To get the best of both worlds, emulate

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The Independent Culture
You are a loyal Mac user, but you long to run software that is written only for Windows PCs. What do you do? Simple, try an emulation program. David Fox puts three of them through their paces.

How to have your Mac and run Windows, too

More applications are designed for Windows PCs than for any other operating system, so it stands to reason that the computer that can run the most software is an Apple Macintosh. Eh? This is because among the 15,000 or so Mac applications there are now three that emulate a Wintel PC (there are others which emulate Unix and the old Apple II).

Of course, if you want real speed, you need real hardware, but for a cheap way to run Windows programs on a Mac, software emulation works surpris- ingly well, provided you have a powerful enough Mac to do it justice and really want to enter the world of the General Protection Fault. There are also several hardware solutions from Apple and others, but these PC boards are several times the cost, even if they are a lot faster.

SoftWindows 95

The longest established PC emulator is Insignia Solutions' SoftWindows 95, now on version 4.0. It also does a Windows 3 version, and its experience shows in its good integration with the Mac, most notable in the way in which the Mac's clipboard can be used to cut and paste text or graphics in both directions between PC and Mac programs. It also recognises the Mac's modem, printer and other peripherals with no difficulty.

Like the others, it takes some tweaking to get the best performance, although in my tests on a 275 MHz 6500 PowerPC it took exactly 60 seconds to run two Word macros using both 32 and 42 megabytes of RAM (one macro ran slower, the other faster). A 100MHz Pentium took 34 seconds to run both.

Installation takes 10 minutes. But, if you use all the defaults on installation, it assigns very limited disk space to Windows. You can expand this later, very easily, but it takes 10 minutes to create the extra space, so it's better to allocate enough memory initially.

It also creates a fuss if you reduce its RAM memory allocation. You can, but you have to exit the wonderful TurboStart mode. This takes a picture of the system as you quit, so that it can bypass needless housekeeping when you restart. With TurboStart engaged, it was able to launch Windows 95 and get me back to what I'd being doing in Word within 10 seconds. This is about a minute faster than a genuine PC.

Conclusion: Takes a while to set up, but thereafter is fast to get started; good documentation; reasonable performance for most tasks; good compatibility. Available for around pounds 125, inc VAT, from Insignia Solutions (0800 667 706 - http://www. insignia.com).

Connectix Virtual PC

Virtual PC comes from one of the Mac's most innovative developers, Connectix, maker of RAM Doubler and Speed Doubler, and is certainly impressive in both installation and use. It is extremely quick and easy to set up. There is only one control panel to click on with your preferences, and Windows 95 (or Windows 3.1 or MS-DOS) installs automatically. It took less than three minutes to install Windows 95. Allowing time to input your registration number, you can be working within five minutes.

As it emulates a Pentium MMX chip PC, with all the standard peripherals, it is claimed also to run Windows NT and virtually any other operating system designed for an Intel PC - provided you have the power to use them.

Like SoftWindows, Virtual PC has a rapid start feature that saves your PC setup so you can go straight back where you left off when you relaunch. However, while you can cut and paste from the Mac to the PC, this doesn't work in the other direction (you can save to disk and the Mac will read most PC files).

Some games worked fine, with good keyboard response and acceptable sound and graphics, but others wouldn't even load (as this can happen with a real PC, maybe Connectix are being too authentic). It was also slightly slower than SoftWindows. Its best combined time for the Word macro tests was 66 seconds (with 48Mb RAM dedicated to it). Less memory, or its optional full-screen mode, slows it down further.

Besides having a Mac-friendly version of Windows 95 on its own CD-Rom, it also comes with a separate full copy, with standard manual. The first time I installed it, AOL recognised the modem, but CompuServe didn't. Both worked the second time.

Conclusion: Very easy to set up; nicely designed; clear documentation; good compatibility, except for games; and acceptable performance for most standard PC applications. Available for about pounds 125, inc VAT, from Connectix (0181-561 1414 - http://www.connectix.com).

RealPC

With the intrusion of Connectix into the market, Insignia has hit back with the lower-cost RealPC. This requires less memory to run than the other programs and does a very good job of emulating a DOS system.

It ran a variety of games as quickly as a 100MHz Pentium. Indeed, it comes with 15 action games on CD-Rom (most of which run straight off the CD, so you don't have to use too much hard disk space) and it will appeal most to games players annoyed that most of the best (and worst) games come out first for the PC.

You can add Windows to RealPC, but, unless you are technically minded, the other programs are a better choice for Windows use. Although running Windows 95 on RealPC was as fast as Virtual PC, without any tweaking, it took 40 minutes to install (just like a real PC), and it wasn't set up for Mac use, so neither AOL nor CompuServe could identify the modem. Printing was OK, but took place only when I reverted to the Mac, although it may be possible to get around this if you study the manual.

One slight annoyance is that it doesn't automatically change the Mac mouse into a PC mouse, you have to remember to do that yourself, each time.

Conclusion: An authentic PC experience (possibly too much so); best choice for gamers. Available for less than pounds 60, inc VAT, from Insignia Solutions (0800 667 706 - http://www.insignia.com).

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