Using Windows 8 in a virtual machine…..

Posted: October 4, 2011 in Tech

There’s much hype about windows 8 developer preview….. so thinking to try it without worrying about messing up your computer? I suggest using any three of these virtualization apps to run the Windows 8 developer preview. Here’s how to install it and my experience running it on each of these apps.

Downloading the Windows Developer Preview

First download the Windows 8 Developer Preview ISO file from Microsoft. As mentioned previously, both 32-bit and 64-bit versions are available, plus a 64-bit version with developer tools. Make sure you get the right build—otherwise you‘ll get errors such as “device drivers not found” halfway through the install process (yes, I learned that from experience). Not sure which version you’re running? Check out our guide to 64-bit vs. 32-bit operating systems. For this test I used the 64-bit preview (without the developer’s tools).

Talking about the three virtualization apps……

  • Overview: VirtualBox vs. VMware Fusion 4

VirtualBox: VirtualBox is the free, multi-platform (Windows, Linux, Mac, and Solaris) virtualization app from Oracle. I’m using version 4.0.4

You’re probably wondering what the difference is between these three programs if they are all meant to do the same thing—run a different operating system within your main OS—and why you shouldn’t just go with the free one. We’re going to do a more in-depth comparison soon, but just to answer your question about trying Windows 8 on a VM, here’s how it has worked out with these three programs: Windows 8 runs smoothly on both VMware Fusion 4 and Parallels Desktop 7 with just 1GB of RAM allocated, but for some reason even with 2GB of memory set aside VirtualBox just ran terribly, add-years-to-your-life slowly (in my experience, at least. Yours may vary, depending on hardware, operating system, and other conditions). Here are the details:

  • Installing on VirtualBox

VirtualBox did not—and still does not—play well with my system, an iMac (late 2010) with 4GB of RAM. It took several tries (wrong build user error aside) and many hours of waiting and frustration to finally get Windows 8 installed, but it did, finally, install.

To install the developer preview in VirtualBox:

  1. Click New to create a new virtual machine and type a name for it.
  2. For Operating System version, select “Other Windows”
  3. For memory size, enter 2048 MB, more or less. Microsoft recommends 2GB at least for the 64-bit version. I found that when I used 3072 MB I couldn’t use my computer at all. As you’ll see with the VMware Fusion and Parallels test, you can probably get away with using 1GB or 1.5GB of RAM here for better performance overall.
  4. Click continue through the next screen to create a start up disk.
  5. Click continue again to create a VDI file.
  6. Use a Fixed size disk, for better performance (especially since this is just a test virtual machine).
  7. A 20GB disk size is probably fine; that’s the minimum Microsoft recommends for the 64-bit version.
  8. Click Create and your virtual disk file will be created.

Then, you’ll need to go into the settings of the virtual machine you just created and check some options (thanks to these tips from AddictiveTips):

  1. Under System: Enable IO APIC
  2. Under Processor: Enable PAE/NX
  3. Under Acceleration: Enable VT-x/AMD-V and Enable Nested Paging

Go to Storage, and click the CD icon next to CD/DVD Drive, then choose the virtual CD/DVD disk file to browse to the Windows 8 ISO file you downloaded.

Finally click Start to begin the installation and walk through the Windows 8 installation.

  • Experience on VirtualBox

Performance with VirtualBox is really abysmal within Windows 8, and running the virtual machine causes the iMac to crawl, usually to a standstill. The mouse is laggy just signing on. It’s pretty much unusable for me.

Because the software is free, however, and others like the folks at AddictiveTips, obviously, are able to use it, definitely give it a try for yourself. I’ve had severe performance issues with VMware Fusion 3 as well.

Luckily, VMware Fusion 4 and, even better, Parallels Desktop 7 work a bit better than VirtualBox with Windows 8—in my case. Your mileage may vary.

  • Installing on VMware Fusion 4

The installation for Windows 8 went most smoothly on VMware Fusion 4. Basically, you just:

  1. Create New Virtual Machine
  2. Click Continue without disc
  3. Select the ISO file and choose Windows 7 as the operating system (there’s no “Other” option)

Then the VM is set up for you with the defaults (60GB HDD and 1GB RAM) and you continue to the Windows 8 installation.

  • Experience on VMWare Fusion 4

In short, it’s a usable experience, good enough for playing around, though not optimal. The nice thing is you don’t have to tweak anything for the installation.

  • Conclusion

Because there’s a free trial for VMware Fusion  if you have the time and patience you could try. VirtualBox is free, so you could go with that as your first try, even though it didn’t work out for me.

You’ll definitely be able to use one of these apps, though, to see Windows 8 for yourself. Have fun

P.S. Have you tried Windows 8 on a VM yet? Share your experiences in the comments.


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