Using VirtualBox to install Windows 7

Install Windows 7 in a Virtual Machine on your Mac for FREE.

What you will need...

  • An Intel Mac of some description with at least 2GB of memory and 20GB of disk space available.
  • A copy of Sun's VirtualBox from http://www.virtualbox.org/
  • A copy of Windows 7 Beta (which you could download from Microsoft until recently) http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/ If you missed out on the beta, talk to a friend who may have downloaded a copy.

What to do...

Install VirtualBox from the DMG downloaded from the link above.

Run Virtual Box from your applications folder and click New to create a new Virtual Machine

Choose a name and select the OS you are going to install.

Notice you can install pretty much any windows version (if you have the disk) and many flavours of Unix/Linux.

Choose how much memory your PC can use, This memory won't be available to your mac while the VM is running so don't give it everything. I chose 1GB.

Choose to Create a new hard disk and in the wizard that opens make it a Dynamic disk of 20GB. This way Windows will think it has 20GB but the file on your disk will be smaller.

Now the VM is set up you will be back at the VirtualBox main window.

Insert your Windows 7 beta DVD and click the Start button.

As this is the first time you have run the VM, VirtualBox will ask how you are going to set it up with the First Run Wizard.

You will probably be choosing CD/DVD and setting your CD/DVD drive as the Host Drive, but notice you can install from an image if that is how the Windows 7 files have arrived to you.

If like me you ignored the First Run Wizard, you will need to quickly click inside the VM window that opens and press the F12 key. This will force the VM to prompt you to select a start up disk. It took me a couple of tries to get this screen as it flashes up quite quickly.

NOTE: when you click inside the VM window your mouse and keyboard input are captured by the virtual machine. TO get back to your mac press the left command key for a second and your mouse will be back in your mac's control.

Then you have a wait while windows installs. The first step Copying Files, will appear to have staled, but it is working just leave it for a good 20 mins. Windows 7 installation process is a lot more efficient than previous versions you'll only have to enter some basic info like keyboard layout and check the date and time. You will be asked for a serial number. If you have one enter it, if not just click next and find one later. 

After another few ins windows will be installed and you'll be at the familiar Windows desktop.

All in all the process takes around 1 hour from download to up and running. It would be quicker if the install image is loaded from a hard drive rather than DVD.

In use Windows 7 feels like a faster version of Vista. The advantage of it being in a virtual machine is that you can quit it and restore it at will. If you want to experiment you can duplicate the VM hard drive you created and set up another identical VM to break!

Some things are a bit odd, networking works OK, but the PC insists it isn't connected to a network. I guess it's trying to communicate with the ethernet hardware which of course is being emulated via your Mac so it gets a bit lost.

I've not managed to get sharing of folders working yet, according to eh manual I can set up a folder on the host comptuer (my Mac) which the VM can access. I've doen what I think is required, but the VM doesn't see the folder.

I'm running this on my iMac 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with MacOS X 10.5.6 and 2GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM. For comparison I have a home built PC with 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo Windows XP Professional SP3 and 1GB 667 DDR2 SDRAM

Some tests...

Installation of Safari and QuickTime Setup
VM - 34 seconds (slower)
PC - 25 seconds

First Launch of Safari after installation
VM - 12 seconds (slower)
PC - 10 seconds

Time for BBC News front page to load in Safari 4 beta. Timed from a press of Refresh to when the load wheel stops spinning, results averaged out of 5 refreshes.
VM - 1.9 seconds (slower)
PC - 1.3 seconds

Open a 200 page open office document
VM - 11 seconds
PC - 12 seconds (slower)

So from these un-scientific tests you can see the VM runs a little slower than the dedicated PC hardware in most tests, but remember the VM is running in a window on my mac and I can switch between the two easily rather than rebooting as I would have to with BootCamp.

Average: 5 (3 votes)