Miracles still happen

Massive ExaGear Desktop test with different software

on ARM-based devices

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For ARM Linux platform there is still a certain lack of software and we often face a situation that there are no apps running on x86 platforms, as well as on Windows. It can be quite frustrating because there are no popular video or audio communication applications that run on platforms such as Raspberry Pi or alike.

Actually, the only serious x86 code emulator for Linux ARM-based processors was QEMU, which is known from the PC with DOS applications used. Unfortunately, the performance of this app is very low, so that makes senseless utilizing it for any serious work. However, the appearance of the Russian company called Eltechs, have made things much better.

Linux applications

ExaGear Desktop 2.1 is a number of archives whose size is 526 Mb. It is very useful as it offers different versions for different systems and hardware types. a PDF file with a detailed manual for the installation process is also provided. The simplest way is to use a script that automatically selects the best version for your system, which is achieved by calling the script file that comes as part of an archive:

sudo ./install-exegear.sh

For some reason, this way of starting the installation in our country did not work, but we have solved the issue with a slight modification:

sudo bash ./install-exagear.sh

It takes a short while for a software to complete the installation and create an ExaGear icon. This icon is actually a shortcut to the terminal window in which we can assign commands to be executed in x86 mode. ExaGear installation algorithm creates a special interlayer which serves as an intermediary between the x86 and ARM microprocessor applications. As stated by the developer, it creates the x86 environment within the ARM environment. In this way, we get a special operating system that has its own root directory within an existing operating system and located in the directory:

/etc/crontab/cron.d/

Applications running in the context of the x86 world can only access your file system, or if necessary it can be connected to a directory of “external” file system to be visible for the guest operating system.

Eltechs ExaGear Emulator

The fact that the x86 can’t compile to ARM does not mean it is not possible to simultaneously use the x86 and ARM software and exchange the data between them. The whole system works similar to how it is presented within the VMware Workstation and its modes of Unity, which enables integration of local and guest operating system in a single unit. Yet it’s worth mentioning that the application is automatically licensed so you put a file with the key in the box folder from which the installation is done.

We just wanted to see if it was a reality to watch Netflix videos via Chrome browser and not to get mad of flawless lagging, picture delaying and unbearably bad stream quality. For that we have implemented a following number of steps, including installation ExaGear Desktop on Raspberry Pi, staring x86 environment, installing and running Chrome browser under that environment.

Linux x86 applications are installed through the terminal, as we do with the ARM software. So, if we want to install Skype, fulfill the following command:

sudo install Skype

This will download all the application files. However, you will need to install a subsystem called PulseAudio for Skype to work properly:

apt-get install PulseAudio

Although the app is installed correctly, you will hardly be able to launch it through the desktop icon. We have to use a terminal command instead. As a result, Skype worked quite well with the exception of several errors occurred, but it happens to old PC systems and is treated as normal.

After that, we decided to try TeamViewer for Linux x86 (due to the ARM version is still no good at all to use). Unfortunately, we failed, because the system was constantly reporting an error.

After that, it was the turn for great free office suite called WPS Office. Generally, we were satisfied the way it worked. We also tried to set up Sublime Text editor, which pleased us with its excellent work and we had no complaints about its behavior.

Sublime text editor on ARM-device

Windows applications

Since we were very pleased with ExaGear performance that it demonstrated while working with Linux x86 applications, we decided to check famous emulator Wine, which allows the execution of Windows applications under Linux. Technically, it’s not about the emulator, but in case of ExaGear, here comes a special software layer for emulating other operating systems.

We started with a popular NortonCommander file manager, which was functioning with no problems and allowed simultaneous operations, both in the Linux file system and in the emulated Windows environment.

We had the same situation with a well-known app for viewing images – FastStone ImageViewer. It worked just flawlessly. As well as Notepad ++ Text editor had no problems while installation and worked correctly. The only real inconvenience was when we tried to type. Each letter was briefly ejecting a small window that was quite irritating at work.

