Configuring a Windows 8 Virtual Machine

With the launch of the Consumer Preview of Windows 8, you’re probably itching to spend some quality time with Microsoft’s latest operating system. Although you’ve already downloaded the ISO, we bet some of you haven’t decided how you’re going to install it.

Assuming that you have just met, we assume that most of you are not ready to empty the dresser drawer for Windows 8. Overwriting your current stable OS with pre-release code can be a recipe for disaster, although at least one TechSpot employee is taking the plunge.

Dual booting is popular, but in our experience, when you’re only trying to sample beta (error, “preview”) software, rebooting into a different environment is more trouble than it’s worth. The same can be said for using the OS on the secondary PC near your primary rig.

Fortunately, running Windows 8 in a virtual machine solves all that: It won’t remove your current OS, you can access it at any time without rebooting, and it doesn’t require any additional hardware. What’s more, the test OS can be removed in just a few mouse clicks.

This write-up won’t have much to offer to those experienced with virtual machines, but many users are still intimidated by them. We hope the process can be deciphered with a guide that installs a fully functional, commitment-free copy of Windows 8 inside your main OS.

So, what do I need?
not much! You’ll probably want to allocate 1-2GB of RAM and 20-30GB of storage to a Windows 8 VM. You need a processor that supports virtualization (basically any major chip from Intel or AMD released since 2006). In other words, you need a semi-modern PC.

As with the hardware, you need to download a copy of Windows 8 (either 32-bit or 64-bit will work fine, but the former will call for half the RAM and 4GB less storage). You also need virtualization software. We are using VirtualBox, a free solution from Oracle.

Understood. Let’s do it!
Honestly, by the time you’re done, you’ll probably wonder why you consulted the walkthrough. If you’ve never done it then configuring a basic virtual machine is easier than it sounds. Begin by clicking New in VirtualBox and clicking Next at the first prompt.

You will be asked to name your virtual machine. The name is purely for identification purposes, so you know what the machine is after. We are using Windows 8 CP 64-bit. You’ll also need to choose the OS you’re installing (Hint: Windows 8 or Windows 8 64-bit).

The following screen will ask you to set the RAM size. As a minimum, Microsoft recommends 1GB for the 32-bit version and 2GB for the 64-bit. We’re heeding that advice, but if you want to try to do as little scraping as possible, you can reallocate more memory to the VM later.

Assuming this is your first VM, you will need to select “Create new hard disk” on the following screen. Doing so, you will be asked to choose a format. You can leave VDI (VirtualBox’s own format) selected unless you want to run the VM with other virtualization software.

Unless you have a specific need to define virtual disks of a fixed size – unlikely if you’re reading this guide – you’re fine with dynamically allocated disks. This will expand your virtual disk as the virtual machine requires additional space instead of starting with a large size.

By default, virtual disks will be created in C:\UsersUSERNAMEVirtualBox VMs. If your C: drive is short of space or if you just want to store the VM elsewhere, you can set it up now. My C: drive is an 80GB SSD, so I’m creating a virtual disk on the secondary HDD.

It can’t hurt to take a look at the settings summary before proceeding, but it looks like anything can be changed afterwards. If you are satisfied, click Create. Assuming you don’t get any errors, you’ve just created a virtual machine — even if it’s without an operating system.

Stop. What about Windows 8?
You are only moments away from installing Windows 8. Right click on your new VM and open Settings. In the left column, click Storage > Empty (under IDE Controller) > CD/DVD icon (under Attributes) > Virtual CD/DVD Disc Files and navigate to Windows 8 ISO.

Once you see the Windows 8 ISO under IDE Controller, click OK to exit the settings. You should now be able to launch your virtual machine and start a standard Windows installation. If you’re familiar with it, you shouldn’t need this guide anymore.

You will be prompted to set your language, time and currency format, and input method. You will also need to provide a product key (DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J).

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