Now that Windows 8 has been out for a while, those who took a wait-and-see attitude when Microsoft released the operating system back in October 2012 may feel it’s time to test the newest version of Windows on their machines. If you’re one of them, but are worried that the experiment may overwrite your current OS — or if you just don’t want to go through the trouble of dual booting, then virtualization is the route to take.
Virtualization is a tool that allows you to run another OS in virtual storage. This means you can conduct your trial run of Windows 8 without touching your current Windows 7 installation.
To run Windows 8 on a virtual machine, you’ll need an evaluation copy of a Windows 8 in ISO format, a copy of Oracle’s free virtualization software, VirtualBox, and a processor and motherboard that support hardware virtualization.
Step 1. Get started
Download VirtualBox and run the installer. When the installation is complete, run VirtualBox. Click “New” to create your virtual machine (VM). Give your VM a name. Select Windows for your OS type, then select Windows 8 or Windows 8 64-bit on the drop down menu of the “Version” bar. Once you’re done, click “Next.”
Step 2. Allocate RAM
The next window allows you to determine how much you want your system to allocate for your virtual machine. To run the 32-bit version of Windows 8, your VM will need at least one gigabyte of RAM. The 64-bit version will require twice as much memory. You can increase the allocation should you wish, provided that you have sufficient RAM installed in your physical machine. Click “Next” when you’ve completed this step.
Step 3. Create virtual drive
Leave the “Virtual Hard Disk Options” and “Create New Virtual Disk” in the next window at default settings unless you intend to access your virtual disk from a separate virtual machine application. You should likewise be fine with “Dynamically allocated disk.” By default, VirtualBox will create your virtual drive in your C: drive. You can set it elsewhere if you like. The 32-bit bit version of Windows 8 requires at least 16gb of disk space. The 64-bit version needs a minimum of 20gb.
Once you’ve made your selection, click “Next” to review your virtual configuration. If you’re satisfied with your set up, click “Create.”
Step 4. Settings and Windows 8 Installation
Once your virtual PC is ready, it will appear on VirtualBox’s list of available machines. Highlight your Windows VM and select “Settings” from the drop down menu. If your processor supports hardware virtualization, you should be able to allow your VM access to additional processor cores through the sub-menu.
Now click on “Storage,” and then click on “Empty” under “IDE Controller.” Next, click on the CD icon under “Attributes” and locate your downloaded Windows 8 ISO. Load it and click “OK” to exit settings once you’ve completed the process.
You’re now ready to install Windows 8 on your virtual machine. The installation should be a fairly simple process — go about it as you normally would. Just don’t forget to choose custom mode and install Windows 8 in the only unallocated space. Installation may take a while, but once completed, you can start testing Windows 8.
Testing Windows 8 on your VM
You can use your Windows 8 VM to perform any task you usually require of an actual Windows desktop PC. You can access your favorite VOIP phone service and other applications to test for compatibility issues, or monitor how your hardware handles the new OS. And because you’re evaluating the OS in virtual storage, any virus or malware that finds its way into your VM poses no threat to your actual machine.