Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference between a Simulator and an Emulator

Difference between a Simulator and an Emulator

Flight Simulator

If your first language isn’t English, these terms can be pretty confusing. Even if you are English but not familiar with the terms you may still get confused. Let’s take a look at the difference between the terms. Perhaps we can bring you clarity.

The Question

This question was asked on stackoverflow before. One helpful user offered the following answer: “Emulation is the process of mimicking the outwardly observable behavior to match an existing target. The internal state of the emulation mechanism does not have to accurately reflect the internal state of the target which it is emulating. Simulation, on the other hand, involves modeling the underlying state of the target. The end result of a good simulation is that the simulation model will emulate the target which it is simulating.” Still lost? I don’t blame you. Let’s clarify.

What is a simulator?

The above answer actually explains it quite well. A simulator is a piece of software that copies something from real life into a virtual environment. That’s it, in a nutshell. When you think of a simulator, think video games. SimCity is a city building simulator. You get to build up your own virtual city, but without the real-world complications. Should you choose to burn it down, there won’t be any consequences – apart from having to rebuild it, of course. Flight simulator is another example. It’s like you’re flying a real plane. But should you decided to fly upside down with an aircraft that can’t, the aircraft can take it. Another form of simulation is war games. For example, laser tag or paintball. You’re simulating an actual battle environment. But when you get hit, you’re in no real danger.

Difference between a Simulator and an Emulator-1

EPSXe: PlayStation Emulator

What is an emulator?

An emulator is meant to copy something exactly as it exists in the real world. For example, M.A.M.E’s purpose is to copy arcade games exactly as they are in the real world. You get to play these games on your PC as they existed on arcade machines years ago, bugs and all. Some emulators have benefits over their real-world counterparts. Take the EPSXE for example. It’s an emulator that serves to copy the first PlayStation. The major benefit of this emulator is that you can speed up time; making leveling up in those long RPG’s a little easier. Be warned, however, that should you choose to use an emulator, you should own the original copies of the system you’re emulating. Breaking this rule can land you in a lot of trouble. With piracy as huge as it is these days, it’s up to each one of us to do our part to stop it. Game developers spend a lot of money on creating the games that we all love. If we stop buying them, they’ll stop making them. Is that it? Yes! That’s all there is to it. An emulator copies something entirely, whereas a simulator copies the state of something. The two can’t really be compared. They may be similar, but their uses are different. They serve different purposes and pursue different goals. I use the examples in gaming because that’s what I know best. If you know of more examples, or use emulators and simulators in other areas, let us know! We’d love to hear all about it in the comments.


Simulator Emulator
Copies the state of something. Might not be exactly what is found in the real world counterpart. Serves to copy something exactly as it exists.

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