Download & Install Windows 8 Into a Virtual PC
This article is for those of you who'd like to install Windows 8 into a Virtual Machine. This way you can preview, play with and get-to-know Microsoft's latest Windows operating system without compromising your existing installation. The how-to steps & instructions following are using a 64-bit Virtual Machine, the 64-bit version of the Windows 8 consumer preview and, a 64-bit Windows 7 host computer. People on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere around the web claim they have gotten it to work using both Virtual Box and Parallels on Apple's OS X.
Essentially there's 5 steps or procedures to follow and execute. The first is to download, install and set-up Oracle's 64-bit VirtualBox under Windows 7. The second will be to download the Windows 8 64-bit consumer preview ISO file. The third step is to configure a Virtual Machine to work with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. The fourth step will be to install Windows 8 into your newly configured Virtual Machine. The 5th and final step would be to fire up Windows 8 and start to play!
Installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview
VirtualBox is a powerful x86 and AMD64/Intel64 virtualization product for enterprise as well as home use. Not only is VirtualBox an extremely feature rich, high performance product for enterprise customers, it is also the only professional solution that is freely available as Open Source Software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 2. See "About VirtualBox" for an introduction.
Windows 8 Release Preview ISO images are provided in both 32-Bit and 64-Bit versions. An ISO image must be converted into installation media stored on a DVD or a USB flash drive. The easiest way to convert an ISO file to a DVD in Windows 7 is to use Windows Disc Image Burner. On a PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista, a third-party program is required to convert an ISO file into installable media.
Once you've downloaded Oracle's VirtualBox (probably to your computer's Downloads or Desktop folder) then find and execute the file. It will look like the icon to the left. Double click this installer icon to start the installation process. In our case we accepted all the installation defaults and were delighted it came with no crapware, add-on toolbars, or picture manager programs to "untick" - thank you Oracle!
During the installation process you are warned that your internet connection will probably be disabled for a short while - presumably while the Network connection is being virtualized - and asked to confirm a few additions (just say "OK"). Once this is done then the VirtualBox Machine Manager opens up as in the picture below. To start, click on the blue "New" badge button in the upper-left corner - you can't miss it!
Welcome to VirtualBox
Clicking on the 'New' badge button will start the "New Virtual Machine" Wizard which will - magically(?) - walk you through your Virtual Windows 8 installation.
Realistically you probably want to set aside about 30 minutes (if you're fast) to an hour for this part of the project - longer if you have a slower computer. And, double the time if you want to try it once and then "nail-it-down" the second time! We used a test machine with an i7 920 quad-core & 6GB RAM. It took about a half hour to download, install & configure Oracle's VirtualBox. Remember now, this is NOT including the Windows 8 installation - which is probably another half hour or more.
The 'New Virtual Machine' Wizard
Clicking on the blue 'New' button welcomes you to the Virtual Machine Wizard. It's going to ask you a whole bunch of questions which determine the future efficiency of your Windows 8 Virtual Machine. Don't worry if you don't get it right the first time. You can go through the next dozen or so steps as many times as you like. Just delete your original Windows 8 Virtual Machine and start the process again. Easy!
The configuration screens and tweaks below worked best for us after two or three initial setup attempts. We played with video & RAM memory, file locations & disk parameters. Some of these you can do without re-installing, some, you cant. Either way just follow the Wizard and click on the graphics here for more detail!
Virtual Machine Name and O/S Type
The first thing you're asked to do is to supply a name for your Virtual Machine. We chose Win8VM.
In the "OS Type" section you will choose (in this case) Microsoft Windows (as the operating system) and Windows 8 64-bit as the version for your 'Guest' operating system. There is an impressive array of O/S's to choose from. Many thanks to the open source programmers for making this possible.
Just to clarify, the 'Host' is the computer on to which you've already installed Oracle's VirtualBox. The 'Guest' system is what you're setting up now. It is the Windows 8 Virtual Machine that will operate inside of VirtualBox.
Virtual Machine Memory Allocation
Memory. What was that again? Just kidding! Initially on our first setup experiment we chose 2GB of our 6GB available. Choosing 1,536MB seems to be best - for us - the second time around. This is likely because we're not doing any memory intensive tasks on our Virtual Machine. Just taking it for a test drive so to speak. As always, you can take VirtualBox's default suggestion and change it later.
