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Retroarch or standalone

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Hi all.

maybe a noob question but here goes.

Are there any stand alone emulators that people use over retroarch that are simply better?

Retroarch seem to cover every system i need but if a stand alone is more feature rich I will look at running this separatey

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The standalone emulators are almost always more feature rich. Retroarch is ideal for a few reasons:

  • Easier to setup
  • Generally, lower latency and input lag
  • Support for hotswapping controllers
  • Support for lots of shaders
  • Unified interface for save states, disc swapping, ect. 

Most retroarch cores are just as good as their standalone counterparts when it come to game compatibility and performance. Many emulators integrated in retroarch  do lose some features, usually related to debugging, but rarely anything you are likely to notice.  For the most part, retroarch brings more to the table then it takes away. With a few exceptions mentioned above, I recommend using retroarch when you can for, in my opinion, the overall best experience. 

There are also some cores in retroarch that do not have a standalone release. Mednafen PSX Hardware and Parrellel 64 come to mind. Both are excellent emulators. 

I have read that the PPSSPP core in retroarch got a reboot a couple months ago, but I haven't tried it. It might be worth trying to retroarch core is you prefer to keep things under the RA umbrella. 

Some obscure systems are really hard to setup properly in retroarch. I could never get disk swapping working correctly for bluMSX (although almost all the games you want to play are on flash carts, which work fine). Some obscure 8bit computer are only support in MAME or in standalone emulators. Mednafen wondwerswan has trouble switching aspect ratios for games like Klanoa (although there are some workarounds). 

To add to the list of standalone emulators:

Mupen64.io is going to be preferable for most people over the two retroarch n64 cores. It has really good compatibility and much better performance, and it upscales to whatever resolution pretty easy. Lots of eye candy. If you are looking for the n64++ experience that is the way to go, if you are looking for accuracy, and you have a 4.0ghz plus quad core CPU, then parallel with the angrylion plugin is by far the best. You can also track down that plugin for mupen64.io  or project 64 if you prefer. 

The VICE64 core in retroarch is pretty bad. Use standalone for commodore 64 emulation. The DOSBOX core is also a pain to setup correctly because it automatically binds keyboard inputs to your controller in weird ways, and it is hard to track down and configure the config files properly and other weirdness. The DOSBOX SVN build is a better way to go. The mainstream 0.74 release works fine for 96% of games or something like that, but it is missing five or six years of ongoing development in the SVN builds. 

Dolphin in retroarch is not very good. Use the standalone. 

The Mednafen Saturn in retroarch is still missing analog support, which makes some games virtually unplayable. There is also a config hack you can do to decrease latency that is not available in retroarch. IMO use the standalone. 

There is an argument to be made that MAME standalone is better than MAME retroarch. They are close enough to one another that I prefer to use MAME retroarch out of convenience. If you are doing anything other than arcade emulation though, like emulating obscure systems only supported by MAME, then the standalone is much easier to configure. The MAME config files are hidden in weird places and require enabling particular settings that are hidden in text files. The documentation and support just isn't there. It required a lot of googling on my part and trial and error to get the colecovision working in MAME. I can't really recommend it. 

For some kinds of peripherals, in particular the atari 2600 paddles, stella standalone is definitely better. 

The 3d0 Emulator in retroarch has some issues. Phoenix standalone is much better. 

So what does retroarch do really well? All of the popular 8 bit and 16 bit consoles and handhelds, as well as the PSX. For most people that is all they are looking for. Retroarch is a one stop shop for SNES, NES, MD, GB/GBC/GBA, ect ect. 


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As to the Retroarch MAME I always had little niggling issues with it with regards to controls (but I'm in the minority there), so I stick to the standalone. I personally use Retroarch for everything except, Dolphin, MAME, Demul, and PCSX2. Those last 2 are not in Retroarch period so you have to use the standalones there. MAME is a personal preference thing, and Dolphin is superior as a standalone. If the PPSSPP Retroarch "has" been updated that may be OK also, I know there was talk of bringing it inline with the standalone, but I haven't used it since then.

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I know i'm a bit late to the thread but i'll throw my opinion in anyways.

I like Retroarch for the 8,16 and 32 bit home consoles for a variety of reasons but the major ones would be unified controller setup and reduced input lag with the "Frame Delay" setting.

