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Can you get virtual machines to run on 32-bit CPUs? As far as I know, there isn't a single 32-bit CPU in existence, with the exception of the later generation of Pentium 4's, that support virtual machines. By virtual machines, I mean that the guest OS is not running in a paravirutalization setup, and that there is separation between the host and guest OS via hardware.

Just wondering.

EDIT: wrote this original post very very very late at night...thanks for pointing out that "hypervisor" isn't something in hardware; re-edited for clarity.

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To paraphrase your question, Are there any 32bit only cpus that support Intels VT (or similar) extensions. Is this correct ? – Dave Cheney Jun 14 '09 at 6:48
I've just done some digging and I can't find an Intel 32-bit-only chip that supports VT - happy to be proven wrong though. – Chopper3 Jun 14 '09 at 12:40
To both, yes, this is about hardware virtualization, not paravirtualization (where chunks of the guest OS are interecepted and either rewritten or run in a fashion that does not have true separation) – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 12:45
As you have software bugs, it could happen to have microcode or even hardware bugs. What I want to say is that you will never have a "true" separation on an Intel architecture. – Mircea Vutcovici Mar 6 '11 at 2:03
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The Core Duo T2500 (Yonah) 32-bit CPU in my Thinkpad T60p notebook has Intel VT.

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Heavens yes. VMWare was doing this for years before AMD and Intel rolled out their virtualization enhancements at the CPU level. It just wasn't quite as efficient. It was 64-bit that really allowed virtualization to take off, as it removed the RAM ceiling.

I was running virtualized NetWare as early as 2001 in VMWare. Performance sucked hard since NetWare NOOPs instead of HALTs during idle, which was why the VM-Tools were a required thing as it intercepted the idle-loop NOOPs and translated them into HALTs. That way the single threaded CPUs we were running back then could actually allow the host OS to do stuff.

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Nice answer, upvote for using the phrase, "Heavens, yes!" :) – Greg Meehan Jun 14 '09 at 14:12
Not entirely answering my question (which is about hardware virtualization) but +1 for pointing out that paravirtualization is tried-and-true, and has been around for a long time. – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 19:59

Well VMWare have been about for around 10 years, go I'm going to go with Yes. I remember running stuff on VMWare workstation and being amazed that you could actually make virtualisation work on a PC - I'd only seen it on mainframes up until that point and thought it wouldn't ever trickle down to the point where anyone on an average home computer could do it!

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I've had VirtualBox running FreeBSD 7.2 or Windows 98 as guests on Ubuntu 9.04 as a host on an old PIII.

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+1 for flogging a PIII hard enough to do what it wasn't designed for. I have a Tyan T230 I'm refitting with dual Tualatin cores for a "toy server". Good times. – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 19:24
This is a Gigabyte GA-6BXD dual slot-1 server from 1998 that I resurrected and swapped a couple of PIII-650's from eBay for the PII-450's that were in it. It runs Gnome, Open Office and the new dev version of Chrome for Linux really well. But it really shines at showing what a pig Firefox 3 is. – Dennis Williamson Jun 14 '09 at 19:51

yes but not fullVM it will be paraVM

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Answering the revised question, do any 32-bit CPUs support a hardware hypervisor.

No, and so far there are no x86_64 CPUs that support it either. The Intel VT-x and AMD-V extensions are not hypervisors, they just make the job of a software hypervisor much simpler. The closest we've come to a hardware hypervisor on the x86 platform is embedded ESX, which does it almost at the BIOS level. But that's still firmware, not hardware.

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There are about three ways to run virtual machines (sorted from best performance to least):

  1. Paravirtualised (Go Xen!)
  2. Hardware Assisted Virtualization (Intel-VT & AMD-V)
  3. Binary Translation

As far as I know, you don't need Intel-VT or AMD-V with Binary Translation. VMware ESX and Microsoft Hyper-V both support Binary Translation, but Xen doesn't.

If you want more information about how these things work, check out Wikipedia.

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+1 for "the third method" :) – Avery Payne Jun 14 '09 at 19:21

Absolutely Yes.

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