What is Android x86 and how can it replace Windows?
Android x86 is a free and open source project based on Google’s Android operating system (or, more accurately, AOSP) designed to run on x86 processors (e.g., Intel, AMD). The possibility of running Android (or an AOSP solution like Esper’s) on x86 device fleets presents new opportunities to enable innovation and lower costs for enterprise, industry, and other organizations.
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 being retired due to Windows or other software EOLing (End of Life).
Industries have been disrupted by Microsoft regularly ending updates for Windows Embedded and Windows CE. This means no more security patches for these aging operating systems, leaving them at severe risk of exploitation or abuse.
This puts enterprises with Windows-based x86 devices running critical manufacturing processes, conducting sensitive payment transactions, and holding private consumer data in a tough spot.
Android x86 lowers costs, extends device life, and enables dual boot
As these x86 devices reach EOL, that usually leaves one option on the table: Rip and replace. With Android on x86, there’s now another way.
While Android started as a smartphone OS built on ARM, it’s come a long way from those humble roots. Android x86 has existed as an unofficial open source project since 2009. And that’s where Esper comes in! We can help flip, secure, and breathe new life into EOLed Windows Embedded and CE devices (all Windows distros are welcome, though).
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.
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.
Is Android for 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.
Run Android on your Windows point of sale or kiosk
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 Android x86 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 Android on x86
Since Esper Foundation x86 is custom built for every situation, 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.