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.


  1. Tom Kane says:

    This is extremely cool! Performance will no doubt be an issue for anything recent, but it is an awesome undertaking nonetheless.

  2. I want my toy back says:

    Amazing, some people beat entire companies in coding skills.

  3. soopergooman says:

    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.

  4. hspsoftware says:

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

    • cocasdaneve says:

      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…

      • Mojo says:

        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.

      • Ike says:

        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

  5. Justin Shipe says:

    enter Surface Pro?

  6. Hirudinea says:

    Why bother, I think RT may just end up being the ME or Bob of the 21st Century anyway. Nice work though.

    • Lauren Glenn says:

      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.

  7. vonskippy says:

    “Windows RT, … has one drawback:”


    Bwahahahahahahahahhah – it’s a polished turd and everyone knows it.

  8. FDP says:

    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.

  9. Sven says:

    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…

  10. 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.

  11. strider_mt2k says:

    It’s Windows and Windows CE all over again, but better…somehow….I guess??

  12. tedd says:

    looks like they cant even get there advertising right windows 7 no pro is running windows 8 lolz

  13. NewCommentor1283 says:

    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:

    LAPTOP MAKERS BEWARE!!! lolz they scared!

  14. wetware interface says:

    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

  15. Karl Koscher says:

    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).

  16. Whatnot says:

    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.

    • Except Android is nothing like iOS or WinRT in that respect, as you can install any Android app you like as long as it doesn’t need root. Some tablets even come pre-rooted for that matter.

      • Cool Cheetah says:

        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.

  17. Ted W says:

    Typical M$ greed! Make them buy NEW software!

  18. Ele Truk says:

    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.

  19. mindbleacch says:

    So how long before the Android port paired with Wine?

  20. joe says:

    so what will i do with my lenovo yoga 11 if windows goes no where (sent on my asus slider )

  21. ThatGuy says:

    I just hacked mine and found they re-compiled Skype for Desktop:

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