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C64 Emulator Comparison

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First, I wanted to test these emulators the way, I tested NES / SNES emulators. But I learned, that they already worked almost perfect. So it would be senseless to do a test like this, as every Emulator would get a kinda high rating. Every game I tried so far did work on every emu.

Now I`m testing the emulators themselves. A good emu should also be fast configurable, easy and effective to use. Because those emulators do emulate a computer, the user does want to have detailed informations about the working progress. I rated the following categories:

1. GUI / Clarity (Max. 10 pts)

Here we will emphasize how clear and intuitive each emulators adjustable settings are arranged. Point 1 and 2 do mix up here for some reasons, as they depend on each other.

2. GUI / Extent (Max. 10 Pts)
Nevertheless, everyone wants to have clarity within the GUI, the most needed settings have to be available for adjustment. Theres nothing more annoying than unchangable default values for steering, graphics and sound. Its possible to exaggerate this though.

3. Emulation Extent (Max. 6 Pts)

Here we will show, wich hardware is emulated. The basic hardware is generally perfect emulated. One emulator is painfull slow - I`ll tell you later.
4. Emulation Info (Max. 4 Pts)

Everyone who uses a PC, wants to know, if the PC is doing fine. Floppy LED and hard disk or CD/DVD drive's sounds help us in showing that the computer is still running. As we cannot see, if the emulated computer does work, the emulator should tell us. I will compare each emulators kind of informative output. (For example: many emulators do emulate the 1541-Floppy's LED. It's also possible to view the emulation speed. They aren't needed much though, as every modern PC is way fast enough to emulate a C64.

5. Standard Settings (Max. 10 Pts)

Occasional players do not want to configure the emu of choice for hours before being able to play, so we will analyze whether an emu is usefully preconfigured and wich one has to be tweaked first.

Every emulator can reach a total score of 40 points, but no one did. It seems, that I found an applicable benchmark: every emulator I tested has still some potential for optimizations. I'll explain once I got a result. Lets get it on:



GUI / Clarity: 5 Points
The GUI has a well done C64-style, but remains being kinda complex for most of all Windows users. The menu can be opened by pressing the F9 key. This opens a text-only menu wich can be navigated using several buttons, which are shown on the bottom of the CCS64 options screen. It is a bit tricky but useable. Every game can be started out of the menu. Alternatively, its possible to just load the disc image for later starting by using the well known commands.

GUI / Extent: 8 Points
You will need some time to explore everything, in exchange there's every setting you will ever need. There are settings for every emulated hardware devices, such as choosing the speed of the emulated floppy-disc. It's also possible to choose the sensitivity of your analog joystick, but playing with those is no fun, so I would rather use my keyboard's keypad instead.

Emulation Extent: 5 points
There exists an emulator that emulates more than this one, but its up to you to decide if it makes sense or not. 1541 floppy, datasette (tape), mouse - you can even emulate a C64 printer device.

Emulation Info: 4 points
In this part CCS64 takes the lead, it works best at fullscreen mode. The scroll-lock led on the pc keybord is used as an activity indicator for the virtual C64 disk i/o.

Standard Settings: 10 points
The standard configuration is set to windowed-mode and therefore quite usable. A joystick can be configured easily, even the self-made parallel port adapter for the Competion Pro works without hassles. A nice feature is the hotkey Alt + F10, which lets the user switch between two predefined joystick keysets. This is very useful as many C64 games used different joyports as the standard input device. The configuration is therefore game-ready.
CCS64 Menu


GUI / Clarity: 7 points
The GUI is simple. A little bit too simple for my taste, but for beginners it is the best choice. The GUI is very intuitive and you can find every option easily. Unfortunately the quick help does not work for the options. But nevertheless you can find a lot of information about the key settings of FRODO in the help file.

GUI / Extent: 4 points
This emulator is missing some crucial settings, e.g. the input configuration or graphic filters (scanlines etc.). The range of sound emulation settings are also very minmial. But, much more is not neccessarily needed, because the emulation works flawlessly. You can easily look over this shortcomings. The arrangement of the settings-menu could have been a little bit more elaborate.

