Welcome to NonMESS!

NonMESS documents the best emulator for any given computer, console and handheld system, with priority given to MESS due to its comprehensive scope.

This site represents an enormous undertaking involving tons of research with developers, discussions with the user community, and countless hours of testing. NonMESS seeks to broaden understanding of extant emulation resources in the hopes that MESS developers and users alike may find benefit.

Bearing in mind that a great deal of NonMESS information comes from our readers, we strongly encourage any and all comments, questions, suggestions for better emulators etc. You can reach us via email here.

If you find this site useful, be sure to check out NonMAME, which documents emulators of token-based systems (i.e. arcade machines) in a similar manner.

Enjoy!
Shoegazer

What's New
  • 10/22/14: Added Alto / Alto II section, and changed recommendation in the Sega CD section.
  • 09/13/14: Several clarifications and refinements to the RetroArch-related sections. Please note that as we are just becoming familiar with RetroArch there may be some initial inaccuracies in our documentation; we would therefore, as always, appreciate any information you may have to correct them.
  • 09/10/14: Major update to recommend RetroArch as the better alternative to many standalone emulators we've previously cited. Please see our 32X section for further details.
  • 06/01/14: Minor update to Playstation 2 section based on helpful feedback from Gumbo
  • 04/18/14: Minor update to Commodore section based on MESS .153 changes missed from the earlier update.
  • 04/11/14: Added FM Towns Marty to the MESSy list (note that while the MESS driver isn't perfect it is apparently better than the standalone FMTM emulators out there). Thanks to Shideravan for the tip.
  • 04/09/14: Updated Game Boy Color section based on the MESS .153 regression fixes.
  • 03/05/14: Added more edge case examples to some systems, and moved Central Data 2650 to MESSy Systems section upon discovery the current MESS driver does indeed support pgm disks, contrary to what had been written in the section.
  • 03/03/14: Added edge case examples to some systems.
  • 02/14/14: Renamed Trek section to PC-6001 and changed recommendation based on helpful input from Anna Wu.
  • 02/13/14: More minor changes including some refinements to the PC and PC98 sections.

Site Information

Evaulation criteria for the best emulator of a given system is as follows (in order of importance):

  1. Accuracy
  2. Open-source status and cross-platform availability
  3. Speed
  4. Features (joystick, network play, etc.)
  5. Usability
  6. Future release potential

MESS driver status is documented for each system, and matches actual MESS nomenclature and driver status. Categorization is as follows:

  • Non-existent: There is no driver for this system.
  • Preliminary: An early driver exists. This often represents skeleton drivers under which most software will not run, though some systems may actually launch and load software on a limited basis.
  • Imperfect: Progress has been made, but the driver is far from complete. Software may run under the driver, though some titles may run slowly or with problems.
  • Good: Most software should run with little or no problems. With a bit more improvement, the driver will reach parity with its "competitors", and the system will be documented in the "MESSy Systems" section. The optimal situation, of course, is for no systems to exist in the main section of NonMESS - meaning that MESS supports all computer, console and handheld systems as good or better than all other emulators - but don't hold your breath!

Specifications of the current baseline reference system used in testing is as follows:

  • Dell XPS 15z
  • Intel i7 2620M 2.7ghz (2 CPUs)
  • 8gb RAM
  • NVIDIA GT 525M
  • Windows 7 x64 SP1
Latest MESS version tested: 0.155

MESSy Systems

The following are systems which MESS emulates as good as, if not better than, any other emulator. Given that there are thousands of systems in MESS, with potentially hundreds of thousands to come, only systems that have known "competition" to MESS will be cited here. This is an experimental section and may be removed if people misunderstand its intent. Please note this does not mean any of these systems are "perfectly emulated" either - emulation is never truly perfect!

Please join us in extending thanks to the MESS team for their hard work and dedication to this effort, without which such accurate emulation would not be possible.

  • Acorn (Series) (Computer)
  • ADAM (Computer)
  • Alice32 (Computer)
  • Amstrad CPC (Computer)
  • Apple II (Non-IIGS) (Computer)
  • Apple IIGS (Computer)
  • Aquarius (Computer)
  • Arcadia 2001 (Console)
  • Atari 400/800 Series (Computer)
  • Atari 2600 (Console)
  • Atari 5200 (Console)
  • Atari 7800 (Console)
  • Central Data 2650 (Computer)
  • ColecoVision (Console)
  • CPS Changer (Console)
  • CreatiVision (Computer)
  • Cybiko (Handheld)
  • Dreamcast Visual Memory System (Handheld)
  • FM Towns Marty (Console)
  • Game Boy (Handheld)
  • Game Gear (Handheld)
  • Genesis (Console)
  • Instructor 50 (Computer)
  • Intellivision (Console)
  • Lynx (Handheld)
  • Macintosh (Non-PowerPC)
  • Master System (Console)
  • MC-10 (Computer)
  • MO Series (Computer)
  • MSX Series (Computer)
  • Neo Geo AES (Console)
  • Neo Geo CD (Console)
  • Odyssey2 (Console)
  • Othello Multivision (Console)
  • Pico (Handheld)
  • PIPBUG-based Systems (Computer)
  • PocketStation (Handheld)
  • RX-78 (Computer)
  • Sega Computer 3000 (SC-3000) (Computer)
  • Sega Game 1000 (SG-1000) (Console)
  • Sega Super Control Station (SF-7000) (Computer)
  • Studio II (Console)
  • SuperGrafx (Console)
  • SuperVision (Handheld)
  • TO Series (Computer)
  • TurboGrafx 16 (Console)
  • TurboGrafx CD (Console)
  • Vectrex (Handheld)
  • Videopac+ G7400 (Console)
  • WonderSwan (Handheld)
  • X1 (Computer)
  • X68000 (Computer)
  • ZX Spectrum (Computer)

