One of the more frequent questions we get asked is can I play
“Board X” in my arcade game cabinet? Swapping game circuit boards
is one of the easiest ways to play a variety of games in one cabinet.
Its ideal for collectors who might not have enough space to fit another
arcade game and want to try something different. |
Board swapping typically does not require any modification to your
existing game and is usually most feasible on games made after 1986,
which include games that use the JAMMA wiring standard (we’ll discuss
this in detail later in the article).
There are number of things one must consider when determining if another
arcade game board will work in their cabinet. This article is intended
to cover the basics of changing the game board in your cabinet to play
a different game. Note: while we try to cover all relevant issues in
this article, all games vary in some regards. If you’re not comfortable
working on your game, board swapping may not be for you. Readers agree not
to hold us responsible for any possible damage from swapping boards, etc.
Note that the disclaimer is done with, if you want to skip some of the
technical jargon and background, just go to bottom of this article: “A Quick
and Dirty Board Swapping Checklist”.
Let me start off with a quick arcade game refresher. Arcade games are
relatively simple machines: they typically consist of a game circuit
board, power supply, monitor, input controls (joysticks, buttons, trackball,
etc) and a wiring harness that connects everything together. There are
other parts to each game, but with these five major components you could
play most arcade games.
Board swapping is simply a means of changing games by installing a different
game circuit board in a cabinet and using its existing power supply, monitor
and controls to play the game. The key to determining if a board is compatible
with your game is to confirm that the board you want to install uses
the same components of your game. Let’s examine these components one by one:
In most games made before 1984, power supplies can differ substantially. Some
games require unique power requirements. With that being said, all game
circuit boards require +5 Volts DC to power the circuit boards, and nearly
all use +12 Volts DC to power the sound amplifier and in certain cases -5
Volts DC in the sound generation section of the board as well. In addition
certain games require additional voltages such as –12 VDC to power certain chips.
Games made after 1985, generally have the necessary power requirements (+5 VDC,
+12 VDC and –5VDC) to play any game board, making this step a breeze. If you’re
still interested in what kind of power your game uses you can look up its pinout.
The game’s pinout shows you the wiring of your game board, including the power
it uses. Links to most game manuals and pinouts can be found at
As we’ll discuss later, this is usually not an issue with games made after 1985,
since they all share a common pinout.
Monitor Type - For the most part, arcade monitors are relatively
uniform. Most arcade games use 19” or 25” raster scan color monitors
(much like TVs) to display the game. As a result most game boards
use the same type of monitor to display a game. Nearly all games made
after 1984 use raster color monitors, making most boards made after 1984
compatible with other monitors.
The one exception is the resolution of the monitor, the vast majority of
game boards from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s use “standard resolution”.
However, some games (such as Atari’s Toobin) use a medium resolution
monitor. Medium resolution monitors are not compatible with standard
There are other exceptions that apply to a handful of classic games are those
that use vector monitors to display games. Examples of such games include
Asteroids, Battlezone, Star Castle, Space Duel and Tempest, among others.
In addition, most arcade games made in the 1970s use black and white
monitors. It is impossible swap a game board that uses a vector display with
one that uses a raster display, or vice versa. The same goes for black
and white games.
Monitor Orientation – One must also consider how the monitor is
oriented. In some arcade games (such as Pac-Man), the monitor is
oriented vertically (the longest side of the picture tube is up and down).
In other cases (such as Street Fighter), the monitor is oriented horizontally
(similar to a TV).
Games that use vertical monitors will play in games with horizontal monitors,
HOWEVER the display will be turned sideways and vice versa, making the
game virtually impossible play, that is without causing neck injury or soreness :)
Input controls refer to items such as a joystick, button, trackball or other
means used to play a game. If the game board you want to swap uses a
trackball and your game has a joystick, then you won’t be able to play it.
Similarly, if your game has two buttons and you want to play Street Fighter
(which uses six buttons), then you’ll have a hard time playing it.
Most games made from 1985 through the mid 1990s use two joysticks and two or
three buttons, making most games compatible with each other. There are exceptions,
as some games use more than three buttons, some use different main controls
(such as a trackball or spinner). You just want to double check on this before
buying a board to swap.
