As you probably know, nothing really lasts forever in the human-made world of appliances, especially electronic ones.

Whether it stems from market evolution, technical advancements, newer paradigms, out of business companies, scarcity of spare parts, (insert here anything relevant); the vast majority of platforms simply disappears over time.

And the trend is accelerating for "not yet retro" hardware, e.g. it's much easier to get hold of an Amiga than, say, the Japan-only PSX.

My question : Is emulation ultimately the future of retro computing ?

Though not perfect, emulation does well in the topic of historical archiving and while it also needs to be archived, it provides a glimpse of what a platform was.

I believe this question is a good fit for the site but it might need some adjustments, so please suggest.

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    I don't think there is any either/or proposition. Emulation is Retrocomputing. Meaning it's an aspect of a broad conservation effort that includes both physical and virtual artifacts, both historical and newly developed. They have all grown in popularity together as conserving the history has become more of a concern. – Brian H May 31 '18 at 22:09
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    100% emulation is also a possibility (in the future if speed will be better). Any encoded emulator has probable bugs and incompatibilities inside. If you emulate the chip die instead of mimic its function you got exactly the same result as the real deal: see: Visual 6502 of coarse you need to have perfect die shot and enough horse power to run it (which is nowhere near it now for common computers)... – Spektre Jun 1 '18 at 6:58

My question : Is emulation ultimately the future of retro computing ?

No. Not any more than emulating a 1960s Mustang with a Beatle mod is the future of retro cars.

Easier? Sure! Totally useful? Absolutely! What people who care actually want? Never!


No. Emulation used to be a good contender as the barrier to writing software is relatively low. But in recent years the barrier to developing new hardware has fallen significantly. It used to be the case that to do hardware development you'd need an upfront budget of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now off-the-shelf FPGAs can be programmed to behave nearly identically to retro hardware, the cost of PCB fabrication has fallen significantly, and there are free software solutions for doing hardware design. Emulation is no longer a foregone conclusion for when the real hardware is gone - the ability to design new, compatible hardware is within reach of many more people than it used to be.

Witness Dennis van Weeren's Minimig which, in 2006, delivered an Amiga 500 compatible board, with almost everything implemented on an FPGA (the CPU being the notable exception; even then, a modern part which had near-perfect compatibility was available). Or efforts to reverse-engineer PCBs of retrocomputers, such as the A1K Amiga 500+ mainboard.

It'll be very interesting to see where the amateur hardware development market innovation goes in the next 5-10 years but the retro computing community will undoubtedly benefit. To my knowledge FPGAs and their ilk have shortcomings that prevent a form-factor that is a drop-in replacement for DIP chips prevalent in the home computer revolution, but I've no doubt that this will become possible in the not-too-distant future! Maybe, just maybe, one day an FPGA will be able to replicate a SID chip 😉

  • The only reason FPGAs aren't drop in replacement for DIP chips is that the manufacturers have no desire to make them so. The smallest FPGA on the market has over 100 pins, and number of IO pins is a major marketing point. Also, FPGAs by their nature require configuration at power up. CPLDs are probably more appropriate for most DIP chips, and I'm not 100% sure you couldn't emulate a SID in a CPLD.... – Jules May 31 '18 at 21:51
  • The degree of compatibility of many FPGA clones is often imperfect. So, for the purposes of conservation at least, FPGA clones are not better, often worse than emulation, because their compatibility is often grossly exaggerated by their makers. Thus, FPGA should not be presented as an automatic go-to solution, just another kind of approach. – introspec Jun 1 '18 at 12:14
  • it is still emulation in hardware instead of software. – Rui F Ribeiro Jun 2 '18 at 14:32

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