How to Set up a Virtual Machine for Free

There are many reasons for starting a virtual machine. First and foremost, you want to play: there might be some other operating system that you want to play with ( coughs, Linux, coughs ), but you don’t want to deal with setting up another hard drive, partitioning an existing drive. , or configure your system in another way.

Virtual machines are great because they allow you to install an operating system on an existing operating system. Everything you do in this new OS – the cue Inception soundtrack – is isolated from your main OS. Anything you’ve installed or messed up can be removed with a few clicks. (And if you’re smart, you saved the version of your additional OS right after you installed it so you can quickly revert to a clean, fresh version of Linux, Windows, or whatever.)

What’s more, you can set up a virtual machine on your system for free. Here’s how to get started:

Apps you need

You can pay for a virtual machine app like VMWare Workstation Pro ,VMWare Fusion, orParallels Desktop , but I recommend using the free VirtualBox app if you’re new to the big world of virtual machines. (If you’re using Windows 10 Pro, you also get a free built-in virtualization tool .)

For simplicity, all of my examples in this article are for the Windows version of VirtualBox, but the application is cross-platform. (For Mac users, VirtualBox is a great alternative if, for example, you don’t want to boot Boot Camp on Windows.)

A virtual machine is not very useful without an operating system installed on it. To do this, you may have to get a little creative. For Windows, you can take the Windows media installation tool and use it to load an image (.ISO) of the operating system, which you then load into VirtualBox.

You can also download one of the free virtual machine images that Microsoft offers , which expire after 90 days.

If you want to run a virtual version of macOS on macOS, you will have to go through a few steps . It is not as easy as launching a virtual version of any other operating system, but it is possible. If you want to run macOS on Windows – especially if you’re using VirtualBox – you’re in big trouble. It is difficult, awkward to configure, and I found it incredibly slow on my hardened system when I did it.

You probably want to try the free VMWare Player if you go that route and refer to the guides at / r / hackintosh or helpful YouTube guides ( like this one ) to get macOS working on your Windows system. Building a Hackintosh is a guide in itself, and I will definitely come back to it in the next article if I can manage to make it not terrible.

Setting up VirtualBox

To get started with your virtual machine – be it Windows, Linux, or macOS (if you’re really going to do that) – download VirtualBox and click the big New button in the corner. You cannot miss this.

(If you downloaded the free Microsoft virtual machine images instead of the Windows .ISO file, instead click File> Import Device and locate the unzipped .OVA file. Import it and you can run it right away – no other configuration required, although you can change some of the settings, as we will discuss later, for best performance.)

Give your new operating system a name, choose what it is – Windows, Linux, macOS, etc. – and choose the correct version of what you are installing. If you only see 32-bit options, you may need to troubleshoot a bit to unlock 64-bit options. However, it might be worth investigating, as the 64-bit version of your virtualized OS can use more than 4GB of memory (if you plan on allocating that amount for your OS in the OS). If you are using a 32-bit processor because your computer is old, you should simply stick to the 32-bit version of your virtual operating system.

When VirtualBox asks you how much memory on your system you would like to allocate for your virtual OS, I would stick to its recommendations, in particular, stay in the green zone. You will probably need at least 2-4 GB for Windows to run smoothly. If you manage to get up to 8 GB, then even better. (And yes, in VirtualBox everything is measured in MB, so 2 GB translates to 2048 MB, 4 GB to 4096 MB, and so on.)

You can always find out the amount of memory you are allocating for your virtual machine after the fact. If you are not happy with your initial choice, tweak it and see how it affects the performance of your virtual machine.

VirtualBox will then ask you to configure a “hard drive” – ​​actually a file that serves as a hard drive – for use by your virtual machine. After you click Create, you will be presented with three different file types that you can choose for your file on your hard drive:

You should be fine if you choose the default option: VirtualBox disk image or VDI. However, on the next screen, you’ll want to think about your choice. You can choose to create a dynamically allocated disk that only takes up space on your real hard drive when you use it (but doesn’t shrink when deleting files in the virtual operating system), or you can simply set a fixed size for the hard drive that your virtual OS will use. …

A fixed disk is faster than a dynamically allocated disk, but you have to allocate all the space ahead of time instead of letting your virtual OS use more and more as you fill it up with something. I would choose a fixed disk myself because it simplifies things and gives you better performance, but if you are running out of space, you might just have to stick with a dynamically allocated disk.

You will set the disk size on the next screen:

Once VirtualBox creates your disk, you will see your new virtual machine ready to go! But not entirely true. There are a few more settings you need to take a look at, so select your VM and click the big settings gear icon.

You can tweak a lot to squeeze as much performance out of your virtual machine as possible, including tweaking how much memory it gets, how much of your processor you allocate to your virtual operating system, and how much video memory it should have. … You can now adjust these parameters through the System and Display menus. When you’re done, you’ll want to visit the Storage menu so you can install your operating system.

In the Storage section, you will see a small CD (or DVD) icon with the word Empty next to it. Select it, then click the CD (or DVD) image in the upper right Attributes section to the right of Optical Drive. Select the “Select Virtual Optical Disk File” option, locate the operating system image you want to install, and select it.

If you’ve finished editing your VM’s settings – and you really should check out USB to make sure devices connected to your host system can also be used by your VM, as well as General> Advanced for shared clipboard and drag-and-drop functionality between your host and virtual OS – click OK. Then click the big green Start arrow and start the virtual operating system. If you’re lucky, it will boot into the setup process and you’ll be ready to install it as if you were setting up a new desktop or laptop.

Once your virtual machine is up and running, you will want to take full advantage of the VirtualBox Snapshot feature (under the Machine menu). Snapshot allows you to save and restore the state of the virtual machine at any time. So, as soon as you have a fresh version of the operating system installed, take a snapshot. If you’ve messed up your virtual machine, or want to return it to a clean, pristine state (without having to reinstall the operating system), you can simply restore your snapshot. Or, if you are going to do something that could disable your virtual machine for any reason, take a picture first – following the same principle.


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