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Let's assume I have a laptop with ARM processor, such as the newer macbooks, and I have an x86 operating system (assuming no port to arm exists) image, for example an old linux distro where a colleague did some work and gave me the image to continue. Can I run it on my laptop ? I assume natively this wouldn't be possible but can I a least "emulate" it (in the sense that x86 instructions would be converted on the fly) even if the lose in performances would be big, but the result is strictly identical to the colleague working on x86 ?

So far, I thought about this idea, but i'm not sure it would even work or if there is a simpler solution : install qemu to emulate x86, install a x86 OS, install virtualbox on that os and then use my image

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Unfortunately, you cannot run an x86 image on ARM via VirtualBox (or VMWare). qemu will work. Your plan of QEMU->OS->VirtualBox->Image will be so slow as to be unusable.

You can, however, run your image directly on qemu--which will also be slow just not unusably slow. I tend to use UTM (a front-end for qemu) unless there's some specific reason I need to delve into the arcana of the qemu command-line.

Note that "slowness" is relative. The plan of chaining everything together will be truly unusably slow for anything. The straight QEMU->Image will probably be too slow for some things; compiling a Haskell project from scratch leaps to mind.

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No, virtual box is not an emulator. QEMU and similar should work.

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