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What is an emulator? The benefits, the risks and more

  • An emulator is usually a program that allows you to run software from a completely different device on your computer.
  • The most common uses of emulators are to play video games and run various operating systems – for example, you can install a Mac operating system on your Windows computer.
  • Emulators can allow you to run apps that do not normally work on your computer.
  • Most emulators tend to run slower than the device they are simulating, and can potentially take a lot of processing power.
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An emulator is a computer program (or occasionally custom hardware) designed to simulate another type of device.

For example, WINE is a program that allows you to run Windows software on certain Linux and Mac computers. Dolphin is an app that lets you play Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on your computer. Even Logic Pro X, the popular music recording app for Mac, lets you simulate the sound of a guitar amp in your computer.

These are all different types of emulators. Here̵

7;s what you should know about emulators, including why people use them, how often they work, and what types they are.

Why people use emulators

All kinds of computers and operating systems are unique. This often means that a program or app that works on one system does not work on another.

This is especially true when comparing operating systems such as Windows and MacOS, or completely different devices such as a laptop and a PlayStation.

This is where emulators come in. Emulators can bridge the gap between these devices, allowing applications to run on any hardware.

For example, if you have a Windows app you need to run on your MacBook, you can download the Parallels emulator. Parallels will somehow create a Windows computer inside your MacBook – this lets you run any Windows app you need.

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac

Here, Windows 10 and an older version of MacOS run on a new MacBook using emulators.

Parallels Newsroom

Some emulators can even improve the hardware they simulate. For example, old video games made for 4: 3 TVs can be upgraded to run in widescreen resolution, as well as on a higher frame.

If you are someone who likes to be able to run all their programs anywhere, anytime, then an emulator is what you need.

However, there are some risks you should be aware of.

The disadvantages of emulators

Because emulators need to reproduce the behavior of a completely different device without having their own dedicated hardware or power source, emulators are often slower than the system they are simulating.

This is especially true if you are imitating a new system. For example, almost any computer can emulate a Nintendo Entertainment System from the 80’s without much delay. But you need a powerful graphics card and a CPU to emulate the Nintendo Switch, which only came out in 2017. And even then, it can be difficult to get that Switch emulator running smoothly.

Mario Odyssey on Windows

You need a powerful computer to run most new AAA games.

BSoD Gaming / YouTube

Users must also be careful not to download a virus released as an emulator. Remember to only download emulators and programs from sources you trust, and always do research before installing anything.

Finally, there is also a legal risk. Although emulators are legal almost everywhere, it may not be possible to download programs that can be used on these emulators without paying for them. Check the regulations for emulated programs in your country before downloading them.

The most popular types of emulators used today

The two most common uses for emulators are those for playing video games and those for running other operating systems. Here are some examples of the most popular emulators around.

Video game emulators

  • dolphin lets you play Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on one computer, as well as modify them in different ways. Some original single player games have even added online multiplayer modes.
  • MAME is an open source emulator that was originally released in 1997 and is designed to run older arcade games.
  • VisualBoyAdvance, or VBA, can run almost any Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance game ever released.

There are also various game emulators running on Android phones.

Operating system emulators

  • Parallels and WINE both allow you to run Windows on a Mac computer. It opens a Windows desktop in a new window, just like any other app.
  • BlueStacks allows you to download and open Android apps on a desktop computer.
  • Xcode is an application designed and released by Apple that can run iPhone apps on a Mac. Apple soon claims that it will be an even easier way to emulate both iPhone and iPad apps on your Mac.

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