The 8 Best PlayStation Emulators for Desktop PCs in 2021

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

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

There are emulators for the original PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation 3, in addition to experimental emulators for the PlayStation 4 and PS Vita. You can even find 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 2021.

The PlayStation emulators below are free and legal to use unless otherwise noted; however, it's unlawful in the United States 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 appropriate PlayStation console BIOS, which is also illegal to download or distribute. The only way to obtain one legally is to transfer it from your console onto a memory card, but doing so might void the console's warranty. See the specific instructions that come with each emulator for help getting started.

01
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Best All-in-One PlayStation Emulator: RetroArch

Main configuration page for RetroArch emulator
What We Like
  • Sleek interface.

  • Handy rewind feature.

  • On par with commercial emulators.

What We Don't Like
  • Configuration process can be tedious.

  • Difficult to set up.

RetroArch isn't a single emulator, but 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 it's superior to most standalone original PlayStation emulators. If you love old-school video games, RetroArch is worth a look.

02
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Most User-Friendly PlayStation Emulator: PCSX Reloaded

PCSX Reloaded configuration interface

Wikipedia.org

What We Like
  • Configuration is a breeze.

  • Automatically begin playing or customize start settings.

  • Works with a gamepad.

What We Don't Like
  • Missing features found in similar programs.

  • Bios emulation is incomplete.

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.

03
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Best PlayStation Emulator for Speed Runners: BizHawk

Ape Escape for PS1 running in Mednafen and BizHawk
What We Like
  • Tool of choice for PlayStation speed runners.

  • Full-screen and gamepad support.

  • Rerecording and debugging tools.

What We Don't Like

Trying to set a new world record by speedrunning 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 need to download both programs.

04
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Most Compatible PlayStation Emulator: XEBRA

XEBRA controller configuration page
What We Like
  • Quick set up.

  • Great emulator for beginners.

  • Compatible with PocketStation.

What We Don't Like
  • Known for being buggy at times.

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.

05
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Best PlayStation 2 Emulator: PCSX2

Screenshot of the PS2 game Okami running on PSCX2
What We Like
  • Open source.

  • Available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

  • Looks better than some HD remakes.

What We Don't Like
  • Software glitches. See the list of supported games.

  • Games can be blurry or have black lines.

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

06
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Best PlayStation 3 Emulator: RPCS3

Final Fantasy X HD running in RPCS3
What We Like
  • Open source.

  • Can play some games in 4K.

What We Don't Like
  • More geared toward software developers.

  • Not all commercial games are supported.

  • Can be slow and buggy.

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

07
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Best PlayStation Portable Emulator: PPSSPP

Persona 3 FES running in PPSSPP
What We Like
  • Available for Android and iOS.

  • Some titles look better than on original console.

  • Easily transfer save data via an SD card.

What We Don't Like
  • Mobile versions might be superior to Windows version.

PPSSPP does to PSP games what PCSX2 does to 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. Also, you can easily transfer save data from your PSP to your computer with an SD card.

08
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Best PlayStation Vita Emulator: Vita3k

Vita3k controller configuration page

vita3k.org

What We Like
  • Impressive homebrew games, like VitaQuake, can only be played on Vita3K.

  • First fully-functional Vita emulator.

What We Don't Like
  • No commercial games are compatible with Vita3K.

  • For developers interested in PS architecture.

  • An incomplete project.

Vita3K is an experimental project that deserves mentioning because it's the only PlayStation Vita emulator. The Vita wasn't as successful as the PSP, but that hasn't stopped gamers from trying to build a PS Vita emulator.

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