Emulators allow you to play console games on your PC. They essentially mimic the software and hardware environments of consoles like the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and more so you can enjoy your favorite titles without the actual gaming systems. However, not all emulators are created equal when it comes to safety and performance. Some can put your computer at risk for malware or simply don’t work well.
That’s why it’s important to choose emulators carefully. The following are 10 of the best safe emulators for PCs in 2023 based on factors like security, functionality, user-friendliness, and more.
10 Best Safe Emulators for PC
RetroArch is one of the most popular and trusted multi-system emulators available today. It’s open-source and completely free, which is a major perk. RetroArch emulates dozens of classic consoles like the SNES, NES, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and more. It also works great for arcade games.
The emulator uses “cores” to mimic each system’s environment. There are tons of cores available to provide accuracy and customize the experience. RetroArch also has useful features like saving states, rewinding, video filters, and controller customization. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The interface can be confusing at first but it’s very powerful once you get the hang of it.
Overall, RetroArch is a great one-stop shop for emulating vintage games safely and accurately on your desktop or laptop.
Dolphin is widely considered the best GameCube and Wii emulator for PC. It offers stellar accuracy and performance thanks to constant updates over the past decade and more. Dolphin handles the most popular games for those consoles without any major issues. It also has a clean interface that’s easy to use.
Some standout features include save states, graphics settings, controller customization, and more. An Android version is also available. Dolphin is open-source and free. It hasn’t been updated with malware or other security issues. The emulator works great on both Windows and Mac. If you want to play Nintendo classics like Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and more on your computer, Dolphin is the best way to go.
Citra emulates Nintendo’s most recent handheld, the 3DS. It was created in 2014 and has been steadily improving since. The emulator allows you to play 3DS games on a PC with good compatibility and performance. Popular titles like Pokémon X/Y, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, Super Mario 3D Land, and more work well through Citra.
The emulator is completely free, open source, and safe. It hasn’t posed any malware risks. Citra provides graphics customization, screen layout options, and other handy features. It also emulates the 3DS touchscreen on mouse and keyboard setups. Citra works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. This is the best way to play 3DS games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Pokémon Sun/Moon, and more without buying the actual handheld.
Ryujinx is currently the best emulator option for playing Nintendo Switch games on PC. It was created in 2018 but has quickly become popular thanks to great compatibility and performance. Ryujinx allows you to enjoy Switch exclusives like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, and more on your desktop or laptop.
This emulator is open-source and 100% free. The interface is user-friendly while still providing graphics settings and other options to customize the experience. Ryujinx also emulates motion controls well for games that require them. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. While it’s still in development, Ryujinx already plays most Switch games without issues. This is the best way to play Nintendo’s latest titles on your computer safely.
PPSSPP is the best emulator for PSP games available today. It was first launched in 2012 and has seen constant improvement since. The emulator accurately mimics the PlayStation Portable software and hardware environments. This allows you to play PSP classics like God of War: Chains of Olympus, Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, Crisis Core – Final Fantasy VII, and more on desktop and mobile.
PPSSPP is open source and completely free. It hasn’t posed any malware or virus problems over the years. The emulator has useful features like save states, control customization, graphics options, and more. It also makes PSP games look significantly better at higher resolutions. PPSSPP works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. For playing PSP games on the go or on your computer, this is the emulator to use.
MelonDS is the best emulator for playing Nintendo DS games on PC. It offers good performance, accuracy, and features for mimicking the dual-screen handheld. The emulator allows you to enjoy DS favorites like Pokémon Diamond/Pearl, Mario Kart DS, Chrono Trigger DS, and more on your desktop and laptop.
MelonDS is open source and 100% free. The project started in 2017 and has seen regular updates since. The user interface is slick and intuitive. Features include save states, graphics customization tools, and built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for multiplayer. MelonDS works on Windows and Mac. This emulator hasn’t posed any specific malware threats. For playing Nintendo DS games safely on your computer, MelonDS is the way to go.
MESS (Multi Emulator Super System) is an excellent open-source emulator for playing classic arcade games on PC. As the name suggests, it emulates dozens of old systems like Nintendo, Sega, Neo Geo, Capcom, and more. This allows you to conveniently play thousands of coin-op classics from the 70s, 80s, and 90s. MESS supports well-known titles like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter II, Metal Slug, and many more.
The emulator is completely free and safe to use. It hasn’t presented any malware or virus problems. MESS requires some technical knowledge to set up properly. It uses MAME for the emulation frameworks. Features include save states and graphics filters. For an all-in-one arcade game emulator, MESS is hard to beat. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
As the name implies, VirtualBox emulates Nintendo’s ill-fated Virtual Boy console from 1995. It uses the classic red and black graphics while letting you enjoy the small library of games on PC. Titles emulated include Mario’s Tennis, Red Alarm, Teleroboxer, Galactic Pinball, and more oddities from the short-lived console.
VirtualBoy has been downloaded over one million times with no malware or security issues reported. It’s open source and 100% free. The emulator replicates the experience well and is easy to set up. It works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices. For both novelty and preservation, VirtualBoy does a stellar job at recreating the failed console safely on modern computers.
SNES9x is an excellent open-source Super Nintendo emulator that’s been around for over two decades. It accurately emulates the iconic 16-bit Nintendo console, allowing you to play classics like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy VI, and hundreds more on PC.
