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Get help with computer-related problems, or just chat about hardware, software, emulation, programming, networking, smartphones/tablets or pretty much any other computer topic.
Emulator Recommendations

Note: You will NOT find links to ROMs, BIOS files, or other copyrighted materials here. Any links to, or requests for, such files will be deleted. Repeated offenses will result in a ban.

Introduction

The goal of this document is to provide a summary of the best emulators available. "Best" first and foremost refers to accuracy and compatibility, but performance and usability are also taken into consideration. "Best" does not necessarily mean "popular"; as such, if a popular emulator is not included on this list, there is a good chance it was left out deliberately.

That is not to say this list is perfect - far from it! I'm continuously trying to improve upon it and make it a valuable resource for anyone who is looking for basic emulator information. If you have any suggestions for emulators to add to the list, please write a post and share it.


Getting Started

You will find emulators for most of the well-known and some of the lesser-known systems here. My personal recommendation is to use one or both of the multi-system emulators listed below, which should cover a good portion of your emulation needs, and then go through the rest of the list for any systems that they don't cover.



Multi-system Emulators


BizHawk
http://tasvideos.org/BizHawk.html
Available for: Windows

This multi-emulator is predominantly used for TAS speedruns, but it can be used for general emulator needs as well. It's also very user-friendly.

BizHawk emulates the following systems:
  • NES/Famicom/Famicom Disk System
  • Super NES
  • Nintendo 64
  • Game Boy/Super Gameboy/Game Boy Color
  • Game Boy Advance
  • Sega Master System/Game Gear/SG-1000
  • Sega Genesis
  • Sega Saturn
  • PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 (including SuperGrafx and PCE CD)
  • Atari 2600
  • Atari 7800
  • Atari Lynx
  • ColecoVision
  • TI-83 (graphing calculator)
  • Wonderswan/Wonderswan Color

    Support for additional systems sometime in the future include: Commodore 64, PSP, Intellivision, PS1


    RetroArch
    http://www.libretro.com/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, iOS, BB10, OpenPandora gaming handheld, jailbroken/modded home consoles (PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, original Xbox, Gamecube)

    RetroArch can be a bit cumbersome to use, so I would suggest using BizHawk instead if you have trouble with this. However, if you can put up with its interface, it serves as the absolute best one-stop shop for emulation needs. With some effort, RetroArch can also be set up to work seamlessly with HTPC's. It is worth noting that the developers are working on a front-end for the Windows port that will make it easier to use.

    Systems emulated (based on the PC version of RetroArch):
  • Arcade
  • Game Boy/Game Boy Color
  • Game Boy Advance
  • Lynx
  • Neo Geo Pocket/Color
  • NES
  • Nintendo 64
  • PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16
  • PlayStation 1
  • Sega Master System
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Sega Megadrive/Genesis
  • Sega CD
  • Super NES
  • Virtual Boy
  • WonderSwan/Color

    RetroArch also has ports of the following game engines:
  • NxEngine - plays the freeware game Cave Story
  • prboom - plays Doom, Doom II, Final Doom and other Doom IWAD mods
  • Tyrquake - plays Quake




    Nintendo Consoles

    NES

    Nestopia UE
    http://0ldsk00l.ca/nestopia.html
    Available for: Windows, Linux, FreeBSD, OpenBSD, NetBSD

    Nintendulator
    http://www.qmtpro.com/~nes/nintendulator/
    Available for: Windows

    Nestopia and Nintendulator are the best and most accurate NES emulators out there. However, it's worth mentioning that the NES emulation in BizHawk is basically on par with these in terms of accuracy.



    Super NES

    higan (formerly known as bSNES)
    http://byuu.org
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac

    This is the most accurate emulator for any home console you will find, it is the only Super NES emulator to be fully compatible with every single Super NES game ever released, it has no known emulation bugs, and it is recommended above anything else. It also emulates the Super Game Boy, BS-X Satellaview and Sufami Turbo add-ons. higan also supports NES and Gameboy/Color/Advance, but these portions of higan are still a work in progress and I'd recommend skipping them for now.

    Emulation accuracy requires more powerful hardware to run games at full speed; therefore, to accommodate people with different levels of hardware, higan has three flavors: "Accuracy" for the best accuracy but higher system requirements, "Performance" for still-pretty-good accuracy but lower system requirements, and "Balanced" which is somewhere in-between. Most people can use the Balanced core with no performance issues.

    Some people don't care for the interface in higan. If you're one of these people, you can still use the bSNES core in the multi-system emulator RetroArch, or you can use Snes9x (see below).


    Snes9x
    https://sites.google.com/site/bearoso/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac

    The second best Super NES emulator in terms of accuracy - almost on par with the higan performance core. It's also very user-friendly.



    Nintendo 64

    Project 64
    http://www.pj64-emu.com/
    Available for: Windows

    Mupen64plus
    https://code.google.com/p/mupen64plus/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, FreeBSD, AROS

    Because Mupen64plus is command-line, the easiest way to use it is with a front-end. I personally recommend using one of the multi-system emulators (particularly BizHawk) listed above - both of them use Mupen64plus for their N64 emulation.

    Project 64 is your best bet, but if you don't have Windows, then you'll want to go with Mupen64plus. However, both are worth trying - some games may work better in one than the other.



    Gamecube/Wii

    Dolphin
    http://dolphin-emu.org/
    Available for: Windows, Mac, linux, FreeBSD, Android

    Dolphin used to be pretty buggy, but it's actually a solid emulator now with great compatibility. It is actively maintained, with new development builds usually being released several times every day. Dolphin supports Wii Remotes and Motion Plus via bluetooth, or you can use a PC controller or mouse/keyboard. It also lets you play all games in 1080p or higher definitions (assuming you have a display that supports it). It is compatible with the majority of the Wii and Gamecube libraries, either perfectly or with minor sound/graphical glitches. It also supports netplay, even for Gamecube titles!



