If you want to experience what it was like to play a video game on the old school consoles and some of the new ones, then you don’t need to buy individual consoles because now you can enjoy all the benefits of these consoles directly on your PC.
Emulation is the practice of using a program (called an emulator) on a PC to mimic the behavior of a video game console. Certainly, this is not something new, but now they are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can emulate 3D gaming consoles as recent as the Wii.
There are emulators for most retro game consoles, which are legal software packages as long as they are based on original copies downloaded from BIOS.
Below, you will find the best PC emulators that will allow you to enjoy some of the best video games in history.
🏆 List of the best 14+ video game console emulators for platforms such as PC, laptop, notebook, tablet, Windows, MAC, Linux etc.
🥇 Project64 – Nintendo 64 console emulator
The N64 was one of the first 3D game consoles that had some great games like Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Golden Eye.
Project64 is a Nintendo 64 emulator that at first seemed to come out of nowhere, offering excellent compatibility with small errors. Future versions only improved things more!
There aren’t many N64 emulators, but Project 64 is undoubtedly one of the best. With a decent graphics card and a good amount of RAM, this emulator will run most N64 games quite perfectly.
It also includes multiplayer support, cheat options and allows users to adjust the aspect ratio.
Download link: https://www.pj64-emu.com/
🥈 Dolphin – Wii and Game cube console emulator
The Dolphin emulator is raising the quality for console emulation. That is largely because it is the first to emulate a seventh generation console, the Wii, as well as the GameCube.
It is also the first emulator that provides online games. The emulator is receiving regular updates that give it considerable compatibility and increase performance. Dolphin is now much faster after the 5 update. In a survey on the Dolphin website, about 87% voted that the emulator had perfect or playable compatibility with minor technical and audio problems.
Since Dolphin emulates more hardware, it has higher system requirements than most emulators. You will have to have a system with at least 2 GB of RAM, Intel Core i5 or i7 processors and a GPU that is compatible with Direct X 11.1 and OpenGL 4.4. Also note that this console emulator only runs on 64-bit Windows, Mac OS X and Linux platforms.
Download link: https://es.dolphin-emu.org/download/
🥉 NullDC / Reicast – Sega Dreamcast Emulator
NullDC is an open source Sega Dreamcast and Sega Naomi video game system emulator for Microsoft Windows and other platforms.
After not having been updated for almost two years, the author of the project «drk || Raziel »announced its decision to launch the source code with its new compilation and became so to speak in Reicast.
Reicast is more than a simple emulator; It is part of a legacy. Some of you may or may not know that SEGA was once a powerful contender in the console market.
It was the first console with a 128-bit vector graphics engine and also the first to offer online connectivity. Dreamcast finally closed along with Sega’s console manufacturing business, however, its fans refuse to let it die. Reicast is an opportunity for veteran fans to take their favorite Dreamcast titles with them.
More information: NullDC / Reicast
4. PPSSPP – Sony psp console emulator
PlayStation Portable also known as PSP is one of the best portable game consoles ever developed.
The portable Playstation simulator suitable to emulate this console is the (PPSSPP), this emulator was specially created to run PSP games directly on your personal computer (PC), Windows, Mac OSX, Linux PC and mobile devices.
The PPSSPP emulator has powerful and robust features, undoubtedly the best, since it made it possible to play most PSP games with amazing images. If maybe you want to revisit the old days when the PSP was still “fresh”, then you must download the PPSSPP emulator on your PC to recover those memories.
The PPSSPP emulator is very easy to configure and you can even transfer .ISOs and PSP to continue where you left off. The PPSSPP emulator is available on Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, iOS and Android.
Its acronym means PlayStation Portable Simulator Suitable For Playing Portable.
Download link: https://www.ppsspp.org/downloads.html
5. Epsxe – Play station one emulator
Considered by many as the best Playstation 1 emulator for PC, this program will allow you to run almost all your PS1 games without problems, as long as your machine has the juice and is configured correctly. The emulator uses an add-in system where almost everything is handled with add-ons, so you may want to investigate the best way to configure it on your computer.
Like PCSX2, with the appropriate accessories and settings, and assuming a basic-good computer, your old PS1 games can run in HD, providing high-resolution nostalgic memory.
Most games are compatible with the emulator and more are added to the compatibility list every day. You can configure your control in the emulator and enjoy the games as if you were playing on the console.
Download link: http://www.epsxe.com/download.php
6. Pcsx2 – Play station 2 emulator
PCSX2 is the first PS2 emulator (Play station 2) for Windows and Linux PCs, this showed us that PS2 emulation is possible. Today it has great game compatibility that continues to grow with each new version.
For a complete compatibility list, you may want to check the official site before trying to play a game.
