How to Create An Android USB Drive

Run a version of Android on your computer with Android x86

African American woman connecting cable to cell phone

JGI/Jamie Grill / Getty Images

A live Android operating environment, booted from USB, offers a chance to explore Android with desktop equipment while not risking your computer's current operating system.

Android, as you experience it on your smartphone or tablet, generally can't run on modern desktop computers. The Android x86 project takes an older version of Android and allows it to run as an emulator on desktop-class hardware.

Download Android x86

The software from this site aren't always in perfect sync with Google's Android releases, because Android x86 is not an official Google product and therefore requires a bit of time to port.

  1. Visit the Android x86 download page. There you'll find a substantial list of available downloads.

    Android x86 download page
  2. You're looking for the latest Android ISO files. Depending on the machine you're going to use your Android USB on, you'll need to choose between the 64-bit and 32-bit files. Most of the time, you'll want the 64-bit one.

    The latest releases are located at the top of the page. Don't be distracted by the "CM" release numbers. They are something different.

  3. Select the latest ISO. You'll be taken to a different page to download it.

  4. Save the ISO file. Don't do anything else with it just yet.

Download Etcher

There are plenty of ways that you can write a disk image to a USB drive. The complexity of these varies, and it can be easy to accidentally write your image to the wrong place. We recommend the free, open-source balenaEtcher. It works on Windows, Mac, and Linux, so you'll be able to make your Android USB on any computer.

  1. In your browser, go to the balenaEtcher home page.

    Download balenaEtcher
  2. In the center of the page, you'll notice a big green button to download Etcher. Make sure that the text in the button says that the download is for your operating system. If not, select the small down arrow to the right of the button.

  3. Select your version of Etcher and begin downloading it. The download should only take a few seconds to complete.

  4. Depending on your operating system, the install will vary slightly. Windows users will have an EXE to run and install. The Mac version comes in a DMG, and Linux users will find an AppImage to run straight out of the downloaded directory.

Write Android to the USB

Now, you have everything that you need to write your Android ISO image to your USB drive. You'll be using balenaEtcher to accomplish this, and your USB will work on nearly every computer when you're done.

  1. Begin by inserting your USB drive into your computer.

  2. Next, take a look for where your USB is mounted. This step is critical. You'll need to write to the correct drive, otherwise you can end up overwriting data on another drive.

  3. Open Etcher. Windows and Mac users should find it in their applications. Linux users will need to launch the AppImage that you downloaded.

    Etcher running on Windows 10
  4. Etcher offers a simple interface. It's divided into three columns. The first one lets you select your image. In the second, you'll pick your drive to write to. The last one lets you start the writing process.

    Select your Android image in Etcher

    Begin by selecting your Android ISO file in the first column.

  5. Turn your attention to the second column. Select your USB drive.

    Select your USB drive in Etcher
  6. When you're absolutely certain that everything's right, press Flash! to begin writing the ISO to your USB.

    This process erases everything on your USB, so make any backups before you flash.

  7. Etcher's screen switches to show the progress it's making in writing your USB drive.

    Etcher writing the Android image to a USB
  8. When Etcher is done, the screen shifts again to display a message letting you know that the image was successfully written to the USB.

    Etcher USB flash complete
  9. Remove your USB drive to use anywhere you choose now.

Booting into Your USB

In most cases, you'll be able to boot into your USB fairly easily. If you know your computer's boot-menu hotkey, press it while your computer boots, and you'll be able to select your USB to boot from.