Android has come a long way since its release four years ago. The latest version, Ice Cream Sandwich, is really well designed and works well on smartphones and tablets alike.
But those aren't the only platforms that Android supports - thanks to the efforts of the Android x86 project, you can also run Android on your netbook or laptop.
It sounds a bit weird, but Android works pretty well on a netbook, making good use of limited computing power and maximising battery life.
While you don't have a touch screen, Android x86 supports most keyboards, mice and wireless cards out of the box so you can use your netbook as you would normally.
If you want to try out Android on your netbook, it's not that hard and doesn't take too long either. This article will walk you through the process, from downloading Android all the way to starting up Android for the first time. You'll only need a netbook, a USB drive and a wireless network. I'm using a Samsung NC10 netbook, but most netbooks should work.
Of course, the process isn't without risk - it is possible to make a wrong turn and end up erasing your data, so perform a back up and read through the instructons before you begin. We're not responsible for any damages caused by following these instructions, so proceed with caution.
With that said, let's begin!
Step 1: Download Android x86
The first thing you'll need to do is download the Android x86 .ISO file to your computer. You don't have to do this on the netbook that you're installing onto, any PC will do.
You'll want to look for the section that is labelled "Android 4.0 RC1." There are a few options available here, but I've had the most success with the Asus Eee PC family version, which should work on most netbooks. A good second option is the one described as being for Asus Laptops.
Download the ISO file to your computer, make note of its location, then move onto step 2.
Step 2: Copy the ISO file to the USB drive
Now that you've got the Android x86 ISO file downloaded, we need to copy it to a USB drive and make the drive bootable. There's a useful tool which can accomplish both of these objectives for us called UNetBootin, so let's download it now. Also remember to insert your USB drive.
Run UNetBootin once you've downloaded it. Ignore the top part of the window; just click on the button with the three dots on the right hand side near the bottom and select the ISO file you downloaded earlier. Then, move down to the bottom of the window and select your USB drive from the dropdown menu labelled "Drive." You'll be prompted to wipe the USB drive before you begin, so make sure there's nothing important on there!
A window will appear once you hit OK, showing the progress of the operation. When it's done, you'll be asked if you want to reboot your PC. Hit "No", then safely remove the USB drive from your PC and insert it into your netbook. Let's head on to step 3.
Step 3: Boot the Android x86 installer from the USB drive
Now we'll just need to boot from that USB drive we've prepared, and that means changing your boot priority in your netbook's BIOS. If you haven't done this before, you'll need to press a certain key immediately upon booting, usually an F key (e.g. F1, F2) or Delete. If you're not sure or don't see one specified when you start your netbook, just Google for the model of your netbook and the phrase "BIOS key" and you should find it.
Once you're in the BIOS, you'll need to find the section labelled "Boot Priority" or "Boot Order", then set the USB drive to be booted from first. Again, if you're not sure then your motherboard manual or Google can help you out here. Once you've set the boot priority, save your changes and reboot.
Now the netbook should boot into the Android x86 installer. After a bit of preparation, you'll seen the screen below, giving you two main options: Boot into a Live CD (allowing you to test Android on your netbook without installing), or install Android to your netbook.
It's a good idea to choose the first option and make sure everything works - wireless, keyboard, mouse, display, etc. If everything seems to be OK and you can progress to the desktop without problems, then you can reboot and get to the installer again, and this time choose the "Install Android to harddrive" option.
Once you've done this and confirmed everything works, move onto step 4.
Step 4: Install Android x86
The first thing you'll have to do is choose where to install Android. If you're happy to wipe the netbook clean, then go ahead and delete all partitions, then create a new NTFS partition. If you'd like to keep your data, then you can also choose to install to a Windows NTFS partition. If Windows is installed there, then you'll be able to choose between the two operating systems when starting your computer.
Once you've chosen a drive and partition, you're asked if you'd like to make a directory both read and write. This isn't a massive deal, but you may as well choose "Yes." You're also asked for the size of your Android installation - go ahead and choose the maximum of 2047 MB. The operation will take some time, so it might be a good opportunity to grab a tea now.
Once it's done, you're given the option of creating a virtual SD card or booting into Android. Feel free to do so if you like (although it's not essential by any means), then proceed into booting into Android and step 5! Remember to remove the USB drive once you've begun the rebooting process.
Step 5: Running Android x86
Now Android should be installed. Choose to boot Android x86 if given the option, then wait a bit. After some white-on-black text and a pulsating Android logo, you'll finally be there: Android x86!
You'll be asked to answer a few questions as normal - language, location and time. You'll also need to connect at a wireless network at this stage in order to sign in with your Google ID and gain access to the Android marketplace. Of course, you can also create a new Google account if you haven't got one yet or you'd like a fresh one.
Once this brief process is over, you're into Ice Cream Sandwich for real! Feel free to download new apps from the Google Play marketplace or try out some of the amusing games that come preinstalled. If nothing crashes, then you've made it - congratulations!
If you've got any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments field below. If you found the guide helpful, then please let me know by hitting that 'Kudos' button. Thanks for reading, and good luck!
This article was written by William Judd, a freelance tech journalist and copywriter.