The Best Emulators for PC of 2024 | Every Gaming Console (2024)

If you’re looking for the best emulators for pc, you’ve definitely found the perfect article. We’re fortunate to live in a time period where emulation is very accessible. Not only can you run games on just about any device out there, but you can emulate nearly every single video game console in existence.

I grew up as an avid Nintendo fan. I would also find some way to get the newest console or handheld, often at the expense of my older games and consoles at the time. I would usually end up selling my used collection to in part fund the purchase of the newly released Nintendo system.

Fast forward to now, I’m in my 30’s and I have so much nostalgia for all the classic games I played through my life. Sitting down and getting lost in Mario 64 and all those memories flooding back to me is a pretty magical experience. While I definitely am working on rebuilding the collection of games I got rid of when I was younger, sometimes playing on original hardware isn’t what you feel like doing that day.

Thankfully with the advancements in emulation, I can easily play all of my favorite games on my PC and so can you! I’ve spent countless hours research emulators and the number of options out there can be a bit daunting.

Regarding video game emulation you have mostly two possible routes to go down. You can either use standalone console specific emulators for PC or you can go with a multi system emulator frontend that allows you to emulate tons of different consoles all within one app, easily compiling your game collection for you.

These emulation frontend options can be great entry points for folks who are just starting to get into emulating games and will often cover most if not all of the retro game console emulators retro gaming fans will need. They can be extremely useful as they don’t require the user to install dozens of separate emulators to play retro games from all the various different consoles.

When making suggestions for many older systems, we will be suggesting RetroArch as the emulation frontend of choice along with the specific console emulator core you should install as often there are multiple to choose from and some perform better than others.

If you begin to shift from retro gaming to more modern games, you’ll find that you’ll be better suited to use standalone emulators as often more modern systems and hardware aren’t usually included in the “all in one” emulators.

Let’s get started and jump into the best PC apps for video game emulation. This article was created from hours or research to save you the headache of having to go off and figure all of this out on your own.

We’ll be going by game console and listing them all in alphabetical order so that you can easily find which emulator to use for each system you’re looking to play video game ROMs on your desktop PC or laptop. If at any point you need to jump to a specific console, feel free to refer to the table of contents to select whichever system you need to look for.

For reference, you may also want to check out our list of the best sites for ROMs.

Contents hide

1. What Are The Best Emulators for PC?

1.1. Atari 2600

1.2. Atari 5200

1.3. Atari 7800

1.4. Atari Jaguar

1.5. Atari Lynx

1.6. Commodore 64 (C64)

1.7. Microsoft Xbox

1.8. Microsoft Xbox 360

1.9. NEC PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16

1.10. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

1.11. Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

1.12. Nintendo 64 (N64)

1.14. Nintendo Wii

1.15. Nintendo Wii U

1.16. Nintendo Switch

1.17. Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance (GBA)

1.18. Nintendo Virtual Boy

1.19. Nintendo DS (NDS)

1.20. Nintendo 3DS

1.21. Panasonic 3DO

1.22. Phillips CD-i

1.23. Sega Master System

1.24. Sega Genesis, Mega Drive, CD, and 32X

1.25. Sega Saturn

1.26. Sega Dreamcast

1.27. Sega Game Gear

1.28. SNK Neo Geo AES, CD, Neo-Geo Pocket, and Color

1.29. Sony Playstation 1 (PS1)

1.30. Sony Playstation 2 (PS2)

1.31. Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)

1.32. Sony Playstation Portable (PSP)

1.33. Sony Playstation Vita

2. Summary

3. Frequently Asked Questions

3.1. What is the best free Nintendo emulator for PC?

3.2. Do you need a powerful PC to run an emulator?

What Are The Best Emulators for PC?

Atari 2600

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We recommend downloading the RetroArch Atari 2600 Stella core to run your 2600 ROM files. While the RetroArch core is the more simple solution, you may also opt to download and install the standalone version of the Stella emulator as well.

