software can I use?
The unit was designed around MAME and normally you would use a
front-end menu for selecting games. But of course, as the I-PAC
emulates a real keyboard (without all the drawbacks) you can use any PC
application which uses keyboard input.
Can I use
Yes. You can use the fully programmable code sets of I-PAC to customise
for any emulator or other application. Several popular front-end menus
even have integrated support for downloading I-PAC codesets on-the-fly.
Do I have a
lot of setting up to do before playing?
NO. Using the key-code programming is entirely optional. When the board
is shipped, all codes are automatically assigned to MAME standard keys.
As many people have found, this makes installation very quick and easy.
What are the
One method is to hack a keyboard, i.e. connect all the controls to the
keyswitches so each button appears as a key. This is pretty
unsatisfactory for several reasons: It takes ages to wire up as 2 wires
need to be run to each switch.
Most arcade cabs have one side of all switches commoned so you have to
Key Ghosting: This happens because of the matrix nature of keyboard
Extra buttons: With this solution, with some emulators you have to have
extra buttons on the cabinet for functions such as "escape", "insert
coin" etc. Nobody likes drilling extra holes in their nice original
Speed: Keyboard encoders use a scanning method. So each key is checked
in sequence for a press or release. I-PAC does not use a matrix or
What is the
Shifted function keys will do various functions ie press "1 player
start" and "fire" and you will insert a coin. Press "1 player start"
and "2 player start" and you will jump back to the menu. You can also
use the MAME game config menus with shift buttons, ie tab and enter are
shift joystick right and left. The 1 player start button is always the
shift button if you are using the standard MAME codes. In programmable
mode you can assign any input to be the shift button and you can
program all of the buttons to have shifted codes. The unique feature of
the shift function is that it requires no
dedicated extra button.
programmable keycodes work?
When the board is shipped it contains all standard MAME codes including
the shift codes mentioned above. If you only ever use MAME and want a
quick and easy install this will probably do for you. But if you need
to, you can re-program as required, including "on the fly", and the
board will remember your new settings.
Why would I
need to program the board?
You may find you need to change the assignment of keys for other
emulators or maybe you don't want to have the shift functions of the
MAME code set. The code set can be programmed either using a DOS or
Windows utility on the PC or using the interactive programming method.
Programming details here
Normally you would install and test the board before getting into
Test mode can be entered
using a special hot-key combination. This enables a display of buttons
which are pressed, or may be shorted. This is to help with installation
and troubleshooting. Details here
Do I need to
use a normal keyboard as well?
You can use a normal keyboard connected to the pass-thru connector. But
if everything is set up properly with the PC booting into an emulation
front-end menu, and each game is configured correctly, you can do
everything with the standard controls on the cabinet.
The PC will pass the keyboard self-test with or without the aux
keyboard. Key-codes from the auxiliary keyboard are fully "interleaved"
with the codes from the I-PAC so both can be used at the same time and
the 3 LEDS on the auxiliary keyboard are functional.
the pass-through keyboard connector does not "steal" any CPU cycles
whatsoever from the interface while the keyboard is idle so there is no
impact on performance at all.
In USB mode key repeat is supported as on a normal keyboard and is
handled by the PC. In PS/2 mode key repeat is not generally desirable
for gaming because sending unnecessary strings of key-presses to the PC
can cause unwanted clutter on the PS/2 interface and steal CPU cycles.
It is useful though to have key repeat outside of gaming, for example
for scrolling up and down game lists in a front end. The I-PAC solves
this problem by implementing a selective repeat on up/down only, for
scrolling through lists. If you have a need for repeat on all inputs,
this can be supplied on request.
Inputs enough or do I need the I-PAC4 56-input board?
The answer is almost certainly yes for a 2-player cabinet. Remember
that an 8-way joystick uses only 4 inputs (the diagonals hit 2 switches
at once). So with two sticks you can also have 20 buttons. A normal
sized 2-player control panel would get very cluttered with this number.
Most people go for 6 per player which gives plenty of spare inputs for
1 player start, 2 player start and coin. A 4-player cabinet would need
the I-PAC4 board (and a large panel!).
To complete your control panel why not mount 3 LEDs? A pre-assembled
harness is available with LEDs in black conical bezels similar to those
used on early Atari games. The LEDs emulate the Caps/Num/Scroll lock
keyboard LEDs. What these LEDs actually do depends on the game. In MAME
some games flash the LEDs to indicate coin credits. Some games use the
LEDs for indicating "power-up" or rapid fire status etc.
Will it work on a MAC?
Yes the I-PAC will work on a MAC with USB. There is even a Mac version
of the programming utility.
Alternative key code sets can be programmed and stored. The programming
can be done either via a utility on the PC or using the built-in
Interactive Mode. You can assign the key code for each input in shifted
or unshifted mode and select which of the inputs is the shift button.
After assigning all the buttons, the codes are downloaded to the I-PAC
and stored in EEPROM which keeps the settings even after power-off. The
settings are also written to a file so you can have as many of these
configuration files as you want and download as required, either
manually or automatically via a batch routine. Click here
for more info about programming. There is no practical limit on the
number of times the flash can be re-written. In fact the chip
manufacturer guarantees one million R/W cycles, but in practice the
actual limit would be even higher.
What is the size of the board?
Dimensions shown below. Height is approx 17mm.