    Nintendo Handhelds

    Gameboy/Color

    Gambatte
    http://sourceforge.net/projects/gambatte/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, BSD

    A cycle-accurate Gameboy/Gameboy Color emulator.


    TGB Dual
    http://www.emulator-zone.com/doc.php/gameboy/tgbdual.html
    Available for: Windows

    I'm including this emulator solely because it supports linked play. Pokémon fans rejoice!



    Gameboy Advance

    mGBA
    https://endrift.com/mgba/
    Available for: Windows, Ubuntu, Mac

    This project is very young, but it's already faster and more accurate than VBA. The developer is still improving it and adding more features.



    Nintendo DS

    DeSmuME
    http://desmume.org/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, AmigaOS 4, Xbox 360, Wii, Android

    For improved emulation, you should obtain the BIOS files (there are two) and firmware. Once you have them, make sure you configure DeSmuME to actually use them.




    Virtual Boy

    VBjin
    http://code.google.com/p/vbjin/
    Available for: Windows

    VBjin is easy to use and it actually works great. It is worth noting that VBjin is based on Mednafen's Virtual Boy core, which is what RetroArch uses for Virtual Boy Emulation.



    Sony Systems

    PlayStation 1

    Xebra
    http://www.emucr.com/2013/08/xebra-20130815.html
    Available for: Windows

    Using this emulator was like a revelation for me - it just works and it doesn't put you through plug-in hell. Just obtain the BIOS file, put it in the emulator folder, load your game and go. Simple! It's also one of the most accurate PS1 emulators to date. Sadly, I noticed one of my favorite PS1 games freezes when I try playing it in Xebra, while it works fine in some of the other emulators. I definitely advise you to keep more than one PS1 emulator handy - you will find that some games work better in one or the other.

    It's also worth mentioning that Mednafen's PS1 core (which is what the multi-system emulators I've listed both use) is one of the best PS1 emulators you'll find.

    I will be updating the PS1 section again at some point. There are still newer versions of several PS1 emulators that I need to check them out.



    PlayStation 2

    PCSX2
    http://pcsx2.net/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac

    This is pretty much your only option for PS2 emulation. Having said that, it's not actually a bad option. For a brief intro and a list of system requirements, visit the Getting Started section on their website. You can also browse the compatibility list to see what games are playable, which as of this writing includes about 94 percent of the PS2 library. Please note you will need to obtain a PS2 BIOS file - the website actually provides instructions on how to dump the BIOS from an actual PS2, which is the legal way of getting it.




    PSP

    PPSSPP
    http://www.ppsspp.org/
    Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Blackberry, Meego, Symbian, Pandora

    This emulator is actively developed and continues to see drastic improvements with its updates. The compatibility is actually pretty decent and is continuing to improve with every release.



    Sega Systems


    Genesis Plus GX
    https://code.google.com/p/genplus-gx/
    Available for: Gamecube/Wii as well as other platforms (it is included in RetroArch and Bizhawk)

    Systems emulated: Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega/Mega CD, Master System, Game Gear, SG-1000



    Kega Fusion
    http://www.eidolons-inn.net/tiki-index.php?page=kega
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac

    Systems emulated: SG-1000, SC-3000, SF-7000, Master System, Game Gear, Sega Pico, Mega Drive (Genesis), Sega CD, Sega 32X, SVP

    Kega Fusion is closed source. I would advise you to use the open source Genesis Plux GX instead unless you specifically want to emulate 32X games since Genesis Plus GX cannot do this yet. For improved Sega CD emulation, it's recommended to find a copy of the Sega CD BIOS.



    Sega Saturn

    Yabause
    http://yabause.org/
    Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, Dreamcast, PSP, Wii

    Yabause is user-friendly, open source, and it's also included in Bizhawk.




    Others

    Atari 2600

    Stella
    http://stella.sourceforge.net/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac

    Widely regarded as the best Atari 2600 emulator, and it still receives regular updates.



    Arcade

    Mame
    http://mamedev.org/
    Available for: Windows, unofficial ports for Linux and Mac

    Just a heads up: Mame can be a confusing pain in the neck, and you may have difficulty getting some games to run.





    Final Burn Alpha
    http://www.barryharris.me.uk/fba.php
    Available for: Windows

    FBA does not support as many games as Mame, but it's a nice, quicker, more use-friendly alternative. There are some games that it can play that Mame cannot, so it may be worth keeping both emulators handy.



    DOS

    DOSBox
    http://www.dosbox.com/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, and some others

    If you have old DOS games laying around, you can bring them back to life on modern operating systems using DOSBox. Just dump your files into a folder somewhere, mount that folder in DOSBox, and run the executables like you would back in the DOS days. And yes, just to warn you, this emulator is quite a bit more involving than your usual emulator and requires some basic command line skill.




    ZX Spectrum

    ZX Spin
    http://www.worldofspectrum.org/emulators.html#pcwin
    Available for: Windows

    The link provided contains a very large list of ZX Spectrum emulators. You are, of course, free to try any of them, but ZX Spin seems to be the best one you can get without paying. You will have to scroll down a bit to find ZX Spin in the list.



    Apple II

    AppleWin
    http://applewin.berlios.de/
    Available for: Windows



    Commodore 64

    Vice
    http://vice-emu.sourceforge.net/
    Available for: Windows, Linux, Mac, and some others


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