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1550s, from Middle French émulation (13c.) and directly from Latin aemulationem (nominative aemulatio), from past participle stem of aemulari "to rival, strive to excel," from aemulus "striving, rivaling" (also as a noun, "a rival," fem. aemula), from Proto-Italic *aimo-, from PIE *aim-olo, from root *aim- "copy" (see imitation).
When one system performs in exactly the same way as another, though perhaps not at the same speed. A typical example would be emulation of one computer by (a program running on) another. You might use an emulation as a replacement for a system whereas you would use a simulation if you just wanted to analyse it and make predictions about it.