You'll need to find the balance here between how much Memory you can afford to give away from your main O/S and how much Memory you need to achieve acceptable performance with your new Windows 8 Virtual Machine. This can be changed again later - without deleting your Virtual Machine.
Type of Virtual Hard Disk
The correct answer here was for us to create a new start-up disk. We'd had no prior installations of Oracle's VirtualBox and this was the first Virtual Machine disk created through VirtualBox. Certainly the location and the size of the drive were to be thought about. And whether to make the disk drive 'fixed' or 'dynamic' were also questions to be answered - soon.
As to the location of the Virtual Machine's disk drive; should it reside on the current O/S's C: drive or, should it go on the extra spindle that we had available? Fortunately we have time to think about these answers for a couple more Dialog Boxes yet. Probably it's time to create a 'win8vm' folder tho' - somewhere!
The Virtual Disk Creation Wizard
This would be one of those classic 'take the defaults' & just click 'Next' screens.
As the Wizard advises:
"... if you do not need to use with other virtualization software you can leave this setting unchanged.."
So, still thinking about fixed size virtual disk drives and wondering when the question would appear... we left the setting unchanged and clicked on the 'Next' button.
Virtual Disk Storage Details
So here's one of the questions we'd been waiting for. Whether to make the new virtual disk drive 'dynamic' or 'fixed'? As we already knew that we weren't going to use this version of Windows 8 as a working or production system - that would grow in size over the months & years - we inclined toward the 'fixed' disk drive option.
15GB is about the minimum disk drive storage requirement for a Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation. Therefore we looked for a drive - on our test system - with at least 40GB to spare. 15GB for Windows and then some additional 'breathing space' for various software application installs, temp files, post office email pick-ups, free apps & other assorted whimsy - as the mood takes!
Virtual Disk File Location & Size
Here we ended up creating a 50GB 'fixed' disk drive on our test machine's secondary physical disk drive - E:.
Initially the VirtualBox defaults to a Win8 folder under your user profile - usually on your C: drive. As there was a lot of spare disk space on our E: drive, without operating systems or swap files, we thought that would be the best choice for us. We created a folder called 'Win8VM' for the 45GB Virtual Disk Image (VDI) file.
Also, in the back of our minds was the caveat and helpful advice from the Disk Storage Details Dialog in the previous step "...a 'fixed' disk drive... is often faster to use...'
Create New Virtual Disk summary
Before creating the new Virtual Disk Drive you are presented with a summary screen to review the results of your Disk Drive choices. It shows the three essential bits of information; whether 'fixed' or 'dynamic', the size of the drive and the location of the Virtual Disk on your 'Host' system.
If you are satisfied with your choices then click on the 'Next' button to continue. Once you click on the 'Next' button then your new Virtual Disk Drive will be created.
Creating fixed medium storage unit
Congratulations. Take a break!
You can now relax while your new Virtual Disk Image is created.
Depending on your choices, the speed of your computer and the amount of Tasks you have running already, this can take anywhere from 10 minutes to half-an-hour or so.
The smaller dialog Box that appears will let you know exactly how long this procedure should take.
Create Virtual Machine summary
We found this Dialog Box to be a little confusing but, just click on the 'Create' button and you'll be fine! Where we were confused was that this Dialog is confirming the creation of your new Virtual Machine and NOT the confirmation of the Virtual Disk Drive that was being created in the last step!
So, essentially we see this dialog Box as confirming 2 operations; the confirmation of both your Virtual Disk Drive and also, on completion of the previous step's disk creation, the confirmation of the Windows 8 Virtual Machine itself. And, this is a good thing! The next step will be to take you back to the VirtualBox Machine Manager...
Windows 8 Virtual Machine manager
Well done! At this point you should be back at Oracle's VirtualBox Machine Manager - ready to fine tune the 'Settings' of your new 'Powered Off' Windows 8 Virtual Machine.
You'll notice at this point the 2 new buttons that are 'lit up' and ready to go; the 'Settings' button and the 'Start' button.
We're not quite ready to activate the 'Start' button yet. First, click on the 'Settings' button. This will allow you to review & fine-tune some configuration settings prior to starting up your new Windows 8 Virtual Machine.
Configuring your New Virtual Machine
Now that you've completed the installation of your Virtual Machine we're going to show you some configuration options that will assist you not only in 'tweaking' your machine and hopefully having it run a little smoother and faster but also to let it - the Virtual Machine - know where your Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO file is. After all, Windows 8 has still not been installed into your Virtual Machine. The configuration options that we're going to look at are by no means exhaustive - or anywhere close to that - but it does give you a feel for how to setup your Virtual computer and the types of settings you can 'tweak' that will make it better. Without further ado or preamble - Click on 'Settings'!