This emulator is completely free and safe to use. It hasn’t bundled any malware. SNES9x emulates most of the SNES library flawlessly. It has bonus features like save states, cheat codes, filters, and overclocking options. User-created enhancement packs can make games look even more advanced. SNES9x works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android. For easily playing retro Nintendo games on your desktop, SNES9x is a top choice.
DOSBox is a great emulator solution for playing classic PC games from the MS-DOS era on modern computers and operating systems. Titles released for DOS in the 80s and 90s may no longer work properly on Windows 10 or Mac OS. This is where DOSBox comes in very handy.
The emulator replicates the DOS environment and allows thousands of old games to run on desktop PCs and even mobile devices. Well-known titles emulated include Doom, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem, Fallout, Quake, SimCity 2000, and many more franchise classics. DOSBox is completely free and open source. It’s safe to use with no malware issues reported. This is the best way to revisit old DOS games on a modern computer.
FAQs about Safe Emulators for PC
What are the benefits of using emulators on PC?
There are several benefits to using video game emulators on your home computer:
- Play console-exclusive games not available on PC. Emulation allows you to enjoy Nintendo, PlayStation, Xbox, and other titles without buying dedicated systems.
- Experience classic games from past eras. Emulators let you revisit vintage games from the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s on modern operating systems.
- Customize and enhance games. Many emulators offer graphics settings, mods, and other ways to improve games beyond their original releases.
- Avoid costly game collecting. Playing retro games via emulation allows you to save money compared to purchasing rare console titles and hardware.
- Play localized games easily. Emulation makes games released in certain regions accessible to anyone worldwide.
Are emulators legal to use?
The legal status of emulators is somewhat complex. Using them is legal in many countries, but downloading commercial ROM images may violate copyright law in some regions. Most emulators are open-source programs made by hobbyists for preservation reasons. They don’t contain proprietary code from console manufacturers. However, consult your local laws regarding downloading actual game files before using emulators.
What are the risks of emulators?
Like any third-party software, there are some potential risks to be aware of:
- Malware – Unethical emulator developers may bundle hidden malware. Stick to trusted open-source emulators to avoid this problem.
- Instability – Emulation inaccuracies may cause certain games to run poorly or crash unexpectedly. Save states help mitigate frustration.
- Complexity – Some emulators have tricky interfaces or require BIOS/ROM files to properly configure. Do your homework before downloading.
- Hardware demands – Emulators require decent PC specs for smooth performance, especially for 3D consoles like Nintendo 64 or PlayStation 2.
How can I avoid malware in emulators?
Only use trusted emulators that are open source and vetted by the emulation community. Do some research before downloading. Malware risks mainly exist in newer, shady emulators. Check online forums and other sources to verify an emulator’s reputation first. Also, run antivirus scans periodically to catch anything suspicious. Avoid ads, popups, and other sketchy links when downloading emulators.
What are the best gaming controllers to use for emulators?
Pretty much any modern gamepad or console controller will work nicely. Good options include:
- Xbox One controller – Plug and play on Windows PCs. Good ergonomics.
- DualShock 4 – Works great wired or wireless. Includes gyro and touchpad.
- Nintendo Switch Pro controller – Solid d-pad and excellent battery life.
- 8BitDo controllers – Designed specifically for retro emulation.
- Arcade sticks – Ideal for classic fighting games and arcade titles.
For older consoles, you may want controllers that match their originals more closely. Overall, it’s hard to go wrong with any modern USB gamepad. Wireless Bluetooth controllers work well too.
Can I play online multiplayer games through emulators?
Online connectivity via emulation tends to be hit or miss. Certain emulators like Dolphin allow online multiplayer for specific games like Mario Kart Wii. But support can be spotty. You may encounter connectivity issues or only be matched up with fellow emulator users. If playing online is important, it’s best to use original console hardware and games. Local wireless options like Parsec work better for emulator multiplayer.
What PC specs do I need to run emulators smoothly?
At a minimum, you’ll want a few things:
- Intel i3 processor or equivalent
- Dedicated graphics card like GTX 750 or RX 460
- 8GB of RAM
- Keyboard and mouse or gamepad
The more powerful your PC, the better. Emulation is fairly CPU-intensive. For the best experience at high resolutions and framerates, an i5 or i7 CPU, GTX 1060/RX580 graphics or better, and 16GB RAM will go a long way. Storage space for ROMs is also a consideration. But overall, mid-range specs or better should run emulators nicely.
Emulators allow desktop PCs and laptops to accurately recreate vintage game consoles and historic computer environments. They provide an awesome way to enjoy classic video games without tracking down expensive retro hardware and titles. The emulators covered above are all great options that won’t put your computer at risk for viruses or malware.
Whether you want to play old Nintendo classics, relive PlayStation exclusives, or check out arcade games from decades past, these emulators safely bring gaming nostalgia to your modern setup. Just be sure to verify their reputation and do a bit of research before downloading any unfamiliar emulator programs.
RetroArch, Dolphin, Citra and the other emulators here are trusted projects from dedicated developers. They utilize open-source code that hasn’t posed major security concerns over the years. You can confidently download these emulators to start playing console favorites and revisiting beloved retro games from yesteryear on your desktop and laptop devices. They provide a free portal to gaming’s past that’s safer and more accessible than ever thanks to passionate emulator programming.
Mustafa Al Mahmud is the Founder of Best Emulators and also a professional Blogger, SEO Professional as well as Entrepreneur. He loves to travel and enjoy his free moment with family members and friends.