This allows you to run your favorite PS2 games in HD quality, such as Okami, Silent Hill 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Kingdom Hearts 2 and much more. The program is based on a complement system and requires a powerful computer to configure the internal structure of PS2.
More information: PCSX2
7. Openemu – Formulator of different retro consoles
OpenEmu is a single window tool designed to work with a large number of retro consoles, including Game Boy (Color and Advance), NeoGeo Pocket, NES, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Nintendo DS and Atari, to name a few.
You can configure physical cotroles via USB and wireless, including Wii Remote and Wii U Pro, the Xbox 360 controller, PlayStation Dualshock 3 and Dualshock 4, Sega Saturn, Retrolink SNES and N64, Logitech gamepads and more.
OpenEmu can scan your Mac’s hard drive the first time it opens and automatically adds any ROM you have downloaded from the web. The application uses different open source cores to run games for different consoles, and the available emulators are shown in the left sidebar. You can create different collections of games from different consoles (something like a music playlist in iTunes).
Download link: http://openemu.org/
8. DoSBox – DOS games emulator
DoSBox is one of the best PC console emulators that recreates an MS-DOS compatible environment. The emulator looks impressive and is complete with sound, inputs, graphics, controls and even basic networks.
When you run a classic DOS game completely without modifications, the MS-DOS environment is complete enough to perform the task. The use of all the features of the DOSBox emulator is simple and basic, provided you master the necessary basic concepts that revolve around the MS-DOS.
DOSBox is the perfect emulator that emulates consoles accurately and at native speed, followed by its great images. DOSBox is available on Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.
In fact, it works so well that game companies use it to repackage their old DOS games so they can be played on modern computers. As a separate note, it is entirely possible to run Windows 9x and DOS based operating systems in DOSBox if you wish.
Download link: https://www.dosbox.com/download.php?main=1
9. GBA-M – Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance emulator
VisualBoyAdvance-M, or simply VBA-M, is an enhanced fork of the inactive VisualBoyAdvance project, which adds several features and maintains an updated code base.
The VBA-M emulates Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance.
After VisualBoyAdvance became inactive in 2004, several bifurcations began to appear, such as VBALink, which allowed users to emulate the pairing of two Game Boy devices. Finally, VBA-M was created, which merged several of the branches into a single code base. Therefore, the M in VBA-M means Merge.
Download link: https://sourceforge.net/projects/vbam/
10. Desmume – Nintendo DS emulator
Nintendo’s dual-screen console can be played on your computer using DeSmuME, with both simulated screens on your computer’s monitor. Your mouse is used as a stylus for touch input. It even supports games that require you to play with your device on its side.
DeSmuME is free and turns out to be the first Nintendo DS emulator that runs commercial games. It is also compatible with Linux, OS X, Wii and AmigaOS 4 devices. It has also been ported to other systems.
It has been in constant development improving and adding new features to make it run smoothly. And it has been on the scene for a long time, so most games should be able to run smoothly. Keep in mind that the Linux version must compile itself.
Download link: http://desmume.org/download/
11. Citra – Nintendo 3ds emulator
To play 3DS games on PC, you must use the Citra 3DS Emulator. Although Citra has not reached the level of compatibility and accuracy of Dolphin, however, it performs admirably well. A good amount of the most popular 3DS games are fully playable in the emulator, to boot.
Citra 3DS is an easy-to-use emulator program that allows you to emulate the Nintendo 3DS on your computer or laptops. It also turns out to be an open source DS emulator that is compatible with Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.
Citra offers some really unique benefits. Namely, it is not under the limitations of the original 3DS hardware, so you can run the games with a much higher resolution in Citra than it could be in your 3DS. You can also add some other graphic settings. For example, in Pokémon Sun / Moon, you can eliminate irregular black lines of environmental characters and models to have a clear gaming experience.
Download link: https://citra-emu.org/download/
12. Mame – Arcade Emulator
MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) is an emulator application that has been designed to recreate the hardware of the arcade game system in software so you can run them on your personal computers. The main intention is to preserve the history of the game, prevent old games from being forgotten. The objective of MAME is to be a reference to the internal operation of emulated arcade machines.
The emulator now supports more than seven thousand unique games and ten thousand sets of real ROM images, although not all compatible games can be played. It is an emulator for many video game consoles and computer systems.
Discharge links: http://mamedev.org/release.html
13. Kega – Mega Drive sega emulator
The console that introduced us to Sonic The Hedgehog and his friends. The console that started a war with Nintendo and gave him a run for his money. Sega Genesis was one of the most successful consoles in the past and made Sega one of the game giants in those days. There are a lot of amazing games that deserve to be played on this console and if you don’t own one again on the day, then you definitely have to play those games right now.
