Android-x86 is a free and open source project based on Google’s Android operating system (AOSP) designed to run on x86 processors. But Android-x86 is not a commercially supported product, and community support for the project remains limited. If you want to run Android on x86 hardware, you need an Android x86 alternative like Esper’s.
How do you run Android on Intel x86?
Running Android on an x86 device presents challenges, as very few x86 platforms have been targeted for development by Google in recent memory. How, then, do you get Android on devices that aren’t explicitly supported?
Using AOSP, it’s not as hard as you might think. However, you need lots of bits and pieces to get things humming, and you still don’t have anything resembling a commercial OS.
If you’re going to do Android on x86 correctly, you need a solution that covers you from end to end. From validating your hardware targets, optimizing your firmware, deploying your OS in the field, and finally distributing and updating your software on those devices over the air. These are the cornerstones of an Android x86 device strategy. Without them, you’re far more likely to waste time building tools than you are to drive innovation.
All that said, running Android on an x86 processor today is entirely feasible from a power user or developer perspective. Open projects like Android-x86 are being flashed to devices every day! But for businesses looking to deploy, manage, and update Android x86 devices at scale, such community projects lack critical support and management infrastructure.
Foundation x86 is an Android x86 alternative
We have our own platform based on AOSP called Esper Foundation for Android. Since it’s based on AOSP, it can be custom built for ARM and x86 devices alike (we call this version Foundation x86). We get that every situation is different, and Foundation is flexible, agile, and completely customizable to fit almost any of them.
With Foundation, we can offer tighter control over the system image, elevated security in the kernel, and the ability to take control of updates and patches. You don’t even need to give up Windows if you don’t want to: Foundation x86 is fully dual-boot ready.
Run an Android x86 alternative on your kiosk or tablet
Imagine a 10 year old point of sale (PoS) terminal in your restaurant running Windows. Even if you could upgrade that system to a newer Windows platform, it’s likely that it wouldn’t run very well and would potentially be missing features or introduce breaking changes to legacy applications.
What if you could migrate that device from Windows to Android? “That’d be swell,” you say, “but isn’t that going to be some kind of VM like BlueStacks, or an Android emulator hack?” Done cheaply and badly, sure: You could probably get an Android VM running inside Windows. But that creates performance issues and division of system overhead, which makes your already-slow and old x86 Windows system even slower. And you still have no one to support you if an app doesn’t work or a system becomes unstable or fails entirely.
Starting at bare metal was crucial when we approached the Android on x86 issue at Esper, because it enabled a true “flip” scenario for our customers (that said, we also offer dual-boot and virtual solutions for x86). We also discovered something everyone loves: Performance improvements. Running our OS on x86 hardware, your old Windows machines will get faster. That’s because Android is a modern OS built on the Linux kernel, designed for ultra-low-power devices, but we’ll take the credit!
Is an Android x86 alternative faster than Windows?
The test system in this example is PAR 8000 series point of sale device of fairly modest computing power. It uses a dual core Intel Celeron 3955U processor launched in 2015, with no support for hyperthreading. We ran Geekbench on it three times, in this case testing on Windows 10, and our own Esper x86 solution based on AOSP. Higher is better.
On Windows, the PAR system scored 428 and 838 for single and multithreaded workloads, respectively. On our Esper x86 solution, that same system scored 541 and 1026. For single-threaded performance, that’s an uplift of 26%. And for multithread, the gain works out to a bit over 18%. We understand that benchmarks are just numbers in a vacuum and that real-world workloads are where businesses make decisions, and we’ve got more data we’re crunching in the lab (OK, it’s a room full of cash register computers).
Imagine entire restaurants running Android on legacy hardware without getting rid of a single computer. Converting retail signage and kiosks running Windows to a modern, fully updateable operating system. You read that right: OS updates. Because the x86 architecture is highly stable and well supported by Intel, bringing new versions of the underlying OS for years. And that includes security patches.
Learn more about an Android x86 alternative
Since Esper Foundation x86 is custom built, we offer control, customization, and options you simply won’t find anywhere else. Here are a few of the core features of Foundation:
- Highly Configurable – Esper Foundation for Android can be tailored to your specific requirements and use cases, be it retail kiosks, digital signage, and more. Flexibility and customization are core to the Foundation experience.
- Simple and Easy – Devices shipped after set up and will be ready to run with Esper. All you have to do is turn them on and manage apps and devices remotely.
- Increased Security – Foundation uses a hardened kernel with firmware matched to the device. If your device is stolen, factory reset can be accessed only through the Esper console. And that’s just one of the ways we help protect your devices.
