Macintosh line

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Revision as of 02:10, 23 September 2020 by (talk) (GPU emu, ARM port, minor historical accuracy tweaks.)
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Apple Macintosh
Developer Apple Computer, Inc.
Type Home computer
Release date 1984
Predecessor Apple ][

The Macintosh is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. since January 1984. The original Macintosh was the first mass-market personal computer that featured a graphical user interface, built-in screen, and mouse, eschewing the command-line interface and/or BASIC interpreter that had been the mainstay for home computers since the late '70s. Apple offered the Macintosh alongside its popular Apple II family of computers for almost ten years before those were discontinued in 1993.

Throughout its history the Macintosh has spanned four CPU instruction set architectures that represent the four commonly known generations. From its launch in 1984 up until 1994, Apple sold Macintoshes with the Motorola 68k family of CPUs. In the early 90s, Apple partnered with Motorola and IBM to combine IBM's POWER with Motorola's 88k to produce the PowerPC (PPC) architecture, naming some Macs accordingly as Power Mac. They eventually switched to x86 in 2006, justifying it with the explanation that PPC failed to be competitive with Intel's Pentium M series. And in 2020 have announced a transition from Intel to ARM, further integrating with its iOS mobile spinoff.

Macintosh computers have always included a platform-exclusive operating system that never had a consistent name.[N 1] Old World ROMs used System 1-7, and Mac OS 8 and 9 gradually dropped 68k support in favor of PPC. When Mac OS X was released in 2001, it required a New World ROM.[N 2] A quick way to distinguish an Old World from a New World Mac is that New World Macs have onboard USB ports, while Old World Macs do not. Mac OS X, which has different underpinnings from its predecessor, was introduced for PowerPC Macs in 1999, and ported to x86 in 2007. With version 11 in 2020, macOS is now being ported to ARM (like its mobile cousin iOS).

A ton of Macintosh emulators have appeared over the years, some early in the system's release (mostly for competing m68k microcomputers) and others as late as a few years ago. As a PC platform in its own right with its own userbase and varying degrees of unique software and hardware features, most major emulators of other platforms maintain a macOS port, or are ported to macOS by external collaborators, in addition to a number of emulators originating on the Mac over the years. It should be noted that we do not aim to be the last word on Mac emulation; there's a community called E-Maculation that covers this more thoroughly, as they offer builds for many of the emulators shown here on their forums. We'll either be further ahead or severely behind.



Name Platform(s) Latest Version Active Recommended
PC / x86
Mini vMac Windows Linux macOS 36.04
Basilisk II Windows Linux macOS 1.0 R5
vMac Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 0.19
MAME Windows Linux macOS 0.238
PCE Windows Linux macOS 0.2.2 ~ TBD
Clock Signal Linux macOS FreeBSD 2021-08-09 TBD
Ardi Executor MS-DOS Linux Windows 2.1.17
Basilisk II
An emulator targeting the "Mac Classic" and "Mac II" lines. The successor to Basilisk, a similar emulator for Linux and BeOS, it works by providing replacement drivers for components that would normally be hardware (a sort of HLE approach). Aside from the usual Windows, macOS, and Linux ports, Basilisk II also received an acclaimed PSP port (by way of homebrew).
Mini vMac
The successor to vMac, an older emulator. Targets the Macintosh Plus, but is known to support other models.
To say it's a multi-system emulator would be an understatement. It covers a wide range of electronic history, with its namesake being arcade machines. Just typing in "Macintosh" will list basically everything Mac-related like the original Macintosh 128K (unfortunately labelled as Not Working) and the Macintosh II (which is OK). See the full list here.
PCE (PC Emulator)
A multi-system emulator. Computers it targets include the Macintosh Plus, SE and Classic. Stables used to release every two years but stopped in 2013. A snapshot exists for December 2018 however, which suggests that the project isn't completely dead.
Clock Signal
A multi-system emulator with full-hardware cycle-level emulation of the Macintosh Plus.
Ardi Executor
A formerly payware compatibility layer for System 1 to 6. Requires no ROM images or other copyrighted Apple code, as instead translates Macintosh API calls into equivalent Win32 or POSIX API calls similarly to Wine. Compatibility is limited however, and as such some games and applications which depend on Mac OS extensions may not work properly.