32X (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (PicoDrive Core)

PicoDrive represents a solid, open-source 32X emulator which appears to be roughly on par with Steve Snake's closed-source Kega Fusion. In fact, PicoDrive only has troubles with a few titles that are no problems for Kega Fusion. That said, while NonMESS mainly focuses on accuracy, Kega Fusion's status as a closed-source emulator tilts the balance slightly in favor of PicoDrive. While PicoDrive is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For anyone curious, RetroArch (RA) is an open-source framework comprised primarily of multiple emulator "cores" commonly ported from independently-written standalone implementations and sometimes enhanced by the RA development team. RA serves as a reference implementation of "libretro", itself a generic API that allows RA not only to be core-agnostic but to extend beyond emulation purposes as a flexible and powerful instrument of its own right.

RA is rapidly gaining widespread popularity, owing primarily to multiple factors including a) its availability on many host platforms; b) its support of many "best of breed" emulators (including MAME/MESS/UME) under a single framework; c) its streamlined interface which eschews keyboard/mouse navigation in favor of controllers and other simpler means of input; and d) its impressive support of cross-platform "shaders" which lend authenticity to its visuals when used properly.

That said, RA's primary contribution isn't the preservation of old technology for historical purposes (this site's focus); but rather on broadened awareness and usefulness of such technology to a wide audience across an expanded range of platforms such as personal computers, tablets, and whatever the future may hold. RA does achieve certain preservation goals indirectly however, since emulation of the individual target systems stands a greater chance of being preserved as part of a collective framework than on their own, as history has certainly shown. This is of course similar to MAME/MESS/UME in concept, though RA's design differs in several fundamental and obvious ways.

Unfortunately, RA's MAME/MESS/UME cores do not appear to support software lists fully (only some systems such as the NES work), so their usefulness is somewhat limited for the time being. Along the same lines, RA-wide support for proper MESS "split-ROM" format, along with chds, would also boost its usefulness and further its accuracy goals.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Again, timings are annoyingly strict on this one too, and there might be SH-2 core bugs in a bunch of spots (Sangokushi or Virtua Racing Deluxe, for example). Games on this system are mostly written in pure ASM code, unlike most of the other SH-2 based systems, so there's an higher change of core bugs happening. It's otherwise usable, although it needs a very high end CPU if you want to play anything. A bunch of games (like WWF Raw) does illogical stuff like writing to the ROM region on the copyright screen. Enabling the ROM to be writeable makes the background logo to appear (and I think it should), if it's a joke it's a very good one..."
MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • Star Wars Arcade (doesn't start)
  • Virtua Racing Deluxe (graphics problems)
  • X-Men (black screen before entering game)

3DO (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (4DO Core)

4DO builds upon the elder FreeDO's codebase, though with many new features, improved accuracy, etc. Many 3DO games apparently run just fine under 4DO - check here. While 4DO is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • All (software doesn't boot)

Action Max (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Daphne-SINGE

The Action Max console never really took flight commercially - the system was designed to work with your VCR to produce interactive full-motion video, but wasn't terribly exciting in practice.

SINGE is actually a Daphne add-on designed to permit anyone to create their own FMV games, using the Lua scripting engine. As a proof-of-concept, SINGE supports the Action Max console and the five games that were released during the system's ever-so-brief lifetime.

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • All (no driver)

Altair 8800 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Altair32

The Altair 8800 was the first "home computer" introduced in January of 1975. Altair32 simulates this historically significant system fairly accurately, and includes the source code for future improvements by outside contributers. Curiously, Altair32 is actually an improvement of Altair 8800b Simulator, the latter having been written by Microsoft employee Claus Giloi and abandoned some time in the late 90s.

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • N/A (no software available)

Alto / Alto II (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Salto

The Xerox PARC-developed Alto was the first computer to feature a Graphical User Interface (GUI); and "inspired" Steve Jobs to develop the Apple Lisa, the precursor to the Apple Macintosh. Needless to say, the Alto ranks among the most historically significant computer systems.

Salto attempts to emulate the Alto and Alto II systems; and while error-prone, runs well enough to provide the user with a reasonable facsimile of the Alto's environment and features. Note that you need to launch the emulator with the disk image as a command-line argument or it will do nothing. Once in the Alto Executive (its operating system), pressing "?" (or typing "neptune" - the Alto's file manager) will return the contents of the disk; and to run a program, simply type its name.

While MESS .154 added an Alto II driver, it doesn't appear to be capable of loading any software - so for now at least, Salto is the best available alternative.

Amiga (Series) (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: WinUAE

There's really no need for anyone to consider any other Amiga emulator - this one rocks. It's been in development for many years and has a huge user/fan base worldwide, due in part to the fact that the Amiga computer itself was quite an incredible system.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"To be honest the driver isn't that bad. Yes, there are various bugs that are probably silly (I've fixed a bunch in the past month) and some SWs fails loading...basically your usual hit or miss situation, IF you know two tricks: (a) sometimes you have to press the mouse left button in order to advance some screens (especially trainers) and (b) in order to disk swap properly, you have to first unmount your previous image then load the new one, both just like a real Amiga. Hopefully somebody will step up and improve the situation at some point..."

