The 9 Best PlayStation Emulators for Desktop PCs in 2018

PS1/PSX/PS2 emulators can make PC gaming a ton of fun

Upclose shot of the main action buttons on the Playstation controller.

A PlayStation emulator is a program that emulates, or imitates, the popular gaming console, and allows gamers to enjoy their favorite PlayStation games on their computer. All you need is the game disc or a copy of the disc image.

There are emulators for the PS1, PS2, PSP, and PS3 in addition to experimental emulators for the PS4 and PS Vita. You can even find PlayStation emulators for Android, but you're better off playing PlayStation games on a high-end gaming PC. Here's a roundup of the best PlayStation emulators available in 2018.

A Note About Emulators

The PlayStation emulators below are free to use unless otherwise noted; however, although emulators are completely legal, it is unlawful in the U.S. to download or distribute copyrighted software. You can create your own backup copies of games you already own, but you cannot legally share them or download games others have copied. Nonetheless, there's no shortage of places on the internet where you can find ROMS and disc images of popular PlayStation titles.

Some emulators require you to have the PlayStation console BIOS, which are also illegal to download or distribute. The only way to obtain them legally is to transfer them from your console onto a memory card, but doing so might void the console warranty. See the specific instructions that come with each emulator for help getting started.

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Best All-in-One PlayStation Emulator: RetroArch

Main configuration page for RetroArch emulator

RetroArch isn't a single emulator, but rather a collection of emulators, called “cores,” that let you play thousands of classic games for dozens of consoles all on one PC. The PS1 core is called Beetle PSX, and its superior to most standalone original PlayStation emulators. If you love old school video games, RetroArch is worth a look.

What We Like:

  • The sleek interface and handy rewind feature put RetroArch on par with commercial emulators like the SNES classic.

What We Don't Like:

  • The configuration process can be tedious, so it might not be worth the effort if you're not interested in playing games for other consoles.

Download RetroArch for Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Most User-Friendly PlayStation Emulator: PCSX Reloaded

PCSX Reloaded Configuration Interface

If you prefer a standalone PS1 emulator, the obvious choice is PCSX Reloaded. It's a lot easier to configure than RetroArch, and it supports virtually every game for the classic console. PCSX Reloaded also supports any PC compatible gamepad, so attach your DualShock controller for an authentic experience.

What We Like:

  • Configuration is a breeze.
  • You can choose an automatic set up to start playing within minutes, or customize your experience with manual settings.

What We Don't Like:

  • While it faithfully emulates the PS1, PCSX Reloaded doesn't come with the extra features found in similar programs.

Download PCSX Reloaded for Windows

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Best PlayStation Emulator for Speed Runners: BizHawk

Ape Escape for PS1 running in Mednafen and BizHawk

Trying to set a new world record by speed running your favorite game? In addition to recording gameplay, BizHawk lets you take advantage of save states and frame-rate manipulation to capture your perfect playthrough. BizHawk is actually a plugin that runs on top of a PS1 emulator called Mednafen, so you'll need to download both programs.

What We Like:

  • An abundance of features makes BizHawk the tool of choice for PlayStation speed runners.

What We Don't Like:

Download BizHawk for Windows

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Most Compatible PlayStation Emulator: XEBRA

XEBRA controller configuration page

XEBRA is a simple PlayStation emulator for Windows and Android that prioritizes authenticity. It doesn't add any graphical enhancements or fancy UI elements, but it does hold the distinction of being the only program that can successfully emulate PocketStation games so you can finally play the Japanese version of Chocobo World.

What We Like:

  • XEBRA is extremely easy to set up, so it's a great emulator for beginners.

What We Don't Like:

  • Like the original PS1, XEBRA is known for being buggy at times, so perhaps it's a little too authentic.

Download XEBRA for Windows and Android

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Best PlayStation 2 Emulator: PCSX2

Screenshot of the PS2 game Okami running on PSCX2

PCSX2 takes advantage of texture filtering and anti-aliasing to give PS2 games a polished look superior to most modern HD remakes. A built-in HD video recorder and numerous cheating features make PCSX2 a popular program for speed runners. You may never want to play PS2 games on your console ever again.

What We Like:

  • Not only is PCSX2 open source, but it's also available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

What We Don't Like:

Download PCSX2 for Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best PlayStation 3 Emulator: RPCS3

Final Fantasy X HD running in RPCS3

RPCS3 is an impressive program that's still in development, but you can play and debug thousands of PlayStation 3 titles with it. The developers gained notoriety in 2017 when a version of Persona 5 for RPCS3 began circulating online before the game's official U.S. release.

What We Like:

  • Development for RPCS3 is a collaborative process. Anyone can view the source code and make contributions.

What We Don't Like:

  • RPCS3 is more geared toward developers interested in the PS3's software architecture.

Download RPCS3 for Windows and Linux

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Best PlayStation Portable Emulator: PPSSPP

Persona 3 FES running in PPSSPP

PPSSPP does to PSP games what PCSX2 does for PS2 games: It upscales textures and resolution to make old titles look better than they did on their original consoles. This feature is especially helpful since the PSP screen is so tiny. You can easily transfer save data from your PSP to your computer with an SD card.

What We Like:

  • There are versions of PPSSPP for Android and iOS if you still want to play your PSP games on the go.

What We Don't Like:

  • The portable versions of PPSSPP might be superior to the Windows version since it provides a more authentic experience.

Download PPSSPP for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android

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Best PlayStation Vita Emulator: Vita3k

Vita3k controller configuration page

Vita3K is an incomplete project that deserves mentioning on this list because it's the only PlayStation Vita emulator to date. The Vita probably didn't do as well as the PSP, but that hasn't stopped gamers from trying to build a PS Vita emulator.

What We Like:

  • Amatuer game developers have created some impressive homebrew games, like VitaQuake, that can only be played on Vita3K.

What We Don't Like:

  • No commercial games are compatible with Vita3K.
  • Like RPCS3, it's mostly for developers interested in how PlayStation consoles work.

Download Vita3k for Windows, Mac, and Linux

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Best PlayStation 4 Emulator: PCSX4

PCSX4 controller configuration page

So far, PCSX4 is the only emulator capable of running PlayStation 4 and PS4 Pro games on Windows or Mac. Why would you want to play PS4 games on your PC? If your GPU is powerful enough, you can actually achieve better frame rates than the PS4 console. PCSX4 is still in development and is actively seeking contributors.

What We Like:

  • PCSX4 supports multiple inputs, so you can use your mouse to aim in first-person-shooter games or even use an Xbox One controller.

What We Don't Like:

  • PCSX4 claims to be "semi-open-source," which is a roundabout way of saying you have to pay for it.

Download PCSX4 for Windows and Mac