Virtual Machine - General Settings
To review & configure your new Virtual Machine - go ahead and hilite your new 'Powered Off' Virtual Machine and click on the orange 'Settings' button. The 'Settings' Dialog opens at the 'General Settings' section. Selecting other sections allows you to review & configure other settings and, most importantly, to mount your downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview .ISO file!
The next few steps are the particular 'Settings' we chose for our Virtual Machine. (Remember, there's a reason for the name 'personal computers'. Everyone's computer is different and has different settings). Not all of these options will be applicable to your host or guest machine - so pick & choose those that are.
VM System Processor Settings
Clicking on the 'System' settings section - and then the 'Processor' tab - allowed us to allocate 2 processor cores to our Virtual Machine. Don't worry if you don't have this option available to you. The 'Settings' options will be different for different computers depending on your host machine and how it is configured.
If there is a 'Section that is critical for you to to review & configure - then we'll mention it. Otherwise we'll continue with the 'Settings' that we applied to our Virtual test Machine prior to 'Start'ing Windows 8 in a Virtual Session. Remember, the entire configuration settings dialog took us a couple of tries to get this configured correctly - and 'optimized' - for our particular situation.
VM Video Display Settings
The next 'Settings' section we visited was the 'Video' tab of the 'Display' section. Remember this screen as you might well have to come back here to increase allocated video memory - if your going to add Direct3D Support - in the near future!
For now, we enabled 3D support and allocated 64MB of Video Memory to our Virtual Machine. This we found was good for our first lab test. Again, remember, you can come back and change these settings any time and select what works best for you and your host machine.
Virtual Disk Operating System!
The next section - 'Storage' - is critical to the success of this project!
1. Click the 'Storage' section on the left.
2. Click where it says 'Empty' under the 'IDE controller' in the middle 'Storage Tree' section.
3. In the 'Attributes' section - on the far right - click on the DVD Icon and select your already downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO file.
You can see the name of our ISO file in the cache dropdown. Select your ISO by Browsing your folders.
VM Disk Storage Confirmation
The screen capture on the left here is provided only for confirmation purposes.
After you've selected your downloaded Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO file then you can see that it's all correct and 'ready-to-go' in the VirtualBox Manager. Note the location - in our case E:\Win8\ and that it's an image (ISO) file of 3.34GB in size. Also note that the 'Storage Tree's IDE Controller' section no longer says 'Empty'...
One more box to go and we're all done. You'll soon be ready to start your Windows 8 installation!
VM Network Adapter Settings
The last and final section to look at and configure for your purposes is the 'Network' section.
Under the Adapter 1 Tab the default Network Adapter type is NAT. What does this mean? What this means is that not only won't you be able to see other computers on your home network from your Windows 8 Virtual Machine but also that other computers on your home network won't be able to see your Windows 8 Virtual Machine. If this is what you want then leave the Default NAT selection and click OK to finish the Virtual Machine setup. If you want to be able to 'Network' with other computers on your home network then, as in the picture, choose the 'Bridged Adapter'. Then click the 'OK' button and, you're done!
Completed VM Configuration Settings
You now have a completed Virtual Machine configured and ready for the Windows 8 installation. The center column of the VM Manager shows you the particulars of your configuration.
All that remains now is for you to start the Windows 8 installation - by clicking on the green 'Start' button.
The next section is a brief overview of the Windows 8 installation. It's not a lot different from other Windows installs. We don't spend a lot of time on this but basically all that's to do is 'type-in-your-Product-Key-and go'. Easy as that!
Install Windows 8
The following 7 or 8 boxes go through the basic Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation inside of Oracle's VirtualBox. If you've never worked with Virtual Servers, Windows Virtual XP Mode or Virtual Machines of any flavor then you'll have a good idea of what that all means at the end of your project here. Essentially you will - soon - be running a fully functional copy of Windows 8 - in Virtual Mode - on your Windows 7 machine. Another concept to keep in mind is that the Windows 8 Virtual Machine 'Virtualises' your Windows 7 host machine's drivers. This enables your hardware devices to be 'Shared' between the Win8 guest and the Win7 host. In other words, as an example, your USB & network card drivers are 'Virtualized'. Hopefully you now have an idea of what 'Virtual Computing' is all about.
