How to Create an Android Emulator in Windows

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Android Emulator

If you want to run an Android emulator in Windows, you have a few choices. You can configure the incredibly slow and difficult-to-use Android SDK. Or you could try the BlueStacks emulator, which is incompatible with many important apps and doesn't provide an Android interface. But your best bet is create your own Android emulator that runs in a Window.

By creating a virtual machine that runs Android x86, a version of Google's OS for computers with Intel/AMD processors, you can have the full Android experience in a window, complete with a desktop, navigation buttons and access to the Google Play store. 

To create your own Android emulator that runs under Windows:

  1. Download and install VirtualBox
  2. Download the latest version of Android x86 from android-x86.org. You will need the  live and installation iso. As of publish date, the latest available version was android-x86-4.2-20130228.iso.
  3. Launch VirtualBox.
  4. Click New. A dialog box appears with fields for the name and type of operating system.
    Click New in VirtualBox
  5. Enter "Android x86" for name then select Linux and Other Linux under Type and Version and click Next.
    Enter Android x86 in the VirtualBox Emulator
  6. Select at least 1024MB of RAM and click Next when prompted for memory size. If you have 8GB of RAM or more in your computer, select 2048MB for the virtual machine.
    Select VirtualBox RAM
  7. Select Create a virtual hard drive  and click Create when prompted to choose a drive.
    Create Virtual Hard Drive for Your Android Emulator
  8. Select VDI  then click Next when prompted to choose a hard drive type.
    VirtualBox Select Hard Drive Type
  9. Select Dynamically allocated  or Fixed Size then click Next when asked what type of drive you want to use. A fixed size virtual hard drive will be a little faster, but will immediately eat up a certain amount of storage space on your  real-life storage drive. A dynamically allocated drive file will only use as much space as it needs and grow up to the amount you set. So, if you have a dynamically allocated 8GB drive but only use 2GB, the file will only take up 2GB of your hard drive.
    VirtualBox set hard drive type
  10. Select 8GB and click Create when prompted for storage size. You can choose a greater drive size if you plan to install a ton of apps, but otherwise, 8GB should be more than enough for your emulator. An icon for Android x86 appears in VirutalBox's left window pane.
    Set Hard Drive Size to 8GB
  11. Right click Android x86 and select Settings.
    Select Settings in VirtualBox
  12. Set the video memory to at least 64MB under the Display submenu.
    Set Video Memory in VirtualBox for Android Emulator
  13. Select the Optical drive under the storage submenu.
    Select Optical Drive in VirtualBox
  14. Click the optical drive icon under attributes and select Choose a CD/DVD disk file.
    VirtualBox Choose ISO File for Android Emulator
  15. Select the Android x86 ISO file you downloaded earlier then Click Ok.
  16. Click Start with Android x86 selected. The virtual box will boot off the ISO file and present an install menu.
    Click Start
  17. Select Installation from the menu.
    Select Installation from the Android x86 Menu
  18. Select Create/Modify Partitions and Click Ok. A partition menu appears.
    Select Create/Modify Partitions
  19. Select New then Primary to create a single, primary partition on your virtual hard drive. Click Enter to configure the partition to use all available space on the virtual hard drive.
    Select New then Primary
  20. Select Bootable then Write and type "yes"  to confirm. Then select Quit to return to the installation program.
    Select bootable then write
  21. Click Ok to install onto the partition you just created.
    Click Ok
  22. Choose ext3 when prompted for a fileystem format. Click Yes to confirm. The system will now copy some files.
    Choose ext3 for file system
  23. Click Yes when asked if you want to install GRUB.
    Install GRUB
  24. Click Yes when asked if you want to install /system as read-write. This will allow you to make some hacks if you choose to in the future. The system will now copy a few files.
    Make /system directory read/write
  25. Select Devices -> CD/DVD Devices -> Remove disk from virtual drive from VirtualBox's top menu bar then click Force Unmount from the dialog box.
    Remove Disk
  26. Select Reboot and click Ok. The system will boot into Android and after offering you the chance to boot to Debug or regular mode.
    Select Reboot
  27. Step your way through Android setup as you would on any phone or tablet, entering your Google account info and changing any settings you like. Don't configure Wi-Fi because VirtualBox already gets its Internet connection from your PC. After hitting the "Start button" on the welcome screen, there may be a minute or two delay.
    Android Welcome Screen
  28. Select Disable Mouse Integration from the VirtualBox Machine menu to make sure your mouse pointer stays synced with your movements. Use the right CTRL key to move your mouse pointer out of the VirtualBox window.  Hitting Right CTRL + C will allow you to scale the Android window as you resize it.
    Disable Mouse Integration

Waking the Android Emulator from sleep

While Android x86 provides a true Android experience on your PC, it has a few quirks of its own. Perhaps the most obvious of these is that you can't wake it from sleep, simply by clicking on the emulator window. If the screen goes to sleep,  you must hit the menu key on  your keyboard, which is usually between the right Windows key and CTRL key on  your keyboard, to wake it.

Change the Android Emulator's Screen resolution

By default, the emulator window is set to 800 x 600 resolution. To boot into a higher resolution:

  1. Hit the "a" key when the GRUB menu appears at boot time.
  2. Type "vga=ask" at the end of the command that appears and hit Enter.
  3. Hit Enter again to see a list of video modes.
  4. Input the number of the mode you want (ex: 1152x864x24 is number 34B) and hit Enter.

In our experience, many of these video modes did not work and required us to reboot. However, you can feel free to experiment. 

Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director on