Step 1: Setting Up New Virtual Machine
This page details how to set up a new virtual machine which we will use on the next page of the guide to install the Windows 8 Consumer Preview on to. If you are familiar with the setup process, you can safely skip this step; however, I encourage you to take a look at the end of this page for any recommended tweaks.
A.) Open up the VirtualBox Application
If you have not already, start up the VirtualBox application. You will then be presented with the following window and GUI (graphical user interface), as shown in the image below.
The VirtualBox interface is fairly straightforward with the important bits well highlighted. On the left, there is a list of all the current virtual machines and on the right is a preview window showing the current state and some of the settings. Above these two sections are buttons titled "New, Settings, Show, and Discard" that are used to interact with the VMs in the list.
The button we want is the "New" button which has a blue sun icon. Click on that to bring up the New Virtual Machine wizard.
B.) Create The New Virtual Machine
The wizard that pops up in a new window will then run you through the steps needed to get a virtualized hardware setup together and ready for an operating system. The guide itself is fairly easy to follow, but for the uninitiated’s sake let’s run through the process together and make things as easy as possible. The first window is just basic "welcome to" information. Go ahead and click the Next button in the lower right of the wizard’s window to get started.
The next screen you are presented with asks you to name the machine and identify which OS you intend to install on it. You can name it anything you want; however, if the name includes Windows 8 in it, the wizard will automatically select Windows 8 as the OS type and version. Fill this information in and hit Next.
Entering in the correct OS type will enter the recommend minimum settings into the appropriate areas. Depending on the amount of resources you have available, you may want to dial up these settings from the default but it presents a good starting point nonetheless. Fill the name and OS type information and hit Next.
You will then be presented with a new screen asking for the amount of RAM you want to allocate to the Virtual machine. If you have more than 4 GBs in your system, attempt to allocate approximately 4096 MB of RAM, or about half of your system’s total, whichever is greater. This will give your virtualized operating system a good amount of RAM to work with without depriving the host OS of memory. The default amount of 512 MB will allow you to run Windows 8 Consumer Preview but your performance will be rather limited.
The final major step in getting the new virtual machine set up is allocating a portion of your physical hard drive to a virtual hard drive where the operating system will be installed on. While it will be a single file when viewed on the host OS, to the virtual machine it is a full on hard drive that can have multiple partitions. If you do not have or want to use an existing virtual hard drive, you will need to create one. (The process for doing so will be covered below.) In addition to the file type, they also offer you the choice of dynamically allocated or fixed size storage allotments. In theory, the fixed size option will give you better performance; however, the tradeoff is that it takes longer upfront to create and will take up the full amount of allocated storage. The dynamic allocation, on the other hand, is quicker to create and will only take up as much space as the virtual machine actually uses. Performance may take a small hit, but real world usage should not be affected too much. If you have the extra storage space, go with the static allotment, but otherwise dynamic will be okay.
Before the wizard can finish setting up the new VM, you need to assign it a hard drive. To create a new drive, ensure the "Create new hard disk" radio button is selected and hit Next. This will open up the New Virtual Disk wizard. In the first screen, you can select the file / virtual disk type including VDI, VHD, and HDD. Some of these file types are less transferable to other VM software than others, but if you only intend to use this VM in VirtualBox, the default VDI file type will work fine. Hit next once you’ve chosen the file type.
You will then need to choose between dynamic and static allocation, as covered above. Hit next to continue.
The next step will require you to choose a location for the virtual hard disk on your physical hard drive and to determine the amount of storage you want to allocate to it. VirtualBox recommends 20 GB; however, you can go as low as 10 GB if you just want to check out Windows 8 and a few applications if storage space is scarce. The location doesn’t matter that much in the overall scheme of things. Just be sure you install it on the physical hard drive of choice if you are on a multi-drive system as it defaults to the C: drive. Installing to an SSD or the outer partition of a mechanical hard drive will give you better performance but, again, real world performance will still be useable despite these considerations.
VirtualBox will then present you with a summary of the information you entered. Verify that it is correct, and then click the "Create" button.
You will then be taken to another summary window for the VM as a whole. Verify the information and then continue. The wizard window will then close and the new virtual machine will appear in the list on the main application window.
C.) Tweak the Virtual Machine and Mount the ISO
There are just a few steps left before you can get to playing around with Windows 8. Before you boot up the new virtual machine, you should tweak it for the best performance. You will also need to tell it where you saved the Windows 8 ISO you downloaded earlier so that i can boot from it.
My system configuration is available here for reference and represents a typical gaming computer. With 8 GBs of RAM, I am able to use the x64 version of Windows 8 and allocate 4 GB of RAM to the virtual machine without slowing things down. You’re system will vary and you will need to adjust your settings accordingly. For example, if you have a quad core processor, you should at most allocate half of the cores to the VM. Further, if your CPU supports hyper-threading you can include those ‘virtual cores’ in that number. The screen shots below show my tweaks to achieve optimal performance. Any other settings have been left at the defaults. They should give you a good starting point for getting the best performance out of the virtual machine.
To access the settings menu, find the VM you created in the list, and right click it. Choose "Settings" and you will be presented with a new window. On the left is a list of categories. Click on "System" on the left and then the "Motherboard" settings tab. On the new page, uncheck the floppy drive check box, and select the ICH9 chipset from the dropdown box. Then navigate to the "Processor" tab and allocate half of the number of physical cores your computer actually has. In my case, that means allocating 4 cores of the total 8 (4 physical, 4 virtual/HT). Also on that tab, ensure that PAE/NX is selected.
Finally, open the "Display" category and allocate as much video memory as the slider will allow, or half of the total amount of physical RAM your system has (whichever is higher). Then, check both the 2D and 3D acceleration check boxes (if possible). This will help to speed up the Windows desktop, which uses hardware acceleration to smooth things out.
Last up is configuring the ISO. This is accomplished by navigating to the "Storage" category in the settings window of the virtual machine. Then, click on the IDE controller, and then the small CD with green "+" symbol to add a new CD/DVD drive. Next, on the far right, click on the other CD symbol and choose the "Choose a virtual CD/DVD disk file…" option. Now, navigate to and select the Windows 8 CP ISO file you downloaded earlier. Hit enter. Then Choose OK on the main settings window to save your changes.
This page may look complicated but don’t fret, it is easier than it looks and is the most difficult part of the guide. If you’ve gotten this far, the rest will be a breeze. The following page will show you the actual Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation process. Verify you followed all the directions on this page, and then jump into the Windows install on page 3!