The Stella emulator has a team of dedicated developers who have continued to work on and update it over the years. It has been ported to numerous different operating systems. It’s a great emulator and will allow you to play tons of Atari games regardless of whether you choose to use it via the RetroArch core or as a standalone emulator.

Atari 5200

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The Atari 5200 can easily be emulated using the RetroArch Atarti 5200 core Atari800. Just like with the Atari 2600 above, you can either use the RetroArch core or you can download and install the standalone version of the Atari800 emulator from their official website.

The emulator was originally written and released back in 1995 and went dormant for some years until a group of developers came together and started updating it. They began working together to maintain the source code and continued to put out updates.

It’s a great emulator led by a great team of passionate folks. Download it using the RetroArch core or as the standalone emulator, either will suffice.

Atari 7800

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The ProSystem emulator is a great Atari 7800 emulator. Like with the other Atari emulators we’ve covered so far, it can be downloaded as the RetroArch Atari 7800 core ProSystem and can also be downloaded and installed as a standalone emulator from the official website.

Either one will work fine, although the RetroArch core is the simpler option.

Atari Jaguar

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BigPEmu is the best Atari Jaguar emulator that you can use. It’s made by the same developer that wrote the emulation for the Atari 50 collection that was released on the Switch, PS5, and Xbox Series consoles.

It works exceptionally well and is able to emulate all 50 official Atari Jaguar games with excellent compatability.

Atari Lynx

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The Atari Lynx choice that we recommend is the RetroArch Atari Lynx core Beetle Lynx. Beetle Lynx is built off of the Mednafen emulator and as such, you can also download and install Mednafen as a standalone emulator app and it will run your Atari Lynx games as well.

The simpler option here is to use the RetroArch Beetle Lynx core, but Mednafen is also a great emulator if you prefer the standalone route.

Commodore 64 (C64)

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The simplest way to play Commodore 64 games on your PC is to use the VICE emulator. VICE stands for Versatile Commodore Emulator.

The VICE emulator is one of the oldest options available and was originally developed back in 1993! Vice will allow you to run all of your favorite C64 games, but can also emulate the C128, VIC20, PET, PLUS4 and CBM-II.

Microsoft Xbox

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The Xemu emulator is the obvious choice for emulating the original Xbox. Xemu emulates the actual hardware of the original Xbox, allowing a level of compatibility that no other emulators can even come close to.

Not only can it run original Xbox games, but it can also run most homebrew games with great success as well. It even allows online Netplay with other Xemu users and actual physical Xbox consoles.

In terms of Xbox game compatibility, Over 80% of the original Xbox’s library is in a playable/perfect state. Xemu is a really cool project and an emulator that we can’t recommend enough!

Microsoft Xbox 360

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The Xenia emulator is a fantastic Xbox 360 emulator and is the best one your can find. The origin of this emulator is actually very cool.

The developer originally started building it out as a way to play Xbox 360 games that were region locked. They previously had written a PSP emulator and noticed the 360 emulation scene was pretty lacking at the time so they decided to take on the task of building out an Xbox 360 emulator themselves.

If you’re looking to play some Xbox 360 games on your PC, Xenia is definitely the go to solution.

NEC PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16

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Yes, yet another RetroArch core recommendation here, but another very solid option!

The RetroArch Beetle PCE FAST core can play both PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 games very well. Most games will run in nearly 60 FPS and the level of compatibility for games is quite high.

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

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Because the NES is an older retro console, I would recommend you use the RetroArch emulator. RetroArch is an emulation frontend that allows you to play games from a vast amount of different retro gaming consoles all from within one app. Each system can be emulated by downloading its associated core.

Sometimes, RetroArch will even have multiple different cores available for one system. For the NES, the best core to install would be the RetroArch NES core Mesen.

Mesen is by far the best NES emulator available and was actually the top choice on our list of the best NES core RetroArch has.

