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Sofware in Review → Emulation/migration → Emulation frameworks →

Cedega 6.0 review

By Jem Matzan

Though it's updated almost every month to account for various patches and other incremental improvements, version 6.0 of TransGaming's Windows gaming API emulation framework, Cedega, has more substantial improvements. Specifically, Cedega 6.0 performs markedly better and has improved support for DirectX 9 games. It's probably not enough of an improvement to sway new users to ditch Windows and move to GNU/Linux, but current Cedega subscribers should have something to be excited about with version 6.0.

Cedega overview

This section is for people new to Cedega. If you're already familiar with what this product is and what its basic features are and just want to find out about the latest enhancements, you may want to skip down to the next section.

Cedega (formerly known as WineX) is a Wine-based Windows application programming interface (API) emulation framework. Basically it uses many of the same files that a Windows program needs to run to essentially fool a computer game into thinking that it's in Windows. Think of Cedega as CrossOver Linux for games; instead of concentrating on business and desktop applications, Cedega focuses on entertainment.

So what's the catch? Well, Cedega doesn't work with every Windows game -- in fact it's safe to say that it doesn't work all that well with most games when you consider just how many there are, but the development team tries to work hardest on compatibility with current titles that are most popular with its customer base. The company is extremely responsive, posting game and technology polls and a monthly technology update so that subscribers can see how their money's being spent.

Speaking of subscribers, TransGaming doesn't charge for releases; instead, it charges a monthly subscription fee of U.S. $5, with a 3-month minimum initial subscription. So you pay $15 upfront and get to vote on game and technology support and receive any new Cedega releases for three months. Thereafter you must pay $5 per month to maintain your subscription. If you cancel, you can still use the software you downloaded, but if you want an updated version, you'll have to renew your subscription. You can also pay for an entire year at once and get a month free -- that's $55 upfront, but you miss out on a few of the community benefits that you'd get if you had a monthly subscription for a term of 18 months or longer. Lastly, you can buy extra votes for $5 each. So if you really really want your favorite Windows game to be decently supported, you can buy up a stockpile of extra votes, use them all in the next monthly game poll, and hope that there isn't much effort that has to go into getting it to work with Cedega.

Installing Cedega is as simple as selecting the RPM from your package manager. There are no unusual dependencies, and a Cedega icon will appear in your menu. Start it up, install a game, and the rest is play time. If you have any strange issues with an installed game, there are myriad settings and parameters you can change from within the Cedega graphical shell. If you don't know what options to mess with, an active user forum and reasonably complete Wiki are at your disposal.

What's new in 6.0

Cedega 6.0 remains largely the same as recent previous versions in terms of installation, setup, configuration, and use. It can't be much easier to install and configure on compatible systems, and installing and running games through its easy-to-use graphical interface is a breeze. Despite the lack of cosmetic changes in the GUI shell, Cedega does have an updated interface package, so Cedega 5.2 users will definitely want to upgrade everything -- not just the gaming engine.

Now for the behind-the-scenes enhancements introduced in Cedega 6.0:

  • GL Shading Language improvements: Pixel Shader Model 2.0
  • Volume and floating point textures
  • Support for new frame buffer object extensions
  • A new, rewritten memory allocator
  • Optimized file operations
  • Anti-aliasing
  • Improved ALSA support: Dmix and MMap
  • Improved multimedia timer thread
  • Dynamic CPU speed support
  • Improved joystick functionality
  • Steam improvements (some may not be fully functional at the time of the 6.0 release, though)
  • Improved ATI graphics card support
  • "Copy protection" improvements: SafeDisc 4.x support
  • Networking enhancements
  • New game support: Need For Speed: Carbon, Madden NFL 2007, Battlefield 2142

The above list contains roughly an equal number of major and minor changes. Most of them add up to two main points: improved game performance, and improved video quality. It's still not time to expect miracles, but Cedega 6.0's enhancements will definitely be noticeable to current 5.2 subscribers.

Cedega 6.0
The Cedega 6.0 options interface

Putting it to the test

One of the great new features of Cedega 6.0 was supposed to be better compatibility with "older" games. I have to put "older" in quotes because I find that, as a refugee of the Sierra On-Line DOS adventure game era, I have a different frame of reference when it comes to "older" games. Red Baron, Red Baron II, Final Fantasy 7, and Final Fantasy 8 all do not install properly or play at all in Cedega 6.0, so my perception is that "older" game support has not improved at all, even from a mid-90s perspective. The first two can be played through DOSbox or some other DOS emulator, but FF7 and FF8 are made for Windows 95 and tend to run poorly or not at all on any operating systems above Windows 98 Second Edition.

