Will your new Windows 7 PC support XP Mode?

Will your new Windows 7 PC support XP Mode?

Summary: Last year, when I looked at Intel CPUs, I identified a potential sticking point for Windows 7 upgraders: many then-current CPU models didn't support hardware-assisted virtualization. A year later, has the situation improved? Yes, but with one noteworthy exception you'll have a hard time getting information from big PC makers.


Last May, a few months before Windows 7 was released to manufacturing, I looked at the then-current crop of CPUs available for business PC buyers and identified a potential sticking point: Some of the most popular Intel CPUs available at the time didn't support hardware-assisted virtualization (HAV). That made them incompatible with the newly announced Windows Virtual PC and Windows XP Mode, a crucial compatibility feature in Windows 7. (For details about Intel CPU support, see "How many Intel CPUs will fail the XP Mode test in Windows 7?" For a closer look at Windows XP Mode, see this video demo.)

The problem is that Windows Virtual PC requires hardware-assisted virtualization (Intel VT for Intel CPUs, AMD-V for AMD processors). And the late-2008/early-2009 CPU lineup from Intel was notoriously inconsistent in its support for VT.

So, is that issue still a sticking point for corporate customers considering a Windows 7 upgrade in 2010? My quick survey of the current PC market says you're much less likely to run into virtualization problems today, but at most online shopping sites you'll have a hard time finding details about virtualization support for specific models. Here's a recap:

Dell's lineup of Intel-powered business PCs specifically identifies them as being VT-capable. The budget Vostro line, for example, includes the latest versions of Intel's E5400, E7500, and Q8200. On Dell's website, the specs explicitly list VT support for all of those CPUs.

Likewise, Dell's low-end Vostro notebooks (with starting prices of $649 or less) include SU3500 and SU7300 processors, both of which include VT support. The lowest of the low-end Vostro notebooks includes a Celeron M 743 processor, which lacks VT support. But it's sold with Ubuntu Linux, not with Windows.

In the higher-end lines, Dell has the AMD-powered OptiPlex 740, which doesn't require any research. All modern AMD CPUs with the exception of the very-low-end Sempron line support hardware-assisted virtualization. The Intel-powered OptiPlex series also supports VT in all models except those powered by ancient Celeron CPUs--and those models come with Windows Vista Home Basic, not Windows 7. Dell's website makes it clear when an OptiPlex model includes VT support

Over at HP's business site, it wasn't so easy to tell whether a specific model supports VT. The lowest-end Compaq desktop machines on HP's website all include Intel Pentium processors in the E5000 and E6000 series. If you get an E6300 CPU, you're good to go, as all Intel parts with that label support VT. The E5300 is more problematic, however, because Intel redesigned it last year to add VT support. Some E5300s support HAV, others don't. Caveat emptor.

Among HP's notebooks, it was equally difficult to tell which models support HAV. The low-end Compaq models don't offer any clue in the specs. Even the HP Notebook Finder, which lists 77 different models, doesn't offer any way to filter buying choices by virtualization support.

Sony's website pointed me to VAIO Y series when I asked for business notebooks, but even though that series includes the option for Windows 7 Professional there's no mention of VT support. The specs tell me it uses an SU7300 CPU, which does indeed support VT

Likewise, Toshiba's website offers a plethora of models, but when I searched for VT and virtualization I got no results back. And in the specifications for individual models, there was no mention of those topics. A Toshiba support article entitled "Using Virtualization Technology" (PDF) sounded promising but was ultimately disappointing, offering this unhelpful text: "If your BIOS does not provide virtualization technology as an option, this feature is not supported on your computer model."

So what's a business buyer to do?

For starters, I recommend that you make HAV a checklist item on new PC purchases. At every price point, I found choices that include VT support among notebooks and desktop PCs. Unless you're absolutely certain you will never need it, this should be a must-have item.

