MAME, which is short for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, is one of the most compatible emulators for arcade games. It is widely popular among vintage arcade game fans.


But while it is an extremely versatile emulator, it isn’t the most user-friendly options out there. If you aren’t familiar with the basics of using MAME, you probably won’t be able to figure it out as you go along.

In this article, we will explain the most important MAME terminology, from ROMs to CHDs. Once you have mastered these concepts, you can dive in and enjoy all your favorite games.

MAME Terminology You Need to Know

Before we begin to explain the key concepts that all MAME users have to be familiar with, you should know which MAME to install on your computer.

MAME is completely open-source, so not only is the entire emulator free to download but its source code is free for developers as well. That said, the best place to download MAME from is their official website.


From there, click on the Downloads tab and select the Latest Release in order to get the best MAME software version. The software is constantly getting upgraded, so if you want to keep in touch with all of the latest features, you should check for recent updates on their official website.


Once you have clicked on the Latest Release option, select the appropriate software for your computer. It’s easy to make a mistake here and download a version that’s not meant for your operating system. Check whether your computer is 64-bit or 32-bit and then download the right version.

Now that that’s taken care of, we can explain the most important MAME concepts.


In essence, ROM files are the code that has been dumped and stored in a ROM chip. If we take simple systems such as SNES or NES, the entire game can be stored in one ROM file.

But arcade games are more complicated than that, as they have several ROM chips and most of them are packed with data and code. Without the data located on those chips, the game can’t run.

For the emulator to run the game on your computer, a great deal code has to be dumped. Luckily, you can easily find and download all the ROMs that you need.


To wrap things up regarding ROMs, you should know that MAME ROMs are actually 7z or zip archives that contain all of the ROM files for the particular game that you want to play. They are commonly referred to as ROM sets.

The Parents and Clones Concept

This concept came to be when developers figured out that most of the dumped ROM files matched the dumped ROM files from other games. The parent set contains the files that are necessary for running the main (master) version of the game. Clone sets are nearly identical to their Parents but they have some minor changes.

For example, the same game can have two versions. One version can be in English and the other one can be in Japanese. Without Clone sets, you would need to get the entire ROM set for each version separately. Keep in mind that they are almost identical, so you would store two nearly identical dumps of code on your system.

Since this isn’t efficient and you would constantly be running out of memory, the Clone concept came to life. With Clone sets, you would only need the Parent set and one ROM that differs from the Parent, in order to play both of those versions while taking up less memory storage.


Arcade machines, computers, and game consoles had to keep evolving because there was a demand for them to store far more data than their predecessors. The need for storage space is why external hard disk drives, CDs, and DVDs were so popular for a while. Although technology made CDs and DVDs go almost completely extinct, they are still important when it comes to MAME games.

Most MAME games support mass media storage devices through files called CHDs.

CHD is short for Compressed Hunks of Data. Since they have already been compressed, you won’t see them zipped or archived. For the game to work properly, you need to put the CHD files into the correct ROM path. This means that these files have to be stored in the ROM set folder that they belong to.

Some games are not based on hard drives, so you don’t need to worry about CHD files and their storage. If that’s the case, you would load the game normally.

However, there are still plenty of hard drive-based games, and in order to load them successfully, you need to take some extra steps.

First, make sure that you have everything that you need for running that kind of game (the Parent ROM and the hard drive file – CHD). You can find and download CHDs online.

CHD DownloadAfter that, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Place the zipped ROM folder into the correct MAME ROMs folder.
  2. Create a new folder in the ROMs folder and give it the same name as the ROM you have just placed.
  3. Place the CHD file into the new folder.
  4. Open MAME.
  5. Go to File and then select Audit All Games (or just press F5).
  6. Your game should be loaded, so just double-click to play.

Enjoy Your Arcade Games

The more you use MAME, the more you’ll learn about it. Have you used it before or considered looking into it? Share your experiences with the emulator, or reminisce about your favorite arcade games in the comments.

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