Review by Kevin Steele
The Dream Arcades "head-to-head" cocktail cabinet I reviewed back in July was, in my opinion, a very nice cabinet with only a few small design flaws. Therefore, I was very interested when Dream Arcades contacted me about reviewing their "side-by-side" cabinet, and was even more intrigued when I discovered that they would be sending me their complete gaming system, complete with a PC and monitor. What improvements had they made?
The Dream Arcades Side-by-Side cocktail cabinet kit is very much like the head-to-head model. It's a pre-fab kit, designed to be quickly assembled, and features a flip-top lid with smoked plexiglass, a side access door, and a unique two-player control panel that mounts onto the side of the cabinet.
The complete $899 gaming system in this review includes a refurbished Dell computer (Pentium III class with 128meg of RAM), 19" monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, and even an extension cord to plug everything into.
Some Assembly Required
Like other Dream Arcades cabinets, the side-by-side cabinet is constructed of 3/4 MDF with laminate sides, and uses a "post and cam" system for assembly. The female cams come pre-installed in the panels, as was much of the other cabinet hardware, such as the hinges.
Assembly was very simple: push the posts into one panel, snap the panel onto its matching panel, then turn the cam clockwise with either a hex key (included) or a phillips screwdriver to lock them together. The cams produce a surprisingly snug fit when fastened.
The directions are a bit sparse, but honestly I rarely had to consult them. The pieces are clearly labeled, it's impossible to connect two pieces the wrong way, and the entire assembly process should only take less than a half hour to complete. Very easy and trouble free, and the included hex key makes it all a cinch (pun intended).
The only time I had to use a "power tool" was to drill a few pilot holes to mount the hinge on the service door. The unit comes with "self-tapping" screws, but I found they couldn't get a secure grip on the laminate, so a couple of small pilot holes ensured a straight entry for the screws. The mounting holes for the top panel were already pre-drilled.
Control Panel Thoughts
The two player control panel is well laid-out, although a bit "cozy" for two players (unfortunately, there's just no way around this space constraint on a cocktail cab!) There are two six-button player layouts, along with buttons for player 1 & 2 Start, Enter, and Esc (the coin buttons also double as pinball buttons, and are on each side of the control panel).
The controls have been upgraded a bit from the previous Dream Arcades cabinet I reviewed: Dream Arcades is no longer using X-Gaming joysticks or buttons, but rather are now using clones of Happ Super joysticks. They feel a lot more like Happ joysticks than X-Gaming sticks, and the "ping" of the X-Gaming microswitches is gone.
The control panel uses the Ultimarc MiniPAC encoder, making adding controllers such as trackballs or spinners easy to accomplish (there is an optional trackball add-on available from Dream Arcades). The control panel is solidly assembled, and felt more than capable of handling "enthusiastic" gameplay. One plus is the full use of quick-disconnects on the buttons and joysticks, allowing you to easily swap them out in the future, should you wish to do so.
A Complete System
The Dream Arcades cabinets are available as "kits" or as "tables" — the latter including everything you would need for a full-blown MAME gaming system: PC, speakers, keyboard, mouse, and monitor.
The PC supplied with the review unit was a Dell PC, a Pentium III 450mhz machine with 128MB of RAM, a 6GB hard drive, and Windows 98SE as the operating system. The computer includes everything you would need: video card, built-in audio, and even an Ethernet LAN card. The unit comes with the OS preinstalled, as well as MAME32 and the three legal arcade ROMs available from the MAME.net web site (Gridlee, Poly-Play, and Robby Roto). Also included is the Wincab jukebox software, a nice extra.
This system provides enough horsepower to play older arcade titles (80's and early 90's games), although you'll definitely need a faster processor for newer games, and a much bigger hard drive if you want to install all available MAME ROMs (the current .89 set of MAME ROMs weighs in at nearly 30GB!) It's a good starter system, but a devoted MAME enthusiast will quickly want more than the system can deliver.
The monitor provided is a Dell 19" monitor, which fits quite nicely in the cabinet. About the only improvement I could think of is a "style" issue, and that would be to paint the monitor bezel black so it blends in better with the smoked plexiglass top. That's an extremely minor nit, however.
A PC monitor may not give as good of an "arcade perfect" picture as an actual arcade monitor, but it does allow for more resolutions, which is nice when playing vertical games on the landscape-orientation of the monitor in this cab (on a "head-to-head" cocktail cab, the controls would be at the top and bottom of the cab, meaning the monitor display would need to be in a vertical orientation.)
The speakers are generic stereo PC speakers (which is actually one more speaker than you need for many older games). A nice touch is the fact that they do not require an external "power brick" — just plug them into a power outlet and the audio out port on the PC.
The hardware all fits snugly into the cabinet (with very little room to spare!)
The entire cabinet is cooled by an 80mm fan on the back side of cab. It's powered by a power lead from the PC's power supply which has been routed out the back of the PC case.
The fan is fairly quiet: while this cocktail cabinet and PC will never be as totally silent as a real arcade cocktail game would be, it's certainly not noisy.