Name Platform(s) Latest Version Active Recommended
PC / x86
SheepShaver Windows Linux macOS 2.4
PearPC Windows Linux macOS 0.6.0
Classic Environment macOS (PPC) Mac OS X v10.4 "Tiger"
QEMU Windows Linux macOS 4.0.0 TBD
Rosetta macOS Mac OS X 10.6.8 (Intel)
An open-source "run-time environment" that includes a PowerPC emulator for non-PowerPC systems. Originally commercial software named ShapeShifter, it is the companion app of Basilisk II, which emulates 68k Macs. It hasn't seen significant development in a while, but it runs most Mac OS applications at full speed on any modern PC. It can interface with and copy files to and from host hardware, but suffers from a lack of MMU support which prevents it from booting OSs newer than 9.0.4. Not to mention that it is riddled with hacks and workarounds, which accounts for why some applications such as the default bundled Internet Explorer flat-out crashes. Like Basilisk and vMac, it needs a firmware image from a working Mac.
This emulator had been developed since 2004, and is capable of booting OS X, but not prior Mac OSs, nor OS X's Classic environment. It was the subject of controversy when a closed-source emulator, CherryOS, was revealed to have used code stolen from PearPC. PearPC lacks a usable interface (all that's available is the "Change CD" button), so using a frontend may be necessary.
Best known for its use as an x86 hypervisor, QEMU also emulates a wide range of CPU architectures. In 2015, a Google Summer of Code event brought PowerPC Macintosh support from a curiosity to a possibility and it now supports a specific range of versions as of 2017. Like PearPC, QEMU is run from a shell.
Apple's official PowerPC emulator for x86-based Macs included in Tiger (10.4.4). Though it wasn't included in Snow Leopard, it was still possible to transfer it from a previous Leopard install. It was removed entirely in OS X Lion. Rosetta uses QuickTransit technology licensed from Transitive Corporation, and works transparently from the end-user, leading Apple to market it as "the most amazing software you'll never see." as it, unlike most emulators, does not have a user interface. Rosetta works best on software that isn't system-intensive, such as office applications; games and other software applications which rely on kexts, libraries or certain instructions may not work properly if at all. A compatibility list is available here.


Name Platform(s) Latest Version Active Recommended
PC / x86
Rosetta 2 macOS macOS 11 “Big Sur” (Apple Silicon) (Upcoming)

Emulation issues

Currently, no 3rd-party Macintosh emulators support hardware graphics acceleration, due to certain CPU instructions left unimplemented in their upstream PPC softcores. This means no GLIDE, RAVE, nor OpenGL. Fortunately, though as was generally the case in every platform of the period significant visual and feature differences exist between the two, the majority of Mac-exclusive software using these APIs also included software fallback renderers.


  • E-Maculation - This links to their wiki, but they also have a forum that's "super busy." They provide setup guides and builds when the emulators themselves don't.
  • Macintosh Garden (They feature many abandonware games. This page shows guides with links to installing any of the three covered emulators, two for the 68K line called Basilisk II & Mini vMac; and one for the PowerPC called SheepShaver.)
  • Pathways into Emulators - A Guide to Pre-Halo Bungie Games ( forums. Mar 17 2011. Includes guide links for running Basilisk II on Windows, mac OS and Linux.)


  1. It used to be called System or System Software until version 7.6, when it was renamed Mac OS in 1997. Version 10 was named Mac OS X in 2000, and when version 10.8 was released in 2012, it was shortened to OS X and then macOS when version 10.12 was released in 2016. Don't try to make sense of this.
  2. Though that didn't stop some programmers from making bootloaders for very late Old World ROM PPC Macs.
Apple Inc.
1998 apple logo.png
Desktop: Apple IApple ][ Line (Apple IIGS) • apple /// LineLisaMacintosh line
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