If you're shopping with Dell, this information is easy to find, and they deserve credit for that transparency. If you can't confirm from published specs that a specific model supports virtualization from your preferred vendor, ask.  Get written assurance from the PC supplier that the model you're purchasing includes support for HAV, not just in the CPU but in the BIOS.

Topics: Windows, Virtualization, Storage, Software, Processors, Operating Systems, Mobility, Microsoft, Laptops, Intel, Hardware, Cloud, CXO

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  • Your Host O/S must be 64-bit as well as VT or AMD-V compatible

    Is this a correct statement?
    • No, that is not true

      There are 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows Virtual PC. I have successfully run XP Mode on a 32-bit PC. Works just fine.

      You must have Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise edition.
      Ed Bott
    • Fishing for ammunition, eh?

      Fishing for ammunition, eh? Gonna do everything you can to make a long list of reasons not to use Windows, eh?

      . . . but no, this is not a correct statement. No ammunition this time, sorry.
    • Come on Dietrich, you know it works fine in 32-bit

      Why are you asking?
      John Zern
  • MED-V

    Most corporations will use MED-V, which is the enterprise version of XP-mode. And MED-V doesn't need hardware-assisted virtualization (HAV).

    • That's true, but XP Mode isn't designed for them

      XP Mode is designed for SMB's that can't afford to set up a managed infrastructure for deploying VM's.

      Don't forget, that there is also App-V, which is an application presentation virtualization system. It works differently, but the goal is the same. Which system that is best for you all depends on your hardware and your network bandwidth.
  • Oh wow

    The AMD Neo processor in my new notebook supports XP mode! Pretty neat!
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Holy cow

      If I am not mistaken, your AMD Neo is a 64-bit Turion, with AMD-V VM support.

      Which means, you can install Ubuntu 9.10, create a "true" Type 1 hypervisor kvm virtual machine into which you can place your Windows 7, and also create a vm for XP, if you own a copy, all without the need to upgrade to the Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise Edition of 7.

      Master the possibilities with Ubuntu 9.10 and KVM, a true "Type 1" (bare-metal) hypervisor.


      You can even resize the 7 install, install Ubuntu and then 'move' the 7 partition, into a KVM virtual machine using Ubuntu ssh with 'dd' to copy the ntfs image volume(no reinstall or reconfiguration necessary).
      • I wish

        There was an online version of a "No Loitering" sign I could post =/
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
        • You can put any image in your post, if you know how.

          Study hard.
          • He use Windows, it's not an icon for that

            <font color=#808080><em>"Study hard."</em></font>

            You are about to send him on a wild goose chase looking for the icon. :D

          • He is a college student. Good time for him to learn new things.

            Besides, he'd gain a whole new perspective on what operating systems are all about AND get a true "Type 1" hypervisor (Virtual PC isn't) Linux KVM and be able to run Linux 64-bit host with 64-bit or 32-bit guests running on bare metal.

            XP-Mode doesn't offer that.
          • XP Mode

            Wasn't designed to do that.

            It was designed as a quick fix for businesses
            users who upgraded to Windows 7, but yet still
            needed a way to run that mission critical app
            just refuses to run natively on the platform.

            Linux advocate or not, I find your lack of
            knowledge of newer Microsoft technologies to be
            very odd at best. We are all supposed to be geeks here. My gut feeling here says you
            took a few glances at it, scoffed, and the went
            back to your Linux distro of choice without
            really knowing what its intended use was out of pure bias. My suggestion would be to buy a license, get to
            know Windows 7 inside and out, and then come back here when you can hold a conversation
            that doesn't resort to selfishness when others don't see things the same way as you.

            The front end world runs on proprietary software.
            The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • @NStalnecker: We are at philosophical odds

            Until you come to terms with understanding the merit of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_and_open_source_software">FOSS</a>, that's the way it will remain.

            One day of your time spent installing Ubuntu, creating in RedHat utility Virt-Manager a few kvm VM instances will help you understand what is going to happen during the next 12-18 months: A wholesale switch from Windows to Linux.

