Real PC 1.0
Estimated Price: $79.00
The PowerPC is truly a magnificent chip. With the power of the PPC, Macs have the ability to run multiple platforms, emulate multiple video and sound settings, and even run Windows 95, the mother of all bloatware. But unless you’re the owner of a DOS compatible Macinsoh that uses a hardware approach to cross-platform compatibility, you have to use some form of emulation software. Behold, the world of emulation software has just grown with the introduction of Real PC.
Real PC is Insignia’s answer to the emulation problem. It’s an amazingly affordable package aimed at the common Mac user who just wants to explore the PC gaming world. Real PC’s biggest user crowd is that of the gamers. It comes with DOS 6.22 already installed, so you can get going right out of the box. Since much software and many games are still DOS compatible, this is an easy solution. If you want the Windows 95 world to invade your Mac, you’ll have to install your own copy of the operating system.
My initial reaction to Real PC was quite good. The documentation is wonderful and easy to understand, and the troubleshooting tips hit the mark almost every time. This made installing Real PC a breeze. I didn’t have to configure any oddball settings or upgrade any hardware. The DOS installs quickly, so you’re ready to go after a few moments. With DOS ready for testing on my hard disk, I set out to play a few games.
DOS has never suited me, of course, but as a gaming solution, I thought it was relatively simple. Playing games was enjoyable. I’ve never played PC DOOM or Descent before, and the game play was decent on my 200MHz Power Macintosh. Still, when there was a lot of action in the game, it would slow to a frustrating level. This was only a minor problem for most of the game. Additionally, I could never get the sound to work in DOOM, even though I had all the configurations set as they should be. Sound proved to be a recurring problem with Real PC.
Switching to my Performa 6200, however, made the games crawl to an unacceptable rate. Real PC’s requirements quote “any Power Macintosh” as compatible with Real PC. And while the Performa 6200 is technically a Power Macintosh Performa, it doesn’t fare well under Real PC. I’m not sure if Insignia categorized Power Macintosh Performa machines under their requirements, but I feel like it would take at least a 150MHz 603-based machine to do the job acceptably well.
Insignia bundles Real PC with a CD-ROM full of shareware games to try out. These include such titles as DOOM, Dark Forces, and Jazz Jackrabbit. All of these played well on my Power Mac, if you overlook the sound problem. Both DOOM and Jazz Jackrabbit lacked sound, a problem I haven’t been able to fix since (note however, that Jazz Jackrabbit’s sound would not even play on a Dell PC, so it may be out of Insignia’s control). Dark Forces, however, played sound well under the same configurations. The 3D graphics in Dark Forces were also surprising.
Having the PC version of Red Alert, I decided to install it and give it a test drive. In DOS, the installation went rather well. Game play itself was okay, albeit slow in some places. Sound in Red Alert was awful, with a resounding echo to everything. I turned the sound off shortly after I began playing. Speaking with Insignia tech support reps, it seems they are aware of these sound problems, so I’d predict a fix to it in the future. All in all, Red Alert was not a pleasant experience.
Windows 95 was the next test. Installing Windows 95 is painful enough on a PC, and was no different with Real PC. Microsoft can learn a lot from Macintosh installer programs. I installed Windows 95 without a problem. Even on my 200MHz Mac, however, Windows 95 was sluggish. Launching programs and opening windows consistently took too much time. Still, the speed was noticeably faster than VirtualPC on the same system. Additionally, the TurboStart feature allows you to save the state of the PC so you can quickly hop to the Windows 95 desktop the next time you start Real PC. This is a lifesaver, because Windows 95 usually took 3-5 minutes to start up on my Mac. One quirk with Real PC, however, is the demanded consistency of monitor color depth. If you have 256 colors set in the Mac OS, you should have 256 colors set in Windows. I have no argument with that, but if you forget to switch one or the other, you could be in for a slew of problems. In some instances, the mouse cursor on my screen refused to move, causing me to have to restart Windows and tinker with the screen depth. This also lost my TurboStart settings.
For the next test, I again turned to games, and this time installed the Windows 95 version of Red Alert from the CD. Happily, there were absolutely no CD-ROM drive configuration problems. I’d had some bad experiences with CD-ROM drives under VirtualPC. Installation again went smoothly, but game play was once again disappointing. The DOS games on the included CD played adequately under Windows, with the sound problems still lingering.
Real PC is relatively easy to configure. I played around with the preferences to find the best settings, and I suggest you do the same. To use Real PC to its best capability, you should really have more than 16 MBs of RAM. I recommend at least 32 MB. I tried Real PC with Ram Doubler, and noticed only a slight drop in performance and no compatibility issues. From my tests, Speed Doubler (version 2 and 8) has little or no effect on Real PC’s performance, because Speed Doubler optimizes the system for the Mac OS, not for other platforms.
Real PC looks like a promising product, but I get the feeling it was rushed to publication. If Insignia sticks to updating and improving Real PC, it can grow to be a great piece of software. As it is now, Real PC is a nice, inexpensive addition to my Mac life, but I can’t say I’ll use it effectively as a gaming solution. It has decent speed, great documentation, and an economical price. Where it lacks, however, is in sound and utilization, where it can cause repeated frustration. And if you’re prepared for breakneck speed, you’ll likely be disappointed unless you have a genuinely fast Mac to assist. All in all, Real PC has the right concept but misses the mark on practicality.
Shay Fulton (firstname.lastname@example.org