Wiring Harness (Pinout)
The wiring harness, or board pinout is probably the single most important factor
to consider when changing boards. The pinout of a board is used to map all of
the wiring of the components of a game to the circuit board. Most boards have
an edge connector pinout, which consists of a series of flat metal pins. This is best
understood by looking at a picture:
Each pin has a unique purpose for the game. For instance some pins accept the +5
Volts DC to power the board, others accept the ground connection, while others put
the color signals out the monitor. The JAMMA standard pinout is shown below:
GRD 1|1 GRD
GRD 2|2 GRD
+5V 3|3 +5V
+5V 4|4 +5V
-5V 5|5 -5V
+12V 6|6 +12V
KEY 7|7 KEY
COUNTER 1 8|8 COUNTER 2
C LOCKOUT 1 9|9 C LOCKOUT 2
SPEAKER 10|10 SPEAKER
RED 12|12 GREEN
BLUE 13|13 SYNC
VIDEO GRD 14|14 SERVICE SW
TEST SW 15|15 SLAM SW
COIN 1 16|16 COIN 2
1P START 17|17 2P START
1P UP 18|18 2P UP
1P DOWN 19|19 2P DOWN
1P LEFT 20|20 2P LEFT
1P RIGHT 21|21 2P RIGHT
1P FIRE 1 22|22 2P FIRE 1
1P FIRE 2 23|23 2P FIRE 2
1P FIRE 3 24|24 2P FIRE 3
GRD 27|27 GRD
GRD 28|28 GRD
If a game board has the same pinout as another game that swapping boards is
just a matter of installing the game board in the existing cabinet, since it
uses the same pins. Unfortunately, most classic games (games made before 1985)
use unique pinouts and can’t be swapped easily with one another.
Sometime around 1986, the arcade manufacturers decided that using different
pinouts for each game was a bit of pain and that if a standard was developed,
games could more easily be converted to other games. This standard pinout
that was developed is know as JAMMA (which stands for Japanese Arcade Machine
Manufacturers Association). With the advent of JAMMA swapping game boards
between cabinets became much easier, since the boards used the same pinouts
the primary issue to contend with was/is the orientation of the monitor and
input controls (see above).
Prior to JAMMA there were a few pinout classes that were used by multiple games,
allowing some board swapping to be feasible. I’ve summarized some of the larger
pinout classes and their games below (there are many more not listed here).
Remember just because these games have compatible pinouts, you’d still need to
check the monitor orientation and control setup before being sure you could
play one game in another’s game cabinet.
JAMMA – JAMMA is compatible with nearly every video game made after 1986,
over 1,000 in all.
JAMMA+ – JAMMA+ is a catch all for boards that use the JAMMA pinout but
require additional inputs (typically control related). JAMMA only supports two
joysticks and three buttons, but some games (such as Street Fighter II) require
six buttons. The “+” represents inputs for these additional controls. Four player
games are another good example. The additional inputs are usually wired
uniquely for each game. You can play JAMMA+ boards in JAMMA cabinets, but
won’t get the use of all “+” aspects of the game.
Konami Classic – This pinout supports a quite a number (over 60) of Konami’s
earlier games, including games such as Amidar, Gyruss, Hyper Sports, Jail Break,
Time Pilot, Track and Field and Yie Ar Kung-Fu.
Taito Classic – Taito used the same pinout in a number of its classic
games (over 70). Some of the more popular titles to use the pinout include
Arkanoid, Elevator Action, Front Line, Jungle Hunt and Jungle King.
Capcom Classic – Includes a number of Capcom games (about 15) released
in mid-1980s such as Commando, Ghost and Goblins, Gun Smoke, Section Z, and Trojan
Irem – Supports a handful of games including 10-Yard Fight, Kid Niki,
Kung Fu-Master, Lode Runner and Moon Patrol among others.
Sega Classic – Sega used a common pinout with games such as Congo Bongo,
Zaxxon, Future Spy and Super Zaxxon.
A Quick and Dirty Board Swapping Checklist
Enough of the detailed information, here’s what you really need to know when
determining if board swapping will work for you:
We’ll I think I’ve covered the major points regarding board swapping. Remember,
the keys to board swapping is to make sure that your game’s system (wiring,
monitor, controls, power supply) is compatible with the board your swapping with.
A cabinet with JAMMA wiring is generally the best option for swapping boards as many
JAMMA boards exist and adapters can be made to play some of the older classic
boards in a JAMMA cabinet. We carry a wide selection of game boards as well as
JAMMA adapters for some classic games. Visit our parts section for more details.
- Board Pinout (Wiring) – Most important factor. The game board must use the same “pinout” as the game your installing it into. Most games after 1986 use a common pinout referred to as “JAMMA”.
- Monitor Type – The game must use the same type of monitor (most are color raster monitors, so this is usually not an issue).
- Monitor Orientation – The game’s monitor display must correspond to your game (horizontal or vertical). This is very important otherwise your game may come up sideways.
- Controls (joysticks and buttons) – The game must be compatible with your game’s controls. If your game has one button and the game board uses three, then you won’t be able to play it properly.
- Power Supply – Usually not an issue with most games made after 1985.
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