Converting Windows XP Home Edition computer to run in a Virtual Machine

Step-by-step guide to converting your Windows XP Home machine to a VMware compatible virtual machine.

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In previous posts I provided an Introduction to Virtual Machines and and step-by-step instructions for Setting up an Ubuntu 11.04 VM with VMware Player that will run under nearly any host OS. You should see clearly now that the VM approach has substantial benefits to your computing experience as well as your security. What you may not know however is that it is possible to easily convert your existing physical machine to a VM! The process is simple and allows you to take advantage of all the benefits of VMs without having to reinstall your OS and software from scratch.

Currently, nearly half the worlds’ desktop computers are still running Windows XP even though its two generations back from the current Microsoft OS offering. At some point soon, Windows XP will be obsolete and Microsoft will stop shipping updates that will keep it secure. In this post, I’m going to show you step-by-step how to convert an existing Windows XP Home Edition computer so that it will run on another computer or on your existing computer under a different host OS such as Windows 7 or Ubuntu Linux. The conversion process will allow you to continue running your old programs while taking advantage of the security benefits of the newer OS.

Preliminary

  • Backup your data! There is always risk of something going wrong and losing data when you’re doing these kinds of things so be sure to backup your data! You have been warned!
  • Assess your current disk layout.  In my example below, I created a fresh install of Windows XP Home Edition and setup a 20 GB partition for drive C. I used the remainder of the disk as an extended partition with a logical drive D. While it is NOT absolutely necessary, I generally recommend that you only keep minimal user files on your Virtual Disks so that they are smaller and easier to move around and backup. If you’re currently keeping everything on a C: drive partition, I recommend that you do one of two things:
    • Add additional disk drives and migrate user files to the new drives.
    • Use a repartitioning program (e.g. Partition Magic, gParted, etc.) to shrink your C: drive and add a second partition for  a D: drive and then migrate user files to the D: drive.

No matter what approach you take you will need to have enough space either on the machine being converted or on a network disk to hold the Virtual Disk that will be created in the conversion process.

  • Assess your current hardware. If you have devices connected to USB, serial, or even SCSI ports you most likely can still access them from the VM. If however you are relying on IEEE 1394 (Firewire) devices then you should stop here since your devices won’t be supported. To the best of my knowledge, this is a major limitation of nearly all VM software at the current time.
  • Download and install VMware vCenter Converter version 4.3. You can get it here.  I won’t go through this in detail here since it is relatively straightforward. I note that I installed it in “standalone mode” and used a “local installation”. The advanced options are beyond the scope of this brief tutorial.

Conversion Process

Step 1. After you’ve installed VMWare vCenter Converter it will give you the option to automatically start the program or you can start it later from the “Start” menu. You will see a screen like the one below:

VMWare P2V step 1
VMWare P2V step 1.

Step 2. Click the button “Convert Machine”. You will see a dialog like the one below. Select the source as the “Powered-on machine” and specify it as “This local machine”.

VMware P2V step 2.
VMware P2V step 2.

Step 3. Click “Next” and you will see the following dialog. Select the destination type as “VMware Workstation or other VMware virtual machine.” Select VMware product as “VMware Workstation 7.0.x”. Give you machine a name and select a location for the virtual machine. Note that you can use a network file share if you don’t have enough space on a local disk. Selecting this option will however take longer unless you’re on a really fast network. Again, it’s best to shrink the OS drive as much as possible BEFORE you attempt the conversion process.

VMware P2V step 3.
VMware P2V step 3.

Step 4. Click “Next” and you will see the dialog below. In my case, I got warnings concerning the number of CPU’s, memory, and a sysprep file.  The CPU warning was given because I was on a host machine with 4 cores and the virtual machine will only allow Windows XP Home Edition to have access to 2 virtual CPUs. This is a limitation of Windows XP Home Edition and the way cores are accessed under VMware. I wanted my VM to be able to run on any machine so I set the number of CPUs to 1. I also reduced memory requirement to 2 GB. You may need to use less depending on the hardware where you’re going to run the VM. I was unable to make sense of the sysprep file warning but it didn’t seem to be a problem as the conversion worked just fine. I suspect it has something to do with Windows licensing issues since this was a fresh install of XP Home that had not been updated or registered yet. Note that you’ll also want to enable automatic installation of VMware tools on the destination Virtual Machine. VMware tools makes the VM run more smoothly.

VMware P2V step 4.
VMware P2V step 4.

Step 5. Click “Next” and you should see a summary screen as shown below:

VMware P2V step 5.
VMware P2V step 5.

Step 6. Click “Finish” and the conversion process will start. When its completed you’ll be left with a screen similar to the one below. On my fresh install of Windows XP Home Edition the conversion process only took a few minutes. If you’re converting a large disk with lots of data it will take a while so you may want to go get some coffee or lunch. If you didn’t bother to separate out user files and reduce the size of the disk as discussed above you may want to wait until evening before clicking “Finish” because it could easily take all night!

VMware P2V step 6.
VMware P2V step 6.

Running and Testing the VM

To test the VM, I suggest you move it to a different machine that has VMware Player already installed. Below is a screen shot showing VMware Player starting up. Just click “Play” and Windows starts.

Starting VM in VMware player.
Starting VM in VMware player.

After clicking Play the first time Windows XP will startup and find a bunch of new hardware and then prompt for a restart. Eventually however you will have access to your Windows XP Home Edition machine running in a VM as shown below:

Windows XP Home Edition running in VMware Player under Linux.
Windows XP Home Edition running in VMware Player under Linux.

That’s it! You’re up and running! Your old physical machine is now replicated as a VM that can be run on nearly any computer that has VMware Player installed. You can put the VM on a USB drive and take it with you when you travel or you can move it across your network as your resources dictate. Wow!

Before you get too comfortable, you’ll want to run tests the VM for a few days to make sure everything is working properly. Meanwhile make sure that the old machine is turned off or you will have network errors when the new VM is running. Once you’re confident its running the way it should you can go back and wipe the old hard drive and install a newer OS such as Windows 7 or Ubuntu  11.04. If your old hardware is powerful enough you can then move the VM back and run it there as you always did.

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