Performing an in-place upgrade should be fairly straightforward and quick -- you can upgrade the entire Cedega framework through the Check Updates function in the TransGaming menu. There is a major hurdle to existing Cedega users, though: 6.0 requires the absolute newest Nvidia graphics driver as of this writing -- and even that has some graphical problems with Cedega 6.0. Some games (World of Warcraft, most notably) might start, but will not work properly without upgrading your video driver. As of this writing, the most recent releases of Mandriva, Ubuntu, Linspire, Freespire, Xandros, and openSUSE do not ship with a Cedega 6.0-compatible video driver, nor can you update to one through their package managers. On a 64-bit Mandriva test machine, I had to install a few extra development packages in order to compile and install the updated Nvidia driver, but everything went smoothly with the upgrade process after that.

After the video driver upgrade, I could start and play World of Warcraft, but if I enabled the new Pixel Shader 2.0 support, I would see strange artifacts on the screen, such as gryphon wings that stretch out into oblivion, black rain, and unusual colors. Knocking Pixel Shader down to the older 1.4 solved the artifact problems, but seemed to decrease video performance. In the end I decided that the occasional artifacts were worth putting up with if I could have a better framerate. A TransGaming representative told me that the GLSL problem with World of Warcraft was being addressed, and would be fixed in the future, but was not able to provide a more specific timeframe for a patch.

Cedega 6.0
Black rain in Warcraft is one of the unresolved GLSL bugs

Speaking of performance, there is a noticeable improvement in both the start and load times, and the actual in-game performance of supported games. In games that I never had any performance issues with -- like FlatOut -- I saw no improvement or change whatsoever between Cedega 5.2 and 6.0.

The sound-related improvements were supposed to allow you to play music and other sound-producing programs while running games. Well, you can do that, but you won't be able to hear any sound in the game you're playing while other sound events are going on, so this is not really much of an improvement.

Sadly, even the ATI-specific improvements in Cedega 6.0 can't make up for substandard proprietary drivers and a lack of manufacturer interest in Linux. The tradition of avoiding ATI graphics chips continues.

I was disappointed to see that I still had to make the same old modifications to the WoW settings screen in order to work around the bug that makes the framerate plummet when you're near water. It seems to me that this should be an easy problem for TransGaming to fix without requiring this level of user intervention. It also makes me wonder what else I might be missing out on in other games, none of which appear to be preset beyond the defaults.

Conclusions and developer recommendations

The improvements to 6.0 make it a worthwhile upgrade if your Cedega subscription account has expired. Both potential and existing subscribers should be wary of Cedega 6.0's video driver requirement, and ensure that they will be able to do a manual driver update from the command line before upgrading Cedega. Since both Ubuntu and Mandriva will be coming out with new desktop releases within the next few weeks, and openSUSE and Freespire soon after, it might make more sense to wait for the next release of your operating system before upgrading Cedega.

Overall I thought this was a significant improvement over the 5.2 series, and there is absolutely no reason to regret the upgrade. It almost goes without saying that a product like this will always be far from perfect, but here's what I'd like to see in the next Cedega release:

  • Game option presets. As a user, I should not have to modify the World of Warcraft settings myself, especially when there are complete instructions for making all the right adjustments in the TransGaming Wiki. If you know what settings are going to improve performance and eliminate bugs, then why aren't they implemented by default? Supported games need to have pre-tuned settings so that users don't have to go through the initial disappointment and frustration of trying to figure out what is wrong.
  • Older game support. By "older" I do not mean 2002 -- I mean 1995. There are a ton of Windows 95 and 98 games that are virtually impossible to play today unless you have an older Pentium 2 or 3 computer with Windows 98 on it. If Cedega could adapt to support even some of these legacy games, it would make GNU/Linux the only modern platform that can play them.
  • Set price goals for game voting. Just how many votes does a game need before it gets developer attention? Alternatively, how much money would it cost to get a game working with Cedega? I'd like to see a pricetag or a voting goal assigned to games involved in the monthly poll. If I knew that Final Fantasy 11 needed, for instance, $50 worth of votes to get it working, I might just pay that -- and perhaps others would as well.
Purpose Windows API emulation framework
Manufacturer TransGaming Inc.
Architectures x86
License Mostly the GNU General Public License and other free software licenses, but some parts are proprietary, and the product as a whole is under a proprietary, restrictive license.
Market Computer gamers
Price (retail) Cedega is sold by subscription, but your subscription does not have to be current in order to use the software. New customers are required to buy a 3-month subscription, after which they can choose to let it lapse and pay for updates when they choose. The cost is U.S. $5 per month.
Previous version 5.2
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