VirtualBox is free virtualization software that allows us home users to play with multiple operating systems within our main computer. By creating a virtual machine, we can run guest software, that is, another operating system, and keep it completely separate from the one running the computer, as if the guest software is in a box, away from everything else.
You can run Linux inside Windows or the other way around. We can also use different versions of Linux within Linux or Windows within Windows. VirtualBox doesn’t care what you use, as long as you configure it correctly.
Virtualization is massive right now. It allows people and businesses to run multiple functions on a single computer, rather than forcing someone to find the space and money to have more than one. So instead of building a separate computer to run a different operating system, you only need one. At an enterprise level, instead of running a backup server, a separate mail server, and a separate SharePoint server, each can run in its own virtual instance on a single physical host machine.
Two terms you should learn right away in order to work with VirtualBox are host and guest. Host refers to the computer you will be running VirtualBox on; your computer’s native operating system. Guest refers to the operating system that you will be running inside the box. For example, if you want to run Linux inside Windows, then Windows would be the host and Linux would be the guest.
Configure and run a 64-bit guest in VirtualBox
VirtualBox is free and quite simple to use. However, there are a few setup tricks you’ll need to know to get the most out of it. One of them is configuring VirtualBox to run a 64-bit guest operating system. Loading a 32-bit OS is simple, but running x64 requires a bit more work.
- Download and install the latest version of VirtualBox of your page. Host refers to the computer you will be running VirtualBox on. There will be a couple of warnings about installing the device software and disconnecting from your network; this is normal.
- Download and install the latest VirtualBox Guest Additions, the download link is on the download page.
- Reboot your computer into BIOS and enable hardware virtualization. This will appear as ‘Virtualization Technology’ and/or ‘VT-x or AMD-V’ or similar words. Different manufacturers express it differently.
- Now start VirtualBox and click New.
- You should see the option for a 64-bit operating system. If it does, it means you are ready to install. If you don’t see the option, you may need to revisit your BIOS and select a different option or update the BIOS.
- Now, give your guest a meaningful name, choose the type of OS you plan to install, and that 64-bit is selected.
- Allocate some memory for your virtual machine, go in increments of 1024, use 4096 MB if your system can handle it. Do not enter red when setting memory size.
- Then select Create a virtual hard drive now and click To create.
- Then choose the type of file from your hard drive, the preselected VDI option works for most things.
- From here, select your storage type. dynamically assigned means it will only take up space as needed, whereas fixed size it will occupy all the physical disk space allocated from the time of creation.
- Select the amount of disk space you want for your virtual machine, around 40+ GB is a good start, this will give you enough space for the operating system and any additional programs you need to download.
VirtualBox should now configure your guest as indicated. It could take a few seconds or a few minutes depending on your computer and the settings required.
Setting up your 64-bit guest in VirtualBox
Once created, we need to do a little configuration before installing our guest OS.
- Highlight the drive you just created and click Settings.
- Navigate to System and set your boot order.
- Select the Processor tab and select at least two virtual processors.
- Select Overclocking and make sure Enable VT-x/AMD-V is checked.
All other defaults should be acceptable, but feel free to explore and configure as you see fit. However, it’s a good idea to have an idea of what you’re doing, rather than randomly changing things. Fortunately, VirtualBox has a very complete user manual.
Then, once you’ve set everything up the way you want and are ready to proceed, click Start. A new window will appear asking you to select a startup disk. Select the DVD or ISO of the operating system you want to install and click OK.
Your operating system of choice will go through the usual installation process and finally load onto your desktop. Depending on your computer, this could take longer than usual, as your computer is not only running the host and VirtualBox itself, but also running a virtualized installer. You’re doing a lot of heavy lifting, so be patient.
Once loaded into your new 64-bit guest, you can install apps, programs, and whatnot to make it work the way you want. When you have it working perfectly, go to the Machine menu at the top of the virtualization screen and click Take Snapshot. This takes an image of your guest so you can quickly restore a working version if you need to.
VirtualBox is a great way to explore new operating systems without committing to one or reconfiguring a perfectly good computer. It’s free, and while there’s a bit of a learning curve, it’s not so steep that you can’t get the hang of it quickly. I think it’s a great piece of software and I use it regularly to see how destructible Windows 10 is.