Virtually Windows 8: How to set up the Consumer Preview in VirtualBox

Virtually Windows 8: How to set up the Consumer Preview in VirtualBox

Summary: The Windows 8 beta is here. This is what you need to know to run it in a virtual machine in VirtualBox.


Test out Windows 8 Consumer Preview for yourself with VirtualBox.

Test out Windows 8 Consumer Preview for yourself with VirtualBox.

With the Windows 8 beta, excuse me Consumer Preview, now out it's time for those of who love bleeding-edge operating systems to consider how to test it. Now, you can run the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on its own PC, but this is beta software. While I have PCs just for software that I know darn well isn't ready for prime-time, you probably don't For you, I recommend the use of virtual machines (VM).

The best of these, in my experience, are:

  • Parallels Desktop for Mac
  • VirtualBox 4
  • VMware Fusion 4
  • VMware Player 4
  • VMware Workstation 8
  • Of these, my particular favorite is Oracle's VirtualBox. In my years of working with virtual machines, virtual operating systems just tend to run faster under VirtualBox. Over the years, I've also found that VirtualBox works well no matter what host operating system-Linux, Windows, whatever-I have running under it.

    Gallery Tour: Setting up Windows 8 Consumer Preview with VirtualBox

    Unfortunately, you have needed to tune VirtualBox to work well with the developer releases of Windows 8. The other popular virtualization systems don't require these adjustments. On the other hand, once in shape the alpha releases of Windows 8 worked faster on VirtualBox so, to me, it was worth the extra trouble. Here's how to do it.

    The first thing you'll need to keep in mind is that, whether you use a PC or a VM, you're going to just be testing out the x86 desktop versions. The ARM version of Windows 8 will only be available on pre-installed devices. I'm sure someone will work out a way to boot Windows on ARM (WOA) on other devices or VMs, but we're not there yet.

    Windows 8 is also meant to make more use of the touch interface in addition to the good old Windows, Icons, Menu, and Pointer (WIMP) interface we've been using since we moved to the graphic user interface in the 80s. To test that, whether you go native hardware or VM, you'll need a touch-input capable screen.

    Microsoft will also tell you that you'll need at least the following minimum system requirements.

    • 1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
    • 1 GB RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
    • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
    • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
    • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch

    I beg to differ. I can't get Windows 7 to work well with those resources and Windows 8 needs far more than Windows 7 from the processor and RAM. Be it on physical hardware or a VM, I wouldn't try it on less than a 2GHz processor and with at least 2GBs of RAM for 32-bits and 4GBs for 64-bits. In short, you don't want to try to run Windows 8 on an old PC. You won't be happy. That said, any 2011 or newer PC should do fine natively with Windows 8 and, with sufficient RAM, a similar PC will do well running Windows 8 in VirtualBox.

    My Windows 8 test system is a Dell XPS 8300 desktop with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 8GBs of RAM, and a 1.5TB hard-drive. You could get by with less, but for testing a beta version of Windows I find this to be just about right.

    Your PC's chipset and BIOS must also support Intel Virtualization Technology (VT) or AMD's AMD V CPU virtualization extensions. These are both hardware additions that greatly improve a processor's ability to support VMs. For Windows 8 on VirtualBox, or any other VM hosting software, VT or AMD V support is a necessity, not just a good idea.

    Once you have your test PC that can handle the job, you'll need to download a copy of VirtualBox. Even if you already have one, check to make sure you have the newest version. As I write this, the latest edition of VirtualBox is 4.0.16, but Oracle updates it every few months with almost no fanfare. Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if they update it again with the Windows 8 Consumer Preview release.

    Next, grab the new beta of Windows 8 when it's out. You can download it from the Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO images site. At 2.5GBs for even the "small" 32-bit version, though, you'll need a fast broadband connection to get it. On the other hand, Microsoft's Windows 8 Web site is doing well at handling the demand so if you have the bandwidth you shouldn't have much trouble getting the beta release. On my 100Mbps connection, it took less than half-an-hour.

    While you download the ISO be sure to make a copy of the Product Key. Unlike the Windows 8 Developer Preview, which didn't have one, you'll need this to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview. At this time, for all versions of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, the Product Key is:  DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J.

    If you haven't patched your operating system, you'll want to do that now as well. The last thing you want is an out-of-date problem getting in the way.

    Ready? Then, reboot your computer. You need to make sure that VT or AMD V is activated. It often isn't. If you don't see their controls under the general settings, look for them under the security settings.

    Next take the following steps:

    1. Open VirtualBox and create a new virtual machine, choose Windows/Windows 8 as the type. If that's not an option, you need to update VirtualBox. Be certain to pick the version, 32 or 64-bit that matches your download.
    2. During the initial installation process choose to create a virtual disk. You'll need at least 20GB to get the job done.
    3. For the virtual disk type, I prefer to use VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image), but the others will work as well.
    4. For the virtual disk storage details, I prefer to use a dynamically allocated disk rather than a fixed size virtual disk. That way, if I end up using the VM for production, I don't need to manually give it more room down the road.
    5. Once the virtual disk created, go to Settings and get ready to start tuning.
    6. In the System > Motherboard setting enable IO APIC.
    7. Set the VM's memory to 2GBs for a 32-bit Windows 8 instance and at least 4GBs for the 64-bit version. Remember you can't use all your system's memory for this.
    8. Change the chipset to ICH9. You may also be able to us the PIIX3 chipset, but I see poorer performance with this setting.
    9. Next, move to System > Processors and enable PAE/NX.
    10. If you have a very fast machine with multiple-cores or CPUs, as I do with my six-cored Intel Core i7, you can set it to run with two or three processors. I use two.
    11. Follow this up by going to System > Acceleration and enable VT-x/AMD-V and Nested Paging.
    12. Now move to the left menu bar and go down to Display > Video and enable both 3D and 2D acceleration. After you do this you can push the Windows 8 VM's video memory to 256MB. Do so. Windows 8 needs all the video room it can get.
    13. Hop once more over to the left and under Storage go to your virtual hard drive (.vdi) under the SATA controller and click host I/O cache. While there, your Windows 8 Preview .ISO file should have been mounted already. If it hasn't been yet, mount with IDE and make sure you're using IDE with the ICH6 IDE controller.
    14. Now, start running the virtual machine and follow the standard Windows installation instructions. From here on in it should be just like installing Windows 8 on native hardware.

