Exagear Desktop: x86 apps on Raspberry PI


Raspberry PI is a series of small size computing platforms, usually a little bit bigger than a credit card. Several generations of Raspberry Pi have been released over the course of time, but all of them have something in common: they are built around Broadcom system on a chip (SOC), which includes an ARM compatible CPU and an on chip graphics processing unit GPU (a VideoCore IV). CPU speed ranges from 700 MHz to 1.2 GHz for the Pi 3 and on board memory range from 256 MB to 1 GB RAM.

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Having an ARM architecture under its hood means that one cannot run Intel x86 apps on Raspberry PI/ WRONG! There’s a software solution that allows just this: the ExaGear Desktop acts as a bridge between the ARM and Intel x86 worlds, allowing us to run x86 apps on the PI. This includes the possibility to install Wine and to run Windows applications – with one caveat: only 32-bit apps are supported.

It’s an emulator, or a virtual machine? Actually, is a bit of both. In regular virtual machine software such as WMWare or Virtual Box the host system and the guest operating systems run on separate environments, and usually there are limited possibilities to exchange data between the host and the guest systems. Also, on common virtual machines software the guest and the host operating systems must share the common CPU architecture.

Here is the nice thing in ExaGear Desktop: not only it emulates an x86 machine inside the ARM architecture, but it acts as a bridge between the host and the guest operating systems, with the guest using a lot of the features in the host. The result: lightning speed. Performance tests have shown that ExaGear Desktop performs up to five time faster than QEMU. Of course, this performance comes with a price: expect to pay something around 25 euros to run ExaGear Desktop on Raspberry PI 2 and 3 (including the Zero), or about 15 euros to run it on an older Raspberry PI 1.

Installing Exagear Studio

Installing ExaGear Desktop is fairly simple. We start with fresh Raspbian installation (I used the Raspbian image from 27 May 2016, which came with kernel 4.4). Then  I followed the basic setup steps to update the system and to expand it to all the SD card space:

Then I run

where I’ve chosen “Expand root partition to fill SD card” option. After rebooting the system is ready to install ExaGear Desktop.

So, we run:

The Exagear Desktop install file is about 1Gb is size, so be sure you have all the required space to download and expand it on the SD card. Allow some time for download too, especially if you’re on a slow Internet connection. After expanding files the original download file can be deleted, so we can save some disk space.

We then copy the license file in the same folder with the install-exagear.sh installer. We then start the install process by running

The installer chooses the best image, in our case this is exagear-guest-debian-8_4_all.deb. One the installer completes we can run the new Exagear Desktop emulator by simply tiping:

On the terminal we shall see the message:

At this point running uname -m will return i686, like on a 32-bit, x86 debian system

We then run again, but this time we’re in the virtual x86 machine:

To use Win32 programs we need to have wine installed. To install it we run:

That’s all. We are nor ready to click the ExaGear icon on the desktop and we can run x86 apps.

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