Best Windows emulators on Android

The functional capabilities of the Android operating system are enormous, but at the same time they are greatly limited in some areas, especially when it comes to the hardware frameworks of the devices used.

For example, running Windows applications in their original form on Android devices is impossible due to different architectures. In this case, the use of mobile emulators is necessary to bypass these limitations.


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What is a Windows emulator for?

Emulation is the imitation of the capabilities of one computer system on a device running another. In the context of this material, it is the emulation of the desktop Windows on the Android mobile operating system.

Emulators used to be mainly interesting to programmers. However, with the increasing number of available programs, anyone can try to configure and emulate a "non-native" system for a specific device.

Running Windows using a mobile application on Android is possible, but there are some limitations associated with the hardware of mobile devices. Desktop personal computers use x86 architecture processors, while Android uses ARM. This leads to difficulties with the operation of most drivers and programs.

Emulators allow you to overcome some limitations, but the completely different capabilities of mobile devices still do not provide full and one hundred percent backward compatibility. However, it is worth mentioning that the performance of the emulator directly depends on the power of the smartphone or tablet.

Bochs

An open-source application that supports work with the IA-32 32-bit x86 instruction set architecture. Bochs was developed by American developer Kevin Lawton from the USA, and in 2016, it was ported to Android by programmers from the CIS. The source code can be found on the official website and GitHub.

It emulates the operation of processors from Intel and AMD, including models released in the 1980s and 1990s (i386, i486, Pentium MMX), hardware devices, and RAM. This ensures a high level of compatibility with OS and programs specifically written for the Windows environment.

The process of setting up and launching Bochs after installation:

  1. It is necessary to grant access to the device's internal storage.
  2. Download the operating system image you want to run. For example, an emulator testing image was downloaded from 4pda in the relevant Bochs thread.
  3. Place the unzipped OS image in the Download folder or create a Windows folder and move it to any convenient location on the internal memory.
  4. In the main menu of the emulator, there are three sections - Storage, Hardware, Misc.
  5. Storage - is responsible for the operation of HDD, CDROM, and disk drives. In the "ata0-master" item, check it, set "disk" opposite it, click "select," and choose the downloaded Windows image on the internal storage.
  6. At the bottom of the Storage section, in the "Boot" item, select "Disk". In the "File Selector," check the circle - "System (new)".
  7. Hardware - is responsible for configuring computer hardware. You can set any configuration that meets the minimum system requirements for Windows. For example, CPU Model: i7 2600k (Sandy Bridge), Chipset - i430fx, Memory - 320 mb, VGA Card - Cirrus Logic CL-GD446 (PCI), Sound Card - Ensoniq ES1370, Ethernet Card - Intel 82540EM (PCI).
  8. Misc - is responsible for loading BIOS, time synchronization, frame rate, and full-screen display. In the "rom image" item, it is better to set - BIOS-bochs-latest.
  9. When all the settings are completed, you can click on the start button in the upper right corner of the screen and wait for the loading.

The emulator was tested on Windows 98 and a special MiniXP build. More modern systems were not tested. The emulator supports running systems up to Windows 10, but it should be understood what smartphone performance will be required for this.

QEMU

A free emulator with open-source code for Windows, macOS, FreeBSD, and Android, developed by French programmer Fabrice Bellard. It emulates Intel x86 (i486, Pentium, Pentium PRO) and AMD64 processors.

Additionally, it supports the emulation of the ARM, SPARC, PowerPC architectures. In the code execution mode, it supports MIPS, m68k, and RISC-V. Currently, the application cannot be downloaded from Google Play - a working apk file can be found on our website or the 4pda forum in a separate thread dedicated to the emulator.

The process of running Windows on QEMU is as follows:

  1. The installation file responsible for the application distribution can usually be found on the Internet and is named SDLapp.apk.
  2. To work with the program, a configuration file called sdl.conf is required. It should contain the following: "/sdl -L . -m 16 -boot c -hda 1Gb.img -usb -usbdevice tablet". Place it in the SDL folder in the root directory.
  3. In some builds, the emulator already comes with a pre-created file. Usually, it is an archive called "SDL FOR SDLAPP". Simply unpack the contents into the SDL folder.
  4. Place the system image in the same SDL folder, and the file should have the following name: "C.img".
  5. Launch the application from the desktop shortcut and wait for Windows to load.

