MiSTer FPGA: assemble yours or buy a complete one with only AliExpress parts – Guide Nov/2021

At the beginning of 2020 I started assembling my MiSTer FPGA, device resulting from an open project (open source) that recreates several video games, computers, FPGA and classic arcade, allowing you to use your games, softwares, original controllers and accessories, with TVs and modern hardware.

How the implementation is done at the hardware level, faithfully recreating the original console/computer/arcade chips on the FPGA, MiSTer doesn't have the traditional problems of emulators, as latency, audio and video out of sync and limitations imposed by the host's operating system.

There were four articles here on Skooter Blog reporting my purchases and assembly of each MiSTer component, which I recommend reading before continuing:

  1. Building a MiSTer - Part 1: Terasic DE10-Nano and IO Board w / Noctua NF-A4X10-FLX 5V - via Direct Shipping
  2. MiSTer USB Hub - MiSTer Add-ons via Direct Shipments - Building a MiSTer - Part 2
  3. 128MB SDRAM Module for MiSTer FPGA - AliExpress - Building a MiSTer - Part 3
  4. MiSTer's Official Case, Audio Tape Input Board and In-Line Power Switch – Mister Addons via Direct Sends – Building a MiSTer – Part 4

Since then I've used my MiSTer a lot, as seen in this playlist that already has 173 videos as I write this article. The vast majority are from gameplay:

At the time I needed to buy most parts of my MiSTer in the US and redirect to Brazil, as AliExpress had few parts. Today the situation has changed and it is now possible to buy a complete MiSTer directly from AliExpress, without worrying about order redirectors, with low probability of paying taxes and knowing that in case of loss there will be a refund or a new shipment without any major headaches..

Many Americans and Europeans disdain Chinese sellers because they would have poorer quality control or because they don't donate part of their profits to the original developers, but the fact is that the Chinese provide a better service for us Brazilians, by shipping with cheaper freight and automatically declaring a low value to minimize the chances of taxation.

For an American or European it really doesn't pay to buy on AliExpress, because they have local sellers that charge a little more., but they offer better support in case of problems.. But, these sellers only ship to Brazil with expensive freight (Priority in the case of MiSTer Addons) and declare the full purchase price, which means we are almost certain to pay high taxes..

The alternative ended up being to use order redirectors, as Fishisfast, but in this case it is good to remember that, in case of loss, the safe, if hired, pay only the amount that was declared, and this goes for any redirector. Give way, the risk of loss ends up being for the buyer. It's a low risk, but there is.

As for quality control, that of Chinese sellers is possibly not so good, but remember that AliExpress offers buyer protection, so if the product arrives and doesn't work, an exchange or refund can be arranged without any further difficulties.. That said, my SDRAM module came from AliExpress and I had no problems with it.

Purchasing the full MiSTer

For those who prefer to buy a complete MiSTer right away and not worry about parts or assemblies, Bitfunx offers a complete model, com 128MB de SDRAM, I/O board, hub USB, case and everything. I only recommend buying a bigger microSD later., because 8GB is not enough for all the systems that MiSTer supports.

It lembrar this, second ad, the kit is shipped unassembled by default and the buyer must send a message if they want it shipped unassembled.

It is also possible to buy a complete MiSTer with aluminum case from MiSTerAddons in the USA. In this case, I recommend redirecting the order with the Fishisfast to avoid high taxes.

Check out some full MiSTer options:

Purchasing MiSTer Parts

Who prefers to buy MiSTer parts, possibly gradually, and assemble it on its own can also do that. There's no soldering involved and it's much easier than building a PC. We will try each component to follow.

Terasic de10-Nano

Terasic de10-Nano.

Terasic de10-Nano.

This is the main board of MiSTer. In addition to the FPGA chip Altera Cyclone V, it also contains an ARM processor and DDR3 memory, which are used with an optimized Linux kernel to interface with files and other basic tasks.

There are already HDMI output, the microSD card slot, USB OTG, RJ45 connector for Ethernet network, etc. There are groups of pins for expansion, where the I/O cards and SDRAM memory are connected.

