Recently, I got into a discussion on the Buzz Out Loud forums
about the first computer I ever used. It probably stemmed from the coverage of ENIAC's birthday
. It really got me missing my old computers, so I dug them out. I still have an old TI-99/4A, a Commodore 64, an IBM PS/2 30286, and a Timex Sinclair.
Do you have your own favorite emulators? Tell us about them.
If you don't have a garage full of this kind of thing, you might think you have to go to a museum to see it. If you live near San Jose, California, you can go to the Computer History Museum
. In Austin, Texas, you can visit the Goodwill Dell Computer Museum
. You can also look for the nearest Vintage Computer Festival
. There are plenty of other places and a horde of Web sites to look at, too.
But there's another way to relive computer history that you can do right from your PC. You can download emulators. I just finished downloading and playing with a bunch of them. Here are a few of my favorites. I intentionally avoided game consoles and focused on early 1980s personal computers.
Texas Instruments TI-99 4/A
This was my first computer, and it was sheer joy to see the old multicolored bands at the top and bottom of the start screen when I first ran the emulator. Playing Parsec with full voice emulation really transported me back. You can find several good emulators for the TI-99 series out there. I liked the Classic99
the best. It ran old cartridges the best and had the easiest way to access virtual tapes and disks. That's especially handy if you want a good round of Tunnels of Doom.
My second computer was the Commodore 64. That's why I got so excited when I discovered Vice
. It not only emulates the C64, but can also do the Vic20, the C128, and all of the PET models except the SuperPET 9000.
If you want a really good emulator that focuses on the Commodore 64, I highly recommend CCS64
. It emulates disk drives and tape drives well. Nothing beats watching the 2006 Winter Olympics while playing Epyx's Winter Games from 1985. You forget how much you miss the monolithic presence of the Soviet team. You have to find your own files for the C64 games and programs, but if you can do so legally, this emulator handles them well. Even if you can't find legal programs, you can still program on it. It even can control old C64 hardware if you get it talking with your PC. I did run into a few keyboard emulation issues on my ThinkPad but had no problem on an old Dell desktop.
I have to admit that this $99 computer was virtually worthless. But even to this day, it's oddly compelling. The emulator isn't much more useful but still fun to mess with. Plus you don't need to download or install anything. Just head to Jeff Vavasour's site
, and you can use the embedded Java applet. He also does a TRS-80 emulator
As I said before, I'm staying away from game consoles. Atari 2600 emulators are very easy to find and you can even buy them in stores. However, if you're really into Atari, Atari Stuff has a page full of Atari computer emulators
. Some of them look great for programmers and people who wish to do their own coding. I haven't messed with these myself, but they come highly recommended.
The A2 home page for Apple emulators
gives you a wide variety of emulators in the Apple II and IIe range. As with all legal Apple II emulators, you need to own an Apple II ROM and code it yourself. You can find copies of ROMs for download on the Web, but that's against the law.
Copyright rears its ugly head
Speaking of the law, it's well noted that legally, this software is all still the property of some company somewhere. Some companies willingly turn a blind eye, and others don't so much. Any program that you own a physical copy of gives you a better leg to stand on. I still own a TI Parsec cartridge and floppy disks of Winter Games for the C64. You can find a lot of hard copies of these games at thrift shops and yard sales for cheap. But remember, when dealing with copyright law, nothing ever makes sense at face value, so be aware of the legalities before you start collecting game and program files.
Nevertheless, even running the emulators without games is fun and a trip back in time. It's really amazing to think that the $200 TI-99 device that took up a whole corner of my room can now run in a little corner of the memory on my laptop.
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