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How to Build a Cheap Android PC With Inexpensive Parts

Kannon Yamada Updated 13-04-2020

Learning how to build your own cheap Android PC, tablet, or phone from scratch requires parts. Unfortunately, Android was not designed for desktop or laptop computers so you’ll have problems finding fully compatible parts.

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This article covers the operating systems and hardware needed to make two kinds of Android PC: a pocketable mini PC and a cheap DIY computer.

How to Build Your Own Android Mini PC

raspberry pi android sbc

The easiest way to build an Android mini PC requires just two parts: a Single Board Computer (SBC) and a case. Some cases can add battery support and a display.

Best Android Motherboard: Single-Board Computers

Android works with most Single Board Computer (SBC) boards. In fact, we recommend using SBCs over everything else for one simple reason: they work with Android and have custom versions of Android designed specifically for that SBC, which massively improves reliability.

If you want a simple way to get Android on a computer, an SBC is the best option. We’ve rounded up the best SBC units around The Best Single-Board Computers for Chrome OS and Android Did you know some SBCs support Android and Chrome OS? Here are the best single-board computers to check out! Read More . Here are just a few Android-compatible boards:

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Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Raspberry Pi 4 Model B Buy Now On Amazon $40.45

Best Touchscreen Display and Case for an Android Computer

The Raspberry Pi 4 can very easily convert into a tablet. All you need is an all-in-one case-touchscreen add-on module. A case-touchscreen combo unit provides both a case and a touchscreen.

Raspberry Pi Touch Screen Raspberry Pi Touch Screen Buy Now On Amazon $29.99

If you need cellular reception for a carputer build, there is a cellular data and GPS dongle add-on module. This expansion module is not fully compatible with the screen-case linked to above.

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Raspberry Pi GPS HAT Expansion Raspberry Pi GPS HAT Expansion Buy Now On Amazon $38.85

How to Make a Cheap Android PC From Computer Parts

A typical CR2032 motherboard battery

If you already have old computer parts, you may want to try installing Android on either an old computer or on parts pulled from used computers. If you take this path, you’ll need to find a version of Android that supports PC-hardware, also known as x86-compatible hardware, along with x86-compatible hardware. Sometimes the computer you already have will work; others, it will not.

Android Operating Systems for PC Parts

The most important part of your DIY Android PC is its operating system. There are different flavors of installable Android. Some are designed for mobile processors while others work on any former Windows computer.

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Best x86 Android Motherboards

Don’t buy a PC motherboard for an Android project. A custom Android PC from off-the-shelf x86-compatible parts is more likely to have problems. If you absolutely need to buy one, use an Intel Atom motherboard. While almost every motherboard will boot Android, the problem is that many features, such as sound and ports, won’t function properly.

Older processors designed for the mobile markets, such as the Intel Atom series of processor, work best. For example, the Asrock Q1900-ITX motherboard’s audio worked in Android. That’s because the Realtek ALC662 audio chipset is fully supported by Android x86. The ALC792 and ALC892 chipsets may or may not work properly. When audio doesn’t work, I suggest using Bluetooth speakers.

Best Networking Card for Android Computers

build an android pc - wifi bluetooth combo board

If you’re building from scratch and your networking card doesn’t work, buy an Intel wireless card. Of the models that I’ve tested, Intel’s cards are the most likely to work. We’d recommend the Intel 3160 for its combination of rock-bottom pricing and decent performance. If you have a slightly larger budget, the Intel 7260 is a much better card.

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Android PC Parts That Don’t Matter

The rest of the parts, such as the case, storage drive, monitor, and power supply, do not matter. If you do purchase any component, consider a solid state drive (SSD) instead of a hard disc drive (HDD). That’s mostly because Android as an operating system wasn’t designed to use an HDD.

What Parts Should You Use for an Android PC?

You can build your own Android computer using two methods: an SBC or used parts. Using an SBC is both cheap and results in a reliable computer. Using PC, or x86, parts is far less reliable but can cost very little.

If you do want to pick up PC components, before actually building an Android computer learn how to pick out the right PC components How to Pick the Right Components for Building Your Next PC Building a PC is challenging, but get the hardware balance right and the result can be a computer that is as powerful as you need. Read More and how to save on buying PC parts 3 Simple Ways to Save Money When Building a New Computer There are a few tips and tricks you should know to save even more money when building a PC. Read More .

Related topics: Android Tips, Building PCs, DIY Project Tutorials, Raspberry Pi, Single-Board Computers.

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  1. likefunbutnot
    March 31, 2018 at 2:10 am

    For the money involved, it's probably easier to buy and repurpose a Chromebook than muck about with these sorts of machines. I know low-power PCs are a subject of interest, but there's no cost saving here from the white-box kit to the prebuilt option.
    As a bonus, the Chromebook will probably have a lot more RAM and it'll have both internal and removable storage available. You'll lose out on some legacy I/O options, but depending on one's needs, that might even be an issue.

    • Kannon Y
      March 31, 2018 at 4:00 pm

      There are advantages that a custom Android system has compared to a Chromebook or Chromium-based device. You're right, though, the goal is to repurpose old hardware, not buy new hardware. The goal of this article is to establish what works and what doesn't. Basically Atom boards are far more likely to work.

      BTW, I don't understand how some Android apps enable legacy ports. I know some users might want to enable an ancient receipt printer for use with a POS head unit, but I haven't the slightest idea how the drivers for those printers might be enabled on Android. There are apps out there that do enable legacy ports, but I'm a little doubtful that they work as advertised.

      Anyway, the savings come from already having some, or most, of the parts. Build costs have increased a fair amount recently. So much so that low-ram systems have greater value. And there are a lot of specialized apps that only work on Android and not on older Chromebooks.