Dear Lifehacker, After seeing some of the interesting new features in Windows 8, I want to give it a try by running the developer preview in a virtual machine with a program like VirtualBox, VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop. Do you have any suggestions for which to use and how to install Windows 8 preview in a virtual machine? Thanks, Virtual Windows User
Trying the developer preview out in a virtual machine is a smart way to go, since you can do a clean install and play around without worrying about messing up your computer. All three of the virtualisation apps you mentioned can run the Windows 8 developer preview. Here’s how to install it and my experience running it on each of these apps.
Download 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).
Overview: VirtualBox vs VMware Fusion 4 vs. Parallels Desktop 7
- VirtualBox: VirtualBox is the free, multi-platform (Windows, Linux, Mac and Solarus) virtualisation app from Oracle. I’m using version 4.1.2.
- VMware Fusion: Recently updated VMware Fusion 4, for Mac OS X, costs $US49.99 through the end of 2012 (discounted pricing). There is a 30-day free trial.
- Parallels Desktop 7: Also recently updated Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac is $89.95 in Australia. There’s a 14-day free trial.
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 don’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:
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:
- Click New to create a new virtual machine and type a name for it.
- For Operating System version, select “Other Windows”
- For memory size, enter 2048MB, more or less. Microsoft recommends 2GB at least for the 64-bit version. I found that when I used 3072MB 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.
- Click continue through the next screen to create a start up disk.
- Click continue again to create a VDI file.
- Use a Fixed size disk, for better performance (especially since this is just a test virtual machine).
- A 20GB disk size is probably fine; that’s the minimum Microsoft recommends for the 64-bit version.
- 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):
- Under System: Enable IO APIC
- Under Processor: Enable PAE/NX
- 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:
- Create New Virtual Machine
- Click Continue without disc
- 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
Windows 8 worked smoothly within Fusion 4, without the lag that I saw in VirtualBox. Putting the window in full screen, you can see it in either Unity view (with your Dock icons at the bottom) or regular full-display view, which is nice.
Interfacing with my Mac, I like how you can move the mouse out of Fusion and onto the main OS desktop without having to click any other control keys. There was a performance hit, however, running VMWare Fusion 4, though not as much as with Fusion 3. A few times, I had to suspend the virtual machine so I could get some work done because the system was stalling.
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.
Installing on Parallels Desktop 7
Installation on Parallels Desktop 7 is also straightforward, though there is one thing to watch out for.
- Click Install Windows from DVD or image file
- In the drop-down, select the ISO file
- For operating system type, make sure you check “Other Windows” instead of Windows 7 (unlike with VMware Fusion). Otherwise, you’ll be asked for an activation key.
- Click through to continue to set up the VM with the defaults.
The default virtual machine used 1GB of RAM, which works out fine.
Experience on Parallels Desktop 7
Windows 8 runs smoothly in Parallels Desktop 7, like it does with Fusion 4.
The most notable difference here is that running Parallels Desktop 7 didn’t tax my computer as much as the other apps did. (I did notice a big performance drain when I changed the RAM settings to 2GB, however.)
Because there’s a free trial for both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop, if you have the time and patience you could try them both to see which is best for you. 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 with us in the comments.