            But I believe with time, you will come to see FOSS is better for Mankind.

            My role is not to disparage users for using Windows 7, but to compare and contrast it to Linux. I think I have been successful in doing that and will continue to do so.

            Linux is the best, [u]safest[/u], operating system on the planet.

            So, my Grasshopper, study harder and remember:

            [i]"Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything."[/i]
          • @ D, Until

            FOSS offers the integration, features, and
            broad availability that proprietary software
            offers, my time will be spent working on
            proprietary systems - They account for 99% of
            the market, unless I am working on a
            back end server running RH. No front end
            machine, I have seen runs Linux or FOSS
            software. No students around me appear to run
            Linux. All Apple or Windows.

            Microsoft and Apple continue to make inroads in
            the software field because it's what people
            use. It offers the integration, innovation,
            support, and features people need and use to
            get through their lives - whether for work or
            for play.

            The FOSS software my networking professor uses
            in class just doesn't offer these features.
            They get the job done, but only after you sit
            there grumbling at the lack of UI guidelines,
            OS integration, innovation, and setup issues.
            You're on your own with Linux unless you're
            lucky enough to find help online, or you pay
            for support. So unless you have your own in
            house specialist, the cost of using FOSS is the
            same, if not more than, using Windows or Mac.
            And if you're using an app that was created in
            some developer's spare time, then you might
            even be harder pressed to get the help you
            need. I agree with what Mr. Kingsley-Hughes
            wrote a while back saying people just don't see
            the need for a third option. If Windows doesn't
            offer what they need, Apple sure does. They're
            satisfied with either option.

            So the question is, why switch? If you know
            what you are doing, Windows can be just as
            secure as Linux can be, it offers a broad
            spectrum of available software, it offers the
            support, and it makes it easier on non
            technical users to use.

            If Linux works for you - That's great! More
            power to you, but you also need to see the
            otherside of the story before you can judge
            other people for being snide or uninformed.
            The one and only, Cylon Centurion
          • You are young and very naive.

            Take out a moment and read this nice memo from <a href="http://antitrust.slated.org/www.iowaconsumercase.org/011607/3000/PX03020.pdf">Bill Gates on ACPI Extensions</a>

            Ponder the implications of his thought process and motivation for writing such a memo.

            Then consider how an api could be changed in the manner he described.

            Only with closed source proprietary code could a business perpetrate such an action.

            Open source transparency keeps individuals, software vendors, businesses, government from corrupting standards.

            Everything is in 'plain sight' with Linux.

            Ponder that. Study hard.
          • Dunno about NS, but...

            ...I'm old and cynical. And a vetern of 32 years in programming and you're full of it, DT.

            Private interfaces change all the time, that's why they are *PRIVATE* and *UNDOCUMENTED*. They don't want you using them precisely because they want the freedom to change them.

            Even public interfaces can change if necessary.

            On top of which MS is the king of legacy support (and hardware support in general).

            So go peddle your hogwash somewhere else, nobody's buying.

            Linux has come a long way, true. But Windows (and OS X) haven't stood still. Windows 7 beats Linux hollow in all the areas that matter--like, for example, legacy software support. I currently run Vista and Win 7 machines and there's very little out there (outside some ancient niche vertical market apps) that won't run on Vista.

            Always excepting low-level stuff like defraggers. And badly written corporate stuff. Which is what XP mode is all about. That last little .1% of legacy that didn't follow MS's clear guidelines about what *not* to do...

            DT, there's advocacy and there's lunacy. In my opinion you lack good sense in your advocacy. And that destroys your credibility.
          • C'mon, the kid just graduated from point and click school.

            He will have plenty of time to do it when he grows up and becomes a man.

            He will get it just give him time. OK?
            The Mentalist
          • Right right right......

          • Typical Linux users

            You're doing it right though.


            Keep the flames coming guys, they always make
            for a good read.

            Meanwhile, sorry for the interruption, now back
            to the topic at hand...
            The one and only, Cylon Centurion