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • Many (software doesn't boot)

Archimedes (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel is the best Acorn Archimedes emulator to date.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Archimedes boots up to the RISC OS available RAM text. It doesn't go further than that (doesn't recognize the file system?). RISC PC is just a laconic black screen (might rewrite it from scratch at some point)."
MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • All (software doesn't boot)

Atari ST (Series) (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Hatari

There are many mature Atari ST emulators in existence, including it's nearest "competitor" "Steem Engine", but this one is more accurate; supports other systems in the series such as the STE, TT and Falcon; and just feels less "hacky".

The MESS driver is far from mature so it will be a while before it comes up to speed. From Kale's blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Nothing boots at all (apparently disk format used isn't yet supported) and no input seems to work on OS screen. (screenshot main BIOS screen). EDIT: according to Mike Abson of MESS forum, .ipf format is actually supported and a bunch of games loads fine, still with no inputs however."
MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • All (software either doesn't boot or lacks controls)

CD-i (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: CD-i Emulator

Due to licensing issues, MESS does not yet support CD-i games with MPEG-compressed video, and is not quite as accurate as CD-i Emulator, so CD-i Emulator remains on NonMESS. With that said, this is the best known standalone CD-i emulator, and a fairly mature one at that (although it is not freeware). There are very few other emulators known for the CD-i, and small wonder: the system was terrible as a gaming platform.

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • Many (software based on the Digital Video Cartridge doesn't work)

Commodore 64/128/PET/VIC-20 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Good/Imperfect
Best Emulator: VICE

The open-source VersatIle Commodor Emulator (VICE) is the best Commodore 64 emulator to date. While "CCS64" is equally accurate, it isn't free, and it doesn't emulate the PET, VIC 20 or 128 as VICE does.

Despite the "good" status of the MESS drivers, they are far from mature so it will be a while before they come up to speed. From Kale's blog dated 12/23/2012:

Vic-20/Vic-1001: Very slow driver, and inputs are pretty unresponsive most of the time (and no joystick support, so you can't possibly start some games). Some games (like A.E.) also sports offsetted gfxs. Nowhere near as usable, no... EDIT: for the joystick support, it was because you needed to actually type -joy1 joy in the command line. I've changed that to be default behaviour.

C-64: More or less same performance issues as Vic-20, but it improved greatly with recent commits (just one month ago it was borderline unusable). Carts seems working with a fair share of issue, datassette and floppy devices trims even more the compatibility ratio. If you're lucky and get anything to boot, games are somehow working with some video timing glitches.

C-128: It's currently under development by Curt, it's the very definition of a WIP driver, with two screens attached (!) and booting behaviour varies, between chars in the wrong screen, chars in the right screen or no chars at all. It's also very slow and keyboard inputs are inconsistant (i.e. pseudo-randomly works or not), so just like Vic-20 it's not really usable.

MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • Commodore 64: Aztec Challenge (fire button doesn't register)
  • Commodore 64: Bionic Commando (doesn't go in-game)
  • Commodore 64: Boulder Dash (fire button doesn't register)
  • Commodore 128: All software (no video)
  • Pet: All software (doesn't load)
  • VIC-20: A.E. (video problems)
  • VIC-20: Bandits (video problems)
  • VIC-20: Atlantis (video problems)
  • VIC-20: Cannonball Blitz (no video)
  • VIC-20: Capture The Flag (video problems)

Dreamcast (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Demul

Demul is currently the best Dreamcast emulator available, though it is sadly closed-source. Note that while nullDC (and reicast, its mobile-focused successor) remains the best open-source alternative to Demul, I still recommend Demul with great hesitation for Windows users. This is due to Demul's preliminary WinCE support, better MESS CHD support, and the fact that it emulates several NAOMI-class arcade boards that nullDC doesn't. After the nullDC source was opened several years ago, there was some hope that external contributers would enhance the emulator; however, that hasn't happened yet.

For further information regarding Demul, see NonMAME's SH4-Based Hardware section.

The MESS driver has been coming along nicely, though most games don't boot very far, and those that do run nowhere near the speed of the original system. Still, any MESS progress is great to see.

Game Boy Advance (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: RetroArch (VBA-M Core)

VBA-M is a solid, open-source Game Boy Advance (GBA) emulator with relatively few compatibility issues. While VBA-M is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms. Note that the RetroArch VBA Next core "improves" upon VBA-M, though only for increased speed on slower systems at an accuracy cost.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

As Kale reflects in his blog dated 12/23/2012, the MESS driver is rapidly maturing, and will hopefully obviate the need for VBA-M soon:

"Compatibility is a lot better, compared to when I've reg tested the driver a bunch of years ago. There are still some video timing issues and fails on some edge cases (like the protection used in Famicom Mini games), but that's it."
MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • Drill Dozer (video problems)
  • Famicom Mini XX (doesn't start)

Game Boy Color (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Gambatte Core)

Gambatte is the most accurate of the many Game Boy Color emulators in existence, reflecting the author's self-proclaimed obsession with cycle-accuracy; and while it is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Lately we've also seen some impressive showings from the likes of higan and Mednafen, and if MESS doesn't get there first, it would be great to see one of these take over since they are not exclusive to the GBC; however, there are still quite a few edge cases where only Gambatte delivers. For example, a recent test using Racketboy's list of GBC edge cases has yielded the following results:

higan has problems with 3D Pocket Pool, Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare, Cannon Fodder, Donkey Kong Country, Dragon's Lair, Perfect Dark, Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers, Toki Tori and Tomb Raider.

