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Instructions: Install Android-x86 on your old PC, notebook or netbook

The year is 2015 and if I look at the average age of our readers (and far too few female readers) in our statistics, then each of you should have at least one old cucumber at home in the form of a disused notebook or netbook. One of those old things that still greet you with Windows XP ... or even Windows 98.

Do you have children and want to slowly introduce them to the topic of PCs and the Internet, or do you yourself like occasional experiments and are looking for a way to safely continue to use such an “old” computer at no additional cost? Then take a look at Android-x86. This is a version of the well-known smartphone and tablet operating system that has been specially adapted for installation on normal PCs.

Disclaimer: these instructions are to be read as a tip. Interventions in the BIOS of a PC and the installation of an operating system may not work, so if you have no idea about such things, ask an experienced friend or leave the number.

The hardware for Android-x86

I tried the number myself with a Dell Inspiron 6400 (MM061, e1505) and tell you: it works fine. Of course, such an Android on a normal notebook requires a certain rethinking, because in most cases the device should not have a touchscreen display - you control Android either via the integrated trackpad or a connected mouse, such as a Windows PC. On the other hand, there is an unbeatable advantage in my opinion: you have a real keyboard, possibly even with a numeric keypad. The times when the Android keyboard covered the lower third of the screen are now history.

  • Dell Inspiron 6400 (MM061)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo (2GHz, 4MB)
  • 2GB RAM (667MHz, DDR2)
  • 160GB HDD
  • ATi Mobility Radeon X1400 (128MB)
  • 15.4 ″ WXGA (1280 x 800)
  • Audio: Sigmatel 9200

Apps under Android-x86

You wonder what this is good for? Well, after a successful initial installation you can use all Android apps that you would otherwise use on your smartphone or tablet. As soon as your login data for the Google Play Store has been entered, the apps there are available to you, including those that have already been purchased. In my case, however, there were problems with all sorts of games, for whatever reason. In many cases these seem to “notice” that it is not a “real” device and either refuse the installation completely or cannot be started. I guess there are hardware components that are simply not compatible after all, but that's just a guess.

Otherwise: Facebook, Google+, Evernote, Gmail, Google Docs, Sheets, Drive - everything works fine. Hangouts too - but they are not really fun due to the lack of a built-in webcam and I failed when connecting and installing an external USB webcam - maybe depending on the manufacturer. Google Maps also works - but doesn't really make much sense without a built-in GPS sensor. You may already notice that in addition to the missing touchscreen, you have to make further compromises, because modern smartphones have one or the other component that is necessary for the operation of various apps.

The reverse is also true: in some notebooks there is still hardware slumbering that even the best smartphone cannot compete against, for example really good speakers. I now use the Dell Inspiron 6400 as an Internet radio and as a station for playing music via Google Music All Access. Do you have Spotify? Yes it works. WhatsApp, activated by phone code, also works - but there is now a desktop or browser app for which you still need your smartphone.

External hardware via USB

In addition, in most cases Android-x86 also recognizes a built-in Bluetooth module or a Bluetooth stick connected via USB, so that the existing hardware can be expanded with additional devices. In this way, I simply connected somewhat older Bluetooth boxes to the notebook, and the sound has been even better since then. You really just have to try it out, you might be even more lucky with older devices than with newer ones, because of the better (because longer) implementation in the x86 project. Of course, almost never all the features of the respective device that are otherwise activated with special Windows drivers are available, and very few manufacturers are interested in paying special attention to this project, so don't get your hopes up.

Preparing for installation

You need a USB stick, an older model with 512 megabytes of storage capacity is sufficient. If you do not want to install Android-x86 on the hard drive, you will need this USB stick permanently, otherwise it is only used for installation.

Get the current version of Android-x86 at android-x86.org. You can take a look at the to be sure Compatibility lists throw, but these are not too well maintained or not all supported hardware configurations are really listed there. My tip: leave it, don't waste time with it, just try it out.

The downloaded file is an .iso file. Via a tool like UNetbootin this file must be transferred to the - then bootable - USB stick (FAT32). There are plenty of instructions on the internet, the short version is: select image, select ISO, refer to the Android-x86 iso, select type USB drive, start with OK.

Switch to the BIOS of your PC or notebook and, if necessary, change the boot order there so that the device can actually boot from the USB stick.

The installation of Android-x86

When you boot the notebook for the first time from the USB stick prepared in this way, you will now receive a selection menu that also offers various options. You can now start Android-x86 directly from the USB stick, without installation. The joy of doing this is limited, the working speed then depends extremely on the speed of the USB stick or connection. But that's enough for the first test.

People who are willing to take risks simply choose to install it on the HDD and just see what happens - like me. The following installation procedure is actually self-explanatory. Select one of the NTFS, FAT32, EXT3 or EXT2 partitions found and decide whether you want to use Android-x86 as the sole operating system or as a “second system” alongside a possibly existing Windows or Linux installation. Confirm the query to install the GRUB boot loader with “Yes”.

That's it, actually - immediately afterwards the usual installation routine of every Android smartphone starts, which asks you for your Google account, language settings and other things, a little later the Android screen becomes visible. The only fearful question is: does Android-x86 recognize my built-in WLAN module and other important components? If that's the case, you can get started, install your favorite apps right away, set up Google Music, try out what works and what doesn't.

You can see how the whole thing looks in the end result in the following video:

Alternative: Android-x86 in a virtual box

Those who shy away from the installation as a "full-fledged" operating system or can already foresee that Android-x86 does not come ready with some important hardware components could also consider the option of installing it in a Virtualbox. The colleagues from netzwelt.de have a good guide at the start.

Otherwise, once again the note: do not try this with your work computer. Take a notebook that has been lying in the corner for ages and is now about to be revived. Take your time and prepare for the time it takes for the eventual deinstallation. It's an experiment, but when it works out a really fine thing.