Emulation offers ton of geeky fun [Columbia Daily Tribune (MO)]
(Columbia Daily Tribune (MO) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Part interactive history lesson, part technological curiosity, computer emulation also can be a lot of fun, in a retro-geeky kind of way. Someone find my Spock ears!
By definition, computer emulation is the technology that allows one machine to obtain the same results as another. For example, a computer running Windows 7 can run special software that emulates a completely different hardware system, including many that ceased production more than 30 years ago. Emulation software is able to mimic the look and feel so well because in many cases, they use the same code as the original, pulled from the machine's ROM chips and preserved as image files.
If you're an old-school user from the computer hobbyist days or simply interested in the history of personal computing, using hardware and software emulation is like stepping into a time machine. It's one thing to read about, say, an Apple II computer from 1977, but the likelihood of finding one in perfect condition, let alone software to run on it, is pretty slim.
Through the magic of emulation, however, you can experience what it was like to run a brand-new Apple II with access to most titles in its 35-year-old software library. Tell me that's not remarkable.
The list of emulated systems from the golden age of 8-bit computing is enough to make some people drool: Acorn Atom and Acorn Electron; Amstrad CPC; Apple I through III; Atari 400, 800 and 5200; Coleco Adam; Commodore 64, VIC-20 and Plus/4; Jupiter ACE; Mattel Aquarius; MSX; Oric; Sharp MZ; Sinclair ZX Spectrum, ZX80 and ZX81; Tandy 1000 and TRS-80.
In the late 1980s, 32-bit machines stormed the market, specially made to support the new operating systems' graphical user interface, changing the face of personal computing forever. Emulated machines from this amazing era include the Acorn Archimedes, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Apple Lisa and Mac, Sharp X68000 and, of course, any generic x86 IBM clone.
Here's a few of my favorite vintage hardware systems and the best emulators available for each:
Commodore 64 -- This remains the best-selling personal computer of all time and, feature for feature, arguably the best PC ever made. When it was introduced in 1982, it was a technological marvel, including a whopping 64KB of RAM, a built-in BASIC operating system, a 16-color display with sprite graphics and the world's first co- processor devoted entirely to sound, the famous SID chip. A dream machine for a new wave of programmers and hobbyists, the C64 drove the PC revolution.
Some of the best C64 emulators available for Windows include Hoxs64, available at www.hoxs64.net, and CCS64, found0 at www.ccs64.com. Both products are free to use and emulate C64 hardware, including joysticks, mice and paddles, with support for as many as four 1541 disk drives, the C2N tape drive and cartridge- based software. Nearly 10,000 software titles were released for the C64, and many of them as still available as ROMs.
Commodore Amiga -- OK, I admit an allegiance to Commodore machines, but they owned the 1980s, so there's a lot of great memories kept alive and well by these emulators. The Amiga was the 32-bit successor to the C64 and proved every bit as innovative. It featured groundbreaking sound and video technology and the PC world's savviest user base.
To emulate the Amiga in Windows, you'll need a copy of either WinFellow, from fellow.sourceforge.net, or WinUAE, available at www.amigaemulator.org. Read the FAQs and follow the links to find all the operating system files necessary to run the emulation. Setup can also be tricky, but it's worth it to relive some of the best software ever created for home computers.
Hardware emulation is useless without software to run on it. Next week, we'll look at more classic hardware emulators, as well as the controversial topic of making outdated software free to emulate.
Scott A. May is a local computer consultant and Deskside Support technician at IBM. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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