New emulator happily and easily opens the Pandora’s Box of Windows 95 for Apple Power Mac users. Now your Mac can have page faults, general protection errors and blue screens of death just like a real PC! Two steps forward, one step back in the Dance of Life.

(This review also appears on Mike Breeden’s excellent Accelerate Your Mac!.)

Connectix’ Virtual PC 2.0, the $150 software-based emulator of an Intel PC, offers Apple Power Macintosh owners a chance to run all the Microsoft Window 95 and DOS software they’ve so enviously eyed for last few years. In theory, it will also run other operating systems (e.g., Windows NT, NeXT, OS/2), but for purposes of this review I only tested Win95 and DOS.

Connectix says that VPC will run on any PowerPC processor, but since my test system is G3-based, I was unable to evaluate performance on lower speed processors. Connectix says the minimum for Win95 is any Power Mac with a 604, 604e or 603/603e at 180-MHz or higher.

The set up to VPC couldn’t be simpler, assuming you have adequate RAM and hard drive space. Connectix recommends 32 MB of physical RAM and 300 MB of free hard drive space. Although the absolute minimums are slightly lower, I wouldn’t tempt fate or try my patience by going much under these recommendations.

Installation is the standard Macintosh snap. Pop in the CD-ROM, click the installer, make a couple of choices and that’s it. In fact, under VPC it takes longer to configure Win95 than it does to install everything. My total install time for VPC and Win95 together was—almost unbelievably—under 15 minutes.

How is this possible? Well, in one of the sweetest software touches I’ve seen in some time, Connectix made a disk image of a completed Win95 install, and users get to load that instead of sitting through the regular, mind-numbingly long, Win95 install. Mac users can now put Win95 on their machines faster than their PC-owning counterparts!

After the install, a variety of VPC preferences can be modified, and the ease of use when it comes to tweaking the VPC settings stands in marked contrast to Win95. Indeed, for the most part it’s Win95 that needs the tweaking. Like the installation, Connectix has tried to make this process relatively painless, but it’s impossible to completely overcome the inherent deficiencies of the Microsoft operating system.

Still, the custom Connectix video driver (which supports DirectX, by the way) takes care of most video configuration problems, at least on my dinky Apple 13″ RGB monitor. Setting up use of a Mac printer, Postscript or otherwise, took less than a minute, and applications in Win95 printed perfectly.

In short, installation/setup procedures were a walk in the park, especially considering how complex all this software is. I’m not kidding when I say that I took longer to decide what my Win95 screen saver would be than I did installing and setting up VPC. VPC is that easy.

VPC appears to be a stellar solution for Power Mac G3 users who need to run Win95 or DOS applications. Like many people I’m forced into the Wintel world by business considerations. The major Win95 app I use is QuickBooks Pro 5. Well, I’m thrilled to report that in running QuickBooks, VPC easily outpaced the 486 DX-100 I have sitting next to my Mac. The Adobe PageMaker 6.5 demo and the graphics-heavy Macromedia Multimedia Showcase 6 CD-ROM both ran beautifully as well.

In my experience, VPC did slightly worse on Win95 games, but I only have 2 MB of VRAM, and I’m using on-board video, not a video accelerator card. I’m not much of a gamer, but I loaded the demo version of Hellbender (included in the Virtual PC package on the Win95 CD-ROM). I’m sorry to say that while playable, Hellbender was noticeably choppy. I disabled the “Enable MMX Compatibility” and the “Give Idle-Time to Processor” boxes in the VPC preferences, but I didn’t see an improvement in the game’s video.

In contrast, the DOS demo of Doom ran at full frame rates with sound. The only catch, if it can really be called that, is that the Mac video needed to be set to 256 colors. I found this helped the Doom screen redraws considerably.

I don’t know how VPC would do with Tomb Raider II or Quake or any of the more recent games, but my understanding is that the emulator’s use as a gaming platform improves dramatically with the addition of a PCI video card based on the 3Dfx Voodoo chipset. I don’t have one, so I can neither confirm nor deny this, but I did notice that VPC shipped with a $25 off coupon for a Techworks Power3D card, and the VPC box itself shows a screen shot of Tomb Raider II.

Beyond the speed issue, VPC offers some wonderful features as well, including support for removable media like Iomega Zip and Jaz drives, the ability to share folders or drives between the Mac and the PC, and drag-and-drop file copying. In my tests, these features worked flawlessly.

In my three days of testing, everything except for Internet stuff worked exceedingly well. For whatever reason, Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0 (which is the version bundled with VPC) gave me my only crash during this time, barfing, coincidentally enough, when it tried to load my web site. (To be fair, I feel the same way about Internet Explorer.) If there’s a downside to VPC, this is it: You can now crash two operating systems for the price of one. That can’t be a good thing.

Ultimately, it turned out that the Internet problem revolved around the Win95 TCP/IP configuration, something easily fixed after a short chat with my Internet Service Provider’s tech support. Nonetheless, it was unnerving to have both operating systems crash simultaneously.

I don’t believe that the norm is for a crash in Win95 under VPC to bring down the MacOS. I’ve just not had enough crashes to know. (And here’s hoping I don’t find out.) Lest I frighten anyone, let me say that Win95 under VPC appears to be much more stable than Win95 on my 486, which crashes like clockwork.

After the fix of the TCP/IP configuration, my Internet connection was fine, and I’ve had no crashes since.

For owners of G3-based Macs who want to run Win95 apps and slightly older DOS games, I can confirm that VPC is an excellent solution. Gamers who want to run the latest and greatest will likely want a 3Dfx video card to supplement their VPC purchase. (Note that only certain programs—games mostly—make use of 3Dfx technology; other programs will show no improvement under VPC.)

I’m guessing that those Mac owners whose machines are not G3 but meet or exceed Connectix’ recommendations for VPC will also find the program useful, though anyone running processor- or video-intensive tasks may be disappointed. And be aware that the addition of a video card will NOT improve VPC performance; in fact, because of PCI access delays and the way VPC is optimized, non-3Dfx video cards are slower than on-board video.

In the end, the only hesitation I have in recommending VPC is Win95 itself. It’s no joke that every Wintel owner I know has had major nightmares with Win95. It seems strange to be overjoyed that now Mac owners can go out and have Win95 nightmares for themselves.

That caveat aside, VPC is an outstanding program, and I was very impressed by the level of performance I saw. VPC is faster and more stable than my 486 DX-100, and, at $150, VPC is a lot less expensive than some kind of Pentium hardware solution. In short, my 486 DX-100 is out of a job.

The Author
Ty Davison is a long-time Mac user who just recently went G3 after four years on a Mac IIci. He finds that the speed increase allows him to create more havoc and to delete the wrong files much faster than ever before. Contact him at [email protected]

Test System
Power Mac 7500 with PowerLogix PowerForce 275/275/1 at 320/160; 80 MB RAM with 40 MB allocated to Virtual PC; 2 MB of on-board VRAM; 1 GB hard drive; external 1 GB Iomega Jaz drive; Apple 13″ RGB monitor (guess what gets upgraded next); MacOS 8.1.