Mednafen has problems with Alone In The Dark: The New Nightmare, Cannon Fodder, Shantae and Wendy: Every Witch Way.

Gambatte runs all of the above titles, and all the others on Racketboy's list, with no problems.

Incidentally, another Game Boy emulation test can be found here.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Not tried too much, but there are a fair deal of gfx/timing bugs on this one (example: Montezuma's Return on THQ logo). It seems otherwise more or less in a working state, just not extensively tested."
MESS Edge Case Examples:
  • Cannon Fodder (no intro video)
  • Montezuma's Return (video problems)
  • Perfect Dark (no speech or in-game sound)
  • Scooby Doo: Classic Creep Capers (doesn't start)

GameCube (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Dolphin

Dolphin is by far the best emulator for this system with scant few alternatives.

We attribute Dolphin's rapacious progress to its vast open-source development community, which is comprised of many talented programmers and reverse engineers; as well as the accessibility of the code and the loose yet coordinated development model that seems more prevalent than that of any other emulation project we know, with the exception of MAME and MESS. This is the way emulation projects should be run, especially those involving such modern systems as the GameCube and Wii. As time passes, projects established with the lofty goal of emulating a complex next-generation system will need to employ Dolphin's successful and proven model if any success is to be made.

Game Park 32 (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: GeePee32

The GamePark 32 is a Korean handheld gaming system, and is several times more powerful than the Game Boy Advance. While GeePee32 apparently hangs on occasion, it emulates the Game Park 32 faster than the current MESS driver (which is also marked as "not working").

IBM Mainframes (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Hercules

Hercules emulates several IBM Mainframes; namely, System/370, ESA/390, and z/Architecture systems. Hercules has a huge (3000+) user community, as these systems were quite special to many people. Note: A GUI is available for Windows users, and a separate one for Linux users.

IMSAI 8080 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Altair32

This system is a clone of the Altair 8800 computer, the latter being the first "home computer" introduced in January of 1975. See the Altair 8800 section for further information.

Jaguar (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Virtual Jaguar Core)

Virtual Jaguar is solid, open-source Jaguar emulator with relatively few compatibility issues, and while it is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms. Note that it does not run the game "Power Drive Rally" (one of the few decent Jaguar games) properly yet; and while Project Tempest does run it, the latter is closed-source and Windows only, and hasn't seen a release in over 10 years.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

The MESS driver is far from mature so it will be a while before it comes up to speed. From Kale's blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Only a 40-50% of the games boots on this if they doesn't trip weird bugs (like the one in Tempest 2k, where it overwrites the cart ROM region for whatever reason), and even if they does, there are many issues with the annoying video device/blitter."

JR-200U (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Virtual Panasonic JR-200U

This is the only known emulator outside of MESS for the JR-200U.

Macintosh (PowerPC) (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: PearPC

PearPC is the first Macintosh PowerPC emulator available for Wintel machines. The emulator is in very early stages and is relatively difficult to install and use; however, it is worth the undertaking if you happen to be a PowerPC enthusiast.

Multi-System (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Slipstream

I'm guessing most of you hadn't heard of this system before reading this (I certainly hadn't before writing it). Developed by a company called "Konix", the unreleased Multi-System would have been ahead of its time, mostly for its innovative, forward-thinking control schemes. Slipstream does a good job of emulating the system, though hampered by the fact that it's Windows-only, and (at least for now) closed-source. Also, it requires the closed-source Creative Labs OpenAL package to be downloaded and installed - not good. However, if you've ever wanted to experience the Multi-System, or are just curious what it's all about, now is your chance.

MZ (Series) (Below 2000) (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary/Good
Best Emulator: MZxEmu

Michael Franzen's MZxEmu is the only emulator you need for Sharp MZ systems below the 2000 model. Curiously, there is no "readme" file, though the emulator is very straightforward and well-written. Interestingly enough, MZxEmu also emulates Z80-based arcade games such as Phoenix and Carnival! As a side note, the link provided here is not specific to this emulator; rather, it is an excellent resource for information on the Sharp MZ-based systems, in addition to providing a de facto home for MZxEmu. Check it out!

MESS has recently added support for these models; however the "MZ-80B" and "MZ-1500" which MZxEmu emulates well, are not currently working.

MZ-2000 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: EmuZ-2000

This Sharp multi-MZ emulator is the only one of its kind. Surprisingly enough, this emulator features an English GUI.

MZ-2500 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: EmuZ-2500 (No Website)

This Sharp MZ-2500 emulator is the only one of its kind. Surprisingly enough, this emulator features an English GUI.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"The SuperMZ is currently a step below perhaps even two or three compared to Takeda's emu. Some SWs doesn't like our FDC (garbage in Murder Club), others have weird bugs (Instant Game Over in Orrbit 3) plus the system doesn't support neither SASI nor the network device (Moon Child relies on it). There are also some gfx bugs with some of the Dust Box programs (they are annoying to test as well). Might add support for save states and clean-up the whole thing at some point..."

Neo Geo Pocket / Neo Geo Pocket Color (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Good
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Mednafen NeoPop Core)

Mednafen's "resurrection" of NeoPop represents a solid, open-source Neo Geo Pocket emulator with relatively few compatibility issues; and while it is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Sadly, this system was removed from the MESSy list recently since it was discovered that the MESS driver doesn't support saving to battery-backed RAM as RetroArch's Mednafen NeoPop core does. This can be seen in games like Metal Slug - 2nd Mission (upon completing any level).