Start the VM Guest Installation
By now this box must be looking familiar to you and I'll bet you can't wait to click on that green 'Start' button!
The Windows 8 installation that follows is by and large a typical Windows install. You've installed your Win8-VM Virtual Machine, you've prepped and configured your VM to run Windows 8 and now, all that remains is to install your downloaded Windows 8 Customer Preview. You did make a note of your Product Key way back there on the Download Screen right?
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and click on that green 'Start' button!
Keyboard & Mouse Capture Dialog
For now just ignore those Keyboard and Mouse 'Capture' Dialogs. You'll take care of those later.
Like in the Windows Virtual PC these boxes will gracefully disappear with the installation of the Virtual Manager's 'guest additions'. You'll take care of that after your Windows 8 Installation...
Select your Windows 8 Language Defaults
So, here it is, the first Windows 8 Installation screen asking for your Keyboard and Language. In our case we chose English (United States) for the first two questions & US for the Keyboard language. Let's click on the 'Next' button and move on...
Start your Virtual Windows 8 Consumer Preview Installation
Nothing much of import here save to make a mental note of the 'Repair your computer' option down in the bottom left. Just like putting your Windows 7 CD back into your DVD drive (you did make up a CD/DVD from your Vendor's nag screen right?) this enables you to repair corrupted Windows installs. It's a 'good to know' thing.
The only other option, and let's choose it, is to click on the 'Install' button.
Enter the Windows 8 Product Key
Here's where you enter the Windows 8 Product Key - which you made a note of on the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Download screen. Right?
Just in case you missed copying the Windows 8 Product Key you can click on the screen shot - over there on the right - and you can see what it is. I don't know if the Key is still valid but it was working at the beginning of March 2012. Hopefully it'll still work for you today.
So, enter the Windows 8 Product Key to Activate your Win8 O/S - and click on your 'Next' button.
Once your copy of the Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been Activated then it's just 'watching the paint dry' - as they say. This took about 20-30 minutes on our quad-core test machine and, as the screen says, there is a reboot or three during the installation.
Also as the Dialog says, you're almost done installing not only Windows but your entire Virtual Machine setup. So, well done if you got this far and really, not that much longer to go at all.
Go and take a walk, grab a beverage, stretch, do something! It won't be long now....
Personalize your Virtual Windows 8 Machine
If you see this screen on your return then you know that you're pretty much finished installing Windows 8 onto your Virtual Machine.
Give your PC a name here - something that'll make it recognizable on your Network - and move the slider around to change your color scheme.
As far as your installation goes that's pretty much it. You're now out on the deep blue ocean and sailing the good ship Windows 8! May the winds of stability fill your sails....
Install the VirtualBox Guest Additions
Now is a good time to install the VirtualBox guest additions. A lot of you might have initially experienced the 'Keyboard & Mouse' information screens. Installing the guest additions will cause those to go away as well as providing increased functionality for Windows, Solaris and Linux based 32-bit & 64-bit systems.
Install the VirtualBox guest additions to your Virtual Machine, reboot your VM and then we'd recommend to install Microsoft's regular Windows updates.
With the guest additions and Windows updates all applied you'll be all ready to 'preview' your Win8 VM.
When you make it to this screen you'll know that you've successfully finished installing Windows™ 8 into a Virtual Machine. We hope you learned a couple of things along the way. Next comes signing in. In order to download apps from the Windows Store and take advantage of the SkyDrive cloud service that stores files and photos and syncs your settings with other machines, you'll need to sign in with a Windows Live ID
The biggest issue we had after rebooting the Virtual Machine was 'How to logon to Windows™ 8' - for the first time! Well, one way to remove the Win8 'Welcome Screen' and get to the Windows™ 8 logon is to 'click & drag' your welcome screen upwards - off the top of your screen. There are other ways but for now, have fun!
Thanks for going through our Virtual windows 8 Machine install and setup. We hope it helped you learn something about Virtual Machines. Remember, the good news is that if anything goes wrong with your Windows 8 installation you can now just delete it - from the Virtual Machine Manager - and start the Windows 8 installation over again. An additional bonus is that this does not interfere with your existing Windows 7 installation - plus all the time and effort you've put in to getting it to work just right for you. If you have any comments at all about this walk-through please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make this a better page for all who follow. Thank you.