Other reasons while not as important as the other 2 are still pretty big reasons to use it would be:
  -easy access Quick Menu for save state management
  -the best audio sync
  -up to date emulators always being worked on even if the version number isn't changing
  -much more flexibility with which core you can use (several NES and SNES cores, 2 different Sega system cores)

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  • 1 year later...
4 hours ago, Asim Siddiqui said:

Valuable info here. Has the scenario changed in the last 2 years? Are standalone emulators still a better choice?

I don't recall saying stand alones always being the clear cut better choice, it's always a case by case thing. Sometimes stand alones are better while other times the Retroarch version is better simply because of the ease of use and input latency improvements.

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I generally prefer Retroarch over standalone emulators barring a few specific instances, and the number of those has only gotten smaller with time, not larger.

-I used to prefer standalone C64 emulators, but now use Retroarch - the VICE core is actually very, very good at this point.
-Demul used to be the go-to Dreamcast emulator, but I actually prefer Flycast (Retroarch) at this point. Standalone Redream is a close second, but it doesn't have sound interpolation like Flycast which can make some games sound really awful.
-I always used  to use the standalone Atari800 emulator for Atari 8-bit and 5200 games, but the Atari800 core is quite good now so I prefer it at this point. It used to be kindof convoluted to setup in Retroarch, but that's not really the case anymore.
-I used to prefer XM6 Pro68k for x68k emulation but that's since shifted to PX68k in Retroarch. Like the Atari800 core, this one used to be kindof convoluted to setup in Retroarch, but it's simple now.

I use MAME in Retroarch as well, although I'm probably in the minority on that one.

PPSSPP and Dolphin are still better in standalone in my opinion. I just did some recent comparisons between the current cores and current standalones for these and I think the statement still holds true - they still have issues. PS2 emulation basically isn't covered in Retroarch - they technically have Play! but that barely even counts in its current state (in or outside of Retroarch). I do primarily use DOSBox in Retroarch at this point but it comes with some caveats (like no built-in soundfont implementation, although this isn't really a problem if you use something like VirtualMidiSynth) and limitations (namely with Windows 3.1+ emulation) and it creates some additional complications to the point that I probably wouldn't recommend people use it over say DOSBox ECE. I definitely prefer FS-UAE over PUAE in Retroarch for Amiga. Same for Steem over Hatari in Retroarch for Atari ST. The 3DO core has compatibility issues with a couple games, but in the cases where it works correctly (which is the majority of them), I do use Retroarch.

The general rule of thumb is that unless a core has something definitively wrong with it (and there are a few of those), you're better off with Retroarch than standalone because of all the benefits that it brings across the board. If something literally doesn't work or doesn't work well in Retroarch then obviously you'll want to look elsewhere, but those just continue to get fewer and farther between over time.

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I concur with what others such as Zombeaver and Lord Monkus have said. I used to struggle with Retroarch, I always had controllers going rogue or other issues. Possibly user error.  But now it's really good and I've been switching over more systems to RA. The biggest benefits to me are not having to mess with controller setups for each individual emulator; reducing of lag through the run-ahead feature; ability to integrate bezels/overlays; and it integrates pretty well with LB also.

For an example of the benefits of RA for a given system, Atari 2600 with standalone Stella had so much input lag it wasn't enjoyable to play. With Retroarch, I've just recently finally gotten this legendary system to pretty much perfection with no lag, no issues with the games at all & and a sweet Atari bezel. I don't have paddles yet, but I'd love to get Circus Atari working at some point since I played that as a kid. Also, I recently managed to get the X68000 going perfectly in RA, something I'd tried in the past with stand alone emulators without much luck (shout out to Zombeaver I believe it was, for the .bat file solution for multi-disc games)

For later systems, obviously the likes of Dolphin and PCSX2 are either not as good or nonexistent in RA. I use standalone MAME, as I recall it uses an older version of MAME and the romset version must match the MAME version. For those new to emulation, definitely try Retroarch first other than the aforementioned exceptions, as stated by others above. And then venture into the standalone ems if necessary. We're really lucky, emulation keeps getting better and better. Thanks to all those doing this work!

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