How to Create and Use a Virtual Machine

A virtual machine is a “fictional,” virtual environment that looks and acts like a proper computer system. Each VM runs like any other process within your OS. In fact, you can even boot OS installer disks via these virtual environments as if you were running them in a proper OS environment. You will be able to install and run programs just as well as you would with a physical system. Your own PC acts as a host for the VM environment, with operating systems inside of VMs being guests. There are VMs where you can store a guest operating system on what is called a virtual hard drive. You don’t have to partition your own HDD to do this, of course, which is one of the reasons why people use VMs.

Be careful, as VMs cannot be as fast as proper OS or physical hardware. If you plan on installing complex games or programs, or even a second OS, it’s better that you use your physical hard drive and your own operating system. If a game is older and has less demanding requirements, though, you can install it with no problems.

In short, the number of VMs you can have depends on how many gigabytes your hard drive has. Furthermore, VMs take up some of your PC’s resources, like RAM, CPU power and others.

Why Even Make a Virtual Machine?

Let’s start with multiple OS uses. If you want to try Linux with your Windows, but don’t want to install it, a virtual machine can help you test it. After you’re done with using it, just delete the VM and you’ll be fine.

Within the operating systems themselves, a VM can help you use an older version of a system for certain programs. Any Windows 7 user, for instance, can install Windows 98 or XP on a VM and use it. You can also download and use programs from other OS without actually installing the OS itself.

The biggest benefit of a VM, however, is sandboxing. No virus or scammer can get to your operating system if you’re running a different one via VM. The same goes for apps and programs you don’t trust enough to install. You can test them all in a virtual machine, and if they cause trouble – delete them, along with the VM. Your own system will remain safe.

Which Virtual Machine Program to Download?

There are many of these programs to choose from. If you want one that works across the board and one that you don’t have to pay for, think VirtualBox. It’s free and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Then there’s VMware, whose free version works on Windows and Linux, but whose paid Mac version, VMware Fusion, looks and works better.

Normally you’ll have all of the features of VMware on VirtualBox for free, but it doesn’t hurt to pay a little for a quality product. When it comes to Mac, you can also check out Parallels Desktop, software specifically made for Mac users.

So where does this leave you? Well, if you’re a Mac user, VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop will work for you. They can run Windows programs and apps with no problem, and their interface looks slicker. However, Windows and Linux users will get a kick from using VirtualBox. Not only is it free, but it is also more “approachable,” and is perfect for any self-professed computer nerd.

Naturally, the VMs listed above aren’t the only ones out there. Each operating system has at least one integrated app for virtual drives. Windows 8 and above (certain versions, though, not all) has an integrated VM called Hyper-V. Linux, on the other hand, has KVM. Both of these, however, don’t work as well as the ones listed above in the paragraph. They are slower, not as user-friendly, and can be complicated to use. You will probably be better off using third-party software here for the best VM experience.

How to Set Up a Virtual Machine

When you first look at virtual machines, you might think “this is some complicated process! I can’t do that!” But it’s actually really easy to set up. In fact, nearly all VM software has a similar process of installation.

The first thing you need to do is open the program and make a virtual machine on your PC. The install wizard will prompt a question, asking you what OS you want to install. Inside the “Name” box, type up the name of your OS, and the wizard will automatically do the rest. However, if it doesn’t, just pick the type and version of your desired operating system yourself. After you finish, click “Next” for the following step.

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Memory Allocation and Partitioning

Now that you’ve picked an OS, expect the wizard to give you a list of default settings. Naturally, you can change them any way you please. The same goes for the option to choose how much memory you want to allocate to your virtual machine. Remember, this is a value you can change around later.

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You might already have a virtual hard disk. If so, use that one for your virtual machine. If not, let the wizard create a brand new virtual hard disk for you. The VM will be using this hard drive, whatever option you end up going with. The next important step is deciding what kind of disk you want. You can have a dynamically allocated disk or a fixed size one. The first has a limit, but never grows to it unless it really has to. The second will have a fixed size from day one which you cannot change.

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It’s probably better for you to go with a fixed size virtual disk. They might take up more actual disk space, but their performance is more stable. As such, your VM will work with few problems. Not to mention that you will always know the amount of disk space that you used.

Set your disk size next. Naturally, you have the choice of going with the default setting or choosing the size yourself. Whatever works for you! All that’s left is to click that “Create” button and presto! You have your own virtual hard drive.

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The minute you’re done with this, you will be able to access the main window of your virtual machine. Allow the installation media to be available to the machine itself. Simply point to a disc or an ISO file using the settings of the VM. Whenever you want to run your VM, click “Start” and you’re good to go.

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