    Last, but not least, good luck. You will find some trouble along the way-remember this is beta software! Enjoy.

    Related Stories:

    It's Windows 8 download day: Here's what we know

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview: a fresh start for Microsoft

    Preparing your PC for the Windows 8 Consumer Preview

    Microsoft gets specific about Windows on ARM, or Windows Lite

    Windows 8 Consumer Preview due February 29: why it's not called beta

    You will decide whether Windows 8 is a success or a failure

    Five Reasons why Windows 8 will be dead on arrival

    Topics: Operating Systems, Emerging Tech, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, Virtualization, Windows

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    • From the guy who is against Windows

      You should not be allowed to write these articles, you are a Linux user, remember? If you can't handle it, then come out of the closet and show the whole world you are really a passionate Windows user and stop the denial.
      • Virtually Windows 8: How to set up the Consumer Preview in VirtualBox

        Yet, you responded to the article and the loop continues.
      • It isn't religion

        I think most of us in this business either have to or want to use the various new technologies, so that we are on top of it, know what it is useful for, and can support it. That often means loading whatever you don't want close to the iron into your preferred desktop OS as a VM.

        As such this article is quite relevant.
      • OLD, OLD, OLD

        OLD NEWS! Most of the tech that are interested in windows 8 can figure this out without your article. I call this fluff to fulfill some job requirement you have to post news.

        • Troll

          People are so nasty around here. I found the article pretty useful, myself. Particularly the video settings - I'm rocking full-speed Fruit Ninja now ^^
          • virtual box in windows 8

            I managed to get windows 8 beta working very well in Vbox in windows 7 64 ultimate. Now want to get it working in windows 8. It works but virtual box host-only Ethernet adapter in device manager is not working. Adapter shows No driver found. When trying to load driver by browsing program files\oracle\ virtual box\drivers the load fails with timeout.
    • Virtually Windows 8: How to set up the Consumer Preview in VirtualBox

      The irony of SJVN telling us how to install Microsoft Windows 8.
      Loverock Davidson-
    • This is just strange

      I feel like I'm in another dimension or something. Why is SJVN even bothering with another "DOA" Windows product?
      • Because only 3 people read his articles on Linux

        So when he needs the cash, he writes about things people want to read, it would seem.
        William Farrel
    • Just the hardware requirements alone .....

      .... remind me of the Vista fiasco.
      I'll wait till real products get positive reviews!
    • What's the point?

      VirtualBox can't accept guest addons. You'd be gimping the beta.
      The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • Really? Just right?

      [i]For example, my Windows 8 test system is a Dell XPS 8300 desktop with a 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 8GBs of RAM, and a 1.5TB hard-drive. You could get by with less, but for testing a beta version of Windows I find this to be just about right.[/i]

      This is a fairly high end processor. I understand not wanting to test on hardware available in 2000 but a Core i7 processor is "just right"?
      • Heh.

        I guess my 2.4 GHz dual core, 4 GB RAM system is out of the question then. This is Vista all over again!


        If there's any indication this guy doesn't know Windows, this is it. "You can 'get by' with less"... "Get by"? Seriously? Windows THRIVES on less! You don't need a core i7 to run Windows!
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Running in VM

        Running in VM I can understand the need for a high-end host system, but running on bare metal a much lower specs system would do it.

        I ran the dev preview last fall on my 1.6Ghz Core i7 quad-core and it ran really fast.

        And if MS is going for tablets, even x86 ones, I assume they are making Windows much more efficient as tablets are not known for their bleeding edge CPUs.
        • Never had a problem running on lower end systems

          I routinely run several virtual instances on a quad core 2.4GHz Phenom II system with 8GB of RAM. Picked it up for $325 a couple of years ago. Definitely not high end. Solaris 10 / 11, Linux, and Windows all run just fine under Virtual Box on this system.
          • I got one better!

            HP 2133 netbook
            1.6ghz Via processor (pre-atom)
            1.5gbs RAM

            Runs Windows 8 pretty well installed natively :D
      • For a VM, maybe

        I have installed Windows 7 on an XP laptop and it ran significantly faster than XP ever did, you know one of those with a Pentium D processor and 512MB of RAM. So actually they can run on less than the minimum that Microsoft is stating. But if you are going to run it in a virtual machine, then use some better hardware. Double the ram, cores, and speed so you can get equivalent to direct hardware installs.
        • The minimum hardware requirements are

          Taken from the article:

          1 GHz or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor

          The first consumer 1GHz processor was released in 2000. A Core i7 simply walks all over that processor. There's a huge disparity in compute power between the first 1GHz processor and a Core i7 processor. There are plenty of capable processors between these two extremes.
    • Win 8 is being installed in a VM environment.

      Using a VM, it is always wise advice to use a very capable and robust host computer. In this case, SJVN's advice seems sound.
    • Win 8

      I take it that this is aimed at people who have a lot of time on their hands? But what exactly would be the point of going to all that trouble? Or considering buying a new system when the paint is hardly dry on the expensive Windows 7 system?

      I think I can wait 5 years, by which time Windows 9 or 10 should be out.