Spawned from a failed collaboration between Sony and Nintendo, Sony's PlayStation line has since emerged as the one of the dominant console gaming platforms. The PSX has a long and storied history and a library of gaming classics. And it's possible to experience some of those groundbreaking classics today with the help of desktop emulators.
These are our picks of some of the best emulators of the PlayStation 1, 2 and the handheld PSP. Use these to help you enjoy the PlayStation classics of old.
First, some legal advice, if you're in the U.S.: Emulators aren't illegal, and game owners can create archival backup copies of their games. However, it is illegal to download or distribute ROMs and disc image files from the internet, even if you legally own a copy of the game. You have to own the game and make the copy yourself.
A similar consideration is in place for the console BIOS, which some emulators need to run: it's illegal to distribute the console BIOS. Though it's possible to dump the console BIOS onto a memory card, downloading or distributing the BIOS file is illegal and may void your warranty.
Mednafen: The all-in-one emulator for PlayStation and more
When it comes to multi-purpose emulators that also do PSX emulation, check out Mednafen, an all-in-one emulation program that covers a variety of systems, such as the NES, PSX, the Sega Genesis, and the Game Boy Advance.
While it is a pretty versatile emulator, Mednafen does come with a few caveats. For PSX emulation, you'll need to rip your own PSX BIOS files. Additionally, Mednafen, at its core, is a command line program, so you'll probably also want to get your hands on a good GUI front end, such as MedGUI Reloaded, for a more user friendly experience.
Properly set up though, Mednafen is versatile emulator with a ton of options (and support for other consoles is a great plus).
Download Mednafen: Windows
RetroArch: Another all-in-one emulator option
Another good all-in-one emulator program is RetroArch, an open-source multi-platform emulator available on Windows, Linux, and Android. RetroArch already comes with its own front-end GUI, and allows users to download a wide variety of emulation cores for a variety of consoles and handhelds. (And the PSX cores, are, in fact, powered by Mednafen.)
RetroArch includes some nice extra features such as NetPlay support, and support for custom shaders, resolutions, refresh rates and save states. RetroArch still needs PlayStation BIOS files for emulation, so that's still going to be a major hurdle for some users, but as a fairly easy, one-stop emulator, it's a great grab.
EPSXE: A PS1 emulator
An emulator that can trace its descent from the old PSemu program, EPSXE is an excellent emulator that features a plugin system from its ancestor, allowing users to pick and choose between different methods of GPU, sound, and CD-ROM emulation optimized for your hardware. The emulator's options allow for compatibility with a lot of games after a little tweaking.
EPSXE requires a Playstation BIOS to function, which is something to consider if you don't have the means to dump one. Compatible with a large library of games, and with loads of plugins to work with, EPSXE is a bit of a hassle to set up, as you will need to look up the best plugins for your configuration, but that's also a strength.
BizHawk: PS1 tool-assisted speedrunning
Tool-assisted speedruns exploit emulation software features such as frame-by-frame advancement, save states, luck manipulation, and input recording to clock the fastest (or most tactically or technically satisfying) playthroughs of a game. A popular choice on the PC for tool-assisted speedrunning of PSX games is BizHawk, a multi-purpose emulator whose PSX emulation is powered by Mednafen.
BizHawk comes with a slew of TAS tools for recording runs and inputs, RAM watching, save states, rewinds and more. You'll still need a PSX BIOS dump, and BizHawk also has an installer of prerequisites before you load up the core program itself.
Download BizHawk: Windows
PCSX Reloaded: No BIOS PSX emulation
Getting your hands on a Playstation BIOS can be a real problem if you don't have the means to rip the BIOS files from an old Playstation console yourself. Enter High Level Emulation, which attempts to emulate the behavior of the Playstation BIOS through software, negating the need for a BIOS dump.
A good sample is PCSX Reloaded, which uses high level emulation to avoid the need for a PS BIOS file (though you can use one if you want more accurate emulation). Another strong point of PCSX Reloaded is strong plugin support for a wide variety of software enhancements, though it is a bit more cumbersome to set up than some more user-friendly emulators.
Download PCSX Reloaded: Windows
XEBRA: High accuracy, no BIOS emulation
XEBRA is a PSX emulator project by Japanese developer Dr. Hell which aims for the most accurate, high fidelity emulation of the classic Playstation, warts and all. XEBRA can run without a BIOS file, but you can also choose to load a PSX BIOS file.
The XEBRA emulator boasts high compatibility, though it doesn’t have the most usable interface compared to other emulators. It might not be the most user friendly first choice, but XEBRA is a nice backup to have, or even use as your main emulator if you want to go down into the weeds of the technical details of hardware emulation.
Download XEBRA: Windows
PCSX2: PS2 emulator
When it comes to Playstation 2 emulation, PCSX2 is one of the most popular choices. Users can opt for straight-up emulation of the classic system, or use a plugin system to add performance enhancements. This gives you the ability to create different combinations of plugins to get the best performance, or to apply a variety of graphics enhancements such as 4k resolutions, anti-aliasing, and texture filtering.
PCSX2 has fairly good compatibility with the library of games growing every day, and an active community that can help you out.
Download PCSX2: Windows
RPCS3: PlayStation 3 emulator
Playstation 3 emulation was once considered a near impossibility. Enter the team behind RPCS3, which has been plugging away since 2012 and has managed to create a credible, functional PS3 emulator that's shown desktop emulation is not only possible, but achievable.
RPCS3 boasts full compatibility with more than 440 games (defined as playable from start to finish); unlike other emulators, RPCS3 users will have less of a hassle getting their hands on firmware, as they can download the files straight from the Playstation.com portal. The main hassle is going to be dumping games from the specially formatted Blu-Ray discs used for the PS3.
Download RPCS3: Windows
PPSSPP: PlayStation Portable emulator
The amusingly-named PlayStation Portable Simulator Suitable for Playing Portably (PPSSPP) does exactly what it says: it simulates an environment suitable for playing PSP games, portably. It supports multiple architectures and operating systems for a number of platforms, such as Windows, Android and Linux.
PPSSPP includes options for upscaling textures and resolution, anistropic filtering, and save state support, as well as provisions for transferring games from a PSP, allowing you to finish your long-abandoned playthroughs.
Getting Playstation emulators to play your old games is one thing, but you can get more use out of these programs with a site like PDroms.de, a repository for free homebrew programs and games written for older machines (and of course functional in their emulators). T
he programs available for download at the site are all supposed to be freeware, open source, or otherwise legal to freely share and distribute, and they range from pixelated nostalgia fests to fusions of retro style and modern game design. Overall, it's a good site to get more out of your emulators.