Retro Emulation on the new Apple M1 CPU is Good

Today we’re going to be testing out some of our favorite emulators on the all new Apple Macbook Pro with the all-new apple silicon. Now i’ve actually been super excited about this. Not that it’s a new macbook coming out but that it’s powered by an ARM chip.

This is not running an intel cpu. This is not running an AMD cpu. This is apple silicon It’s known as the M1 chip and it’s an ARM cpu. Keep in mind when we get into running these retro emulators they were never designed to run on an arm chip.

They were actually designed to run on x86 because that’s all these macs have been powered by for a very long time. But what apple has done is introduced something called Rosetta 2. It’s a dynamic binary translator and it creates an application compatibility layer between x86 and the M1 chip.

Apple M1 Emulation

When it comes down to it we’re actually running an emulator inside of an emulator and it’s kind of weird to think about. But i’ve been really wanting to get my hands on one of these m1 chips so I could test out some emulation on it.

I also want to get into some gaming but this article is strictly dedicated to emulation. We’re gonna test out some Sega Dreamcast, Sony PSP, Nintendo 64 (N64), Nintendo Gamecube and Nintendo Wii (Dolphin).

The three different Apple Silicon Macs available are:

MacBook Pro 2020 M1
MacBook Air 2020 M1
Mac mini 2020 M1

OpenEmu M1

With PSP I can’t get the standalone version to work nor can I get the version inside of RetroArch to work. So what I used is OpenEmu. If you’re familiar with emulation on mac, you’ll know exactly what i’m talking about.
OpenEmu works absolutely amazing! There’s a ton of different emulators that are available here but the options are very limited.

So i wasn’t able to upscale at all with PSP. As soon as the developers of PPSSPP get a working version for these M1 Macs, I will run another test. It’s running at 1x resolution here but I’m pretty sure we’ll be able to do 3x and 4x with all the games. It actually works really well and it runs these harder to emulate games just fine.

God of War Chains of Olympus runs really smooth. As does Midnight club dub edition. N64 emulation in OpenEmu is performing great. Diddy kong racing and 007 goldeneye both run great.

Dolphin M1 Mac

The next emulator that i tested was the standalone version of dolphin for gamecube and Wii. At 1080p and performance was very very surprising. Games were running great at 1080p. I moved over to one of the harder games to run which is F-zero GX. Still at 1080p using the vulkan back-end performance is amazing here. We get minimal dips and when they did hsappen, it really wasn’t noticeable during gameplay.

Another harder to run game that i usually test is Auto Modelista at 1080p vulcan back in and by this time everything was running great at 1080p so I figured we’d try to go up to 4k with
it. 60 fps 4k on this apple m1 chip. Amazing. Tthis is actually using Rosetta 2 to emulate x86 so we can emulate a Gamecube game. So basically we have two emulators running here at the same time and we’re able to achieve this performance.

Since I was still here with the Dolphin emulator, I figured I’d throw a couple Nintendo Wii games at it. I didn’t even bother going back down to 1080p seeing the performance in Auto Modelista at 4k. Awesome!


So all in all emulation performance here is actually really great. Now it’s still really early so there are some emulators that aren’t working. I definitely ran into some issues with Citra. I couldn’t get the standalone version of PPSSPP working and when i tried to launch PSP games inside of retroarch, it just crashed. So it definitely needs some work.

The developers need to get Apple M1 CPU’s in their hands so they can get this stuff working better. Personally, I’m not going to be swapping out my x86 Windows or Linux machine for something like this. At least not at this time. But who knows. Maybe a couple years down the road, Apple silicon is really going to take off and be ultra powerful.