REVIEW: Windows 7 Support Boosts VMware Workstation 7

 
 
By Cameron Sturdevant  |  Posted 2009-11-17
 
 
 

REVIEW: Windows 7 Support Boosts VMware Workstation 7


VMware Workstation 7, the latest version of VMware's desktop virtualization tool, carries on the tradition of providing premium technology for developers and power users.

Released in October with a list price of $189, VMware Workstation 7 fully supports Windows 7 and Windows XP Mode virtual machines. And, for the first time, VMware Workstation supports running VMware enterprise virtualization platforms as virtual machines.

In what was a veritable virtualization riot, I was able to run an entire VMware vSphere 4 infrastructure, Windows Virtual PC with an instance of Windows XP Mode and an instance of Windows XP Mode inside VMware Workstation 7-all at the same time on the same system, a Lenovo T400s.

VMware Workstation 7 also still runs on older hardware that lacks CPU virtualization extensions, robust Windows graphics virtualization and extensive support for VMware's own top-of-the-line server virtualization products.

Windows 7 Support

Chief among the new features in this version of VMware Workstation is support for Windows 7 and, in particular, the Windows 7 Aero interface.

I installed both the 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows 7 Enterprise edition as virtual machines running under VMware Workstation 7. My main test computer was the Lenovo T400s, equipped with an Intel P9600 Core2 Duo CPU with 4GB of RAM. The system was running Windows 7 Enterprise 64-bit as the base OS. The physical host was equipped with an integrated USB-based fingerprint scanner, a four-point touch-enabled trackpad and the usual assortment of USB and eSATA ports found on Lenovo's current line of business-class systems. The system was also equipped with an SSD hard drive. 

I enabled the Intel Virtualization Technology hardware capabilities and the Intel VT-d feature for directed I/O on my main test system. On a second Lenovo T400s test system, I disabled the Intel Virtualization Technology and turned off the Intel VT-d feature.

On both of my test machines, VMware Workstation 7 was able to virtualize all of the Windows and Linux guests that I normally install during a virtualization test. While the Lenovo system with virtualization extensions enabled showed slightly better performance, the ability to run VMware Workstation 7 on older desktops and laptops without such extensions enhances its attractiveness.

Windows 7, Vista Aero Support


 

VMware Workstation 7 supports the Windows 7 and Windows Vista Aero interfaces. This version of VMware Workstation adds support for OpenGL 1.4 and Shader Model 3.0, for improved CAD, game and 3D interface experiences. These effects can be emulated on older hardware, but I recommend that IT managers check the recommended hardware list to ensure that users who need high-end graphics support will get what they need on the hardware that they have.    

Windows XP Mode is a virtual machine instance of Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3. Windows XP Mode for Windows 7 is used to install and run Windows XP productivity applications in a Windows 7-based PC using Microsoft Virtual PC desktop virtualization technology. VMware, working with Microsoft, can directly import a Windows XP Mode file and use it in VMware Workstation 7.

After downloading the Windows XP Mode files from Microsoft's MSDN service, it was a simple process to import the file. It's worth noting that the menu option to import a Windows XP Mode system is just beneath the standard Import menu choice, so it's easy to select the wrong one. Indeed, I made the error the first time through the process, but successfully imported the Windows XP Mode system once I clicked on the special Import wizard.

There are restrictions on the use of Windows XP Mode that require this special handling. Regardless of the platform (Windows 7, VMware Workstation or another desktop virtualization tool), only one instance of Windows XP Mode can be running. Also, Windows XP Mode can be run only if the underlying OS on which VMware Workstation 7 is installed is Windows XP Professional or later.

In my tests, it was possible to run an instance of Windows XP Mode under Microsoft Virtual PC on my Windows 7 Enterprise-based physical PC and a simultaneous instance of Windows XP Mode under VMware Workstation 7.  

Enterprise Support

This is the first version of VMware Workstation that enables fully supported installations of VMware's premier server virtualization platforms: VMware ESX 3.5 and vSphere 4. This functionality is a real boon for development and training professionals, significantly reducing the amount of physical hardware needed to run a virtualization test lab.

I installed vSphere 4 hosts along with a vCenter Server on my test laptop system. At this time, only 32-bit guests can be installed on the nested ESX virtual host systems. There is some performance degradation, since the virtualization-within-virtualization resources are running through the underlying physical host operating system.

I had a satisfactory "out of the box" experience with USB device support and wireless connectivity. I connected a variety of USB devices to my test systems, including an HP LaserJet 1022 printer, a variety of flash drives, and camera and audio equipment. While my Olympus voice recorder was misidentified as an optical drive, the devices all worked correctly on my Windows client virtual machines and on the physical test system.

Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at csturdevant@eweek.com.


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