Scott Hamilton

Senior Expert in Emerging Technology

In a follow on to last weeks article about the Pi. I thought it would be nice to talk about one of the main stream uses of the Raspberry Pi. Many people use the Pi to emulate classic computer and gaming systems. As it turns out the Raspberry Pi has more than enough computational power to simulate computers and gaming systems from the 1940s through and including the early 2000s.

You might ask the question, “Why would I want to emulate a classic computer system?”

The very first emulator actually dates back to the first computer, the Colossus. The Colossus was developed and used by the British government in 1941 to emulate the Nazi Enigma code machine. Of course they didn’t call the process emulation until the 1960s when IBM engineers were trying to find a way for customer to use their old software on the new IBM hardware, in order to increase platform sales. The first true emulator was written by Larry Moss at IBM in 1965 in order to run programs from the IBM 7070 on the new IBM System/360.

The next mainstream emulator was release in 1982 by Intel to allow code written for their 8086 processors to run on the new 80286. Believe it or not, Atos, the company I work for developed an emulator for their mainframes that we co-developed with GE and ran the GCOS operating systems. The GCOS emulator is used by several state government organizations to keep archived data available from databases developed in the 1960s by running the same database software on modern computers.

Obviously the reasons for emulating classic computer hardware vary widely, from nostalgia to real world applications. A majority of the emulators available for the Raspberry Pi today are developed for PC gamers to enjoy classic games from the 1970s and 80s by emulating gaming systems that have been out of production for decades.

However, for me the best use-case for emulation is to keep alive the systems many of the modern computer engineers and scientists cut their digital teeth on. For me it was the 8-bit Commodore 64, I used my from around 1979 until my fourth year of college in 1992 before purchasing my first Intel based computer running the famous 80286 processor. A favorite pastime of mine is to read about 8-bit systems still in use today, and a great place to do that is through my friends at They release a weekly e-mail newsletter highlighting what is new in the 8-bit world.

Until next week stay safe and learn something new.

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