How do virtual machines work on Windows

Tutorial: This is how virtual PCs work with Virtualbox

Ines Walke-Chomjakov, Michael Rupp

Virtualbox is recommended as a platform for getting started with virtualization. With the help of this workshop, you can create your first virtual PC in no time at all.

EnlargeThe setup wizard installs Virtual Box and the network drivers on your Windows host system within a few minutes.

Regardless of whether you want to set up a risk-free surf PC or a test computer for programs and websites - the open source platform Virtualbox is recommended for getting started with virtualization. It is free of charge, offers almost the same scope of functions for Windows, Linux and Mac OS and is easy to set up thanks to a user-friendly console.

Virtualbox can handle 32- and 64-bit computers as host and guest, recognizes USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 connections and can integrate drives as virtual data storage devices. Old Windows versions from 3.1, Linux distributions from Kernel 2.4, Mac OS X and Open BSD, among others, are permitted as guest systems. Data can be exchanged between the main and guest PC via exchange folders. And with the snapshot function you can record the status of the virtual machine in no time at all. This workshop guides you through the most important points.

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Hardware requirements

Basically, a virtual machine works with any computer, provided it is not very old. However, to ensure that processes run smoothly, you should know the minimum requirements for processor and memory.

EnlargeYou can easily find out whether a processor is suitable for virtualization using an Intel tool.

CPU: It should be possible to assign more than one processor core to a virtual machine. Therefore, a VM from the dual-core generation with Hyper-Threading (e.g. Intel Core i3-530) can be operated, but is really recommended with a quad-core processor (e.g. Intel Core i7-4790). In addition, the CPU should be able to handle the hardware virtualization expansions, which are called VT-x (Virtualization Technology) for Intel and AMD-V (AMD Virtualization) for AMD. If you are not sure whether this is the case with your computer, you can search for your exact processor designation on the Internet in order to study the specifications. You can get clarity faster with one tool - with Intel via the Processor Identification Utility, with AMD via RVI Hyper V Compatibility Utility. You can find this information in the Intel tool when you select the “CPU Technologies” tab and look under “Supporting Advanced Intel Processor Technologies”. If there is a “Yes” next to “Intel (R) Virtualization Technology”, your CPU is suitable for virtualization and can efficiently distribute the available resources between the parallel operating systems.

Except for a few atomic models, the CPU generations of the last few years can actually always handle virtualization extensions. However, it often happens that the function is deactivated ex works in the BIOS. A bios check is worthwhile. Even if the menus differ greatly depending on the PC manufacturer, you can often find the setting under "Advanced Settings". If the function is switched off, activate it and save the change before exiting the BIOS.

Random access memory: Like a normal computer, the virtual machine uses RAM. An operating system in the VM works a little slower than with a classic system installation, even if the same amount of RAM is allocated. With the latest hardware, you hardly notice the difference in speed in practice. However, you cannot allocate more memory than is physically available in the host system. If you are using several virtual machines, the assigned RAM sizes add up. For each virtual machine, calculate with two to four GB of RAM. There are VMs that can handle memory dynamically - such as Microsoft Hyper-V. Then the virtual machine only uses as much RAM as it currently needs. The host system can use the free memory.

Hard disk: An SSD (Solid State Disk) can be used as a storage location for a VM. As with classic installations, virtual machines also benefit from the tempo plus of an SSD compared to a conventional magnetic hard disk.

Installation of Virtualbox

EnlargeThanks to the Virtualbox wizard, the first virtual machine can be created quickly.

For installation, Virtualbox comes with a practical setup wizard that opens as soon as you double-click on the exe file. Click on “Next” to go to the “User-defined setup” step. Here you can accept the default settings or adjust the storage location according to your own requirements. It is best to leave the remaining settings unchanged and click on “Next”. Now you have the choice whether Virtualbox should set up desktop and quick start shortcuts. Once you have defined the options and clicked on "Next", you will see a warning that the program will briefly disconnect the network in order to make its own settings. Confirm with “Yes” and start the installation.

Once Virtualbox has been installed, also install the "VM Virtualbox Extension Pack". Your platform supports USB connections, webcams, hard disk encryption and remote display protocol, for example, in order to remotely control your VM in the home network from another computer. Virtualbox must be open when you double-click the Extension Pack to start the installation.

First virtual machine

To create a virtual machine in Virtualbox, click the New button. An assistant opens in which you specify the name, operating system and version of your VM - for example "Windows 7 Test, Microsoft Windows, Windows 7 (64 Bit)". In the next two steps you determine the sizes for RAM and hard disk. In many cases you can accept the default settings. If you notice in action that you need more space or performance from the host PC, these can be adjusted later. Leave "VDI (Virtualbox)" and "dynamically allocated" as the file type. When you click on "Create", your first virtual machine has been created and is displayed in the left area of ​​the console window.

In the next step you have to load the operating system that you want to use as a VM. In our example, it is a Windows 7 installation that you import either from an installation DVD or an ISO image. To do this, start the virtual PC by highlighting it and clicking on the green arrow symbol. In the window "Select medium for the start" you define your source and start the setup. The installation is similar in duration and sequence to the process on a real PC.

Tip:Ingenious additional tools for virtual PCs in Windows

Specify CPU cores

EnlargeVirtualbox will notify you of any incompatible settings for your VM.

You can define further settings for your virtual PC in the Virtualbox console. Highlight the VM and click Change. In the next window you will see the areas that you can adjust - for example "System". Here you can assign additional CPU cores to the VM. For the example of a Windows 7 VM, at least two cores are advisable for smooth work, but Virtualbox may only assign one core in the setup. Select “System -› Processor ”. Under "Processors:" you will find the available cores of your host system displayed. You can change the number of cores used in the box on the right. Confirm the entry with OK".

If changes do not match, Virtualbox warns you with a message at the bottom of the window. Here you can see which options are not compatible and how they must be changed. For example, if the graphics memory is insufficient for your VM, you will be directed to the "Display" section to change this.

Define mouse catcher

If you have started your VM for the first time, Virtualbox displays information on mouse and keyboard handling. Since you are moving in a closed system, your mouse and keyboard are usually trapped in it. This means that all actions you perform with a keystroke or mouse click relate to the VM and not the host PC. To switch to the host PC, a key combination is required - such as Ctrl-Arrow-Right.

Some VMs can integrate mouse and keyboard. Then you can switch between VM and host PC with the mouse. Since not all programs behave correctly during actions with mouse and keyboard integration, you can change the setting at any time. To do this, click on "Input" and then either on "Keyboard" or "Mouse".

Take a snapshot