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You are here: MacNN Forums > Software - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Alternative Operating Systems > Best/cheapest Windows emulator?

Best/cheapest Windows emulator?
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andi*pandi
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Dec 31, 2011, 02:09 PM
 
There are certain kid games we want to run that are windows only... (grrr)

It's been a while since I had to use windows at all. I'd like an easy install and painless interface.

VMFusion?
Parallels?
What else is out there?
     
Spheric Harlot
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Dec 31, 2011, 02:24 PM
 
Parallels is the fastest, currently, and completely seamless in Coherence mode.
     
Cold Warrior
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Dec 31, 2011, 02:26 PM
 
Virtualbox is free and pretty good. Are these games very demanding? If so, virtualization may not cut it regardless.
     
P
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Dec 31, 2011, 02:34 PM
 
Parallels is the best, and they're very often included in one of those bundles where you pay $50 for 10 apps - that's how I bought mine. Gaming is the one area where they aren't very good, but from version 6 they're playable in anything not a shooter, and I hear that version 7 is a significant improvement. This is the setup that is the most likely to work with any game you pick.

Virtualbox is really quite decent, and it is free, but it doesn't work with 3D graphics.

Either of these will require a version of Windows, however, and they are not free. One way to get around that is to use something like Wine, which simulates enough of Windows to make a lot of apps run. That fails your "easy install" requirement, however. There is a commercial version called Crossover which takes care of that, and it's another of those that usually end up in bundles fairly often. Check their compatibility lists for the games you want to play - if it's on there, this is the easiest way to make it work.

It should be noted that there is a HUGE step in virtualization performance between Core 2 and later Core i3/i5/i7 processors (thanks to a little feature called Extended Page Tables). If you're still on a Core 2, I would honestly consider dualbooting over virtualization, but on a Core i5 or similar, virtualization works quite well.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
Spheric Harlot
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Dec 31, 2011, 02:44 PM
 
One caveat emptor about Parallels:

The software tends to grow stale if you don't upgrade. Meaning, they like you to go through every version upgrade; upgrading to only every other one or so has caused issues with importing virtual machines in the past (specifically, going from Parallels 4 to Parallels 6 sucked ass). Not sure whether this has been improved with v7.
     
ghporter
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Dec 31, 2011, 03:02 PM
 
I use VirtualBox on my Core Duo MBP for running all the Windows stuff I really need to run, particularly at work. VirtualBox works. Quite well, actually.

A friend who is so much a nerd that his picture is in the dictionary next to the definition of the word has a Dell Latitude D600 that he runs Linux on, and he runs the Linux version of VirtualBox on that. He notes that Windows XP runs faster in VirtualBox under Linux on that machine than it runs natively when he swaps in his other hard drive. Lots of hardware specific stuff in Windows is apparently slower when running on physical hardware.

The current version of VirtualBox offers video acceleration, as well. Oh yeah, it's free, too.

Glenn -----OTR/L, MOT, Tx
     
andi*pandi  (op)
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Dec 31, 2011, 05:43 PM
 
Well, we have an XP install disc kicking around, so we'll try virtualbox for a bit. The game is Wizards101 (think farmville for kids, but with wizards). Kid also got a microscope for the computer for christmas, which claims to be pc only...

Thanks!
     
P
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Dec 31, 2011, 06:24 PM
 
Give Virtualbox a try - if it works, great.

(long explanation follows. Please try Virtualbox first, because There Be Monsters beyond this point)

If it doesn't, it's time to start investigating. The problem about games is that Windows games expect unfettered access to the graphics card. What you're actually doing in the case of Parallels, VMware of Virtualbox is virtualizing one OS on top of another. Virtualizing is not the same as emulating. Emulating means creating one virtual machine machine, making everything run in it and then having you program pass those instructions on to the actual hardware. This always works, but is slow. In general, you lose have to have a machine 10 times as powerful as the one you're emulating to make it work. Works great for ancient arcade machines and the like - less so for current computers.

Virtualizing is presenting your machine, as it is, to the guest OS and then running a sort of three card monte to make the guest operating system think it's the only thing around. EPT (my post above) is one big part of that - it means that the guest OS can run the VM system directly to the hardware, and the virtualization software only has to set the mode before giving up control of the OS. Without EPT, the software has to emulate the paging memory management unit, which is slow. Very slow.

The trick for doing the same thing for graphics cards is something Intel calls VT-d. Long story short, it works if you have two graphics cards with the secondary one dedicated to the virtual machine, but you need the primary one to stay dedicated to the main OS. For Macs with only one GPU, this doesn't work, so you have to cheat, and this is where it gets hairy.

"cheating" here means understanding the actual commands sent from the virtual OS to the hardware and interpreting them into something the actual hardware can live with. This means understanding the Window API in question - called DirectX or Direct3D (two names for the same thing). Essentially all virtualizers understand Direct3D, but different versions of it. Virtualbox understands Direct3D 8.0 and 9.0, but not (AFAICT) 9.0c, which is what a lot of games require. Parallels and VMware understand 9.0c, and noone (AFAIK) understand DirectX 10 or 11. It so happens that Intel integrated graphics did not support 9.0c for a very long time, so there are a lot of games made for DirectX 9.0, but it is a bit of hit and miss.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
besson3c
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Dec 31, 2011, 07:03 PM
 
Your best option is probably going to be WINE, actually. This game is rated gold, meaning it should work out of the box - minimal muss and fuss (if any) on your Mac without virtualization required:

WineHQ - Wizard101

The problem with virtualization is that the 3D support is usually experimental, and usually only works with certain versions of DirectX/Direct3D.

If a game works in WINE, this is pretty much always going to be your best bet, performance wise, and starting up WINE apps doesn't require having an entire Windows OS running.
     
besson3c
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Dec 31, 2011, 07:07 PM
 
If you decide to try WINE, you'll need a few Windows prerequisites which you can easily install via "winetricks":

WineHQ - Wizard101 Wizard101 Final Live Version

You can install winetricks and WINE via homebrew/Macports, and you'll need Apple's X11 installed which you can install here:

XQuartz


Okay, I guess I was exaggerating in saying that this is minimal muss/fuss in not taking into account installing WINE/winetricks itself, but I'm sure the upside of this will be worth it in not having to install Windows, have it hog resources, and basically being able to launch this game as an app on your Mac.

Another option is Crossover Office, which is close to the same thing but easier to get going.
     
   
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