An emulator is a program designed to emulate another platform such as a games console on another computer. Emulators are often used by enthusiasts of older video games which were designed for now-obsolete games consoles and operating systems. Emulators are also used in the form of virtual machines to run an older operating system on a newer one in order to overcome compatibility issues and run older programs which are no longer supported by the host operating system. Due to its status as the dominant operating system on desktop and laptop computers, Windows has many emulators available for it.
Emulators are the only practical way of playing video games designed for older computers, such as those made by Atari, Amiga or Acorn. Since these manufacturers ceased production of computers back in the 90s, the only way to play games and run software designed for them is to use an emulator for the host operating system (e.g. Windows 7) unless you have the original computer itself. Emulators are also available for almost all of the games consoles of old as well as some of the newer ones. For Windows, and various other operating systems, there are emulators for the Super Nintendo, Sony PlayStation, Gameboy and much more.
Since modern computers are vastly more powerful and feature-rich than computers and games consoles made in the 80s and 90s, they are more than capable of running such old software and video games. The Amiga 500+, for example, was one of the most popular computers back in the early- to mid-nineties. It had a 7 MHz processor and 2 MB of memory. Today’s computers are many, many times faster. In spite of this, you’ll still need a far more powerful computer for emulation than the computer or console you are emulating. This is because all of the processing is done using the emulator software to run games, programs and operating systems which were never designed to run on the host operating system.
Emulators can be even better than the real thing. For example, if you’re running a Super Nintendo emulator on a computer, you can enjoy better sound, smoother graphics, lower loading times and better connectivity features.
Emulators are often a subject of copyright-related controversy. Due to copyright laws, emulating older video games and software can be problematic, since most people obtain the software illegally. While there’s a great deal of software and games available legally and for free (this is often known as “abandonware”), many products are still copyright-protected and running them with an emulator is illegal unless you own the original software, be it in the form of a games console cartridge or the original CD or floppy disk.
Written By: Brandon Perton