The card comes with Type A to Mini-B and Type A to Micro-B USB cables, power supply, 8GB microSD card, and four silicone feet.

Note that because it is intended for academic use, this board is subsidized by major manufacturers like Analog Devices, ISSI (Integrated Silicon Solution Inc., Würth electronics, e Panasonic. Because of this it is sold for a much lower price than a commercial board with similar components. The price at which it is sold probably doesn't even pay for the components.

The DE10-Nano can be purchased directly at Terasic, or in large electronic components stores, as Mouser and Digikey. Buying directly from Terasic is possible to benefit from Intel FPGA University Program, that offers discount for students and university professors. I paid US$ 110,00 at the time with the discount, and the full price was US$ 130. Unfortunately, prices have gone up and today it costs US$ 146 with the discount and US$ 170 with full price.

Terasic ships directly to Brazil, but only for courier What guarantees about 100% Tax. I recommend, therefore, send to the US and redirect to Brazil via Fishisfast.

Eventually the DE10-Nano appear on sale on AliExpress, so you can also check it out there before buying. But, prices are not always good, as it is a component that Chinese sellers are only reselling from Terasic.

The Altera Cyclone V comes without heatsink. It is highly recommended to add one to avoid problems with overheating. A heatsink is usually provided with I/O boards., who also usually have a fan.

Placa SDRAM

128MB SDRAM module for MiSTer FPGA.

128MB SDRAM module for MiSTer FPGA.

The SDRAM memory card is optional, but it is used by the vast majority of MiSTer cores, being practically essential. It connects to the group of 20 input and output pins of the DE10-Nano, and IO cards are often carefully designed to leave room for the SDRAM card..

Note that the DE10-Nano already has DDR3 memory in its ARM part, but SDRAM memory is faster because it can communicate directly with the FPGA, being required by most cores, while others can optionally use it.

The first SDRAM cards had 32 MB, but then the ones from 128 MB, that support the biggest Neo Geo and Game Boy Advance games. Pay attention when buying, because both models are sold. I recommend purchasing the de 128 MB for the peace of mind of being able to run any game from any core.

128MB modules are available from various AliExpress vendors:

IO plate

MiSTer IO board.

MiSTer IO board.

The IO board is optional, and typically offers the following items:

  • VGA connector;
  • Audio jack 3,5 mm com TOSLink;
  • 3 Buttons;
  • 3 LEDs de status;
  • Secondary SD card slot (for some cores);
  • FAN (fan) to cool the FPGA;
  • Expansion connector (in the form of a USB connector 3.0, but it is not USB!);
  • Additional connectors to integrate MiSTer into cases.

The IO card connects to one of the groups of 20 input and output pins of the DE10-Nano. It is already designed to fit perfectly and stay on top of the DE10-Nano, in place of the acrylic cap that comes with it.

There is also a digital IO card that does not have the analog outputs., but leaves free the group of 20 pins for possible project expansions that require a second SDRAM module. There is no prediction that any future core will need this second module, so i don't see much advantage in the digital IO card, even though I've never used the analog outputs from my traditional IO card.

Traditional IO card is widely available from AliExpress vendors, even in combos with SDRAM, Hub USB, etc. here are some options:

Hub USB

O Hub USB do MiSTer.

O Hub USB do MiSTer.

To connect keyboard, mouse, joysticks, gamepads, and other USB devices on MiSTer you must use a USB Hub, as the DE10-Nano has only one microUSB OTG port.

A wide variety of USB Hubs can be used. An OTG cable can be used to convert the microUSB OTG input to a USB Type A. Depending on the number and type of devices being connected, it is recommended to use an external powered USB Hub.

The MiSTer project includes a USB card that can be fitted under the DE10-Nano, giving a more professional look and avoiding having to leave a traditional USB Hub hanging on the block.

The USB ports can be connected to the keyboard, and Bluetooth adapters, WiFi, and original drivers, like those of Atari, Mega Drive and Super Nintendo that I showed here in Skooter Blog.

