Running x86 apps on Windows RT devices

Windows RT, the version of Windows being loaded onto ARM-powered tablets and netbooks such as the new Microsoft Surface, has one drawback: there are tens of thousands of apps written for x86 hardware that simply won’t run on this new ARM-powered architecture. While this may present a problem for hospitals, banks, and other institutions needing a proper Wintel platform, we’re wondering how to get classic games such as Civ III and Age of Empires running on these new tablets.

It seems with a lot of black magic, [mamaich] over at the XDA Developers forum has a solution for us. He’s created a tool for running x86 Win32 apps on Windows RT. Basically, he’s created an x86 emulator for ARM devices that also passes Windows API calls to Windows RT.

So far, [mamaich] has been playing some classic Windows games on his Windows RT box, including Heroes of Might and Magic 3 and Space Cadet Pinball from Windows 95. A few utility apps such as 7Zip and WinRAR also work.

[mamaich]’s plans for his build are to make x86 emulation more automatic without the need for a separate launcher tool. Then, finally, we’ll have the perfect portable platform for RTS games.

43 thoughts on “Running x86 apps on Windows RT devices

  1. ms gif animator working again, do my eyes deceive me with this news? oh joy oh bliss I can make avatars for my Z10 now.

  2. Why the hell haven’t Microsoft just done this themselves? Fuck the performance hit.. Windows users aren’t usually used to high performance hehe.

    1. Because it would cost money to make it work as good as possible, it would cost a lot of money to support and, since it would run very slowly, it would be a waste of all that money. If you need to run some legacy windows software in a new tablet it’s just easier and cheaper to buy something like a surface pro or something. I’m not saying what this guy did isn’t awesome, it is, but MS doing this would be a huge waste of money…

      1. It’s not about the money (well not in that way anyway), Microsoft want to create a closed system with RT (ala iOS) so you have to use their store if you want to install things on it.
        So this is along the lines of a Jailbreak, I guess.

        1. Which is why people (such as yours truly) avoid Apple like the plague. If this nonsense at Microsoft doesn’t stop, RT and the Metro interface are enough to make my computing 100% Linux once Windows 7 expires.

      2. I don’t think it’s a waist of money at all. They are just more commited to Intel and AMD then ARM cpu’s. At the moment you have a 4-core Odroid U2 for USD 89,–. Perhaps soon you can have a 8 core ARM pc for a few hundred USD. If MS wants RT to become a succes, it would give it the best support it could. But I guess they don’t care. Even a Baserock slab could be more attracktive and cheaper then buying the fastest i7.
        This could change all, because we all want to use our old software as well.
        Without this emulation RT sucks, because you will have to buy everything new. But with it, it could become a succes

    1. Enter more money.

      This shouldn’t even be an issue, Microsoft should have an x86 compatibility mode built in along with the option for running unsigned code.

    1. I gave RT a shot, but the bad design (cheap!) of the ASUS Vivotab RT left a really bad taste in my mouth. I just went to Apple and got an iPad 3. Love this thing. Plenty of apps and the like. I mean, I like Windows 8, but for what you can say about Apple, their products work and there’s something you can do with it.

      Android was good for me but getting certain apps to work was more difficult. It reminded me of a Linux distro the way it was or at least as publicly accessible as Linux could get. Don’t get me wrong, Android is great. But I just want a tablet to work…. I don’t want to have to fix it. That energy I’ll put into a regular Windows machine.

  3. Yeah! Now a mediocre and closed-source mobile operating system can run decades old games and programs! Running out to spend $700 on a surface tablet right now!

    Everybody knows that to polish a turd all you have to do is freeze it first. Easy to do with Microsoft products.

  4. Am i the only person who cringes when someone uses the word APP when describing software for anything else than an APPle product? The term was rarely used before the ipad and iphone. It’s just a (very effective) marketing word.