- Easy operations – The Esper console is so simple to use that it applies to a wide range of IT resources.
If you’re a business or org looking to check out our Foundation x86 solution, your VIP access lane to one of our many knowledgeable human beings is going to be via booking a demo here. We’ve worked with Fortune 100 and NYSE 100 brands in the enterprise, and we’ve worked with scrappy consumer tech startups and local small businesses. We’re built for any scale, and we can work with you to build a custom solution, x86 or ARM.
Android x86 overview
Why run Android on x86?
Put simply, running AOSP (Android) on x86 offers more security, more flexibility (like dual booting Windows and Android), and increased longevity for devices. Because Android uses the Linux kernel, it can also increase system performance, security, and scalability.
Android is also designed to be mobile, making it a far better use case fit for devices that may not be constantly connected to power, or that utilize wireless connectivity like Bluetooth, NFC, Wi-Fi, and 4G or 5G data for core functionality. That could be devices like mPOS systems, mobile kiosks, inventory management handhelds, line busting tablets, check in tablets, and more. But these devices generally use ARM processors.
By choosing a single platform for both your ARM and x86 devices (Esper Foundation for Android, our AOSP solution), you can create customer and employee experiences that seamlessly update your devices and align your innovation strategy across your entire fleet.
What is x86?
The x86 family of computer processors dates back to the 1970s. Primarily popularized by Intel, these systems use the x86 instruction set, which can loosely be thought of as the “language” x86 processors “speak.” Android (and AOSP, by extension) was architected to support ARM architecture processors, which use the ARM instruction set (based on the RISC instruction set) — a different “language.” All modern smartphones and most other mobile devices (including Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and MacBook laptops) use ARM architecture processors.
This disparity can be seen in practice by engineers at a very low level: ARM and x86 processors both offer programming languages that allow a developer to interact directly with a device’s CPU. These are generally known as assembly languages. ARM and x86 use completely different assembly languages, and thus even fundamental code between the two is mutually unintelligible. While high-level languages were built to address some of these architectural challenges and bridge technical gaps, there remain inherent differences in how x86 and ARM processors behave.
What’s the difference between Android ARM and Android x86?
ARM and x86 have many technical differences, but the most critical distinction in the context of Android between the two is that Android explicitly supports almost any ARM processor available because of its massive device ecosystem. While Android remains technically x86 compatible (you can download Generic System Images for the most recent version built for x86), the market’s lack of Android x86 devices means that compatibility goes largely unleveraged.
As to what Android can and can’t do on each architecture? There aren’t many practical limitations, though capabilities may vary slightly from device to device.
Is Android-x86 business ready?
No — not without lots of work! Google hasn’t actively developed the AOSP x86 platform for many years, and Android-x86 is not an official Google product, and is not supported by Google. Years of Android’s x86 failures litter tech news publications: everything from phones to smartwatches, to TVs, to tablets.
What you won’t see, though, is much talk about the embedded x86 and other dedicated x86 devices in the enterprise computing world and whether Android would be a suitable solution for them. With Esper, there is finally a business-grade Android x86 solution on the market.
Consider this: Android will never go back in the “just a smartphone OS” box. Google acknowledges this with platforms like Wear OS, Android TV, and Android Automotive (a platform so nascent it doesn’t even have a marketing website). Android is remarkable precisely because it can be made to fit so many innovative and varied forms.
Can I build Android x86 using AOSP for free?
Yes. And while building an image based on AOSP that can run on an Intel x86 processor isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s still pretty challenging! Building a version that can run on an Intel x86 processor and remain scalable, supportable, and stable is an enormous undertaking. And while they may sound like minor problems, issues with device drivers, peripheral support, and general system behavior quirks can be the difference between a system that is online and generating revenue and one that is not.
Android-x86 is a free, open source project based on AOSP (the Android Open Source Project). It’s designed to run on x86 processors from Intel and AMD.
Yes! There’s a project called Android x86 with the aim of bringing Android to Intel chipsets.
Yes! The Android-x86 project offers a way to run Android on x86 processors, either alongside Windows or as a full replacement.
Yes. There’s no Google Play Store on Android-x86 (or any other installable x86 Android build), but sideloaded apps are available.
Android is highly customizable, secure by design, and easy to use. A custom Android x86 solution can be built and configured to spec for specific use-cases.
You can download Android-x86 to test on compatible x86 hardware, including Intel and AMD chipsets, from the Android-x86 project website.