Thursday, June 20, 2024

c’t 3003: Run Windows 11 on Android smartphones

Date:

There is an official version of Windows for ARM processors, but you can’t just install it on ARM smartphones. But with the Renegade Project hack it works. c’t 3003 tested it.


Video transcript:

In this video, I show you how to run Windows 11 on an Android phone and how to install it there. And this is not a clickbait trick, and Windows is actually running somewhere in the cloud or on some remote desktop. No, Windows really works normally on my OnePlus 6T smartphone. And even with dual boot, I can decide after powering on whether I want to boot into Android or Windows 11. Little spoiler in advance: That’s really cool; and actually this should be a standard feature of Android smartphones. Stay tuned!

If you were surprised at the beginning of the video when I mentioned the OnePlus 6T: Hey, why are you using such an old smartphone? The c’t editorial team must have dozens of much more powerful ones lying around: Yes, they do, but unfortunately the Windows bootloader I use only works with very few processors or smartphone systems on a chip.

It works best so far with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845; and it’s on the OnePlus 6T, among other things. Otherwise, the hack also works with the PocoPhone F1, the Xiaomi MIX2S, and several Snapdragon 720G, Snapdragon 835, and Snapdragon 855 phones. However, support for these others isn’t as good as the 845 I have. have used for example, with many there is no touch screen, WLAN, Bluetooth and unfortunately that is the biggest problem, there is no graphics acceleration. Everything is possible in the Snapdragon 845.

Learn more about how the installation technically works later in this video. First of all, I want to show you how well Windows works on the smartphone. While Windows only occasionally ran on X86 processors—that is, the standard PC processors from AMD and Intel—Microsoft paid more attention to the ARM architecture starting in 2012; these are the processors found in almost everything today that is not a classic computer, for example in smartphones, tablets, wristwatches, door locks, cars and Raspis. Yes, that’s fine, and Apple now has ARM on ALL devices, including classic computers. But I’m getting sidetracked: What I want to say: ARM is not just a mobile phone anymore, Windows works great now.

What you see here now is the OnePlus 6T running the regular version of Windows 11 for ARM. That’s really all pretty fluffy, isn’t it? Even games that aren’t that incredibly demanding run fine. For example, Half-Life 2, okay, that’s very old, but also Cuphead, which runs at a stable 60 frames per second. However, I couldn’t run many games either, which could have something to do with the ARM architecture or the very unusual screen resolution of 2340 x 1080 pixels. I have linked a list in the description where you can see which software is running and which is not.

I also did some benchmarks, which are quite interesting: Geekbench5 counts 2400 points multicore with OnePlus 6T under Android, under Windows 11 only 1796; that means the much fatter OS makes a difference mathematically; or that the driver optimization is not optimal. But: my not so bad Acer Swift 7 laptop with Intel i5-7Y54 only manages 1133 multicore points; and the Windows 11 there also feels slower than the OnePlus 6T.

As I said before, Windows support is a gimmick, not an officially supported feature. That’s why some things don’t work: the smartphone’s built-in sound system doesn’t work with Windows, and unfortunately you can’t connect an HDMI-enabled docking station to use a larger monitor. And: Smartphone cameras cannot be addressed in Windows, nor do GPS and other built-in sensors work.

But everything worked in my Windows test on the OnePlus 6T: the integrated WLAN works without problems, both with 2.4 and 5 GHz, Bluetooth too and that’s great. Also the SIM card, that is mobile Internet. Also, the touchscreen works, Windows even automatically displays a touchscreen keyboard in some places, for example when you log in. If you plugged in a USB hub or docking station, you could simply plug in a USB keyboard, USB mouse, and also a USB audio interface, all of which were recognized without a problem. I was also able to easily pair an Apple MagicKeyboard and a PS5 game controller via Bluetooth. And: With my Power Delivery-enabled docking station, I was able to charge the smartphone at the same time while having the audio interface, mouse, and keyboard connected via USB. That sounds mundane, but the phone only has a USB-C connector, so everything has to go through it and it works. If only a video signal was output now, that would be REALLY cool, because then you could use the thing as an office PC. Because that’s the way it is: such a small screen is not suitable for Windows, you need to change the scale to at least 175%. However, for games like Cuphead, the screen works just fine.