    Please just use the word ‘program’ or something…

      1. Thank you, this is indeed the word from which the word app derives, the word app itself however was very rarely used before apple adopted it, i myself have actually never heard it used before apple’s use.

        Oh, and i guess i should call you retard or something just to keep the chain going…

        1. “Application” was rarely used in common parlance until Micro$oft developed the Windows environment. Prior to that, they were correctly called “Programs”

        2. Uhh … that’s pants ! People used “Applications” instead of “Programs” for most of the 00s, and I sure as hell heard “App” a lot. You think no-one contracted “Application” to “App”. I must know way more lazy speakers than you!

        3. funny, you cringe when people use the word app in relation to non apple things,
          I cringe when people think that APP is somehow related exclusively to Apple products and not just a contraction of the word application.
          Also cringe a bit when people think that the word app was invented by apple when they invented smart phones in 2007 with the iphone, despite the fact that handago had an app store for smartphones, that’s all the company does or eve does and was founded in ’99

  5. Very nice work – certainly makes those surfaces more usefull.

    That said, about 5 years ago HP had a portable touchscreen,wacom enabled,windows 7 convertible….which came with Heroes of Might and Magic 5, and ran just fine. Hell, it even had pinch zooming. Sure, it was thinker but still just as portable.

    Absolutely astonished, frankly, at how backwards tech is going in certain areas.

  6. i already run x86 on my blackberry tablet, confusingly, the sound ACTUALLY works without having to “set up sound”

    VERY old linux can be launched from within dosbox as well as any x86 bootfloppy image, dont matter if dosbox is running on windows desktop or QNX tablet ;)
    (yes we can do QNX>>>DOS>>>LINUX>>>QNX>>>DOS>>>LOWMEM XD

    im still waiting on RIM/blackberry to finally release the OS10 for playbook so i can get ahold of the USB HOST ENABLED and all the arduino (FTDI) goodness therefrom
    … hint:
    playbook>>>BB10
    BB10>>>USB-HOST-CHIP-ENABLED
    USB-HOST-CHIP-ENABLED>>>serial-converter
    serial>>>serial-in-dos
    serial-in-dos>>>robot-software-WRITTEN-ON-TABLET!

    LAPTOP MAKERS BEWARE!!! lolz they scared!

  7. i don’t understand this at all…
    by that i mean i do understand he’s got an x86 emulator that passes any windows api calls it can to the arm native win rt api stack to improve performance.

    what i don’t understand is why this is even needed.
    the win rt tablets are typically $100 more than the atom based full win 8 tablets.
    so if you need backwards compatibility…
    save money and just buy the acer win 8 tablet or the asus win 8 tablet and run dosbox on them for those legacy apps requiring what doesn’t work under 7/8

  8. Damn, I was hoping to do this first. ;) It sounds a lot like QEMU’s user-space emulator, where the CPU is emulated, but syscalls are handed off to the real kernel. I was actually thinking about modifying QEMU to do this for Windows, but there are some gotchyas (such as the syscall numbers not being uniform between builds — ntdll is rebuilt to reference the right ones).

  9. I just avoid RT, now and forever. It’s icky MS closed platform DRM crap I do not need.

    Not that android and iOS are that much different in practice though.

      1. But are there Android apps for the x86 platform? Before the iphone what Apple program was worth anything, what Apple program is worth anything now for that matter? The issue MS is having is that the bulk of their success is non-mobile. So trying to bridge the success of the PC platform to the less resource dependent mobile platform is tricky. No one said it is an issue not being able to run full Mac OS X programs on the iphone and the big iphone known as the iPad. It’s just that we expect Windows to give us the same experience whether on the PC or on the mobile platform. Outside of programs, the Surface RT runs like a full PC ie peripheral support (USB), networking, and file structure. The Surface RT is not even a year old yet. App support will increase with the success of Windows 8.

  10. So now you could run Android apps on RT by running the Android emulator on the X86 emulator.
    Or maybe somebody could do better by building an Android emulator for RT.

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