This hardware guide for RetroX is based on our own experience with Android devices, take this information as a starting point and always make your own research if needed.
Basic hardware requirements
Emulation requires raw CPU Power, and most emulators will only use one or two cores, anything beyond that will not improve emulation performance.
Emulators for 16 and 8 bit systems will run fine on any device, then 32 bit systems and beyond will require at least a 1.6Ghz processor. Some emulators like PSP and Saturn will run only on high performance devices like the Nvidia Shield (more on this later).
Having 1GB of RAM will be enough to run RetroX, but if you plan to use more apps at the same time, consider a device with at least 2GB of RAM.
Note that Android devices are 99% ARM based devices, so you can’t compare emulation on PC (x86) with Android (ARM). Also PC devices use a full OpenGL implementation that is critical for emulators that handle 3D graphics, whilst Android devices use a subset called OpenGL ES. Things are getting better with the introduction of the Vulkan API for 3D acceleration, but that is still in its beginnings.
You need Android 4.4 or later. This release is very old nowadays, but there are still older devices that can run up to Playstation 1 very well, so keep that in mind if you are looking for cheap alternatives. RetroX for Android started in 2014 and at that date there were plenty of devices capable of running up to Playstation without issues, being the Minix Neo X5 and the Minix Neo X7 good examples of that.
TV Boxes versus Android TV
Many devices promote themselves as being Android TV devices but strictly speaking they are not. Android TV is an operating system specially designed to run TV applications, all the apps available for Android TV will run great on a big screen and they are designed to work with simple remote controllers without the need of using a pointer device.
If you plan to use your device not only for RetroX, but also for Netflix, YouTube, and modern gaming with a real controller then Android TV is for you.
On the other side, non-Android TV devices – or simply put “TV boxes” – are Android devices with a mobile or tablet operating system connected to a TV. These devices can use any app from the normal (mobile) store, but they are not designed for TV and you may require a pointer device to use them. Also, these devices are not certified by Google neither Netflix, and for example you can’t watch Netflix at more than the old DVD (480p) resolution, also firmware updates are scarce or non existent at all. If you want the device only for RetroX you can use a TV Box, but if you plan to use it as a media center device, try to get a real Android TV device.
We can divide the current Android devices in several families:
- Nvidia Shield TV : This is the best device you can get, it’s the most powerful and it is a real Android TV device. It’s highly priced but with good reason. If you can afford it, go for this one.
- Amlogic S905 : You will find a lot of devices with these chipsets, there are S905X and S905W versions, the former being a bit faster than the latter. There are also newer S905X2 and S905X3 versions but they are not a big change for emulation. If you want to get the cheapest device, look for any S905X that goes higher than 1.5Ghz. The Xiaomi Mi Box S is an excellent choice having the S905X with Android TV at a low price.
- Amlogic S922 : These are new devices with more power than the S905 ones, but not as powerful as the Nvidia Shield. There are no known Android TV devices with this chipset, but if you want a recommendation, pick the Beelink GT King S922X.
- Raspberry Pi: Versions 3 and 4 will run fine, but use them as a last resort. Any fast S905 device will run better and will have better compatibility with the Android ecosystem.
- Performance wise from great to not so great you have: Nvidia Shield TV (flat), Beelink GT King S922X, Xiaomi Mi Box S, any other S905 based one, Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 3.
- Software wise from great to not so great: Nvidia Shield TV, Xiaomi Mi Box S, any Android TV Box, Raspberry Pi.
Note that you will find a lot of Amlogic based devices with a wide range of prices, this is because there are different levels of board quality where the cheapest ones are clocked at a ver low speed. They look good on paper but they have a very low performance which is very noticeable for emulation.
For a great chart comparing known Android TV and TV Boxes check Chigz Tech’s chart.
As said, any 8 bit and 16 bit system will work on any device. Above those systems, here is what you can expect:
- 3DO and Jaguar will run slow on any device. These emulators are not optimized for ARM devices. There are also MAME games like Killer Instinct that won’t run on ARM.
- Playstation 1 will run great on any device. Activating high resolution mode will require a fast S905 at least
- N64 and Dreamcast will run great on all devices except for the Raspberry Pi 3. Note that these emulators are not perfect and you will find glitches in some games
- Sega Saturn requires a fast device and OpenGL ES3. The S922 chipset and above are recommended
- PSP also requires a fast device. The S905 will run simple 2D games with frameskipping but nothing more. The S922 and above can run any game without major issues.
If you still have doubts about emulation performance on certain devices, we recommend you to check the ETA Prime channel on YouTube, it has excellent reviews of Android devices running emulators. Another good channel for Android TV reviews of Android TV and TV Boxes is Chigz Tech Reviews.