Useful Tips to Improve Emulation Performance in RetroPie

Improve Retropie Performance Featured

RetroPie is a piece of software that emulates various old-school video game consoles and systems. It was developed for the Raspberry Pi family of single board computers (hence the name). RetroPie is by far the most popular way to emulate retro video games on the Raspberry Pi.


While RetroPie is generally pretty user friendly, users can still run into a myriad of problems. Fortunately, we’ve rounded up some of the most common problems and come up with potential fixes that will get you back to button-mashing in no time.

Note: if you are looking to install RetroPie on your Raspberry Pi, here are the setup guide and configuration options.

Check Your Hardware

RetroPie is capable of emulating a dizzying number of systems from yesteryear. However, not all Raspberry Pi computers are made equally. The processing power and RAM of the Raspberry Pi depends on the model. This means not every version of the Raspberry Pi will be able to emulate every system.


For example, emulating an 8-bit system like the Nintendo Entertainment System would require significantly less power than a console from the 32-bit era, like the Sony Playstation. Therefore, if you’re running RetroPie on a Raspberry Pi Zero, which is fairly low spec, you shouldn’t be expecting to run Sega Dreamcast games. Long story short, taper your expectations and consider the limitations of your hardware. If you find that you’re having problems emulating a newer console, you may need to upgrade your hardware.


Furthermore, if you’re just getting started and are trying to figure out which Raspberry Pi is best for you, consult the RetroPie forum and the RetroPie subreddit.

Check Your Power Supply

Video-game emulation requires quite a bit of juice. If your power supply isn’t up to snuff, your Raspberry Pi’s performance will suffer. In regards to video game emulation, poor performance can lead to a slew of issues. Common problems include dropped frame rates, slowdown, distorted audio, and more. Is there a little lightning bolt icon in the top-right corner of the screen? If so, your Raspberry Pi isn’t receiving the proper voltage.


The Raspberry Pi requires a 5-volt 2-amp power supply. Anything less than that, and your Raspberry Pi simply won’t be getting enough power. There are many power supplies that will do the job, including the official one from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Overclock Your Pi

Overclocking can increase the performance of the Raspberry Pi and result in better emulation. Fortunately, overclocking your Pi is pretty painless. If you have a Raspberry Pi 1 or 2, overclocking is super simple with the built-in overclocking tool. Just pull up the Emulation Station menu and select “Overclock.” After the warning, you’ll see the overclocking settings that are available. Choose the one you prefer, and that’s it.


Overclocking on the Raspberry Pi 3 or Zero can be done; however, it’s a little more hands on. Instead of selecting an option from a menu, you’ll have to manually overclock. This is done by editing the config.txt file in the boot directory. It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. Finally, be aware that overclocking your Pi can cause it to overheat. You may want to consider purchasing a cooling case, fans or heatsinks.


Use a Different Emulator

One of the reasons that RetroPie is so popular is its ease of use. RetroPie has tons of emulators for different consoles built right in. All a user has to do is provide the ROM files.

However, sometimes a game just won’t run. You’ve double-checked your power supply. You’re certain your Raspberry Pi is powerful enough. You’ve even overclocked your Pi to ensure the best performance. Still, no dice.

Fortunately, all is not lost.┬áIf a game isn’t running on the default emulator bundled with RetroPie, you can try using a different emulator entirely.


To try a different emulator, pull up the menu and go to “Setup.” On the next screen select “Manage Packages,” then “Manage Optional Packages.” Here you can browse through a list of alternative emulators. When you find one you want to try out, select “Install from Source.”

After the install is complete, launch the game that is giving you trouble, and open the settings menu as it initializes. You can select which emulator you want to use for that ROM file. Regrettably, figuring out which emulator might work best for you is a case of trial and error.

However, Google is your friend in this situation. RetroPie is popular and has been around for a while. Chances are someone has run into the problem before you, and with a little luck, found a solution.

These tips will not solve every problem; however, these are some of the fastest and easiest fixes to common issues users run in to. Do you use RetroPie to feed your old school video game emulation habit? Do you know of any other tips or tricks that can help performance? Let us know in the comments!

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