Microsofts Virtual PC 2007 Is a Good (and Free) Virtualization Option for Windows Users
VPC 2007, which was made available Feb. 19, doesnt match VMwares Workstation 5.5 in functionalityVPC 2007 does not, for example, support 64-bit guest operating systems, expose multiple processors to guest VMs or run on Linux host operating systems. However, VPCs status as a freely available download does make the product a less costly option than the $200 VMware Workstation. Whats more, while VMware Workstation 6.0 is expected to include support for Vista hosts, Workstation 5.5 does not.
eWEEK Labs recommends that Windows users interested in exploring their virtualization options click here and take VPC 2007 for a spin. The download is a relatively slim 30MB, and theres no need to register to access it. Also worthy of consideration is Parallels Parallels Workstation 2.2, which supports Windows (including Vista) and Linux, and costs only $50.
Microsoft recommends running VPC 2007 on a machine with a processor clock speed of 1GHz or better. However, as with all virtualization software, the most important resource is memorythe more RAM your system has, the more VMs youll be able to run simultaneously. VPC 2007 also takes advantage of virtualization extensions in newer AMD and Intel processors that can boost VM performace.
eWEEK Labs tested VPC 2007 on a Lenovo Thinkpad X60 with an Intel Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM running Windows XP Professional. Intels VT virtualization processor extensions were enabled in the ThinkPads BIOS, but VPC 2007 did not recognize them.
We also tested VPC 2007 on a Hewlett-Packard notebook with an AMD Turion64 x2 processor, 2GB of RAM and Windows Vista Ultimate. This system featured AMDs brand of virtualization extensions, and VPC 2007 recognized the extensions and offered us the option of enabling them either globally or per-VM.
In any case, we did not see a significant difference in performance with the extensions enabled. Well be keeping an eye on the impact of these hardware-assisted performance boosters as our testing with VPC 2007 and other virtualization products continues.
VPC 2007 offers VM additions for improving mouse and video performance, and, without these additions, mouse and keyboard performance was subpar during our tests. VMware also provides these sorts of additions for VMs that run under its products, but weve typically found performance good enough with VMware apps that we havent had to bother with installing the additions.
We did manage to install and run Red Hat Fedora Core 5 as a guest OS, albeit with some rough patches. Our biggest problem seemed to be the absence of those keyboard- and mouse-boosting VM additions. During installation, our mouse and display worked, although not well.
For example, when typing configuration details into the interface boxes of Fedoras installer program, our keystrokes lagged or registered multiple times. Similarly, on the Windows VMs with which we tested, our pointer performance was poor until wed installed the additions.
Upon booting into Fedoras graphical interface, we had to switch to the compatibility VESA (Video Electronics Standards Association) driver for our display to be viewable. Our pointer, however, did not work. We managed to control our Fedora VM by enabling its desktop sharing functionality and accessing the VM using a VNC (Virtual Network Computing) client. In practice, however, if we really needed to use Fedora with a GUI from a Windows host, wed likely use a different virtualization tool.
Probably our favorite feature of VPC 2007 is its support for creating Differencing Virtual Hard Discs. We were able to install an operating system on a virtual machine, share that machines virtual hard drive over the network, and then create new machines with drives based on that parent drive. From that point on, only the changes between that parent drive and the new differencing drives were stored. Considering that the software that shipped on the fresh Windows XP Professional SP2 and Fedora Core 5 isos with which we tested required large numbers of updates to become fully patched, we managed to save a lot of time as we spawned new VMs based on updated parent VMs.´
Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVALUATION SHORT LIST
Parallels Parallels Workstation Parallels Workstation supports both Windows and Linux, and, unlike VMware Workstation, one license includes the rights to run VMs on either platform; the Parallels product is also an affordable $50
VMwares VMware Player Player is a good (and free) option for running VMs, but its inability to create VMs means youll have to install the also-free VMware Server or pair the Player with VMware Workstation; VMWare Player can open VMs created using VPC 2007
VMwares VMware Workstation VMware Workstation remains our favorite product for desktop-based virtualization chores such as development and testing, but the product does come with a $200 price tag
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