Running x86 Programs on the Rasp Pi

First Tests

With ExaGear Desktop, all (32-bit) programs running under Debian 8 can be run on the Rasp Pi. Eltechs has a collection of instructions for popular programs on its website, such as Skype for Linux or Wine as the basis for Windows programs. Often a video also shows the necessary steps. Anyone who has already installed programs under Raspbian will usually be able to do without these instructions.

The first candidate for the emulator was the open source Visual Studio Code (VSC) editor, which was developed by Microsoft and has since found a large community on GitHub. In addition, VSC runs on many platforms and has what it takes to send even my own XEmacs editor into retirement.

There are no precompiled binaries for Raspbian for the editor, and building your own binaries is tricky because of the many dependencies. Fortunately, the installation under ExaGear with the standard installation instructions from the VSC page [3] worked with virtually no problems. I had to install two dependencies manually, but this was not due to ExaGear.

However, the result of this first attempt was disappointing. VSC started via ExaGear could not be used under Raspbian. Launching the program consumed so many resources that the system seemed to hang. A little research on the Internet shows, however, that even a native ARM build under Raspbian can be very slow.

The lesson: Don't expect miracles from ExaGear (or Raspbian itself). Even though many programs run smoothly on a RPi3/RPi3B+, there are limits, and an additional emulation layer doesn't make things any better.

Saving Old Treasures

Much more important than modern and accordingly resource-hungry applications are old treasures, which you want to launch on Raspbian every now and then. This above all includes Windows programs from the last and penultimate generation.

For this you install the already mentioned Windows run-time environment Wine (Listing 4) under ExaGear. Eltechs provides a custom version whose package name contains the string "eltechs". The Windows Explorer celebrates its resurrection under Raspbian (Figure 3).

Listing 4

Installing Wine

$ sudo apt update
$ sudo full-upgrade
$ sudo apt install wine
$ wine --version
wine-2.0-eltechs
Figure 3: Windows Explorer in action on Raspbian.

This additional emulation layer costs surprisingly little power. This is because only Windows system calls have to be translated to the analog kernel commands, but not the x86 to the ARM command set. After the Wine installation, supported Windows programs (32-bit) can be installed in this environment. This does not always work without complications, but is well documented for a large number of programs [4] and independent of the Raspbian and ExaGear substructure.

Wine typically supports older Windows programs, as the Windows command set has expanded over time and the Wine developers have to program for it. The advantage: Older programs were developed for weaker PC generations, so that a Rasp Pi's computing power including the emulator is usually sufficient. The freeware mp3DirectCut [5] for lossless editing of MP3 files, for example, runs smoothly and without problems (Figure 4).

Figure 4: You can run older Windows programs like mp3DirectCut on the Raspberry Pi using Wine plus ExaGear.

Even old games may run smoothly with the combination of Wine plus ExaGear, if you believe the reports on the Internet. Due to my lack of experience in this field, however, this was not tested.

Conclusions

ExaGear's license terms are not very customer-friendly, especially in the basic version with the binding to a single Raspberry Pi board. One should therefore consider the choice of license carefully. However, if you don't want to do without an important program under Raspbian, you can pay the required amount after a performance test.

The Author

Bernhard Bablok is an SAP-HR developer at Allianz Technology SE. When he's not listening to music, riding his bike, or walking, he focuses on topics relating to Linux and object orientation.

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