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • Metal Slug - 2nd Mission (doesn't save progress)

Nintendo 64 (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Mupen64Plus Core)

It's certainly been a long and winding road towards accurate Nintendo 64 emulation. Even today, no emulator outside of the MESS driver is terribly accurate, though a few can at least run a wide variety of N64 titles (if you can forgive the High Level Emulation employed to do so). The best of these are Project64 and Mupen64Plus. Considering that the differences between these two in terms of title compatibility are negligible, the fact that the latter runs on more platforms including Linux lends greater potential for the target system's preservation than the Windows-only Project64. Its inclusion as a RetroArch core furthers this argument.

Also, the RetroArch development team have actually improved upon the upstream project in some ways such as the addition of N64 three-point texture filtering and native-resolution rendering, as described here.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Unfortunately for purists, Mupen64Plus uses a plug-in system that allows independent developers to write their own interchangeable video, audio, controller, and Reality Signal Processor (RSP) modules. Plug-ins are widely acknowledged as inferior to more modern and accuracy-focused development approaches that emulate the target system as a single platform. Many developers of such projects have realized that it's better to write improvements directly into the emulator's main codebase, to enforce a discipline of everyone looking at the same piece of code to more rapidly improve its accuracy. Hopefully this will change in time.

The MESS driver primarily written by MooglyGuy is more accurate than Mupen64Plus; however it is also unplayably slow and does not run many titles yet. Given time and speed improvements the MESS driver will be a far better alternative, of course, but this may take years. From Kale's blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Performance varies greatly on this one according to what happens on screen (it ranges between 20% to 100% and above). Compatibility isn't great, most games either crashes or throws black screens. Former might be due of some silly floating point assert within the gfx system, it's certainly something that's shared (examples: Bangai-O, Fushigi no Dungeon 2, Sin & Punishment, all with the same assert type). Only the BIOS is supported in 64DD, no work has been done for the disk drive emulation."

Nintendo DS (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: RetroArch (DeSmuME Core)

DeSmuME is a solid, open-source Nintendo DS emulator with relatively few compatibility issues; and while it's an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Nintendo Entertainment System (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Nestopia Core)

Surprised? Man, is competition fierce in the Nintendo department. With so many great emulators to choose from (Mednafen, FCE Ultra, Nestopia, VirtuaNES, RockNES X and NNNesterJ to name a few) it can make your head spin. What's worse - the NES supports over 100 "mappers" within their cartridges and none of these emulators support them all. What's a mapper? Chris Covell's NES Tech FAQ describes it well:

"The 6502 CPU has only a 16-bit address bus. That means it can only access up to 65536 bytes of either ROM or RAM at one time. And the NES is designed to access half that much ROM. As programmers want to have more complex games, they need a way to spread a game across more than 32K of ROM. Thus, memory mappers are devices which switch different banks of program code into the 32K window of ROM which the CPU can access.

After increasing the address space, the more modern memory mappers really improved the amount of character graphics available to the game, and how it can combine them. The first mapper that changed graphics did it 8K at a time. However, the later mappers allowed games to swap in much smaller sections of CHR ROM, to allow for more animation in the backgrounds. Plus, of course, many game companies came out with their own mappers which had IRQ timers, and allowed tricks to be performed with the PPU. Several mappers also had additional sound chips, to add to the complexity of the music in (really only Famicom) games.

So, in summary, memory mappers allowed programmers to overcome the limitations inherent in the NES/Famicom."

Incidentally a few excellent places to find information on mappers and the games they support are here and here.

Overall, Nestopia represents the best NES emulation experience available. While sites like these show other emulators as being slightly more accurate based on obscure tests not involving actual production ROMs, the practical difference is negligible - try to find an actual game that demonstrates any of these emulators are more accurate than Nestopia! Further, with emulators such as puNES being closed-source and Windows-only (or at least not included in RetroArch), Nestopia is a better bet for long-term NES preservation. While Nestopia is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

As mentioned, the MESS driver is coming very close to Nestopia in terms of accuracy and compatibility. Recently etabeta posted that he's hacked around issues with the MMC-5 mapper (famous for "CastleVania III" and many Koei games), though a PPU rewrite is still necessary to fix this properly and address many of the issues noted below. Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"...PPU mid-frame changes doesn't work too well (off by a bunch of scanlines, generally), and sometimes you get garbled gfxs. It can load Famicom disk images too. Needs some serious reg-testing and somebody that is willing to rewrite the whole video system from scratch (according to Etabeta)."

MESS Edge Case Examples:

  • Aoki Ookami to Shiroki Mejika - Genchou Hishi by Koei (doesn't work)
  • Bandit Kings of Ancient China ~ Suikoden - Tenmei no Chikai (doesn't work)
  • Battletoads (third level shows no video)
  • Gunsight ~ Laser Invasion (graphics problems)
  • Metal Slader Glory (flickers)
  • Shin 4-nin Uchi Mahjong - Yakuman Tengoku (doesn't work)
  • Skull & Crossbones (video and control problems)
  • Uchuu Keibitai SDF (graphics problems)

NUON (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Nuance (No Website)

Nuance is the only known emulator for this system. Sadly, its original author passed away in 2007.

