7 Great Cross-Platform Emulators For 5 Classic Computer Platforms

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classic computer emulatorsIn the same vein as the recent flurry of console emulation articles, today we’re focusing on classic computer platforms of decades gone by. Whilst there were quite a few, we’ve chosen 5 of the most popular and well-known systems along with their respective emulators.

Whilst gaming took off with the mainstream crowds in the arcades, and eventually via consoles in living rooms; early computers played their part too with often entirely different playable creations. Whether you want to relive some classic gaming moments or experience the thrill (!) of your first word processing program, these emulators can help.

All bases are covered, be it Windows, Linux or Mac. In addition to an emulator, you’re going to need some games or programs (ROMs, disk images) and in some cases a BIOS file.

Commodore – 64 [Frodo]

classic computer emulators

The Commodore 64 has gone down in history as the best-selling personal computer model ever, with somewhere between 12 and 17 million units sold over its 12 year lifespan. Initially introduced in early 1982, the Commodore 64 had a staggering 64Kb of RAM and came in a self-contained unit, incorporating a keyboard.

The machine sold well initially as it exceeded the abilities of similar IBM machines, with improved sound and graphical abilities over its rivals. It has even been compared to Henry Ford’s iconic Model-T for its part in bringing modern, affordable technology to the masses.

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Frodo is a cross-platform emulator that will enable you to sample many of the 10,000 or so commercially produced titles for the platform. The homepage is packed with extra software downloads, manuals and guides for writing your own C64 programs.

Sinclair – ZX Spectrum [Speccy] [ZXSP]

computer emulator

Also released in 1982, the ZX Spectrum was an 8bit personal computer incorporating the keyboard-and-computer design that was so popular at the time. There were a variety of models made over the system’s lifespan, each with differing, improved innards.

The software library features more than 20,000 titles and incredibly people are still writing for the ZX Spectrum, with more than 90 releases last year. This is more down to the popularity of emulators, and the original ZX units are highly sought after by collectors.

Speccy is an emulator which supports a range of ZX Spectrum models. It runs on Windows and Linux. Mac users might want to try ZXSP.

Commodore – Amiga [UAE] [WinUAE]

computer emulator

A personal computer platform that’s very dear to my heart, the Amiga range was home to some unique and important developments for both software and games. The first Amiga system, the A1000 was described as “years ahead of its time” and hailed as the “world’s first multimedia, multitasking personal computer” by PC World in 2006, and listed as the seventh most important computer of all time in the same magazine.

It was the budget Amiga models that really shone though – the A500, A600 and A1200 came through as real gaming machines, giving birth to still-playable and celebrated titles like Sensible Soccer and Cannon Fodder.

UAE is an Amiga emulator for UNIX (Linux, et al.) with WinUAE being the Windows port. There are plenty of ports of UAE to Mac OS and far more obscure platforms.

Microsoft – MS-DOS [DOSBox]

computer emulator

For those of you who are younger than the rest of us, before Windows there was DOS (which stood for Disk Operating System). Each version of Windows released prior to XP was essentially a shell for DOS, albeit with some big and fairly obvious enhancements.

Many games and early software suites thrived on the DOS platform. The growing popularity of IBM PCs in the early 90’s paved the way for PC-borne classics like Lucas Arts’ Monkey Island series, Apogee’s Commander Keen and id software’s groundbreaking FPS, Wolfenstein.

The success of the PC as a gaming machine wasn’t set in stone at this point either, with Commodore’s Amiga bringing up the rear (and somewhat failing catastrophically outside of the UK due to poor marketing on Commodore’s end). These days many franchises owe their inception and popularity to original DOS classics, and you can play these with the fantastic DOSBox emulator.

If you’re stuck and need some help, we’ve got a handy article to help you on your way.

Apple – Macintosh & Macintosh II [Basilisk II]

classic computer emulators

Who could forget about Apple, and the classic Macintosh released in 1985? This was the very first personal computer to enjoy commercial success using a graphical user interface (GUI) rather than a command line.

This soon evolved, and the original Macintosh was renamed the Macintosh 128k when the upgraded 512k version came out. In 1987 Apple released the Macintosh II, which retailed for just under $5,500. Whilst it was an expensive bit of kit, it was the first PC to use a 32bit colour display and the first to be able to display photo-realistic images without expensive add-ons

You can emulate classic Mac I & II software on your Linux, Mac OS X or Windows PC with Basilisk II, an open source emulator.


With these five systems there’s enough software to entertain even the mildest of curiosities. If you long for the days of floppy disks and 8bit displays you’ll do well to start with a few of these! If you’re more interested in consoles be sure to check out our emulation series, we’ve got vintage consoles, early 80s offerings, 16 and 32bit machines and some of the more recent releases too.

Any favourite classic PCs of years gone by? What did you start out on? Let it all out in the comments.

Image credits: Shutterstock, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga 1200, Macintosh 128k.

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