SEGA no longer manufactures game consoles, but you always relive some Sonic nostalgia with Kega Fusion. Fusion is perhaps the best emulator for retro SEGA consoles because you can play with Master System, Genesis, Game Gear, 32 X, SG1000, SC3000, SF7000 and MegaCD. That’s almost all SEGA consoles except Dreamcast and Saturn. Provides support for USB gamepad, Netplay option for online games, video and audio capture options and support against traps. Kega Fusion is also a portable program that can run from USB flash drives.
Unlike most Mega Drive emulators of the time, Kega Fusion attaches extremely high importance to accuracy compared to speed or other features (such as netplay, movie recording or other features found in emulators such as Gens) .
However, Fusion is highly optimized and works very efficiently. In a Pentium III class or a similar microprocessor, Kega Fusion works at 60 frames per second with Sega Mega Drive ROM, although with the popular 2xSaI graphic filter plugin, the processing power needed to achieve 60 frames per second is much higher (also It may be noted that by emulating Sega 32XROM at full speed, a 850 MHz or faster microprocessor is strongly recommended).
Download link: https://segaretro.org/Kega_Fusion
14. Retro arch – All in one emulator
RetroArch is a new generation of all-in-one emulators that allows you to play games for a variety of retro consoles. As such, RetroArch runs most consoles from PlayStation 1 to GameBoy Advance. Users can add a variety of console emulator cores to the software. That is a great advantage compared to most other emulators that are limited to a single game console. However, it requires a little more configuration for alternative emulators.
This emulator allows you to run classic games on a wide range of computers and consoles through its elegant graphic interface. The settings are also unified, so the configuration is done once and for all.
RetroArch can run the usual platforms like Windows, Mac OS X and Linux, but it is independent since it can support many more platforms.
It supports operating systems that not even Microsoft and Apple support, such as macOS X in PowerPC Macs, and RetroArch is available on Windows operating systems from Windows 95.
In addition to all that, RetroArch also runs on iOS and Android for tablets and phones, as well as game consoles such as PS3, PSP, PS Vita, Wii, Wii U, Switch and more.
Download link: http://www.retroarch.com/index.php?page=platforms
PC hardware choice for console emulation
In our case, the CPU is the most important part of a computer whose main job will be to run emulator video games. This is because it performs all or most of the simulation of the console during emulation.
For many older system emulators, it may be the case that only the speed and power of the first core of your CPU are important for emulation quality. But for newer system emulators, two or more cores can come into play, and there are usually two: one that simulates the center console processor and one that simulates the console graphics processor.
As a result, the CPU must be the first part selected for an emulation compilation and must be the highest level component.
Some of the console emulators of the last decade have dabbled in the implementation of more cores to improve performance, but for an emulation compilation, the overall speed of a single core should continue to have priority over the core count.
Graphics Card (GPU)
It may be natural to assume that the graphics card is the most important part of an emulation computer, due to the fact that the graphics card is the most important part of a general PC gaming platform, but this is typically incorrect.
Because most of the simulation of the console hardware that occurs during emulation, in most cases, it is the duty of the CPU. In fact, unlike conventional PC games, it is often possible to raise the resolution of an emulated console considerably without significantly degrading performance.
Even so, the GPU cannot be completely neglected for the following reasons: some emulators, especially those of the most recent consoles, have taken better advantage of the power of graphics cards; many emulators make use of the graphics card in some limited way; There is always the possibility that the future development of emulators will lead to the GPU-powered emulation of a console that is important to you; And most people who want to play emulated video games would also like to have the ability to play general PC games, even if that is not their top priority.
Therefore, a balance has been achieved in the compilations of emulators: the graphics card has a lower priority and a lower level option than other parts in each compilation, but a modern card is still important, not too unbalanced to Every situation .
Unlike most other compilation situations, RAM is something that should be prioritized to some extent for an emulation compilation. Everything from shaders and other graphic assets to relevant saving processes and some preload functions can make use of RAM capacity.
In fact, on my personal PC, the emulation of the Wii U is one of two tasks that take advantage of the 16 GB of installed RAM of my PC using more than 8 GB at a time (the other was the 3D rendering) . But for users who do not intend to use the latest emulators (such as those on the Wii U and PS3), 8GB or even 4GB of RAM is still enough.
Storage (HDD, SSD)
The amount of storage you need for emulation depends largely on the consoles you want to emulate.
If your main interest in emulation is mostly retro, you don’t need much. In particular, if you want to play cartridge-based home consoles since the 1980s and early 1990s (including Atari, Master System, Genesis, Neo Geo, NES, SNES and N64 consoles) and handheld computers until early from the 2000s (including Game Gear, Neo Geo Pocket, Neo Geo Pocket Color, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance), then theoretically you could have less than 100 GB of storage for your entire machine, including the system operational, emulators, and games.
