Today I finally picked up a MiSTer with some parts (though not all have come in yet). I got it from Mouser, they have plenty of stock. The SDRam addon I ended up getting from Amazon, and the I/O Board from MiSTer Addons.
Generally speaking, my goal for the MiSTer is purely out of convenience and simplification. I already own all or most of the real boards and systems I want to play, and so I was looking into the MiSTer to avoid having to setup the real boards and have as lag-free and simple experience as possible.
Does it do that? Well, first of all, it definitely is simple. After following the guide here I was able to put on quite a number of the cores and then get some roms to test. The system booted quite easily, and everything appeared as normal.
The output over HDMI was sharp and crisp and there wasn’t any tweaking I had to do to the image at all. The cores themselves were fairly configurable, though not all cores had the same options, so for many of them I found myself configuring my inputs over and over again. The first game I tried was Robotron 2084:
The software scanlines look very good, and I played for a pretty long period of time. I wasn’t happy that I couldn’t save my scores though, but I think that may be in the works. There were subtle differences between this and the real board (mostly minor sound related items), but generally it was a good recreation.
Overall, I have to say that the MiSTer is a pretty good experience, though I don’t think at this point in its infancy it is all that much better than software emulation. With software-based emulation, there are a lot more variables involved generally, as each system is unique and different, so there are a whole lot of things you might have to tweak to get a game to run properly. Then there is the overhead of the OS and other drivers, which causes lag in a lot of cases.
However, one key advantage of software emulation is that it is very mature, and compatibility is high. The number of games you can possibly play on the MiSTer is in the teens to twenties, though that is increasing week to week as more and more folks get on the bandwagon.
So, I guess I can call MiSTer a good future investment. In the best case, I am looking to avoid having to buy really old boards that take up a lot of space and generally break down fairly easily, and also some boards from the 90s that have gone up astronomically in price and are impossible to find.