An easy way to test out the new Microsoft OS before committing.

Microsoft’s juggernaut Windows operating system powers on with the company preparing Windows 7’s successor in Windows 8. The new operating system (OS) was first released for public consumption during the last BUILD conference in the form of a "Developer Preview." This release was mainly intended for software developers to start to get a feel for the OS and its new features, but many consumers and technology enthusiasts also took a peek at the OS to get an idea of where MS was going with its next OS.

Coinciding with Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2012, Microsoft released the next iteration of the in progress OS, and this time it is aimed at getting consumer feedback. The aptly named Consumer Preview build is now available for download by anyone interested.

Windows 8 Consumer Preview Desktop

The question many consumers and enthusiasts are likely asking; however, is what to do with the MS provided ISO, and what the safest and easiest method for testing the beta operating system is. One appropriate answer, and the method covered in this guide, is to use a virtual machine program to test the Windows 8 Consumer Preview inside a VM without needing to muck with or worry about effecting your existing system or settings. Installing to bare hardware will always be faster, but if you upgrade to Windows 8 CP from Windows 7, you will not be able to go back once the beta period is over. By installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview inside a virtual machine will allow you to test out the operating system in a secure environment, and if you have a recent machine with at least 4 GB of RAM, performance of the OS should be sufficient to get an idea of the new OS and whether you want to pursue a bare hardware full install.

I expect that many users are going to be curious about the new build as the Windows 8 OS has ignited several heated debates among enthusiasts concerning the direction Microsoft is going. The new Metro interface, removal of Start Menu, and the overhauled Windows logo are three of the major concerns users have raised, for example.

The specific program in question that we will be using is Oracle’s VirtualBox software, which is a free VM host that is very easy to setup and use. Another alternative is VMWare, and the setup process will be very similar (though the exact steps and settings will differ slightly). This guide will show you how to go from the Windows 8 ISO to a fully functional installation inside a VirtualBox virtual machine. If you are familiar with setting up a new VirtualBox VM, you can safely skip those steps. I felt it prudent to go through the entire process; however, for those new to VirtualBox that wish to try out the new Microsoft OS.

Let’s begin.

What You Need

  • A recent desktop or laptop computer with:
    • Approximately: dual core CPU (with VT-x), 4 GB RAM, 15 GB hard drive space (or better)
    • A Windows, OS X, or Linux Host OS
  • The Latest Version of VirtualBox (4.1.8 at time of writing):
  • Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO:
    • (use x86 or x64, depending on how powerful your machine is)
    • Download Link
  • Windows 8 Consumer Preview CD Key:
    • DNJXJ-7XBW8-2378T-X22TX-BKG7J
  • Approximately 30 minutes of time to setup.


The first thing you need to do is install VirtualBox and get it set up, if you do not already have it.  If it is already installed on your system ensure that it is up to date (version 4.1.8 as of writing).  To get the install file, head over to the VirtualBox downloads page and download the file appropriate for your current OS. Once it has finished downloading, install it by following the prompts.  If you need further assistance, check out the VirtualBox User Manual which details the installation process for Windows, Linux, Solaris, and OS X hosts.

Tip: The host OS is the operating system that VirtualBox is installed on and is generally (but not always) the operating system that is installed on physical hardware.  The guest OS is the operating system that is installed on the virtualized hardware inside of VituralBox.

You will further need to download the appropriate Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO from the Microsoft website.  If you have 4 gigabytes or more of RAM, you can safely choose the x64 version, but in general if you are unsure which version to use or are running older hardware the 32 bit (x86) build, will work fine.  The x86 ISO is a 2.5 GB download while the x64 version ISO is a 3.3 GB download.  The only other choice you need to make is which language you need.  Make a note of the CD product key listed below the download link(s), as you will need it later.

With the basic preparations out of the way, you are ready to being installing the Windows 8 OS!  Jump to the next page to get started with the new virtual machine setup.

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