PiTFT Assembly & Test

These directions are for the first- and second-generation Cupcade kits. Gen 3 assembly is slightly different, described in its own section. These directions are for the original “Gen 1” Cupcade kit. Later generations of the kit are described in their own sections. You probably don't have one of these unless you have a very old kit!

Given this project’s complexity, we’ll be testing and re-testing the system to validate our progress. Confirm your system passes each test before advancing to the next. Mis-steps are very time-consuming!

We’ll build and test the Raspberry Pi and PiTFT display with a USB keyboard plugged in. The arcade controls and cabinet will come later.

Solder Time!

It's time to build your kit! Heat up your soldering iron and lets get started!

The PiTFT may come pre-assembled. If so you can skip the soldering part here

The tall female (socket) and shorter male (pin) headers will be installed in the positions shown. The female socket goes on the long edge of the PiTFT board, male on the short edge (labeled “Connector on reverse!” on the silkscreen side of the board).

Note the position of the key (notch) on the male header, facing the center (not outside edge) of the board. Vitally important!
When soldering the female header, the Raspberry Pi can be used as a “stand” to hold the header and board in alignment. For the male header, you’ll probably need to hold it in place temporarily with masking tape.

After soldering, peel the backing off the tape strips and position the screen on the board, leaving a little space between the header and the metal edge of the screen.
This is what good soldering looks like. The solder flows smoothly between the pins and the pads on the board, no blobs, bridges or gaps. The Adafruit Guide to Excellent Soldering has pointers for novices.

Once you’re satisfied with the soldering and screen alignment, the protective film can be peeled from the display. This is not a screen protector like on your phone!
Install the PiTFT on the Raspberry Pi, making sure the header pins are aligned.

Connect a USB keyboard (not shown here) and plug the Raspberry Pi into a power supply.

Within about 10 seconds of connecting power, you should see the display come to life, with geeky Linux boot messages scrolling by, and eventually a game selection menu (list will be empty if no games have been loaded on the card yet).

If there’s no response…

If nothing happens for 30 seconds or longer…either a black or white screen…disconnect power, remove the PiTFT board, plug the Raspberry Pi into a regular monitor and power up again.

If RetroPie starts normally on the HDMI monitor: Pi and SD card are fine, PiTFT is not. Examine your soldering closely, looking for any bridges or solder balls. Make sure the headers on the PiTFT and Raspberry Pi board are correctly aligned. Make sure the metal edge of the LCD is not contacting any of the header pins.

If it does not boot on either the PiTFT or monitor: possibly something wrong with the SD card; perhaps the operating system was not properly installed or something is amiss with the PiTFT assembly. Is it plugged in right? (Sometimes the header pins are off-by-one and it doesn’t work.)

Press F4 to exit to a command line prompt, then type:

Download: file
sudo shutdown -h now

Wait about 20 seconds for this operation to run before disconnecting power.

Do not proceed until you have a working system, including the PiTFT.

Now a Second Test…

With the system powered off, remove the PiTFT board from the Raspberry Pi. Take the ribbon cable included with your kit…
The header on the PiTFT is “keyed” so that pin 1 (the white wire) is always on the correct side. However, there’s two ends to the cable. Plug in the end that places the cable running behind the PiTFT board, not out in the open.

Careful now…the header on the Raspberry Pi board is not keyed! Pin 1 (white wire) should be near the edge of the board with the SD socket. Make sure the pins are aligned, not off by one. This end of the cable should point out in the open, not overlapping the Pi.
Turn the screen over and connect a USB keyboard and power. After a few seconds you should see the same bootup sequence as before.
If the PiTFT worked when connected directly to the Pi but does not work with the ribbon cable:
  • Double-check the cable orientation and alignment, make sure nothing’s turned around or off by one.
  • Shut the system down, remove the ribbon cable and re-connect the display directly atop the Pi. If it won’t boot now (but did before), something’s gone wrong with the SD card. Otherwise…
  • If everything checks out but it still won’t boot with the ribbon cable connected, the cable may be defective. Visit the Adafruit Customer Support Forums, post a photo of your hardware and we’ll look it over for any gremlins or will have a replacement sent.

Test ROM

If you have any ROM files loaded in the boot/advmame/rom folder, you can select a game from the menu (using the arrow keys and enter) and see if it works. This is a good time to decide which games run well or not.

Press the ESC key to exit and return to the game menu.

This concludes the first phase of testing. Do a proper shutdown again (ESC from the game menu) and wait about 20 seconds before disconnecting power.

Do not continue to the next step until you have a working system.

This guide was first published on Apr 04, 2014. It was last updated on Apr 04, 2014. This page (PiTFT Assembly & Test) was last updated on Oct 19, 2019.