Note that there are slight variations on USB Hub boards, in particular in the way they are fed. Some have a power connector like the one on the DE10-nano, others have a traditional USB port. Anyway they usually come with a cabin that doubles the output of the DE10-nano power supply, so that it feeds the hub too. The USB connection is made with a small bridge between the DE10-nano and the hub. The bridge is also usually included..

USB Hub Cards are widely available from AliExpress sellers. here are some options:

RTC plate

Some cores like ao486(PC), Archie(Acorn Arcjimedes), BBC Micro Master 128K, Minimig(Friend), MSX, TSConf (Zx Spectrum) use real time clock. In this way, MiSTer provides real time and date for these cores. MiSTer can get date and time from the Internet if a connection is present. This RTC board is optional and only serves to do the same with MiSTer offline, using a battery to keep track of the time when MiSTer is off.

The RTC Card is also widely available from AliExpress sellers. here are some options:

ADC-on freckles (Audio/Tape input)

The ADC-in board is optional and allows the use of an external audio source, as a cassette tape input. In the past it was common to store computer programs and data on cassette tapes and some cores allow connection to a tape deck so users can read their old tapes..

I have an ADC-in card that I bought because it was relatively inexpensive and I didn't want to leave a hole in my case where the connector would be., but I ended up never using.

ADC-In card is not available on AliExpress. Can be purchased at MiSTer Addons. I recommend redirecting the package to Brazil with the Fishisfast, otherwise the shipping will cost more than 5 times the product price.

Keyboard and Mouse

Portable 2.4GHz Wireless Keyboard with Touchpad & Receptor, MC Saite Genuíno, 800DPI and 88 keys, 2 pilhas AAA (Genuine MC Saite 88-Key 800DPI Portable 2.4G Wireless Keyboard w/ Touchpad & Receiver (2*AAA))

Portable 2.4GHz Wireless Keyboard with Touchpad & Receptor, MC Saite Genuíno, 800DPI and 88 keys, 2 pilhas AAA (Genuine MC Saite 88-Key 800DPI Portable 2.4G Wireless Keyboard w/ Touchpad & Receiver (2*AAA))

A keyboard and mouse can be used to configure MiSTer and can be mapped to make the controllers and mice functions of the original devices. For those who will use MiSTer only for consoles and arcades, the keyboard can even be dispensed with in everyday life, since controllers can also be used for menu navigation, and the IO board buttons can be used for some basic functions.

For those who will use computer cores, a keyboard is essential. Anyway, I recommend having a wireless keyboard connected., even if it's to leave it in the drawer most of the time. I use a keyboard with touchpad I've had since 2012.

AliExpress has many wireless keyboard with touchpad options, for all tastes. here are some:

Bluetooth adapter

Mini Adaptador USB Bluetooth v4.0 CSR Dongle.

Mini Adaptador USB Bluetooth v4.0 CSR Dongle.

A Bluetooth adapter is required to use Bluetooth controllers and keyboards. Adapters based on CSR8510 and BCM20702 chips are supported. Most of them use one of these two chipsets.

I use a Dualshock 4 as the main controller of MiSTER, so a bluetooth adapter for me is essential. I bought mine at AliExpress. Check out some options:

WiFi adapter

Those who cannot use the wired network on MiSTer can use a WiFi adapter from list of WiFi adapters that are supported.

I use Ethernet on my MiSTER, so I ended up not buying a WiFi adapter. In the official MiSTer forums there is a report that this dongle with MT7601 chipset works:

Remember to select the correct template. In this case, the user reports that he purchased the version with antenna.

Power switch

Line filter with resettable circuit breakers Individual Force Line.

Line filter with resettable circuit breakers Individual Force Line.

The DE10-Nano does not have a switch, so that the MiSTer is always on when the power is on. So, a useful addition is some type of switch that can be installed between the power supply and the MiSTer, or before the power supply.

I even bought one at MiSTer Addons, but I ended up never using, because instead I use the source connected in a line filter with individual switches.

Turning switches on after the power supply is tricky as many of them cause a slight drop in voltage that causes the MiSTer to malfunction.. Because of this, I will not recommend any of AliExpress without knowing them.

microSD card

Sandisk Ultra microSD card 512GB.

