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How to Set Up RetroPie on Raspberry Pi 4 (or earlier)

How to Set Up RetroPie Tutorial
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

In the 1980s and 1990s, the arcades were the place to be. The latest games ate our quarters as we pursued ever higher scores. Those days are now sadly behind us but retro gaming has seen massive growth in the past decade. 

Using a Raspberry Pi, you can run a variety of emulators that allow you to play not only old-time arcade games, but also your favorite titles from tons of old consoles, including the Atari 2600, NES, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis and Gameboy. There are a number of emulation platforms available, but RetroPie is by far the most popular and arguably the best. 

Up until recently, installing RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi 4 was a pain in the butt. Even though Raspberry Pi 4 came out in June 2019, RetroPie didn’t officially support it for nearly a year and there were some manual steps you needed to take to make it work. Now, not only can  you install RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi 4, but you can do it using the Raspberry Pi imager. It couldn’t be easier.

What You Need 

How to Install RetroPie on Raspberry Pi 4 (or earlier) 

1. Open Raspberry Pi Imager on your PC and click on CHOOSE OS. 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

2. Select RetroPie.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

3. Select the version of RetroPie for your model (ex: RetroPie 4.6 (RPi4)).

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Insert your microSD card and click on CHOOSE SD CARD.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Click on WRITE to write RetroPie to the microSD card.

How to Install RetroPie Tutorial

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

5. Eject the microSD card and insert it into your Raspberry Pi 4. Plug in a controller. XBox One and Playstation 4 pads are compatible with RetroPie via Bluetooth, but require a USB connection until Bluetooth is configured.

6. Power on the Raspberry Pi and wait for your controller to be detected.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

7. Configure your controller.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Note that you probably will have fewer buttons on your controller than RetroPie asks you to configure. Just hold down a button that you've already configured to skip past any options you don't need.

8. Press the A button on your controller to close the configurations menu and open the main menu.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Adding Games To RetroPie 

All the games exist as files called ROMs, which are dumps of real boards / cartridges. The easiest method to add games is to use a USB stick to transfer the files from your computer to your Raspberry Pi. But note that games from retro consoles are under copyright no matter their age. If you don’t personally own the cartridge / board and rip a copy of your own, downloading and distributing these ROMs may violate laws in your country so proceed at your own risk.

1. On your computer create a folder called retropie on a FAT32 / exFAT formatted USB flash drive.

2. Plug the USB flash drive into the Raspberry Pi 4 and RetroPie will create a folder structure inside the retropie folder on the stick.

3. Remove the flash drive and insert it into your computer. 

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

4. Copy your games to the correct system / console folder in retropie/roms/. For example, put atari 2600 games in the /atari2600 folder.

5. Eject the flash drive from your computer and place it back into a USB port of the Raspberry Pi 4. The time that this will take depends on how many games are transferred over. This could take minutes for a few games, or hours if transferring a large amount.

6. When complete, remove the USB flash drive and press START and from the menu select Restart Emulationstation / Restart System. The games list will now update and show the available computers / consoles for which there are now games.

Please keep in mind that, when it comes to playing retro arcade games from actual arcade machines, not all ROMs are compatible with all emulators. Retropie can run with ten different versions of MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), the most popular arcade emulator, and some ROMs will run on some versions of MAME and others will work on others. RetroPie maintains a handy chart, but if your arcade games don’t load in one MAME, try another.

Les Pounder is an associate editor at Tom's Hardware. He is a creative technologist and for seven years has created projects to educate and inspire minds both young and old. He has worked with the Raspberry Pi Foundation to write and deliver their teacher training program "Picademy".

  • Mpablo87
    Useful article. Interesting information. We all love retro games!!!
    Worth a Try!!
  • Luk_as
    Is it possible to install RetroPie alongside other already existing applications on my Raspbian?
  • TerryLaze
    Luk_as said:
    Is it possible to install RetroPie alongside other already existing applications on my Raspbian?
    It's just a fancy front-end for retroarch so if you already have a running OS you can install that.
    Retropie standalone might be using less resources though enabling more games to be able to run.