Difference between Emulation and Virtualization

The term “emulator” is coined by IBM in 1963. Emulation allows a system to emulate other system. For instance, emulation can allow a windows program to run on a mac computer and vice versa.

Virtualization is a software program that can be used to divide the physical system into multiple components. These components work independent of the others. A single system is broken into several virtual machines so that each part can be assigned with a specific task.

What is Emulation?

Emulation is a process in which one system behaves like another system. It allows one computer system to imitate the other device. Instead of developing applications for each computer, it allows to use the same application in different platforms.

The actual computer is known as a host and the program being emulated is known as a guest. Emulation uses interpreter to read guest system’s code and executes the same code in the host system. This allows similar user experience within the host system.

Using emulation, we can use the same lines of code to run on different systems.

Emulation gained its popularity by allowing video games to run on different devices that were originally developed for other systems. Dolphin, parallels, wine, Bluestacks and Xcode are some of the popular emulators used.

Advantages of Emulation

  • Application can be made to run on multiple systems

  • Less cost

  • Little space

  • Older systems/applications can be used on latest devices

Disadvantages of Emulation

  • They are slower than the guest they are simulating

  • Downloading emulators from unknown websites puts the system at risk as they may contain virus

The following are some of the types of Emulators −

  • Terminal Emulators

  • Printer emulators

  • Game console emulators

  • Full system emulators

  • CPU emulators

  • Functional emulators

  • Server emulators

  • Network emulators

  • Mobile emulators

What is Virtualization?

Virtualization is a technique that allows users to break a single physical system into many “virtual components” or “virtual machines”. These systems include memory, hardware etc., This can be achieved by a hypervisor.

A hypervisor or a Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM) splits a single computer into multiple virtual machines each allocating with specific resources required from the host system. The created virtual machines are called guest systems. These guest systems run code directly on the host.

Once created, these host and guest systems work independently. One can create as many as virtual systems through resource allocation.

Virtualization reduces the number of systems working hence being cost effective. It also increases their efficiency.

Types of Virtualization

  • Application Virtualization

  • Desktop Virtualization

  • Server Virtualization

  • Storage Virtualization

  • Network Virtualization

  • Data virtualization


  • High efficiency

  • Cost effective

  • Time saving

  • Low power consumption

  • Increased performance


  • Its performance is slow

  • It requires more RAM

  • Less data security

  • Its implementation costs more

Emulation vs Virtualization

The following table highlights the major differences between Emulation and Virtualization −





In Emulation, one system imitates the functionalities of other system

In virtualization, a single system is broken into several virtual compartments.

Underlying software

Emulation is done with the help of interpreter

Virtualization is done by hypervisor or a Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM)

Access to hardware

It requires software in order to access the host’s hardware

It can directly access the hardware


Emulators are cheaper than virtualization

Virtualization is costlier than emulation


They perform slower compared to virtualization

They perform faster than Emulation


Emulators need interpreters to translate the code

Virtual machines understand the code directly


It doesn’t provide any backup

It provides backup

CPU dependency

It doesn’t rely on CPU

It depends on CPU

Hardware and software

Complete software and hardware of the guest system is emulated

Only some parts of hardware such as memory or OS is broken and used


Emulation is used to design an application that run on multiple devices

Virtualization allows a single device to perform multiple tasks at the same time hence more efficient


It helps us to run different software

Virtualization allows us to use the full capacity of a system by distributing them with different tasks


It replicates the hardware

It creates a separate environment


It promotes user satisfaction and hence increases the number of installations

Increases IT agility, scalability, workload


  • Dolphin emulator − Video games of older versions can be made to run on latest computers using this technique

  • Parallels and wine emulator − Different OS can run on different computers using emulation which can’t run normally

  • Bluestacks − Allows users to download android apps on desktop

  • VMware − enables to create virtual machines on windows and Unix

  • Citrix etc.,


Both Emulation and virtualization involves running of guest system on the host computer. But the difference is that the Emulation imitates the guest system on the host system using an interpreter but in virtualization, the hardware is broken into several components each assigned with different tasks and work independently.

Updated on: 18-Apr-2023

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