Do you have an old computer and don't know what to do with it? Turn it into a retro gaming machine with Batocera Linux operating system
Batocera Linux is an operating system that focuses on video game emulation and can be run from a USB stick. In this article we will see how to install Batocera on a USB flash drive and how to add your games to the flash drive.
Finally, we'll see how to boot your machine from the flash drive and start playing your favorite retro games!
Introduction to Batocera Linux
Batocera is a Linux-based operating system that focuses on retro gaming. The operating system is designed to run on almost all computers, from desktops to laptops, and even mini computers like the Raspberry Pi.
In addition, Batocera can be installed on a USB flash drive (or SD card), which enables you to boot your device directly from Batocera USB.
With all your games and settings already configured, such as controller preferences etc, the USB drive effectively turns into a portable video game emulator and all you need is a computer, a monitor and a controller.
This allows you to avoid modifying your hard drive in any way, meaning your existing operating system can remain intact.
What you will need
- One computer. Any computer will do, it just needs to be connected to the internet and have a working USB port.
- Batocera OS : The operating system is free and can be downloaded from Batocera official website. See the section below for more information.
- YUMI (or similar image burning program, eg Rufus): this piece of software will write Batocera OS to your USB flash drive.
- USB Flash Drive for Batocera: USB 2.0 or 3.0 will work. Whichever option you choose, you won't notice any difference in performance when running Batocera. As for the storage capacity of your USB, it largely depends on the number of games you want to include in your Batocera portable installation.
The file size of games varies greatly, with games for older consoles such as the NES being only kilobytes and for newer consoles such as the Wii U requiring several gigabytes.
In general, we recommend using a USB of at least 16 GB. If you also want to include games from newer consoles (eg PlayStation 1 and newer), we recommend choosing something larger to accommodate the larger ROM sizes.
- USB Flash Drive or external hard drive : Only if you want to put all your ROMs on a separate drive. This makes the process of transferring ROMs to Batocera faster and easier. Additionally, we recommend placing your ROMs in subfolders organized by console.
Once you have all the items listed above, you're good to go. The first thing you need to do is download Batocera OS from its official website.
The goal is to create a portable USB installation of Batocera that can be booted on multiple computers. Therefore, consider identifying your device architecture (eg x86_64 for most computers) and downloading the correct OS image file.
You can download the appropriate file for your device via direct link or via torrent.
Note: The OS file will be a compressed .img with a .gz extension.
After downloading the Batocera OS image file, you will need to download a software that will write it to the USB flash drive. We recommend YUMI or Rufus. Of course, there are other utilities that can create bootable USB flash drives from an OS image, so feel free to use an alternative.
Specifically Batocera Linux recommends the Etcher, and on his website he gives and registration instructions with this.
Activate Batocera OS on your USB
Now that you have downloaded the Batocera OS image file and also downloaded YUMI to your computer, you are ready to use it.
- Connect the USB drive you want to use for Batocera.
- Launch the YUMI app (it's portable, no installation needed) to write the Batocera image file to the USB.
Instructions for YUMI can be found in our article YUMI: Create a multi-boot USB drive.
But in a few words, from the YUMI home screen, select in order of demand first the location of the usb flash, then the type of operating system and finally the .iso file of Batocera.
For OS type select Debian Live, since Batocera is based on Recalbox OS (which also makes your computer a gaming machine) and which in turn is based on Debian.
Then click on “Create”. Caution: whatever is inside the usb flash drive will be permanently deleted.
The registration process may take some time, so just be patient. Once the process is complete, you can close YUMI.
Your USB can now appear in Windows. However, if you try to click on it, it tells you that the drive needs to be reformatted before you can use it.
This is because the file system used by Linux like Batocera is EXT4, which is not recognized by Windows. But you don't need to worry about any of this, so ignore any warnings you see.
Boot with Batocera
Now that Batocera OS has been written to the USB drive, you are ready to boot your computer with it. You can do this in one of two ways:
Either configure the BIOS/UEFI so that when the computer starts it first looks for an operating system in the USB ports and then on the disks, or you can "trick" Windows and tell it to restore from a USB device. Let's look at the second way.
- Enter Settings (Win +I) and navigate to “Update and Security” > “Recovery”.
- There under “Advanced Startup” click on “Instant reboot". Caution: First save any work you have open. You will no longer have access to your computer.
- On the blue page that will appear select “Use Device”
- Select the USB you have written with the Batocera OS image file and press Enter. Your computer will restart immediately. Only this time it will use the Batocera USB as the boot disk instead of the regular Windows OS disk.
If you don't see this boot option we discussed above, or if you're using an older OS like Windows 7, you need a few extra steps to boot into Batocera USB.
This requires access to your computer's BIOS, where you can change some basic settings, such as the boot device. To access the BIOS, you must press a certain key before the computer loads the operating system.
- Restart your computer.
