What is an emulator? the benefits, risks and more

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  • An emulator is usually a program that lets you run software from a completely different device on your computer.
  • The most common uses of emulators are to play video games and run different operating systems. For example, you can install a Mac operating system on your Windows computer.
  • Emulators can allow you to run applications that would 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.
  • Visit the Business Insider Technical Reference Library for more stories.

An emulator is a computer program (or sometimes custom computer 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 application that allows you to 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 amplifier on your computer.

These are all different types of emulators. Here’s what you need to know about emulators, including why people use them, how they generally work, and what types there are.

Why people use emulators

Each type of computer and operating system is unique. This often means that a program or application that works on one system will not work on another.

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

This is where emulators come in. Emulators can bridge the gap between these devices, allowing programs to run on all kinds of hardware.

For example, if you have a Windows application that you need to run on your MacBook, you can download the Parallels emulator. Parallels will, in a sense, create a Windows computer inside your MacBook – this will allow you to run any Windows application you need.

Parallels Desktop 16 for Mac

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

Parallels Newsroom


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

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

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

The disadvantages of emulators

Because emulators must mimic the behavior of an entirely 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 emulating a new system. For example, almost any computer can emulate an 80s Nintendo entertainment system without too much lag. But you will need a powerful graphics card and processor to emulate the Nintendo Switch, which was only released in 2017. And even then, it might be difficult to get this Switch emulator to work without a hitch.

Mario Odyssey on Windows

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


BSoD / YouTube games



Users should also be careful not to download a virus masquerading as an emulator. Make sure you only download emulators and programs from trusted sources and always do your research before installing anything.

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

The most popular types of emulators in use today

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

Video game emulators

  • Dolphin allows you to play Nintendo GameCube and Wii games on a computer, as well as modify them in various ways. Some originally single-player games even have online multiplayer modes added.
  • MAME is an open source emulator originally released in 1997 designed to run older arcade games.
  • VisualBoyAdvance, Where VBA, can run almost all Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games ever released.

There are also various game emulators that work on Android phones.

Operating system emulators

  • Parallels and WINE both allow you to run Windows on a Mac computer. This will open a Windows desktop in a new window, just like any other application.
  • BlueStacks allows you to download and open Android apps on a desktop computer.
  • Xcode is a program designed and published by Apple that can run iPhone applications on a Mac. Soon Apple is claiming that there will be an even easier way to emulate iPhone and iPad apps on your Mac.


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