Install Android on Your PC

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9/13/2012 9:19:17 AM

The great thing about Android is that it's open source, which means any developer can grab the code to Android and do what they want with it —and now you can, too. With a little work, you can get Android running on your PC right now, for free.

The main challenge is that most Android devices run on ARM processors, and porting it to run on anything else is a big challenge. Google does provide tentative support for the x86 architecture within the codebase, but it wouldn’t be possible at all without the existence of a project called Android-Graham Morrison x86 that pulls all this together with a considerable library of patches to create a build of Android that mostly works on Intel or AMD processors.

The project has been able to make earlier releases of Android run fairly stably on the x86 platforms, including networking and mouse support. But the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android still has some bugs running on x86, so we ll start by showing you how to install an earlier, more stable build on your PC.

1.    Set up a virtual PC

We’ll take our first foray into Android by running an older version in a virtual machine environment. This is safe, maximizes functionality, and walks a well-trodden path. If you like it, you can move onto a new eversion later. We used VirtualBox, though other virtualization programs should work, as well. Android works better on Intel hardware due to modifications in the source code, but we saw no difference on our AMD machine aside from a couple of warnings.

We’ve had the best experience with the Nightly build of Android 2.2, which you can grab from With the ISO downloaded, launch VirtualBox and click the New button. In the wizard that appears, set the operating system to Linux, and set Other Linux as the version. We gave our machine 512MB of memory, and a 2GB hard drive as a VDI disk image.

After the new machine has been created, select it in the machine list and open the Settings window. On the System page, switch to the Processor tab and make sure Enable PAE/NX is active for your CPU. Now click the Storage page. VirtualBox defaults to IDE emulation rather than SATA, and we need to add a second device to attach to our ISO image. If the device doesn't exist, click the controller followed by the "Add a new attachment" icon (which looks likean optical disc). A small window should appear asking you to choose a disc image, and you should point the resulting requester at the Android 2.2 image. If an optical drive already exists, select it in the storage tree. Use the disc icon on the far right to display a drop-down menu, then select "Choose virtual CD/DVD disk file’’.

Description: Set up a virtual PC

2.    Install Android 2.2.1

Now that everything is configured, click OK in the Settings window, and then click the green Start button in the main interface. Android 2.2 will boot within the virtual machine. You'll see the boot menu, from which you should choose the first option. HDPI and MDPI refer to the screen resolution of the output device, which you can ignore when running on anything other than a tablet. If you decide to try this boot on real hardware, then the third option avoids graphics drivers by using the VESA mode. This is useful if you run into compatibility problems. If you like what you see with Android, the final option will create a permanent installation on a spare drive partition. A few moments after making your choice, you'll see Android's unlock screen. The final hurdle is overcome by pressing the right Ctrl key and selecting "Disable mouse integration" from the Machine menu. Now when you click the virtual machine, you should see the mouse and be able to slide the padlock icon up to enter the OS.

Description: Install Android 2.2.1

Description: Install Android 2.2.1

3.    Upgrade to the real deal

Hopefully you’ve now played with Android 2.2 and want to upgrade to the latest version. We’ll show you how to install the Ice Cream Sandwich Android build on your PC, without virtualization. But before you can begin, you’ll need to go to the Android-x86 Project's homepage and download the most recent Ice Cream Sandwich build (also known as Android 4.0.3] complete for generic x86 hardware.

You can either burn the Android ISO file you downloaded to a CD or onto a USB stick, which can then be booted on the machine. If you want to create a bootable disc, you’ll need to download UNetbootin, which you can download at

First, insert your USB stick—1GB will do. All the data will be lost, so make sure there's nothing on there you want to keep, and then launch UNetbootin. The top half of the window is used for selecting a Linux distribution, which can be downloaded and installed automatically. We want to use the bottom half to locate the ISO and ensure the correct USB device has been selected. If everything is correct, click OK. This will start the conversion and begin to write the bootable data to your USB stick. It should complete in a few minutes.

Description: Upgrade to the real deal

Like a live Linux distribution, Android can now be booted by turning on your machine with the CD or USB device inserted. As long as the BIOS or boot menu is configured to probe the right device first, you should see the Android boot menu. This has three options, with Default being added by UNetbootin. Choose the first, "Run Android x86 without installation,” to test the OS. If everything works, you can choose to install at a later time. Android takes a few minutes to boot. After the Android logo, you'll see the starter wizard. This is where, on a real device, you sync the hardware with your Google account, but without network connectivity it makes no sense. Just click through the options to get to the OS quickly.

You'll now see the start page of Android. This adds a few prompts to help you get started, but android are easy enough to use without any prior experience, especially if you tried version 2.2.3 earlier. The main differences are in the transitions and how the display looks, but all that can be changed, too. Applications are launched from the small matrix icon on the top right, and you can use the arrows in the bottom left to move between what Android calls “activities." In normal terms, these are virtual desktops.

Playing with the settings is the first thing you should do. You can get to the Settings panel (image by clicking the clock in the bottom right of the display, then on the text that says "No Internet connection.” Clicking the Wi-Fi icon will turn it on, and hopefully you'll be able to scan for networks with the Scan button at the top of the screen. Again, android on x86 is still a work in progress, so features like networking may not work with your hardware. If you encounter problems, remember to check back soon —the project is updated frequently.

Description: Upgrade to the real deal

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