I've noticed that a number of people here use DOSBox for playing older titles on modern PC hardware.

I am very familiar with VirtualBox, I use it to virtualize several operating systems. I have also read up on it's current 3d support.

My question is what is the advantage of something like DOSBox over VirtualBox?

Is it essentially for ease of use? With VB I have to install the actual DOS package and manipulate memory management, etc as I did back in the real dos days (presumably). Does DOSBox remove these sorts of configuration issues?

I'm considering running games that would have had requirements in the 100's of Mhz on an i7-2600k, so I'm not terribly concerned about virtualization overhead unless there's some specific gotcha that I don't know about

  • 6
    DOSBox isn't playing too well with Lion, if you're... that way.
    – hairboat
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 14:35
  • 4
    Keep an eye on naclbox.com, DOSBox running in a browser.
    – hyperslug
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 21:08
  • @Abby Good to know, I read that it's reported to run well on Win7, which is my primary concern.
    – Tharius
    Commented Aug 12, 2011 at 21:04
  • 1
    @Abby and Stephen: Check out Boxer if you want DOSBox on Mac. The "official" version is somewhat lacking (as are most non-Mac-specific open source projects), but Boxer tidies everything up nicely. Commented Aug 18, 2011 at 1:57

6 Answers 6


VirtualBox is a general-purpose desktop virtualization software, and nothing else. It doesn't come with any operating system (you need to install one). The guest operating system is fairly "isolated" from the host. You can only access a host directory from the guest system through SMB sharing (over a virtual network).

DOSBox is a 16/32-bit x86 emulator that already comes with a DOS-like operating system pre-installed. The objective is to run DOS applications as easy as possible. It doesn't require a virtual harddrive image, as it can access host directories directly (after mounting a directory as a virtual drive — this is only possible because DOSBox also emulates the operating system). It also has some features to emulate old networking hardware (such as dial-up modems and IPX network) over TCP/IP.

VirtualBox uses virtualization, which means it requires a host CPU of the same architecture of the guest system.

DOSBox is a full emulator, all CPU instructions have been re-implemented in C, and it can run on any hardware. (there are videos of DOSBox running inside Symbian Nokia phones)

In a nutshell: DOSBox has been designed to run old DOS applications and games in a fairly easy way, in any host system.


  • Host: the system/computer that runs the emulator.
  • Guest: the emulated system/computer that runs inside the emulator
  • 3
    plus, it starts faster than having to fire up a virtual machine first (even if it's only running DOS)
    – Zommuter
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 15:36
  • Nitpick: VirtualBox is not hypervisor; it runs on a host OS.
    – hyperslug
    Commented Aug 11, 2011 at 21:07
  • 1
    @hyperslug VirtualBox definitely is a hypervisor.
    – user56
    Commented Aug 21, 2011 at 13:44
  • DOSBox makes it easy to capture virtual screenshots and probably record a video (I haven't tried the latter yet). However, VirtualBox can save the state. But implementing that in DOSBox would not be easy because of mounting host directories...
    – Heimdall
    Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 7:47

In addition to the other answers, DOSBox allows you to strictly control the speed of the CPU that is being emulated, making it possible to play some games (i.e. Wing Commander) that grab all the CPU cycles available and are, therefore, unplayable on modern hardware.

It also seamlessly interfaces with the host OS for hardware, so that you can use a new Logitech controller to play any old DOS game without any configuration issues, and you can easily get sound out of the games without having to figure out how to configure your sound card to emulate a SoundBlaster 16.

  • The speed control you mention is crucial. Also it's fun and often useful to press ALT-F12 to disable throttling and effectively "fast-forward" the machine! Commented Jul 6, 2023 at 3:18

It is essentially for ease of use.

Together with something like DosShell, launching a game becomes incredibly easy/fast.

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DOSBox does not remove installation issues, but it does remove memory issues.

But once the game is installed (you install it in a DOS like screen), launching goes as above.


Dosbox not only emulates the CPU, but also the hardware peripherals that were common in the DOS era and games accessed directly. This is very convenient for emulating these games. Hardware support is much better in dosbox than in a standard vm like virtualbox


DOSBox will automatically convert a modern USB joystick's input into the old analog input needed for most DOS games.


DOSBox also easily emulates IPX. Using DOSBox, you don't have to deal with getting the network working for old IPX games.

  • The already accepted answer mentions IPX, so you added nothing new to it. If you like that answer, just upvote it, but don't repeat it. Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 8:40

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