[The Bottom Line:]
Despite its attractive price point, Insignia's revamped emulation offering is only a viable solution for the user who occasionally needs to run an older DOS or Windows program. It's billing as a product which can run the latest PC games is half-hearted; true, you can run many titles, but the speed at which they are executed is usually less than desireable. For the horsepower to aptly use the newer bread of PC programs, one needs the latest in Macintosh hardware, preferably a machine decked out with a PowerPC 750 processor, and even with that, the latest PC games will simply not be playable.
Inexpensive. Easy to install and configure. Runs simple DOS programs relatively well.
Horrendously slow. Unstable. Caused many system crashes outside of the RealPC environment. The only way to fix these problems was to replace the entire System Folder. Our advice, make sure you have a current backup before you tryout this application.
Processor: PowerPC Only
Memory Needs: 16-24MB
Hard Drive Space: 50-130MB
Publisher: Insignia Solution, Inc.
by: Kyle D'Addario ([email protected])
The latest entry into the field of PC emulation for the Mac is Insignia Solutions' RealPC. A few years back, Insignia blew the minds of many a Mac die-hard by releasing Soft Windows. This product allowed you to run, however slowly, Windows 3.x and any compatible software on your Mac. Unfortunately, RealPC doesn't offer much improvement over its predecessor.
RealPC has two catch phrases associated with the product. The first is, "Run PC games shockingly fast on your Power Mac." While RealPC does indeed allow you to run PC games, the speed and playability of them are questionable. Granted, our test machine is not a speedster, a Power Mac 7200/90. However, the machine does have L2 cache, and 32 megs of RAM. Despite the constant flow of newer and faster machines, the test machine can represent the average machine of the average user.
Installation of RealPC was a breeze. Shut down extra extensions, put in the CD, and click on the installer. You have to choose a place to put the PC "C:\ Drive" and how large you want to make it, and then customize it and register. Surprisingly, installing Windows 95 was equally trouble free, if not slow. Time from placing the RealPC CD into the drive to restarting and getting a configured Windows 95 desktop was approximately 2.5 hours. A while? Sure, but considering two operating systems were being installed and configured, the process was bearable. When you first install RealPC, you are installing MS-DOS 6.22; Windows is not included. RealPC does not claim to support any other operating systems, such as OS/2 or Windows NT. This is in contrast to Connectix's product, Virtual PC, which claims to support any PC based OS. Once installed, RealPC can be configured nearly any imaginable way. You are given options for memory allocations (which are steep), drive setup, joystick support, whether or not to enable MMX compatibility, as well as a plethora of other options. These features allow the user to optimize his/her system for using RealPC. With limited resources, being able to tweak these configurations can greatly enhance performance.
To give credit where credit is due, RealPC does DOS very well. Relatively quick, predictable responses are common in this version of DOS. We had no problem installing or running any DOS based programs. However, the speed at which they ran was an issue. RealPC came with a demo disk of 3D games, and the first one we installed and tried to run was Doom. Installation was a snap, but it was simply unplayable. To move around we clicked the arrow key, waited for the screen to shift, then clicked the key again. Even with some tweaking of available RAM and monitor colors, it was still simply not playable. Other games, such as the far less resource demanding, side scrolling Alien Carnage, were playable, but we had the feeling as if the characters were swimming rather than running. Running other DOS based programs, such as Terra ResearchÕs CATPAC, was not a problem. CATPAC is a text analysis program, so software which was not super graphics intensive was slow, but usable.
Windows, on the test system, was unusable. First and foremost, it was frustratingly slow. Opening windows in Windows was a multi-second process. After we installed Windows, we went into Conflict Catcher to disable any startup files that would not be needed while using RealPC and Windows. This was to free up some memory and hopefully increase performance. It did, a little. However, upon restarting with our normal extensions set, our computer froze continuously. In fact, it seems that anytime the RealPC C: drive is written to, you can expect a freeze the next time the Mac starts up. We ended up replacing our System Folder five times. Thank goodness for a Zip drive, and that backup copy we made of the System Folder before we started our test.
As it turns out, RealPC is far more trouble than it is worth. The true redeeming quality is the other catch phrase, "Low Price." At around $80, the headaches may far outweigh the positives. If there is a DOS based program that you need to run, then this MAY be the answer for you. However, if you are hoping to be able to jump around in the Windows environment and try your neighbors version of Quake, forget it.