So, to sum it up very briefly: Windows 11 works better on a $150 used cell phone with a four-year-old system-on-a-chip than it does on many “real” computers, say my laptop. I really think that’s at least interesting, especially when you consider that current Snapdragons are significantly faster, so Windows potentially runs EVEN better on them, and many newer devices support HDMI over USB-C, so you have an additional monitor that could make a complete Windows PC. To be honest, I think it makes more sense than the cool feature of running Android apps on Windows 11 PC. I already made a video about that. But I would say there are more people who have Windows software that is important to them that doesn’t run on Android than there are people who can do anything on Android that doesn’t work on Windows.

For example, games, but of course also application software. And for people who primarily want a good Android smartphone but occasionally need Windows, that would be ideal! Unfortunately, of course, Google in particular has no interest in running Android smartphones on a competing operating system. And Microsoft, yes, experimented a lot, also with Windows Mobile and such; but it seems that Android phones don’t fit into the Windows strategy at the moment. Google and Microsoft had already complained to Asus in 2014 about selling dual-boot Android and Windows devices.

And that’s probably why installing Windows on Android phones is so complicated: the necessary bootloader and UEFI firmware are not publicly available. For my Windows OnePlus 6T I used software from the apparently Chinese Project Renegade. These are hackers who have obtained dubious legal drivers from Qualcomm and can use them to provide firmware and bootloaders to install Windows on phones. The whole thing is not very well documented and is very, very complicated. I needed more than eight hours for the action; and it really crashed the phone completely dozens of times so the only way I could get it back on was with a hard reset. And I had to fight my way through windows in languages ​​I don’t understand at all, like Chinese. Take a look at the cell phone partition table in Windows: Yes, more than 80 partitions, but that’s not a bug, Android does it by default, Windows is in a single partition. Anyway, I worked my way through it, a lot of it was trial and error, and sometimes I just didn’t know why something didn’t work now and why it worked later. That’s why we decided not to do a detailed tutorial here; also because de facto only the Snapdragon 845 is supported, which should no longer be so incredibly common. And although both Windows and Android worked stably after installation and didn’t crash even once, the dual boot process isn’t really comfortable: Android to Windows is like this: And Windows to Android is like this.

For my installation, I definitely used edi194’s English video linked in the description, which actually explains all the steps pretty well, except for the TWRP installation, which is used to import your own software to Android phones. I have also linked the instructions for this. Top tip that would have saved me a few hours of tinkering if I’d known about it beforehand: If you’ve upgraded your OnePlus 6T to Android 11, switch to Android 10; Android 11 causes nasty issues with TWRP. And important: pressing the power button and volume up for ten seconds restarts the 6T!

Because some of you may be interested, here are the steps required to install Windows:

In advance, you need to prepare a USB data carrier, then come:

– Windows PE microwindows adapted from Project Renegade

– Windows DISM++ management tool

– Driver for the Snapdragon 845

– And of course the image with Windows 11 in the ARM version

Then you need to open the smartphone bootloader and install TWRP, repartition the smartphone file system and create a Windows partition. Then you boot into the UEFI boot image, boot Windows PE and then install the correct Windows with dism++ and then install the drivers.

I definitely enjoyed the tweaks and I have to say: I really want this Windows dual boot feature on all my Android phones in the future. Officially, my dream probably won’t come true, but there are definitely some hackers working on it right now. I’m excited. Bye!

[Update: Falsche Aussage über Nicht-X86-Windows-Versionen korrigiert.]

Left:

Renegade Project website: https://renegade-project.org/#/

Smartphones compatible with Project Renegade: https://renegade-project.org/#/en/windows/state-frame.html

List of compatible games and other software: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1XYuoySgYQE0HL573sA-0RGMX7I4lt5rWJuQ8Z8yRJNY/edit#gid=0

Video tutorial we use: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaQ9B6IGIjg

TWRP for OnePlus 6T (Downloads and Instructions): https://twrp.me/oneplus/oneplus6t.html


not 3003 is c’t’s YouTube channel. The videos of c’t 3003 are independent content and independent of the articles of c’t magazin. Publisher Jan-Keno Janssen and video producers Johannes Börnsen and Şahin Erengil publish a video every week.

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Ebenezer Robbins
Ebenezer Robbins
Introvert. Beer guru. Communicator. Travel fanatic. Web advocate. Certified alcohol geek. Tv buff. Subtly charming internet aficionado.

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