Odyssey (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: ODYEMU

ODYEMU is the only known emulator for this, the very first game console. Sadly, this emulator does not seem to run on modern operating systems.

PC-6001 (Series) (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: PC6001V

While there are many emulators for this series including the English-oriented Virtual NEC Trek, PC6001V seems to be the best of the bunch. Among it's advantages: it covers a comprehensive range of the PC-6001 series beyond the US-based "Trek" system; it supports floppy disks and FM-cartridges; it's open-source; and it's in active development. With that said, this emulator can be challenging to use is for non-Japanese speakers considering that the GUI is (understandably) almost exclusively Japanese. Fortunately, an English translation by a fan of the emulator is in the works - stay tuned.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"System is marked GNW [Game Not Working] just because it handles cassette tapes via an hack (use -cart2 option to load anything, then follow whatever instruction needed by the SW). The rest it behaves fairly well, including up to MK-2 support. You can't save, and some edge cases doesn't work at all (i.e. one version of Xevious). Video needs a MC6847 merge with the one used by CoCo (only regular PC-6001 tho, Mk-2 uses a special version of the chip), and there's still a i8255 hack that needs to be ironed out."

PC98 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: Neko Project II fmgen (No Website)

The NEC PC98XX series of computers was introduced at a time when the IBM PC was first taking off, and it was marketed in a similar fashion for the same purposes, yet it had its own architecture. Neko Project II fmgen emulates this system very well, and unlike so many other PC98 emulators, it sports an English GUI that won't drive you non Japanese-speaking folk bananas using it. Note that this emulator is an anonymous programmer's closed-source fork of the now-defunct "Neko Project II".

While this emulator has no official website, it's available as part of the "Neo Kobe Emulator Pack" as found here (one of many forums covering PC-98 topics).

The MESS PC driver is coming along quite nicely despite its preliminary status. From Kale's blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Under WIP by me as per now, it's coming along pretty nicely as well. Only floppy games works as per now with an hit and miss compatibility (formats supported: .fdi and .d88), and keyboard is sometimes fussy (needs proper UART hooked up), but anything that boots does it without too much to write home about. PC-9821 support is very preliminary, and it somehow works for everything that is exclusively on floppy and doesn't use the EGC, although very performance hitter. Anything compiled with BASIC most of the time fails badly (Xevious, Adventureland), presumably there are issues with uPD7220 opcodes. Sound boards PC9801-26 and PC9801-86 are more or less supported, no MIDI for now."

PC-FX (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Mednafen PC-FX Core)

Mednafen PC-FX represents a solid, open-source PC-FX emulator with relatively few compatibility issues; and while it's an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"[The MESS driver is] very preliminary, it shows a very basic OS screen with bad colors and nothing more (it uses a complex YUV calculation). There are issues with V810 CPU irqs, they makes the framework to crash if two happens at the same time (it's also a shared issue with Virtual Boy). Not a single line of CD-ROM device code is written at all, but it's a super-set of the one also used by PCE/PC-8801 anyway (so using this system as a base for rewriting it might be a good idea)."

PCW / PcW16 (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: JOYCE

JOYCE is the only Amstrad PCW and PcW16 emulator available outside of MESS.

Personal Computer (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: DOSBox

If you want to run your old PC games or other software, this is your best bet - barely. In reality, it was difficult for us to recommend DOSBox partly because it is loaded with gross hacks, many of which are intended to pass important I/O functions through to the host platform. You could certainly not go wrong trying other alternatives such as PCem, Bochs or QEMU. PCem is arguably the best of these, and is actually more advanced and accurate than DOSBox in many ways such as its broader diversity of CPU and video card selections. However, it currently falls short of our recommendation since it doesn't quite reach to the late 90s era PC hardware as DOSbox does (yet), and its Linux port is in a very preliminary state with no GUI functions available etc.

The MESS driver has made rapid progress lately, especially with respect to 80486-based systems, and is well on its way to matching the efforts above. Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Right now the x86 CPU is very solid, so the PC/AT can run and install every available Windows up tomewith a i486 and several *nix distros. As for the video/sound, some ISA cards are emulated, but there are still a fair share of bugs with them (most known one is the horizontal pel shift bug in VGA that happens in Alien Breed and Sensible World of Soccer. It's basically used for horizontal scrolling, but values doesn't make much sense as per now). Some SWs also behaves weird (for example: Heroes of Might & Magic hangs once that you go in end turn phase). Will see to iron out these issues in the next months..."

PlayStation (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Mednafen PSX Core)

PlayStation emulation has been fraught with controversy, from the commercial fiasco/disaster that was Bleem to the unapproved hack/project "PSXeven". Others such as ePSXe, Xebra and pSX have taken turns holding the best-choice mantle for many years; however they are all closed-source. Furthermore, while ePSXe is compatible with a wide range of titles, it's a far less accurate emulator to Mednafen, and focuses on pointless features such as "upscaling" to resolutions far beyond what PlayStation game developers originally used during the system's lifecycle, distorting the visuals and ruining the experience of playing on the actual system.

While Mednafen exhibits a few issues (for example, "Monkey Hero" and "Transformers - Beast Wars Transmetals" are apparently unplayable due to timing issues), the emulator is open-source, supports features such as in-game "cd changing" unlike most other alternatives, wisely doesn't use plug-ins, and is generally the most compatible and accurate emulator to date. RetroArch's Mednafen core offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

While the MESS driver has shown significant progress lately, further accuracy improvements are needed; and as the driver lacks dual-shock support due to major limitations of MESS (and MAME, incidentally), it may be a while before the PlayStation will make the MESSy list.

