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Turn Any PC Into a Retro Gaming Machine With Batocera Linux

Batocera Linux is an operating system focused on video game emulation and can be flashed to a USB stick. In this tutorial, we discuss how you can install Batocera on a USB flash drive. Furthermore, we detail how to place your games on the flash drive. Finally, we show you how to boot into the flash drive and start playing your favorite retro games!

An Introduction to Batocera Linux

Batocera is a Linux-based operating system with a focus on retro gaming. The OS is designed to run on virtually all computers, from desktops to laptops to single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi.

In addition, Batocera can be installed on a USB flash drive (or SD card), which allows you to boot your device directly from the Batocera USB. Having all of your games and settings already configured like controller preferences effectively turns the USB drive into a portable video game emulation powerhouse – all you need is a computer, a screen and a controller. Ultimately, this allows you to avoid altering your hard drive in any way, which means that the existing operating system can stay intact.

What You Will Need

  • Computer: any PC will do; it just needs to connect to the Internet and have a working USB port.
  • Batocera OS: this is free and can be downloaded from the official Batocera website. See the section below for more information.
  • balenaEtcher (or similar image-writing program): this piece of software will write the Batocera OS to your USB flash drive.
  • USB Flash Drive or External Hard Drive: you’ll want to place all of your ROMs on a separate drive to make the process of transferring the ROMs to Batocera faster and easier. Furthermore, we recommend placing your ROMs into subfolders organized by console.
  • USB Flash Drive for Batocera: USB 2.0 or 3.0 will work. Regardless of the option you pick, you won’t notice a difference in performance when running Batocera. That being said, it may take less time during the initial flashing of the OS if using 3.0. As far as the storage capacity of your USB, it depends largely on the number of games you wish to include on your portable installation of Batocera. The file size of games varies wildly, with games for older consoles like the NES coming in at mere kilobytes, and for newer consoles like the Wii U, they can weigh in at multiple gigabytes. Generally speaking, we recommend using at least a 16GB USB. If you want to include games from newer consoles (e.g. PlayStation 1 and above), we suggest opting for something larger to accommodate the larger ROM sizes.

1. Download Batocera

Once you have all of the elements listed above, you can get started. Download the Batocera OS from its website.

The goal is to create a portable installation of Batocera on a USB drive that can be booted on multiple computers. Therefore, consider locating the architecture of your device (e.g. x86_64 for most PCs) and downloading the OS image file. You can download the appropriate file for your device via a direct link or torrent.

Note: the OS file will be a compressed .img with the extension .gz.

2. Download and Install balenaEtcher

Once you have downloaded the Batocera OS image file, you’ll need to install a piece of software that will write it to your USB flash drive. We recommend balenaEtcher, as it has a good reputation for low rates of failure. There are other utilities that will create bootable USB flash drives from an OS image, so feel free to use an alternative.

Batocera Etcher Download 1

3. Flash the Batocera OS to Your USB

Now that you’ve downloaded the Batocera OS image file and have balenaEtcher installed on your PC, you’re ready to put them to use.

  1. Plug in the USB drive you want to use for Batocera.
  2. Launch the balenaEtcher app to flash the Batocera image file to the USB.
  3. Thankfully, balenaEtcher’s UI is simple and easy to navigate. On the left, click the button labeled “Flash from file,” launching a Windows Explorer pane.
Screen Shot 2022 08 23 At 9.33.01 Am
  1. Navigate to where you downloaded the Batocera OS image and select it. The image file should appear in balenaEtcher.
  2. Click on the middle button that reads “Select target.” You can select your USB drive by placing a check next to it in the list of available drives.
Batocera Etcher Targetusb

Note: balenaEtcher will completely erase the selected drive. Ensure that you are selecting the correct target drive.

Batocera Etcher
  1. balenaEtcher will now flash the Batocera image file to your USB drive. This will take some time, so just be patient.
  2. Once the process has finished, you can close balenaEtcher.
  3. Your USB may now show up 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, as the file system that Linux distros like Batocera use is EXT4, which is not recognized by Windows. But you don’t have to worry about any of this, so ignore any warnings it throws your way.

4. Boot Into Batocera

Now that the Batocera OS has been flashed onto your USB drive, you’re ready to boot into it. There are a couple of ways to do this, and this is the easiest.

  1. Type “recovery options” into the Windows search bar.
Batocera Recovery Options
  1. Click on “Recovery options” in the search results to open the Recovery menu of your PC’s settings. On this screen, click on the button labeled “Restart now” found underneath “Advanced startup.”
Batocera Recovery Advanced
  1. Doing so will bring you to a blue screen where you will can restart your PC using your Batocera USB as the boot drive. Highlight the “Use a device” option and hit the Enter key.
Batocera Boot Options

4. Select the USB that was flashed with the Batocera OS image file and press Enter. Your PC will reboot, but this time it will use the Batocera USB as the startup disk instead of the normal Windows OS disk.

Boot Into Batocera on an Older PC

If you don’t see the boot option discussed above, or if you are running an older OS like Windows 7, you’ll need a few extra steps to boot into your Batocera USB. This requires access to your PC’s BIOS, where you can alter some basic settings, like the boot device. To access the BIOS, you need to hit a specific key before the PC loads the operating system.

