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Cabinets inspired by classic arcade games can also be purchased and assembled . The architecture of MAME has been extensively improved over the years. Support for both raster and vector displays, as well as multiple CPUs and sound chips, were added to MAME in the first six months of the project. A flexible timer system to coordinate the synchronization between multiple emulated CPU cores was implemented, and ROM images started to be loaded according to their CRC32 hash in the ZIP files they were stored in. Examples of these include the Neo Geo, CP System II, CP System III and many others.

An example of this is the Taito Legends pack which contains ROMs readable on select versions of MAME. Cabinets can be built either from scratch or by taking apart and modifying a genuine arcade game cabinet that was once used with the real hardware inside.

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In addition to the "parent" ROM set (usually chosen as the most recent "World" version of the game), games may have "clone" ROM sets with different program code, different language text intended for different markets etc. For example, Street Fighter II Turbo is considered a variant of Street Fighter II Champion Edition. System boards like the Neo Geo that have ROMs shared between multiple games require the ROMs to be stored in "BIOS" ROM sets and named appropriately. In May 2015, it was announced that MAME’s developers were planning to re-license the software under a more common free and open-source license, away from the original MAME-license. The transition of MAME’s licensing to the BSD/GPL licenses was completed in March 2016.

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With the license change, most of MAME’s source code (90%+) is available under a three-clause BSD license and the complete project is under the GNU General Public License version 2 or later. The information contained within MAME is free for re-use, and companies have been known to utilize MAME when recreating their old classics on modern systems. Some have gone as far as to hire MAME developers to create emulators for their old properties.

In most arcade machines, the data is stored in read-only memory chips , although other devices such as cassette tapes, floppy disks, hard disks GBA Roms, laserdiscs, and compact discs are also used. The contents of most of these devices can be copied to computer files, in a process called "dumping". The resulting files are often generically called ROM images or ROMs regardless of the kind of storage they came from. A game usually consists of multiple ROM and PAL images; these are collectively stored inside a single ZIP file, constituting a ROM set.

The MAME project was started by the Italian programmer Nicola Salmoria. It began as a project called Multi-Pac, intended to preserve games in the Pac-Man family, but the name was changed as more games were added to its framework.