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Windows 98 Emulators

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At a Glance
  • Connectix Virtual PC 2.1.1

  • Insignia Solutions SoftWindows 98 5.0.4

Like it or not, because much of the software that's available for the PC lacks a Mac counterpart, you occasionally need to turn to Windows applications to get your work done. But depending on the application, you may be able to use a software emulator running on your Mac rather than having to use an actual PC.

Unfortunately, our lab testing made one thing abundantly clear: if you need to run resource-intensive Windows software, emulators aren't for you (see " Emulation in the Slow Lane "). On a Power Macintosh G3/300, Connectix's Virtual PC 2.1.1 and Insignia Solutions' SoftWindows 98 5.0.4 delivered less than one-fifth the performance of our baseline system, a 300MHz Intel Celeron-based PC. That said, both emulators are fast enough and compatible enough for quick forays into the Windows world.

Virtual PC and SoftWindows 98 are philosophically identical: they re-create a PC–including its CPU (an MMX-equipped Pentium)–in software and then run Windows and Windows software in this simulated environment. And their performance is remarkably similar: our overall benchmark scores show a difference of just 5 percent between the two.

But running the emulators with applications that make heavier use of networks points up some compatibility differences. For example, SoftWindows 98 takes advantage of the Mac's built-in TCP/IP networking, so you don't need to configure a separate IP address for Windows. More important, if your Mac is already connected to the Internet via PPP, SoftWindows 98 uses that connection instead of requiring you to create one from within Windows–a feature you'll appreciate when you're on the road.

The downside is that SoftWindows 98 is incompatible with some networking software. Virtual PC had no compatibility problems with the networking software we tested, although it requires a second IP address in addition to the one already assigned to the Mac and can't use an extant Mac PPP connection.

Both emulators use large Mac files as their virtual hard disks; both also have a quick-launch feature that lets you put the Windows environment to sleep and reawaken it without having to go through the full boot process, though Virtual PC's implementation of this feature is more than twice as fast as SoftWindows 98's. And although neither emulator has any problem running a variety of basic Windows software, contemporary games really want to run on actual PC hardware.

Despite their similarities, the two emulators differ in some significant ways. Virtual PC has a much more polished user interface, handy LED-style indicators that show whether hard-disk or network activity is going on, and many smaller usability details. In contrast, SoftWindows 98's interface offers so many configuration options as to be daunting for the novice, and its answer to the right mouse button–pressing the equal sign (=) key or command-R–is a poor solution.

February 1999 page: 37

At a Glance
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