Be sure to check out this article for a complete tutorial on how to setup the RetroArch NES core Mesen.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

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Just like with the NES, the Super Nintendo is also an older retro system and therefore using a standalone emulator like Snes9x can be a bit of an overkill for most. While you certainly can download it and use it separately, it’s usually much easier to just use RetroArch and install the RetroArch SNES core Snes9x.

The Snes9x core is fantastic and has great compatibility with most SNES game ROMs. For a complete guide of all the top Super Nintendo emulators available, be sure to check out our list of the best SNES emulators.

Nintendo 64 (N64)

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Project64 was by far the #1 choice on our list of the best N64 emulators. Of all the emulator options available, it has the best compatibility with the most games. Most N64 games don’t have noticeable bugs or issues when using Project64. The majority of games ran nearly flawlessly during our testing.

Project64 also has Netplay, allowing players to play Nintendo 64 ROMs online with friends. You can also speed up gameplay to fast forward through cutscenes.

It also has tons of customizability options and plugins that can be added. Some of these plugins will improve the graphics of games and the audio quality as well. For example, you can substantially improve the video quality of most Nintendo 64 games through the use of the GLideN64 graphics video plugin.

Nintendo GameCube

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The GameCube is a notoriously difficult system to emulate. For a console that is as old as it is, it’s crazy how complex it can be to emulate properly and achieve good results. The best emulator that has tackled GameCube emulation is the Dolphin emulator.

Dolphin made the top of our list for the best GameCube emulators by a long shot. It is by far the most popular of all the options out there and it not only can play GameCube games, but also supports Wii games quite well.

Dolphin has great compatibility, can be customized quite easily, and even allows the use of GameCube game cheats.

Be sure to check out our guide on how to setup Dolphin emulator.

Nintendo Wii

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The Nintendo Wii emulator that we recommend is actually going to be the same one that we suggest for Gamecube, the Dolphin emulator. As mentioned just above in our GameCube section, the Dolphin emulator is unique in that this emulator supports both GameCube and Wii games and emulates both systems with a very high compatibility rate.

If you prefer, instead of installing the Dolphin standalone emulator, you may opt to download the RetroArch Wii core Dolphin instead. Both are solid Wii emulator options and you can’t go wrong with either.

Nintendo Wii U

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The best Wii U emulator that you can get is definitely Cemu. Cemu not only is the more popular option, but also has a solid compatibility for games. You can even upscale your Wii U games to 4k and Cemu has original Wii U GamePad support.

You can use all sorts of custom controllers, aside from the GamePad, you can also use the Wii U Pro Controller and Classic Controller. Cemu also can connect to actual Nintendo servers and lets you play games online with friends even if they are on a physical Wii U console.

Nintendo Switch

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Yuzu takes the lead as the best Nintendo Switch emulator. Yuzu was developed by the same team that made the very popular 3DS emulator, Citra. The team behind Yuzu clearly know what they’re doing and have managed to make many Switch games run very well.

Some games can even be run in 4k 60FPS, resulting in gameplay looking significantly better than anything the physical Nintendo Switch console could only dream of doing. Most of the most popular games run well, but do keep in mind that because Yuzu is emulating a newer current generation console, not all games will be compatible quite yet.

It often takes years of development work and tweaking the emulator to increase the performance and compatibility to a point where most games run nearly flawlessly.

Nintendo Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance (GBA)

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For the Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance, the simplest option would be to use the RetroArch mGBA core. Don’t let the mGBA core’s name fool you, even though it has “GBA” in the title, this core will run all three handhelds very well.

The mGBA was our top pick for the best GBA emulators along with the #1 choice for Game Boy and Game Boy Color as well.

This is super convenient because all you need to do is install one single emulation core in RetroArch and you can easily emulate all of your favorite games from three different handheld devices.

Nintendo Virtual Boy

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For emulating the Virtual Boy, RetroArch is the option we’d recommend. The Virtual Boy’s library of games that were released for it is very small and the RetroArch Beetle VB core has good compatibility across them for playing games.

