Emulation 101:
Classic Gaming
on the PC

   - Keita Iida


Atari 2600

Atari 5200 /

8-Bit Computers


GCE Vectrex


Multi Platform


Emulation Links


Since the Atari 5200 SuperSystem and 400/800/XL/XE Computers are kissing cousins internally speaking, it's no surprise that most emulators for one of the machines also supports the other. Unlike with emulators for most other systems, however, emulators for these machines differ greatly in terms of usability, performance, compatibilty and speed. If you're only concerned with 5200 gaming, then Virtual SuperSystem - the only 5200-specific emulator - is probably your best bet. Loading 8-bit cartridge or disk images in Atari 8-Bit Computer emulators can be a tad on the tricky side; general knowledge of how to use the actual computers isn't necessarily required but it's definitely an advantage.

XL-it was one of the first Atari 8-Bit emulators out there. Markus Gietzen did a masterful job in making it fast, intuitive to use and compatible with most cartridges or disk images, it's beginning to show its age. If you're a DOS user, it's still a dandy.

Virtual SuperSystem (VSS) comes courtesy of the talented Dan Boris, and it's the only (and best) 5200-specific program and has very good emulation. It runs games that most other emulators won't (like Gyruss). It now even has good sound (its previous stumbling block), using Ron Fries' pokey sound library. But since it's only available for DOS, command-line paranoids might freak out (c'mon, it's easy!) VSS's biggest challange used to be speed, but even this seems to have been overcome a bit in recent versions. And with most people today owning Pentium systems, this problem is just about moot anyways.

Jum's A5200 Emulator is an up-and-coming DOS emulator that is constantly being tweaked and refined by James (who calls himself "Jum" for some reason), and it has recently been ported to the Windows, BeOS and Mac operating systems. Definitely worth a look.

Rainbow is a shareware emulator written by Chris Lam for Windows 95, Macintosh, WIndows NT and Windows 3.1 (with Win32s). For the $25 price, you get emulation for the 5200 as well as the full line of 8-bit Atari home computers. The Macintosh version is splendid, offering sound with four channels as well as support for up to four joysticks. Rainbow for Win 95/NT, however, is disappointing in comparison, as it lacks sound and runs quite slowly on PCs with anything slower than a high-end Pentium processor.

Atari800 is the new kid on the block, and it's already kicking butt and taking names. And it comes in many different flavors. David Firth and his team of coders have developed versions for everything from Unix (and Linux), DOS, Windows 3.1/95/98/NT, Amiga and even the Atari Falcon! It runs just about all Atari Computer programs, and most 5200 cartridges as well. It does, however, have a slight speed deficiency when in Windows mode. Anything slower than a Pentium 233 (running with sound) will be laboring to run the emulator at full speed. It's also somewhat of a chore to get it up and running, and the manual doesn't do much help for those who aren't familiar with how to work an Atari Computer. Still, if you especially own a Macintosh and don't feel like paying the registration fee for Rainbow, this one's for you.

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