Getting Started with RetroArch: Windows 7 and Later

Getting Started with RetroArch: Windows 7 and Later


First decide if you want a stable release or a nightly.

Stable release are here, Simply click on the lastest version, navigate to Windows, and then select the architecture of your computer.

The current nightly is here.

There are several files you can download in these folders. For a new installation you want RetroArch.7z or the setup package (RetroArch-20XX-XX-XX-setup.exe).

Both options provide you with the lastest RetroArch, the only difference is that one is a self extracting installer, and the other one an archive you have to extract manually. Both are portable installation which means the RetroArch setup is:
- It's self-contained
- It doesn't need users to guess random locations for configurations files
- It's easy to update by just replacing files

 If you pick the 7z archive package, extract it in a folder that doesn't require administrator permissions such as C:\Users\yourusername\RetroArch. Don't extract it to Program Files or your Windows folder.

You can update the installation by downloading the latest 20XX-XX-XX-RetroArch.7z package and overwriting the executable.

If you pick the installer package we recommend to use the default location, follow the installation steps and you should be good to go. You can update the installer version by downloading the latest version and re-running the installer.

If you were running a stable release prior to 1.4.0. you will need to update the system libraries. You can do so by downloading the full RetroArch.7z package or redist.7z from the download locations.

Starting RetroArch

On the first run you will be greeted by this screen:

From here you can launch content, change settings and build up your content collection.

Keyboard Controls
The RetroArch user interface is designed with gamepad navigation in mind but it also features robust keyboard and mouse support. Learn more about keyboard input at RetroArch Keyboard Controls.

Gamepad Controls
XINPUT controllers should work out of the box. If the controller can be autoconfigured the OSD will inform you of the autoconfiguration event. We also include autoconf profiles for many popular controllers. If your controller doesn't auto configure you can follow this procedure:

  • Navigate to Settings
  • Navigate to Input
  • Navigate to Input User 1 Binds
  • Select User 1 Bind All
  • Press the buttons as required
If you have several different controller types you may want to use the User 1 Save Autoconfig followed by User 1 Bind Default All options after binding in order to achieve hotplug functionality

Directory Configuration
Configuring directories is an important aspect to get the best RetroArch experience possible.
To configure the directories follow these steps:

  •     Navigate to Settings
  •     Navigate to Directories
  •     Select the directory you want to changed
  •     Navigate to the desired location

You should always configure the following paths:

  •     System Directory for system files
  •     Savefile Directory for save files
  •     Savestate Directory save state files
  •     Browser Directory for your content

The Browser Directory is used as a startup location which allows easy access to your content library.

Installing Cores
RetroArch requires cores to run any content. You can download cores directly from RetroArch's interface by following this procedure:

  • Navigate to Online Updater
  • Navigate to Select Core Updater
  • Select the core you want to download

Running Content

After you have installed one or more cores you can run your content following this procedure:

  •     Navigate to Load Content
  •     Browse to the folder that contains the content you want to run
  •     Select the content that you want to run
  •     If you have more than one compatible core you will be asked to select the core you want to use for that purpose

By default loading content will trigger a content scan. If your content matches with any of our databases it will be added to a playlist for easy access. You can find the playlists by navigating to the right of the main menu.

Every content you launch is added to a history playlist that you can use to load it again quickly at any time


A frontend is a program designed to run libretro cores such as Kodi's RetroPlayer, RetroArch, Phoenix, Minir

A core is a program that has been ported to the libretro API and runs inside a libretro frontend

Content can be a game, an image, a video, an audio file that is executed by a core. In most cases contents are the ROMs of an emulated platform

RetroPad is libretro’s input abstraction controller, it’s the interface between the physical controller and the core inputs

save files
Save files are saves that are made from within a game, usually cross platform and should work across emulators in most cases

save states
Save states are snapshots of the content menory at a particular moment, these are not always cross platform and most certainly won’t work on a different emulator that the one used to create them

system files
Additional files that might or not be part of the romset that might be needed to get some content to work (usually referred to by the BIOS term)

A configuration file that has button definitions for a particular gamepad

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