuino is to copy the .HEX files onto your SD card. However, you can also use the serial port and USB adapter to program games directly to the console from your computer.

For reference, here are the tech specs for the MAKERbuino:

  • CPU: ATmega328 @ 16MHz (same MCU used in Arduino UNO)
  • Sound: 0.5W speaker with 4-channel audio generation, 3.5mm headphone connector, hardware volume control 
  • Input: 7 pushbuttons with replaceable button caps (D-pad + ABC buttons) 
  • Storage: 32kB of FLASH program memory, 2kB of RAM, up to 2GB SD card for loading and saving programs (HEX files) and data
  • Communication: serial UART port, i2c, SPI

The community for these two consoles is already huge and growing every day. The Gamebuino forums are a great place to ask questions, get help with a project, and see what other programs people have created.

It's a well-polished device all around. I found no problems, both software- and hardware-wise that caused problems, and the website is very easy and helpful with all guides and FAQs.

The MAKERbuino system truly is amazing. Mad props to Albert Gajšak and the rest of the team working hard to ship out orders! There will be plenty more development as the community continues to grow and flourish.

The Kickstarter is over but you can preorder MAKERbuino at the official web site, today.

The kits preordered in this period will ship after the rewards from the Kickstarter campaign (June 2017).

And that wraps things up! If you want to learn more, or find out when and where you preorder one of these boards up for yourself, head on over to their Kickstarter or the Website and tell 'em Carter sent you.

Until I review again...