This is because the files for these classic games are tiny compared to the capabilities of modern storage devices, which makes it possible to store hundreds or even thousands of them in a relatively small amount of space. Even so, even in this situation, we recommend getting at least 500 GB for a desktop computer, just to be sure.
If, on the other hand, you are interested in emulating more modern things, you will need more space. In particular, if you want to play disc-based home consoles (including Saturn, Dreamcast, PS1, PS2, PS3, GameCube, Wii and Wii U) and portable consoles from the mid-2000s onwards (including PSP , DS and 3DS), then you will need a lot more space for your entire library, and you should invest at least 1 TB.
Power supply (PSU)
Obtaining a power supply unit that does not support sufficient wattage for your PC, or (even worse) obtaining a good budget power supply that may not have been well done, increases the risk of catastrophic failures for your PC. The specifications or numbers on the packaging do not tell the whole story, so, unless you are an electrical engineer, the best way to find a good power supply is to ask an expert.
Do not risk damaging its components. Get a high quality power supply. Unlike many other components, the quality of the power supplies does not increase so much over time. A high quality power supply that is purchased today will remain a high quality power supply in 5 or 10 years.
Frequently asked questions about emulation
Is the emulation morally wrong?
Do not! Emulation only refers to the use of software to mimic the behavior of a console. As long as the code of each emulator is completely original and does not steal any code or device belonging to another company or person, then an emulator is a legal creation.
In addition, emulation is an absolutely crucial means of preserving access to old consoles and games; People who work in emulators are very often only one or more passionate volunteers, and the vast majority of emulators that exist have been made available to all by their creators, free of charge and open source. Not only is the emulation surely not morally wrong, but it must be celebrated and appreciated!
However, duplicating copyrighted code or games is absolutely illegal in the US. UU. (And in some other countries, depending on the circumstances). Using the BIOS of a copyrighted console or a piece of software that does not belong to it is qualified as piracy.
Does an emulation PC require a powerful CPU?
Yes but not always. The CPU is definitely the most important factor in your PC’s ability to play games in emulators, as does all or most of the console hardware simulation. You can find more information about this in the CPU part of the previous section.
But in console emulators of the 70s, 80s and until the early 90s, a low-end CPU should be more than capable of providing pleasant performance.
And it is also true that some emulator developers for recent systems such as the PS3 and 3DS are discovering how to better harness the power of the GPU to increase performance.
But none of that changes the fact that your CPU will be the main determinant of your PC’s emulation capabilities, and that the emulation of the last 20 years of consoles requires reasonably high computing power.
Why don’t emulators always require (or benefit from) a powerful graphics card?
It is natural to assume that the graphics card would play an important role in games through emulators, since it plays a very important role in common PC games. But in most situations, that natural assumption is incorrect.
This is because, as explained with some additional extension in the CPU and GPU subsections of the section above this article, it is likely that any given emulator relies heavily on the first or both CPU cores ( which generally simulate the behavior of parts of the console, including graphics processing parts), and almost nothing on the graphics card.
This is also the reason why we recommend prioritizing the speed of a single core over the speed of several cores in your CPU selections.
Emulation is difficult to configure. Is there anywhere online where I can find help setting up emulators?
Yes! There are resources and forums on numerous websites to help you configure your emulators.
First, many emulators (as well as interfaces) have their own websites associated with their own forums (like this one for RPCS3 ), and sometimes even wikis (like this simple resources page for Citra ). Therefore, it is likely that the official website of the emulator you are trying to use is a good place to start.
Second, Reddit hosts a general emulation subreddit, an emulation troubleshooting subnet and a wide range of specific subreddits for popular pieces of emulation software, such as / r / rpcs3, / cemu, / mame, / dolphin / retroarch
Third, there is a massive repository of information on the General Emulation Wiki .
Beyond that, most developing emulators also have Discord, GitHub and conventional social media channels to act as additional resources. Not to mention the existence of YouTube tutorials.
So look for a community relevant to your question, ask a serious question and you are likely to find the answer you need.
What is a frontend? What is the best frontend program for emulation? Are there any free options?
An interface is a menu system that allows you to start all your emulators from a single interface, similar to a modern console start menu, and / or provides a UI for command line emulators that lack native user interfaces . The best interface comes down to personal preferences, but yes, there are free options.
Some examples of popular frontends are HyperSpin, EmulationStation and LaunchBox. All three are available for free, but LaunchBox also offers a premium paid version called “Big Box” with some additional features. (Note: All desktop versions of EmulationStation are no longer developed or supported.)