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Beginner's Guide to Emulation

Computer
  What is emulation?
What is an emulator?
How much does it cost?
What is a ROM?
Why can't I get it to work?
Is it legal?
What is the advantage?
What is the disadvantage?
Where can I learn more?


What is emulation?
In short terms, emulation is the ability to mimic another machine on your computer. This might mean mimicking an arcade machine, different computer, or in our case, Atari game consoles. You can run the same programs that you would on whatever the other machine is. That means you can play all kinds of Atari games right on your computer! Emulation refers to the general scene of using an emulator with various ROMs.

What is an emulator?
An emulator is a piece of software that recreates the hardware of another machine. In other words, an Atari 2600 emulator would make your computer think it's an Atari 2600 and run Atari games. Okay, that's oversimplifying, but you get the idea, right? There are lots of different emulators out there, and generally there is at least one emulator for each type of system being emulated. In some cases, a single emulator might contain several or more systems.

How much does it cost?
Nothing. Most emulators are free, and all the best Atari emulators are free. Programmers write emulators for the challenge of it, and also the notoriety of writing a good piece of software.

What is a ROM?
ROM stands for Read Only Memory. Basically, when people speak of ROMs for an emulator, they are referring to games. Obviously you can't physically put an Atari 2600 cartridge into your computer, so you have to find some way to transfer the media. The cartridge must be converted by a special piece of hardware into binary format, or a ROM. The ROM is can then be read by an emulator. All you need to know is that a ROM is a game, and that's what you run through the emulator. It's not a simulation, it's the real thing.

Why can't I get it to work?
Almost all emulators come with help files that will get you started. Please do not email us asking how to make it work. Read the help files, and if you still can't get it, search on the Internet for "videogame emulation" and you will find many resources. Emulators are all pretty similar, so once you get the hang of one, you'll be able to get them all.

Is it legal?
Yes and no. The emulators themselves are legal, as they are simply reverse engineered hardware. ROMs are another issue. If you do not own the actual game cartridge itself, you probably are not legally entitled to own the ROM. In the case of Atari games, nobody seems to care because they are so old.

What is the advantage?
The advantage is that you don't have to dig through your stacks of Atari games up in the attic - just fire up the emulator and the ROM! You also get much clearer audio and video because you don't have any of the traditional RF interference. And you can play litterally hundreds of games.

What is the disadvantage?
You don't get that tactile feeling of playing on a real game system and TV. Even though you can purchase converters that will allow you to use real Atari joysticks on your computer, it's still not quite the same thing.

Where can I learn more?
As we mentioned above, there are literally hundreds of emulation sites all over the web. Search for "emulation", "videogames", etc..