The Beetle VB core has some cool features as well, like being able to shift between different color presets instead of just playing in red and black like on the original hardware.

Nintendo DS (NDS)

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By a landslide, the option that takes the number one spot for the best DS emulator is DeSmuME. DeSmuME can either be installed as a standalone emulator or you can download the RetroArch DS core DeSmuME.

This Nintendo DS emulator is very reliable and has tons of features. It can emulate both of the DS’s screens and has microphone compatibility and even supports cheat codes.

You can even rewind gameplay for your Nintendo DS games to go back and retry parts that you mess up on. If you wish, you can also dive into upscaling the 3D visuals if your PC is powerful enough.

Nintendo 3DS

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The best 3DS emulator available is the Citra emulator. It’s made by the same team that created the popular Nintendo Switch emulator Yuzu.

The Citra emulator can either be used as a standalone emulator or can be downloaded as a RetroArch 3DS core.

Citra has great compatibility and will play most 3DS games very well. It support custom controllers, can improve graphics of games, has good performance, and allows for easily customizing the emulator’s settings.

Panasonic 3DO

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4DO is the best Panasonic 3DO emulator available, however recently the 4DO website owner announced that they would be letting the 4DO website expire and no longer be renewing it due to years of inactive development on the project.

This means that the official source of downloading the 4DO emulator will no longer be active and as such, downloading emulators from other websites is typically not a great idea as it becomes increasingly difficult to ensure the files you are downloading are safe.

Luckily, there is another great 3DO emulator available through the RetroArch 3DO core Opera. Opera is a fork of the 4DO emulator and ended up being renamed because the original project became dormant and they wanted to help users be able to differentiate between the two due to new development taking place.

Phillips CD-i

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The classic option for Phillips CD-i emulation was a program called the CDi Emulator, however it is extremely old and is no longer actively being developed. It has essentially all but been discontinued at this point, but the team over at MAME have improved it quite a bit over the years.

It should be mentioned that there is no simple way to run Phillips CD-i games on MAME and it will likely take some additional configuration and tinkering, but it is possible. If you need additional help finding a solution, we suggest you check out this forum article.

Sega Master System

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To play Master System games, you should download the RetroArch SMS Plus GX core. After installing the necessary Master System core, you’ll be able to play your favorite games with great performance.

The SMS Plus GX core can emulate not only Master System games, but also Game Gear, which we will be touching on down below a bit.

Sega Genesis, Mega Drive, CD, and 32X

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The best emulator for playing Sega Genesis, Mega Drive, CD, and 32X games is definitely Kega Fusion. The Kega emulator isn’t just the best Sega Genesis emulator, but it’s also compatible with a very wide variety of Sega titles across multiple systems and can run most if not all at 60 FPS.

Even though Kega is no longer being actively updated or maintained, it’s still the most reliable emulator our there for these systems and the fact that it encompasses multiple consoles in one makes it a no brainer.

RetroArch also has a core called the Sega Genesis Plus GX which works well to emulate all of these systems.

Sega Saturn

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The simplest way to emulate Sega Saturn games is to use the RetroArch Sega Saturn core Beetle-Saturn. Beetle-Saturn is based on the Mednafen emulator and for those who know, Mednafen is definitely the best Sega Saturn emulator for PC.

The Beetle-Saturn core works very well and is extremely simple to download and use through RetroArch. It’ll also keep you from downloading more standalone emulators for your PC and help keep more of your games in one easy to access application.

Sega Dreamcast

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All hail Redream, the ultimate Sega Dreamcast emulator. Redream is nothing short of miraculous, somehow the development team of it have managed to achieve a nearly 100% compatibility rate of Dreamcast games. Not only is that extremely impressive, but it makes Redream the best choice for Dreamcast emulation you can find.

Redream is a standalone emulator, but you can also download the RetroArch Dreamcast core Readream as well.

Sega Game Gear

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As mentioned above in our Genesis, Mega Drive, CD, and 32X section, the RetroArch Sega Genesis Plus GX core can also play Sega Game Gear games very well.