Sandisk Ultra microSD card 512GB.

The DE10-Nano comes with a microSD card of only 8GB, and very slow. For testing MiSTer, but to put the games on so many systems, including some who use CDs originally, it's better to have a big microSD card. Optionally you can use an external hard drive or access some network share, like a NAS.

I opted for a Sandisk's 512GB microSD card on AliExpress, and it works perfectly:

Case

MiSTer finally assembled in its official case.

MiSTer finally assembled in its official case.

Who does not want to leave MiSTer naked can put it in a case. The project includes cases that can be printed on 3D printers. Subsequently, cases acrylics, then the ones made with PCBs (mine is one of those) and currently the latest fashion is the cases the metal.

When buying the case, it's good to make sure it's compatible with the boards being used, in particular the USB Hub. It is possible to buy the case in kits together with the boards from the same manufacturer to avoid errors. I thought the Bitfunx case was really cool:

HDMI out

9th HDMI cable 2.0 4K-3D 60 Hz Vention of 2 meters, on its packaging.

9th HDMI cable 2.0 4K-3D 60 Hz Vention of 2 meters, on its packaging.

Remember that the DE10-Nano does not include an HDMI cable, so you need to purchase it separately if you don't have a spare.. It doesn't have to be very sophisticated., because the DE10-nano doesn't pass the specifications of the HDMI 1.4. I'm using a HDMI out 2.0 da Vention, which I recommend:

Cabo de Rede (Ethernet)

Ethernet Cable (cat5e) made for the Ultra Chromecast.

Ethernet Cable (cat5e) made for the Ultra Chromecast.

The DE10-Nano also does not include a network cable., so you need to purchase it separately if you don't have a spare and won't be using WiFi. I built one for myself with Furukawa cable and plugs.

The Ethernet connection is from 1 Gbps, so nothing very sophisticated is needed. A cat5e cable is enough. Anyone who wants something ready can go with Ugreen or Vention, there's no mistake:

Power supply

DE10-Nano Power Supply.

DE10-Nano Power Supply.

The DE10-Nano already comes with a 2A power supply and it is enough to power other MiSTer items like IO board and USB Hub. But, if devices that use a lot of power are plugged into the USB ports, the energy the source provides may not be enough.

In particular, External hard drives that have no source (USB powered) tend to have problems if used with MiSTer using the original DE10-Nano font. As I don't use an external hard drive, I never needed to do this upgrade.

for those who need, a Mean Well manufactures a 5V and 4A power supply that is highly recommended for the MiSTer:

Final Considerations

I hope this guide with these links has been useful for those who are looking to buy or build their MiSTer without depending on US and European sellers who do not make it easy for Brazilians, shipping only by expensive freight and declaring the actual values.

If I were building my MiSTer today I would probably get a kit from Bitfunx with case, IO plate, SDRAM, USB Hub, etc. A Bitfunx is the manufacturer of my OSSC and I never had any problems with it. The rest of the items would also take all from AliExpress. Only the DE10-Nano that maybe I would still buy directly from Terasic to save, sending to the US and redirecting to Brazil with the Fishisfast.

Only if money were no problem would I buy everything from MiSTer Addons and pay all taxes. A middle ground alternative would be to buy some MiSter specific items at MiSter Addons by redirecting via Fishisfast, and buy the most mainstream items (microSD card, etc.) on AliExpress.

I avoided putting prices here because they fluctuate a lot depending on the dollar rate and sellers' promotions, so better click on the links to check it out.. Anyway, MiSTer is much cheaper than buying some of the original consoles it implements. A Neo Geo alone costs more than a MiSTer.

Desde a minha aquisição vários núcleos melhoraram, novos sistemas foram implementados. Praticamente não uso mais meus Super Nintendo, Mega Drive e Master System originais. E logo teremos núcleos do PlayStation e do Saturn.

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Que BELO tutorial.

Obrigado por isso.

Claudio

O MisTer FPGA vale a pena para consoles. Já para arcades, o GroovyMAME em uma TV de tubo em 240p utilizando super resoluções ainda está em um patamar superior.

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