WinRAR archiver was functioning expectedly very good. The only thing was that the rate of decompression, understandably, was much slower than on modern desktop computers. We were unable to install Adobe Acrobat Reader X and XI, but the Foxit Reader worked properly (with occasional messages that the system could not start the service). Continuing our experiment, we tested Rocket Cake, a WYSIWYG application for creating web pages, and for his work, we had nothing but praise.

Of course, all of that Wine evaluations should be considered realistic. In other words, you should not expect the system response at the level of the latest i7 processor. At a rough estimate, the speed of execution of the test applications was the approximate level that computers with processors Pentium (I) ever generate. Take it into consideration, that you are dealing with a code performance, which is done through two layers of hardware emulation. Due to that, the result is not bad at all. Most importantly, it is practically feasible now to use Windows application on SBC computers. ExaGear was tested on such miniPC boards as Odroid XU4 and NanoPC T3, which have a faster processor than the Raspberry Pi 3. The performance difference is clearly noticeable and the delay was less pronounced.

Odoroid-XU4 and NanoPC TS3

The new striking feature of the updated version of ExaGearis the introduction of OpenGL support for x86 applications (currently for Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 models only). Drivers that allow a greater degree of compatibility with that standard, appeared a year ago and significantly enhanced 3D games opportunities for Raspberry Pi devices. Also, with Wine, we are able to run some older games that are written for Windows. A few titles of those we tried were Duke Nukem 3D, Age of Empires II, Need for Speed ​​III etc. Unfortunately, all of them did not work, but, telling the truth we did not have much time to “play” with the Wine configuration. Practically, the only game that we brought to life was Counter Strike, which we run with low-quality graphics. We did not have too much time for experimenting, so we use only a fixed resolution 1280×720 for checking the speed of execution. Counter Strike was entirely possible to play, with a little jamming appearing from time to time.

Elbrus challenges

Our readers remember that we have been writing about the Russian microprocessor Elbrus 8S for a little bit more than a year. The main peculiarity of these processors is that they use methods of dynamic binary translation to execute x86 code. Things become clearer if we say that Eltechs actually an acronym of Elbrus Technologies. In this article, we have recently stated that the speed of a code translation has been approximately 80 percent from the rate achieved by software written specifically for the Elbrus 8S platform. Well, here is the secret ExaGear! It uses advanced methods of binary translation, which had been developed for Elbrus and enables a high degree of efficiency nowadays. Our small benchmark test that we have performed on Raspberry Pi 3, shows that the deficit of execution speed for Linux x86 code is quite acceptable (25-35 percent slower than executing ARM instructions).

So, let’s get to prices then. When we consider miniPC boards prices, ExaGear is not an inexpensive software. The cheapest version of it is related to Raspberry Pi Zero model and costs around $16. For Pi 2 and 3 owners, the price is 27.45 US dollars, as well as for Banana Pi, Odroid C1 and C2 ones. Those who prefer other ARM-based devices with v7 and v8 processors will have to spend 33 US dollars, while satisfaction from launching x86 applications for customers with Odroid XU4 will cost nearly $ 40.

Nevertheless, the license is attached to each individual hardware, so there is no possibility of transferring it to a new and faster model. In case you damage the memory card with the operating system, you will need to consult with the service support to provide you with re-registration.

It is clear that the development of this software involved a lot of effort and knowledge investments, but, nevertheless, the developer’s company should have understood that this is a market segment where potential buyers are not ready to spend so much on software. ExaGear is really great. It undoubtedly deserves respect and the highest marks, but until the company adopts more flexible pricing policy, their customer base will unlikely be large enough and the project will not be possibly able to count on the market success, which absolutely deserves.

Learn more about ExaGear Desktop 2.1

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ExaGear is registered trademark of Elbrus Technologies. Chromebook is a trademark of Google. Other trademarks and product names are the property of their respective owners.