  1. Click the “Start” button and restart your computer.
  2. When your computer reboots, you’ll be presented with a screen that most commonly shows the logo of the manufacturer of the PC or motherboard. You’ll want to hit the key that will enable you to enter the BIOS. The choice of key depends on the manufacturer, but it is most commonly F2, F10, F12 or DEL. The initial boot screen usually tells you which key to press – look toward the bottom of the screen as in the image below.
Batocera Boot Screen
  1. Once you are in the BIOS, look for the setting that will allow you to change the boot device. This is most commonly listed as “Boot Device,” “Boot Device Select” or “Boot Device Priority.” Our goal here is to tell the PC to boot from the Batocera USB we have created instead of the disk housing your Windows OS.
Batocera Usb Boot

Unfortunately, not all BIOS look the same and not all of them use the same language. This might necessitate some hunting around on your part. Alternatively, consult the website of your PC/motherboard’s manufacturer for documentation on how to change the boot device within the BIOS.

Note: practice caution when changing values within your PC’s BIOS. Many of the settings within the BIOS alter how your PC behaves.

Boot Into Batocera on a Mac

Booting from a USB on a Mac is quite simple.

  1. Plug the Batocera USB into a USB port on your Mac and turn it on (or restart it if your Mac is already on).
  2. When you hear the “power on” chime, press and hold the Option key. Instead of booting into macOS, you will be diverted to the Startup Manager. You will see icons representing the bootable media on your Mac, including the internal hard drive and the Batocera USB.
  3. Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to highlight the Batocera USB (it’s usually labeled “External Drive”) to boot from it and press the Enter key.
Batocera Macos Startup Disk

5. Booting Batocera for the First Time

When your PC reboots using the Batocera USB as the startup disk, you will see the Batocera splash screen. Depending on whiich build you have flashed to the USB, the splash screen may look different. However, all of them utilize some variation of the Batocera logo. Upon first boot, Batocera automatically creates the necessary partitions for ROMs and configures other settings. Give it time to finish.

6. Adding ROMs

Once Batocera has finished setting up, it’s ready to use. If you navigate around the UI, you’ll notice that Batocera comes with a handful of games preinstalled. These mostly consist of various homebrew games and freeware. These are nice editions; however, you may want to add your own collection of ROMs to get the most out of Batocera.

There are a couple of ways to do this, including transferring your ROMs to Batocera over your local network. However, there is a much faster and easier way.

  1. Place all of your ROMs on a USB drive or an external hard drive. We recommend placing your ROMs in subfolders that correspond with the system they are compatible with. This makes it easier when we transfer those ROMs to Batocera.
Batocera File Manager
  1. Hit the F1 key to pull up Batocera’s file manager. You will see a folder labeled “ROMS.” Click on this folder to expand it and display subfolders for the various systems that Batocera supports.
Batocera Consoles
  1. Plug the drive with your ROMs into the PC. This drive will show up in Batocera’s file manager in the sidebar. It may take a moment for your drive to show up, so just be patient. Once you see the drive with your ROMs, you’ll be able to expand it and see the folders/files within.
Batocera External Mount
  1. Copy the ROMs from your USB to the Batocera USB. Select the ROMs you want to copy to the Batocera USB, right-click and select “Copy.” Next, navigate back to the “ROMs” folder on the Batocera USB. Find the folder of the console that the ROMs correspond to, right-click the folder and select “Paste.” This will copy the ROMs you previously selected from your ROM drive to the Batocera USB. Repeat this process for all of the ROMs you want to copy to your Batocera USB.
Batocera Themes
  1. Exit the File Manager. The Batocera UI will show all of the games that you added. Select one and launch it to relive some core childhood memories!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I get retro games to play in Batocera?

A digital copy of a game is known as a ROM (Read-Only Memory). ROMs can be acquired in a number of ways but the legality is often debated. One way to get ROMs is to “dump” them yourself. It requires you to have a physical copy of the game that you use to make a digital copy. The process to dump games varies significantly from console to console, with some requiring special hardware, while others necessitate more complicated methods, like running custom firmware on a console.

Downloading game ROMs is arguably the easiest way to get your hands on them, but downloading games you do not already own physical copies of is considered illegal. Yet there are ROMs that are free and legal to download, as they either fall in the public domain or their 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. Yet, virtually all of the consoles supported by Batocera were designed to be used with a controller, so we highly recommend that you get your hands on one.

Batocera is saying something about missing BIOS files. How do I fix this?

Think of a video game console as a computer. Like any computer, the BIOS stands for Basic Input/Output System. This initializes the hardware and operating systems of the console before it can be used. When emulating a console, the correct BIOS files can ensure accurate emulation of individual games.

In some cases, you’ll be able to run the game without the BIOS file that corresponds to the console. However, in other cases, you won’t be able to launch the game at all. Unfortunately, for legal reasons, we can’t tell you how to get your hands on the BIOS files. However, if you navigate to Batocera’s System Settings menu and select “Missing Bios,” you’ll see a list of all the BIOS files that are missing from your build. With this information, you should be able to track down the ones you need. Once you have the BIOS files, simply copy them to your Batocera USB’s BIOS folder using the same method you used to copy your ROMs.

Can I run Batocera on a really old PC?

Yes! If the PC in question is really old, then chances are your newly minted Batocera USB won’t work, as modern PCs use a different architecture.

However, the Batocera team has compiled OS images compatible with 32-bit CPUs, low-powered processors like the Intel Atom, and PCs with old Nvidia legacy drivers. To find them, head to the Batocera download page and scroll all the way to the bottom. After you download the correct file, simply follow the instructions outlined above to make a new Batocera USB that will work on your old PC.

Image credit: Batocera Wikiand Pexels

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