Power PC Emulation: The Future?

(c) Jay, 2001

Could you imagine being able to boot Windoze and the Mac OS simultaneously? Being able to share clipboards? Dragging and dropping between the two? All at native Power PC speeds? Sounds like fiction, doesn’t it? In the next year, it could become an emulation reality.

Power PC processor emulation has been the talk of the emulation world for some time now, much like Mac OS X has been the talk of the Mac world. Emulators Inc. had promised such an emulator a while ago, but repealed their offer and hasn’t announced any further plans to release one. Microcode- Solutions, however, has written and released the world’s first Power PC emulation software called iFusion, which was recently sold to Blittersoft, their European retailer. Unfortunately for PC users iFusion requires an Amgia computer with a Power PC upgrade card to run it. Sorry.

There is hope in the future: Microcode. Microcode-Solutions has committed to porting the Blittersoft iFusion Amgia code to the PC platform. They have not publicly committed to any release dates. When their iMac emulation software is released, it should send a ripple through the Mac Emulation world. It will not only allow new software to be used, it will also break the barrier of Mac OS 8.1. Users will be able to run every Mac OS up to Mac OS X. One must remember, though, the Power PC processor would be emulated. Emulation creates a slowdown to begin with, but emulation of a Power PC may present more serious problems.

Fusion and Basililsk II are able to emulate ‘040 Macs at superb speeds. This is because ‘040s are much slower than current x86 processors. They top out at 50 MHz. That’s no big deal for a new processor. Power PCs on the other hand, are much faster than X86s. They’re so much faster that even a top of the line x86 processor would have trouble emulating a low MHz Power PC. Why? The reason lies in the way Power PC and x86 processors handle data. Pentiums handle big chunks of data at once and then break them down; this is called a CISC (Complicated Instruction Set Computing) architecture. Power PCs handle only small chunks of data at once and quickly execute them; this is called a RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) architecture. So while a Pentium may be spending three or four clock cycles (ticks of the processors “clock” aka MHz) to execute one instruction, a Power PC has already executed three or more instructions. This makes emulating a Power PC processor on an x86 processor very hard. It would be like trying to get a work out on a treadmill that was slower than you were.

In order to run at a decent speed, iFusion may require, or have the option to take advantage of, an accelerator. The accelerator would come in the form of a PCI card with a genuine Power PC processor on it (maybe a G3 @ 450 MHz, or something like that). The exact price of these accelerators is unknown. I’m guessing somewhere between US $200 and $500.

The Present

Right now, there are no Power PC emulators for the PC. Microcode’s iMac emulation software is the best bet so far, and it has been hinted that it will be released sometime second fiscal quarter. Nobody knows whether Power PC PCI cards will be an option. Results on the Amgia front are below satisfactory; users say it is slow in comparison to a real Power PC (even though it has full access to a Power PC processor), causes system crashes (in the Amgia OS), and doesn’t provide tools to create hard files (which are necessary to create a hard file for the Mac OS). iFusion looks to be an incomplete product. This doesn’t make the PC side look any brighter. We will have to wait until second quarter and see.