One of the things that really makes the PC stand out from any of its rivals, consoles included is its adaptability; one minute it can be a games machine and then the next an Internet browser or a powerful Payroll system.

This week we’re going to look at something that takes this to the extreme, making a PC act like a completely different machine altogether; a term known as Emulation. To begin, I need to give you a brief lesson on how computers work in terms of the software that they run - When you buy a software package, Word Processor for example, you are essentially buying a series of instructions that have been put onto a disk so that whenever the program is run these are executed one by one to get your computer to do a specific task. The language the software is written in varies from machine to machine, just like if I were to teach a Spaniard how to play chess then I would speak in a different language than if I were teaching an Englishman although the end result would eventually still be two people that could play a game of chess together. It is for this reason that you cannot put one of your old Commodore 64 disks straight into your PC and start playing those games from your past.

It is possible however for you to locate these games written for your old computer and use them once again by the way of what is known as an emulator to convert the code that your old machine used to understand into something your PC can quite happily run. It may seem a bit bizarre to turn your £1500 Pentium 4 into the kind of machine that you’d pick up for peanuts at a car boot sale but think of the flexibility an emulator could offer; whether you used to own a Commodore, Amstrad, Spectrum, Atari or even if you wish to play Playstation games on your PC then it is possible through emulation.

Before I go on to tell you about how to get your hands on an emulator, there are specifics that are not actually legal. On one hand, the copyrights for many of these games expired a long, long time ago and to be honest I don’t think that the now defunct Commodore really care if someone wants to download a 15 year old game. In contrast though, I do know that Sony wouldn’t feel the same way about one of their Playstation games. There are many legal ways to emulate certain machines, so please refer to for information on where you stand with emulation and the law.

Emulators on the most part are completely free, as are the games that you can download off the Internet to play on them (however, again, you are required to own the game in order to be able to legally download a copy onto your PC). For the most part, it is simply a case of going to a site such as or to get a complete list of what is on offer. The latter website I thought was particularly good, as well as having game reviews and emulator download links and tips and a virtual museum covering the history of all the games we used to know and love but it also hosts a huge database of games for dozens of different machines.

There are also many advantages of using an emulator going out and buying an old computer second hand. Obviously the cost is one consideration, but also one of the best features about an emulator is that you can copy all your old games onto your hard drive and then run them in a split second without having to worry about having to locate and load via tape or disk as we did in past times. The size of many of these older games and their respective emulators is so small that often it takes a matter of minutes to download them on to your machine from the Internet.

I recommend you visit the two sites above as this article is far to short to go into any sort of depth covering the 20 years of computer gaming that lay behind us. Using an emulator is a good, easy and cheap way to remember the steps that were taken to get gaming and general software to the stage that it is today and to look back at the technology we paid a great deal of money for in the days gone by.

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