Instead of downloading yet another emulator program for just the Sega handheld, you’d be better of just downloading the Sega Genesis Plus GX core and be able to play tons of retro games from a variety of Sega consoles and handhelds.

SNK Neo Geo AES, CD, Neo-Geo Pocket, and Color

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MAME is the best Neo Geo emulator out there and it is easy to setup and use, runs games very well, and works on a ton of different systems. Similar to RetroArch, MAME can run games from a variety of different consoles and systems. Along with SNK systems, MAME can also play arcade games with great performance.

MAME not only is the best arcade emulator, but also supports Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, Neo Geo Pocket, and Neo Geo Pocket Color games without a hitch!

VICE is by far the best Commodore 64 emulator you can get.

Sony Playstation 1 (PS1)

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There’s no question, for Playstation 1 emulation, the best PS1 emulator you can use is ePSXe. ePSXe is praised by many as being the absolute best.

Along with fantastically emulating Playstation 1 ROMs, ePSXe allows you to play PS1 games directly off of original PS1 discs on your PC. It allows you to play original games and can emulate the music and sound effects amazingly.

Sony Playstation 2 (PS2)

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PCSX2 is the go to solution for people looking to play PS2 games. None of the other options even come close in comparison.

While PS2 ROMs run great with PCSX2, it also makes original games look much better. It also supports cheat codes and can record PS2 gameplay in HD. It supports over 2667 games from the Playstation 2 library and runs them exceptionally well.

Sony Playstation 3 (PS3)

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The best PS3 emulator you’ll find is without a doubt RPCS3. You’ll notice immediately when landing on the official website the time and care that went into this project. It’s not only the best PS3 emulator out there, but it’s also the most widely used and highly trusted.

It’s able to flawlessly emulate the vast majority of the PS3’s game library. The team is still actively developing it and regularly released updates.

Sony Playstation Portable (PSP)

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For Sony PSP emulation, look no further than the PPSSPP emulator. PPSSPP can be a bit of a tongue twister to say, but it can run your PSP games in full HD resolution and sometimes even higher than that!

It also has the ability to upscale textures and allows you to enable post processing shaders to improve colors and brightness in games. It has a ton of other features available as well and is the best emulator for PSP emulation out there.

Sony Playstation Vita

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Vita emulation doesn’t have a ton of options at the moment. The only one really worth mentioning is the Vita3K emulator. It’s the first functional PlayStation Vita emulator, but do keep in mind that is still very much a work in progress.

It can run some commercial Vita games and its compatibility list shows that over 53% of the Vita’s library are in a compatible state.

Summary

I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of the best emulators for PC. This took a long time to gather all the information, but hopefully it can help serve as a resource whenever you’re wondering what the best PC emulator is for a particular console.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best free Nintendo emulator for PC?

There really is no one size fits all answer here as it depends on the particular Nintendo console and system that you are wanting to emulate.

For the NES, Mesen is a great emulator choice. For Super Nintendo, the Snes9x emulator is fantastic. For N64, we recommend you use the Project 64 emulator.

For GameCube and Wii emulation, Dolphin is without a doubt the best emulator available. For the Wii U, Cemu is the go to choice and finally for the Nintendo Switch, Yuzu is the best emulator you can use.

Do you need a powerful PC to run an emulator?

As a general rule of thumb, your computer should be relatively powerful enough while emulating games, otherwise you’re likely to suffer from performance issues. That being said, for many older retro games, you should be able to get by with a modest PC that isn’t too high end.

If you are looking to emulate for recent games from newer consoles, that’s where you’re more likely to run into issues with gameplay if you’re running the emulator on a low end PC. It takes a lot of resources to emulate the systems that run these games and especially if you are upscaling the graphics and trying to run them in 4k 60 FPS.

Also be sure to check out our list of the 8 best Pokemon emulators for PC.

The Best Emulators for PC of 2024 | Every Gaming Console (2024)
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