PlayStation 2 (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: PCSX2

There's really no other viable option for this platform. While it's fully open-source with Windows and Linux versions, unfortunately there isn't a 64-bit version; this limits future compatibility and creates problems for users of older Linux distributions since they will need to create a chroot environment to get it to work (see here for further details). Most distributions released since 2013 or so should not need a chroot environment, however.

For assistance getting PCSX2 to work in general, see bostman's PCSX2 Configuration Page.

PlayStation 3 (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: rpcs3

Although technically a PlayStation 3 emulator, rpcs3 is more a developer tool than anything else at this point. It certainly doesn't run any commercial games, and barely any homebrew software. MESS is certainly far from emulating the system at this point.

PlayStation Portable (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: RetroArch (PPSSPP Core)

Written by Hrydgard of Dolphin fame, PPSSPP is an excellent open-source emulator. While far from perfect, development seems to be moving along at a steady pace. RetroArch's PPSSPP core offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

While nowhere near as mature, JPCSP is perhaps worth a look if only for the fact that it's written in the ubquitous Java and seems to do a fairly decent job given the language.

Pong (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: WinArcadia

WinArcadia simulates (i.e. doesn't emulate) the old AY-3-8500 based "Ball & Paddle" integrated circuit from General Instrument that was used in several home Pong systems. WinArcadia author James Jacobs has this to say about supporting these systems:

"The Pong coin-op and the earliest home versions use discrete circuitry. The AY-3-8500 was designed as a 'Pong-on-a-chip' system to eliminate the need for such discrete circuitry. The chip is presumably running some kind of microcode to achieve the resultant game behaviour, but it's impossible to know exactly what is going on inside it. The simulation is based on the official datasheet for the AY-3-8500, which goes into considerable detail about the exact behaviours of the game but not about its internal operation. I don't think this chip could be actually emulated unless someone decaps and scans one with a microscope, which has never been done for this chip to my knowledge."
While Pong may not exactly spell excitement these days, it makes for a great nostalgia trip for those of you who are old enough to remember.

Saturn (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: SSF

While development of this emulator has been notably slow over the many years that it's been around, nothing has been able to top it - including the controversial GiriGiri/Cassini. SSF isn't the fastest Saturn emulator out there, but it runs at a playable speed on my reference system and it's the most compatible there is. Keep in mind that while the emulator's website may be in Japanese, the software itself, including the GUI, is in English.

The MESS Saturn driver has come along quite nicely recently, and apparently some games are now fully playable. However, the CD block is still missing so a majority of games will not be playable until then. Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Current SW compatibility is more or less at the level of the Yabause emulator. The major problem with this system is not that it's too hard to emulate, but rather, the lack of vital information available. For example: there's no info regarding VDP1 opcode timings, that definitely makes a difference on several test cases like Night Striker or Grandia. We also don't emulate the SCU DSP at CPU level, and a bunch of games definitely relies on that by keeping it enabled (so it hangs with the current hook-up, example Magical Hoppers). Some later Sega games like Daytona USA CE or Virtual On also uses some exploit in the system to draw their 3d list, no hell of an idea about this one. Last one that I do recall as a nasty test case at the moment is the Game Basic software: it tries to do an illegal DMA (from BIOS ROM to VDP1), so the (visually appealing) demos won't display any gfx."

Sega CD (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Genesis Plus GX Core)

Genesis Plus GX represents a solid, open-source Sega CD emulator which appears to be roughly on par with Steve Snake's closed-source Kega Fusion. It even emulates "Pier Solar and the Great Architects" which its closest open-source "competition" PicoDrive doesn't. While Genesis Plus GX is an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

The MESS driver has been making progress but is far from mature. As Kale observes in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Stock Mega CD (the Japanese one) doesn't load anything for now (it was working before), you need to use megacd2j if you want to play a JP game. Compatibility ratio is otherwise hit or miss, due of the timings that have a huger impact on this than regular MD."

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: RetroArch (bsnes Accuracy Core)

We need to be careful with hyperbole when writing about brilliant emulators - there's so much good stuff out there we imagine it would be easy for you, our readers, to feel jaded by review after glowing review. Having said that, it's impossible for us NOT to rave about bsnes (as part of "higan", its parent project).

With so many decent SNES emulators that have been developed over the years there's a lot of competition for sure, yet bsnes easily beats them all, demonstrating that system emulation can improve dramatically even after the target system has received years of attention and scrutiny. bsnes accuracy is VERY close to 100%, with a 65816 CPU core that is - are you sitting down? - accurate to the clock cycle. We're not kidding - bsnes basically IS a SNES in software. Show us any other SNES emulator - heck, show us any other emulator period, that can lay that sort of claim (of course there is a speed cost, but it's really not that noticeable if you are running bsnes on anything made within the last several years). As if that weren't enough, bsnes features BS Satellaview and SuperFX support, and is frequently updated unlike some of its competition.

The only true runner-up to bsnes is SNESGT. While not quite as accurate, this emulator is also highly compatible, and according to bsnes author byuu himself, SNESGT actually supports some BS Satellaview games that bsnes doesn't. byuu writes, "[SNESGT] uses various game-specific workarounds that [bsnes] cannot to achieve even greater BS-X compatibility [than bsnes]."

