Installing Windows 11 in virtual machines is an ideal option for users who want to keep their computers in Windows 10, but at the same time try and be aware of the news of the latest operating system from Microsoft.
You already know that Windows 11 is available as a free upgrade from older systems, for fresh installs via ISO images, and also as the default version used by OEMs when pre-installing new PCs. However, the vast majority of users have not yet migrated and remain on Windows 10, either because they deserve more confidence in the face of repeated failures in Windows 11 updates or because the interface and new features of it do not end up enthusing them.
There are several ways to use both versions. One of them is to install Windows 11 and Windows 10 on the same computer with dual boot. It is a suitable method for the user who seeks the maximum performance of both without interfering with each other and with the possibility of starting the version of his choice quickly and easily. But you can only run one of them at a time, spread out storage space, and can be complex for novice users.
Windows 11 in virtual machines
Another great option is virtual machines. A fast, comfortable and safe methodwhich has been used since the 1960s to virtualize hardware, software, user sessions, storage devices or networks, and which is ideal for the task at hand: operating system testing.
Basically, the main operating system acts as a host and gives a part of the hardware resources to the virtual machines. We will need a virtualization application (there are very good and free ones) and the ISO image of the system that is also freely available. It is not too complicated as you will see in this tutorial in which we will review everything you need to know.
– Hardware resources. Virtualization applications require a certain level of machine hardware. You have to allocate resources from the PC that acts as the host, especially in components such as processor, memory and storage. A no-brainer to start with: For the best results, try creating the virtual machines on your most powerful computers.
– VM activation on the CPUs. Modern processors include hardware virtualization features that help speed up virtual machine applications. On AMD processors, the feature is called AMD-V and is usually enabled by default on supported models, which are almost all within the last decade. With Intel processors it is different and the usual thing is that the Intel VT-x is disabled by default. If this is your case, you will have to activate it in the BIOS/UEFI. If you need it follow this guide.
– Hypervisors. For virtualization we need special applications capable of creating and managing virtual machines. In this tutorial we have used WMware Workstation 17 on a Windows 10 PC that will act as a host, but others can be used in a process that is basically the same in all of them. Note that the industry offers hypervisors that work on Windows, Linux or macOS. If you do not have this paid commercial software you can use other applications (some free) such as:
- Oracle Virtual Box. Free and open source, it is ideal to start working with virtual machines.
- Microsoft Hyper V. It is the native Windows hypervisor and is freely available in Pro, Education and Enterprise versions of Windows. It can also be used in Home versions unofficially. Follow this handy if you need it.
- WMware Player. Free version of the commercial WMware Workstation. Easier to use and with all the technologies of the great virtualization specialist.
- Parallels Desktop. Surely the best to install Windows 11 on Apple Macs. The latest version supports both Macs with Intel processors and the latest computers with ARM architecture.
–Windows 11 ISO. Another necessary step is downloading the operating system image. Microsoft has made the process easy and you can download the ISO without going through the tedious media creator that Windows 10 required. Very simple:
- Access the Windows 11 page.
- Select the third available option, “Download Windows 11 Disc Image (ISO)”.
- In the dropdown, select “Windows 11 (multi-edition ISO)”.
- Select the Spanish language.
- Confirm and download the “Win11_22H2_Spanish_x64v1.iso” image that we will later use for the virtual machine.
Creating the virtual machine
Whichever hypervisor you use the process is pretty much the same. We leave you with a step by step in VMware:
- Open the application and click on the “create a new virtual machine” button.
- You can use the automated wizard or customize the installation. Select the first option (they can always be customized later as we will see).
- Select the location of the Windows 11 ISO image that you downloaded in the previous step.
- Select Microsoft Windows and version Windows 11 x64 or higher.
- Give the virtual machine a name to differentiate it from others you use. The ideal is to have an exclusive folder for all the machines we have.
- You already know that Microsoft has increased the minimum hardware requirements for Windows 11 and especially the TPM security module. The latest version of VMware allows adding a TPM module to the virtual machine without major complications. You just let the app create it with its own password and let the VM handle it.
- Allocate the disk space that the VM will occupy. Leave the standard 64 GB for this version and on a virtual disk in a simple file. Depending on the free space your PC has you can allocate more. The application will create a folder in the path we saw above as if it were a disk partition.
- Everything would be ready to create the virtual machine, but at this point it is better to review the hardware options and assign the ones that best suit the needs of each user and the capacity of the host machine.
- In the example, we select 8 GB RAM, 4 CPU cores, and terminate the VM.
Installing Windows 11
- The installation is reproduced in the same way as if we were to do it on a physical machine. Start the Windows 11 virtual machine by clicking on the start button.
- If we do not have a license at hand, we omit writing the key and continue. Remember that, legally, a virtual machine needs a valid license just like a physical system.
- Same with Windows editions. You must legally use the one you have the license for.
- The installation recognizes the 64 GB virtual machine that we created in the hard drive folder as a typical partition. We install on it.
- The rest of the installation is trivial. The machine will reboot several times before going to the language and keyboard settings, the computer name and the online account with Microsoft ID or a local account to use, to end the always tedious privacy section that should always be disabled by default.
- The wizard will keep working until it completes an installation that a fast machine with an SSD completes in just a few minutes.
Performance and user experience
Once the VM is installed, its operation is similar to that of a physical machine with the system, although its performance will always be lower and will depend on the amount of hardware resources that you have assigned to it. You can try various configurations (without going overboard so as not to penalize the proper functioning of Windows 10, which acts as a host) and review the section on additional options to access other components such as memory card readers, webcam, etc.
As you may have seen, virtualization is a fast, convenient, and secure method for running software, also suitable for use on consumer machines for testing, running incompatible software, emulators, and much more. The operating systems supported by the machines are numerous (Windows, FreeBSD, GNU/Linux, OpenBSD, OS/2 Warp, Solaris, MS-DOS, OS X…) and are only limited by the support of the virtualization software that we use.
Regarding performance, repeat that miracles cannot be done and it will always be smaller than that of a physical machine. But if you virtualize from a PC with some power you can have a good experience. To virtualize Windows 11 and in general any operating system, take a look at these 10 tips to improve performance and allocate all the resources that your machine allows (RAM, CPU cores…). Try various options until you find balance and not slow down your main system.