Chromebooks have come a long way from being mere web-browsing machines. Nowadays, Chromebook users can tap into a wide array of applications through the Google Play Store or enable support for Linux apps on ChromeOS. But what if that's just not enough? What if you're craving to run software created for a different operating system or have an itch to play games released on an entirely different platform? That's where emulators come in, allowing you to simulate another operating system within your current one and opening doors to a whole new world of possibilities.
Have you ever found yourself staring wistfully at a Windows application, wishing you could run it on your Chromebook? Enter Wine, a tool that’s more of a magician than an emulator. Contrary to its name, Wine (which cheekily stands for "Wine is not an emulator") doesn’t emulate Windows but acts as a compatibility layer, translating Windows API calls into something your Chromebook understands. The result? You can run almost any Windows software with ease.
At the time of writing, there are almost 30,000 applications in Wine's online database, with more than 5,000 of them boasting the highest compatibility rating (Platinum), including games like Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft or applications like Microsoft Word and Adobe Photoshop.
Wine's system requirements depend on the software you choose to run. If the software isn't demanding, then you can likely run it smoothly without a hitch, even on older or less powerful Chromebooks. However, if you aim to run more resource-intensive applications or games through Wine, you'll need to ensure your Chromebook has sufficient RAM and a more robust processor.
Eclipse is an excellent choice for those who want to play their favorite retro games but find themselves on restricted Chromebooks, like ones controlled by schools or companies, because it runs entirely in your web browser. By breaking free from the constraints of installation, Eclipse ensures that insufficient installation permissions won't dampen your gaming enthusiasm.
To get started, you simply need to head over to Eclipse's website, load a ROM file, and you're ready to play. Whether you're a fan of NES, SNES, GameBoy, or Sega Master System, Eclipse's broad support has got you covered. You can even access an entire library of homebrew titles from independent developers.
With features like Google Drive or Dropbox integration, you can manage your game library effortlessly and even access saved files across different devices. And for those concerned about input methods, Eclipse supports touch, keyboard, and controllers. The interface is clean, user-friendly, and customizable according to your preferences.
If there's one emulator to rule them all, it's RetroArch. Serving as a multifaceted gaming platform with a sleek and user-friendly interface, RetroArch allows you to explore the classics like never before thanks to its support for many different third-party cores, which are essentially just barebones emulators for different systems that run through RetroArch.
For example, the Snes9X core allows you to play SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) games, the PPSSPP core can emulate PSP (PlayStation Portable) games, and the Desume core makes it possible to enjoy Nintendo DS games. Being basic emulation, RetroArch offers support for retro achievements, netplay, filters that replicate the look of old CRT monitors, and much more.
Combined with its highly configurable settings, RetroArch offers a personalized gaming experience that leaves very little to be desired. However, beginners may find some configurations a bit complex and confusing. The good news is that there's enough community support to guide you through.
You can install RetroArch on Chromebook via its Android app. We have the complete guide for you to use RetroArch on Android (Chromebook) too.
Yuzu is an experimental open-source emulator that lets you enjoy the magic of Nintendo Switch games right on your Chromebook. The emulator currently offers perfect compatibility with around 650 games, and many more games are playable with smaller or larger flaws.
Getting started with Yuzu is hassle-free, thanks to its availability on the Google Play store. The only area that could use some polishing is the controller setup and configuration process. Some trial and error is usually required, but nothing too bad.
Because Yuzu developers are very active and its community of gaming enthusiasts is thriving, the emulator continues to evolve rapidly, making substantial improvements with each update.
5. Parallels Desktop for ChromeOS
Price: Free trial is available, but a license is required for the full version
When it comes to running the Windows operating system, and the countless software applications developed for it, on a Chromebook without replacing the factory BIOS with SeaBIOS, Parallels Desktop for ChromeOS is your best choice.
Where Parallels Desktop truly shines is its integration with ChromeOS. The shared clipboard, drag-and-drop functionality, and support for various peripherals, including printers, cameras, microphones, and USB smart card readers, all contribute to a unified and user-friendly experience.
However, it's worth noting that Parallels Desktop is more suited for general programs and professional applications rather than heavy gaming. The lack of gaming graphics cards or faster RAM in most Chromebooks restricts its ability to play many popular titles (though there are still many games you can play in Chromebook). For the majority of Windows applications, it's an unbeatable solution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Chromebook emulators legal?
Yes, Chromebook emulators themselves are legal. However, it's important to note that the legality might depend on how you're using them. Emulating an operating system you own a license for is typically legal, as is playing games for which you own a physical copy.
Do I need to enable Linux support on my Chromebook to use emulators?
It depends on the emulator. Some emulators require Linux support to run on your Chromebook, like Wine, while others might be available through the Google Play Store or other means.
Which video game consoles can I emulate on a Chromebook?
Chromebooks can emulate a variety of video game consoles, depending on the emulator you choose. Popular choices include NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance (GBA), PlayStation, and even Nintendo Switch. Just know that your Chromebook needs to be sufficiently powerful to handle the particular console you're trying to emulate.
Are emulated apps and games slower?
Emulated apps and games usually run slower than they would on their native platform. This is because emulation involves translating the instructions from one system architecture to another, which can add overhead.
Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by David Morelo.
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