Here's Windows XP (and Space Cadet Pinball) running on a Nintendo Switch

Image via Alfonso Torres

Install an 18-year-old operating system on a Nintendo console for the hell of it, and you'll have my curiosity. But when you do it so you can run Space Cadet Pinball, you have my attention. Redditor We1etu1n did just that last week, posting a picture of the Switch with XP's classic rolling green hills wallpaper and chunky blue taskbar on the Switch hacking subreddit.

"I’ve been using the Nintendo Switch as my main desktop for the past few days via L4T Linux," he wrote. "Took me 6 hours to install and reach the desktop. Speed isn’t great but it legit can run Pinball 3D at full speed."

I asked We1etu1n, real name Alfonso Torres, a few questions about the mod. What did it take to get it working? And why Windows XP? On that point, Torres said XP porting is pretty popular in the hacking community—akin to making Doom run on "toasters or calculators," just for kicks.

The basis for the project was L4T Ubuntu, a Linux build "based on Nvidia's Linux for Tegra project." It's customized for the Switch hardware. And once you have proper Linux running on something, it opens up all sorts of options.

"As for XP, it was using the VM software by the name of QEMU, which is an open source i386 (x86) emulator," Torres wrote. "It emulates a 1GHz single core 32-bit x86 based CPU. This lets me run x86 OSes virtualized as the switch is an arm64 device."

L4T recognizes the Switch's dock as a USB-C hub, turning it into a miniature PC with USB keyboard/mouse support and HDMI output. And it's actually a pretty damn good one, apparently.

"The Switch is quite the powerful system," Torres told me. "Since the Linux build came out, I've been using it as my main machine to do all my work on, and so far it has worked excellently. There's a few programs that don't run because they don't have arm64 builds (such as Spotify & Discord) but there's ways around that. I'm actually typing these replies to you on the Switch."

Rad. But as for why we're really here—Space Cadet Pinball.  

Torres took a video for me, showing the game running A-OK inside the Windows XP virtual machine, with one disappointing exception: Audio didn't work in the VM. Well, no biggie: I remember the sound effects well enough to make them in my head.

Check out his Twitter for more Switch hacks, like running Wii Sports on a Wii emulator. There are layers here.

Wes Fenlon
Senior Editor

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games.

When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).