Additional programs and some games can also be downloaded through the utility, but usually, pre-compiled versions of the emulator with the necessary software are already available on the Internet. Settings and files can be found on profile forums.

Limbo

A paid emulator of a personal computer based on Windows for Android. If downloaded from Goolge Play, the cost for Russian citizens is 439 rubles. It supports emulation of x86, PowerPC, and Sparc.

The free version of Limbo can be downloaded from our website or 4pda. The testing for this article was performed on version 6.0.1-arm. The distribution of the operating system was also downloaded from a specialized website.

The configuration of the emulator for running Windows is done in the following order:

  1. Place the OS image in a folder on the device's internal memory.
  2. Launch the emulator. Click on the drop-down menu in the upper right corner and select Create machine, enter the name of the virtual machine, and then select Custom.
  3. In the User Interface field, you can leave everything as default or choose settings according to your preference.
  4. In the Board section, leave the CPU Model as Default, the number of cores as 1-2, and the RAM Memory as 128-512, leave the rest unchanged.
  5. In the Disks section, use Hard Disk A by default. Click None, then Open, the menu in the upper left corner, and the bottom item with the name of your device. Then, find the folder with the system image and select the file.
  6. Skip the Removable item and in the Boot section, set Boot from Device to Hard Disk.
  7. Graphics, Audio, Network, and Advanced settings remain unchanged. If desired, you can experiment with the settings on your own.
  8. Click on the start icon and wait for the operating system to load.

ExaGear

A free x86 emulator for ARMv6 and higher architectures, based on the ExaGear program from the Russian IT company Eltechs. Currently, the development of the program is frozen, and a third-party developer is responsible for releasing and updating the Android application.

You can download the emulator distribution on the Internet from specialized websites, for example, from ours. Currently, the original application is not available on Google Play, and the APK under the name ExaGear - Windows Emulator, which search results show, is an endless ad player with artificially inflated positive reviews.

The configuration of the ExaGear application is done in several steps:

  1. You will need a working emulator distribution and cache for its operation.
  2. Unzip the cache file and move it to the internal storage of the device using the following path: storage/emulated/0/Android/obb/.
  3. Then, install the application and launch it from the desktop shortcut.
  4. In the main menu of the emulator, click on the drop-down menu in the upper left corner of the screen, then "Manage Containers," the plus icon in the top menu, and create a new container.
  5. Launching the container is done by clicking on the drop-down menu icon and selecting Run Explorer.
  6. Wait for the operating system shell to load.

To run programs or games, you will need to download their distribution and move it to a folder on the device. Depending on the ExaGear build, the program folder may vary. This should be clarified when downloading the distribution.

For example, in the tested build, the game file had to be placed in the root folder ExaGear. Then, after launching the container, go to the Exagear Files folder and select the corresponding program. Installation is done similarly to a PC.

DosBox Turbo

A paid application for running DOS/Windows games on ARM architecture devices. The emulator itself does not run the Windows operating system in its pure form. The emulation happens in the background. It provides full support for a mouse, keyboard, sound devices, and an analog joystick. The cost is 199 rubles.

Among other features, DosBox includes:

  • Optimization for ARM and MIPS processors;
  • Support for Voodoo 3dfx video cards;
  • DirectX support (PCI BUS Emulation);
  • Pentium MMX emulation;
  • Working multiplayer support;
  • Compatibility with DualShock 3 and XBOX360 controllers;
  • Virtual multitouch;
  • Support for external USB mice and controllers;
  • And much more.

After installation and launch, grant the program access to the smartphone's files. Then, go to Settings and DosBox Settings through the drop-down menu in the upper part of the screen. In the Memory Size section, set the maximum value to 256 MB. Leave Frame Skip as default or lower it to 1.

Then, scroll to the end of the section and find the Autoexec item. This is the root folder where all the applications that are planned to be run on the emulator will be located. If desired, you can create a subfolder and specify the path to it. After finishing, restart the application.

If the games are already copied to the root folder, you can start running them from the main menu of the application. To do this, use the command: cd GAME FOLDER NAME. Then, enter the exe file name as follows: game_name.exe.

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