Emulation Extent: 2 Points
Sadly there's only the absolutely necessary: the floppy disc emulation for example. Tape images are not officialy supported but working fine aswell. The last thing is - of course - the joystick. The emulator does have the ability to emulate the floppy in its original "speed", but you should not use this ability if you are on the edge.

Emulation Info: 3 Points
Very nice: the virtual floppys LED is activated from start and is shown at the bottom of the emulators window, but its not shown at fullscreen mode. Sadly, this is the only information available.
Standard Settings: 7 Punkte
The standard configuration works fine but is not tweakable. So you are bound into the numblock or the joystick. But as I said: both methods works fine.

Frodo Menu

GUI / Clarity: 4 points
The GUI is ugly. Actually there should be nothing more to say about that. The options are widespread, this makes it quite difficult to find the correct settings. The emulator completly lacks a help functions, the help menu has only an about dialog.

GUI / Extent: 7 points
There are many configuration options, maybe even a bit too much. I don't know why you need the possibility to reassign EVERY single key of the C64 keyboard. It makes sense with the special keys, but thats enough. The joystick is also adjustable, one of the last points in the keyboard configuration, which are pedantically divided into four sheets.

Emulation Extent: 1 point
Hoxs is the worst contestant in this section. An emulation of the C64 mouse and the C64 harddrive is not available. The tapedeck is emulated, but the Hoxs only supports raw file images - making it incompatible to the common t64 file format.

Emulation Info: 0 points
They are missing completely. Thus it is not possible for me to reconstruct whether Hoxs is still emulating, or whether everything died a long time ago - no good.

Standard Settings: 2 Points
Not usefull at all. The joysticks 1 and 2 are badly mixed up on the Numpad and a joystick must be activated and configured before using it. At first, I tought the emulator does not work, then I learned that the loading speed was painfully slow. Tweaking the settings did not help. This is no fun.

Hoxs Menu

GUI / Clarity: 9 points
The GUI looks like you expect it from a current Windows application. The arrangement and grouping of the items is very well structured - one gets along fast. The online help lists command line options for starting the emulator. Programs LOAD/START can be done via "Autostart disk/tape image... " in the file menu or manual by using "Attach disk image" and "Attach tape image". To change between window and fullscreen mode a hotkey ALT+D is available.

GUI / Extent: 8 points
The configuration possibilities are extensive and by the good grouping in sub-points easy to find. The settings are stored in an ini file - there is also the possibility of reading them from an existing file. A context-referred help to the individual settings is unfortunately not available.

Emulation Extent: 6 points
The emulator really managed everything. Disks of course, tapes and cardridges. As peripheral devices one can find the printer and the mouse. You don't need more for the C64.

Emulation Info: 3 points
The status of disc i/o is displayed in the status bar in windowed mode. This information is missing in fullscreen mode. The i/o of joysticks is also displayed here.

Standard Settings: 9 points
Before we can play with the emulator the C64 joysticks must be configured. You can use the keypad with the ctrl key as fire button or you can define two personal keysets "A" and "B". Of course you can also use your own gamepads as input devices for the emulator. You can switch the keysets using the Alt-J hotkey.


VICE takes the lead before my personal favorite CCS64. The extent of functionality and the quality of the emulation and GUI, which are offered here, is unique. Frodo is a good average, only Hoxs falls down from the scale, since it is too slow and has only a few options for configuration. For the beginner I recommend Frodo, whereby in the long term one should prefer VICE nevertheless. CCS64 is a good alternative, due to many special functions like LEDs showing floppy activity, and also has its existence authorization. Although the GUI of C64s needs some habituation. Unfortunately it was not possible to employ a clearer comparison in this test. Since all emulators did run almost everything without errors, a comparison would have become rather petty. Therefore I concentrated on the emulators themselves. I would be very grateful for comments on the test and suggestions on how we could enhance this in the future.

[ Written by Chaos | Translated by Chaos, XTale & retroK | © AEP 2004 | Comments ]

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