- When your computer restarts, you will see a screen that usually shows the logo of the computer or motherboard manufacturer. At this point, you'll want to press the specific key that will allow you to enter the BIOS.
The choice of key depends on the manufacturer, but is usually F2, F10, F12 or DEL. The initial boot screen usually tells you which key to press, look carefully towards the bottom of the screen to see it.
- Once you enter the BIOS, look for the setting that will allow you to change the boot device. This is commonly referred to as “Boot Device”, “Boot Device Selection” or “Boot Device Priority”.
Our goal here is to tell the computer to boot from the Batocera USB we created instead of the drive that hosts the Windows OS.
Unfortunately, all of the above are not exactly the same for all BIOSes and not all use the same language. This may require some research on your part. Alternatively, consult your computer - motherboard manufacturer's website for documentation on how to change the boot device in the BIOS.
Note: be careful when changing values in your computer's BIOS. Many of the settings in the BIOS change the way your computer behaves.
Launch Batocera for the first time
When your computer restarts using the Batocera USB as the boot disk, you will see the Batocera splash screen. Depending on the version you have flashed to the USB, the boot screen may look different. However, they all use some variation of the Batocera logo. On first boot, Batocera automatically creates the necessary partitions for the ROMs and configures other settings. Give it time to finish.
Once Batocera has finished installing, it is ready to use. If you browse the user interface, you will notice that Batocera it comes with a handful of pre-installed games . These mainly consist of various homebrew games and freeware.
They are nice builds, but you might want to add your own collection of ROMs to get the most out of Batocera.
There are a few ways to do this, including transferring your ROMs to Batocera over your local network. However, there is a much faster and easier way.
- Put all your ROMs on a USB drive or external hard drive. We recommend placing your ROMs in subfolders that correspond to the system it is compatible with. This makes porting these ROMs to Batocera easy.
Press the F1 key to retrieve the Batocera file manager. Here, you will see a folder labeled “ROMS”. Click on this folder to expand it and display subfolders for the various systems Batocera supports.
- Connect the drive with your ROMs to the computer. This drive will appear in the Batocera file manager in the sidebar. It may take some time to appear, so be patient. Once you see the drive with your ROMs, you'll be able to expand it and see the folders/files inside.
Copy the ROMs from your USB to the Batocera USB. Select the ROMs you want to copy to Batocera USB, right click and select “Copy”. Then go to the “ROMs” folder on the Batocera USB. Find the console folder that the ROMs correspond to, right click on the folder and select “Paste”. This will copy the previously selected ROMs from the ROM drive to the Batocera USB drive. Repeat this process for all the ROMs you want to copy to the Batocera USB.
Close File Manager. Batocera UI will now display all the games you have added. Pick one and start it to relive some childhood memories!
What are ROMs and where can I find retro games to play on Batocera?
A digital copy of a game is known as ROM (Read-Only Memory). ROMs can be obtained in several ways. However, the legality of these methods is up for debate.
One way to get ROMs is to "build" them yourself. This requires that you have a physical legal copy of the game you are using to create a digital copy. The process of copying games varies greatly from console to console, with some requiring special hardware, while others require more complicated methods, such as running custom firmware on a console.
Downloading ready-made game ROMs is arguably the easiest way to get your hands on them. Please note that downloading games that you do not already own physical copies of is considered illegal. However, there are ROMs that are free and legal to download because the copyright holders have allowed them to be distributed freely.
Can I play games on Batocera without a controller?
Batocera supports keyboard controls, so technically you don't need a controller at all. But since almost all consoles supported by Batocera were designed to be used with a controller, we strongly recommend that you get one.
Batocera says something about missing BIOS files. How can I fix this?
Think of a video game console like a computer. Like any computer, BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. This prepares the console's hardware and operating systems before it can be used. When emulating a console, the correct BIOS files can ensure accurate emulation of individual games.
In some cases, you will be able to run the game without the BIOS being able to support the console. However, in other cases, you won't be able to start the game at all.
If you navigate to the Batocera System Settings menu and select “Missing Bios”, you will see a list of all the BIOS files that are missing from your build. With this information, you should be able to locate the ones you need. Once you have the BIOS files, just copy them to the Batocera USB BIOS folder using the same method you used to copy your ROMs.
Can I run Batocera on a very old computer?
Yes! You can certainly breathe new life into an old computer by turning it into a retro gaming machine using Batocera. And in fact, your old computer will match aesthetically with a retro game.
But if the old computer in question is “really old”, then chances are the new Batocera USB you wrote won't work. This is because modern computers use a different architecture.
However, the Batocera team has compiled a series of .isos of the operating system compatible with 32-bit processors, low-power processors such as Intel Atom, and legacy computers with old Nvidia drivers.
To find them, head to Batocera download page and scroll to the bottom. Once you've downloaded the correct file, simply follow the instructions outlined above to make a new Batocera USB that will work on your old computer.