As incredible as bsnes is, the emulator is plagued with two serious downsides. First, byuu has recently forced his users to load ROMs through a "library" rather than permit direct access to the files, contrary to all other emulators. This "feature" has been widely and universally panned (at least outside the higan forum) for good reasons, not the least of which is that it introduces unnecessary usage difficulties. Also, bsnes does not recognize the SNES' "native" split-ROM format that MESS supports. This is unfortunate as it hinders interoperability for users of both emulators, though it doesn't necessarily make bsnes less attractive on its own. There's hope byuu will change his mind about these decisions someday, but nobody's holding their breath. It's a shame, because these issues could be easily remedied.

Note that while bsnes is by far the best choice for SNES emulation these days, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms, AND it allows for direct ROM loading, solving the compatibility problem associated with the aforementioned "library" concept (though not yet supporting the native split-rom format). Also: we chose the "accuracy" core over others - while this is known to run slower on older systems, our reference system had no problems with it. Users who experience sound stuttering or low framerates are encouraged to try either the bsnes "balanced" or "performance" cores, both of which are included in RetroArch.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Fortunately, MESS development has been progressing rapidly these days, and there's even efforts underway towards writing a cycle-accurate 65816 core which could rival bsnes; though it isn't yet finished, and the driver remains lacking BS Satellaview and decent SuperFX support. Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Compatibility ratio is decent as per now, it's not yet at [higan] level and some extra chips aren't yet supported (example: SA-1). The major problem with this is still the main-sound timings, we're still cycle stealing too much or too little, depending on the situation. It needs a major rewrite of the CPU emulation (that should also take open bus into account). Also, video emulation isn't too good either, but the whole thing is currently annoying enough to debug, last time I've fixed a very simple bug (Robocop 3 missing sprites, caused by incorrect VRAM wrap-around) it took me about 3/4 hours. Too much."

TV Games Computer (Computer)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: WinArcadia

WinArcadia supports this computer by Elektor, which is not too surprising considering it uses the Signetics 2650A CPU as does the VC 4000 and others listed on NonMESS. See VC 4000 section for further details regarding specific MESS driver issues.

VC 4000 (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Imperfect
Best Emulator: WinArcadia

Interton's ancient game console, utilizing the Signetics 2650 CPU.

WinArcadia author James Jacobs pointed out several deficiencies in the current MESS driver that are not present in his emulator. While MESS plays some games better (Air Sea Battle features hit detection which WinArcadia lacks), there are still some video issues (such as Bowling's epileptic fits). James indicated he may help the MESS team with their driver, though given that he had made this statement several years ago, we doubt he actually plans to do so at this point. Either way, the MESS driver for VC 4000 (and other related systems) is nearing completion with many games already emulated well, so look forward to that soon!

Virtual Boy (Handheld)
MESS Driver Status: Preliminary
Best Emulator: RetroArch (Mednafen VB Core)

Mednafen VB represents a solid, open-source Virtual Boy emulator with relatively few compatibility issues; and while it's an excellent standalone emulator, RetroArch offers an even better overall experience across more platforms.

For further information regarding RetroArch, see our 32X section.

Regarding the MESS driver, Kale stated in his blog dated 12/23/2012:

"Fairly decent, for something that has very obtuse documentation available. Framebuffer isn't yet emulated properly (don't know how/where to clear them) so a bunch of games doesn't work (the ones you don't want to play anyway, like WaterWorld), and the V810 core has various bugs (so sometimes crashes or sports weird bugs, like a lack of collision for some spots in Galactic Pinball), but I think it's fairly usable otherwise. A good trick is to enter into Video Options and use either one of the two screens, the system can be pretty intensive and doing it gives a performance boost."

Wii (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Dolphin

While not exactly coming out of the blue, Dolphin's advanced support for the Wii took everyone by surprise. It'll require a little work to dump the BIOS from your Wii for accurate audio support, and your computer will need bluetooth capability to support the Wiimote, but Dolphin makes it possible to play your Wii games at full speed on modern computers (well, some of the anyway, though that's changing). Perhaps the most exciting thing about Dolphin is the constant improvements that you can compile and see for yourself on a daily basis. For futher information regarding Dolphin, see the writeup in the GameCube section.

Xbox (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Cxbx

Xbox emulation is a sad state of affairs indeed, thanks in large part to a lack of documentation. But you ask, shouldn't there be an abundance of documentation for the PC platform, on which the Xbox is based? Well, sort of. To begin with, the Xbox uses custom Nvidia graphics hardware - and Nvidia is known to be very "cloak-and-dagger" about their hardware.

Until recently I had reported that Dxbx was the best Xbox emulator available. However, a few things made us change that: first, being a Delphi port of Cxbx, Dxbx will always be one step behind; and second, even though Cxbx hasn't seen a public release in many years, Dxbx hasn't even had a commit to the source tree since 2010. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Cxbx activity in a recent fork, found here.

Keep in mind: very few games actually run on this emulator, and the future doesn't look promising unless/until more documentation avails itself to the developers. Also, neither of the above emulators support x64-based operating systems yet. Let's hope they do at some point soon.

Xbox 360 (Console)
MESS Driver Status: Non-existent
Best Emulator: Xenia

The Xenia by-line "research project" is appropriate considering that it only runs small code fragments and not much else (certainly no commercial games, apparently excepting the XBLA game "Frogger 2", as showcased running like molasses through the Xenia interpreter).

Note that there appears to be another Xbox 360 emulator in development but this seems even less mature than Xenia.

Of course, MESS does not support this system, nor is there any expectation of support in the near future.