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I'm about to take the plunge and install Win7 RC1 on my desktop machine. However I want to preserve access to my old HDD with XP on it. I don't really want to use full dual-boot since that would leave my new Win7 install on the d:\ drive, which it wouldn't otherwise be.

Is it possible to use Virtualbox to boot from that old real drive instead of from an image?

If so, what are the implications for drivers, etc, since the "new" running OS will be using VirtualBox's virtual hardware and not the original hardware on which XP thinks it was installed.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Is it possible to use Virtualbox to boot from that old real drive instead of from an image?

Yes. VirtualBox has support for using a raw host hard disk from a guest since version 1.4. As of version 2.2.0, it is still listed as an experimental feature. It is described in section 9.10 of the user manual for VirtualBox 2.2.0.

There are some instructions for running a WindowsXP guest using a raw host hard disk on a linux host:

If so, what are the implications for drivers, etc, since the "new" running OS will be using VirtualBox's virtual hardware and not the original hardware on which XP thinks it was installed.

The second link above describes some steps to prepare your XP system prior to booting under VirtualBox.

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While this is technically possible, I would really recommend getting the disk virtualized at some point. It is much nicer to have the file that can be easily backed up as well as snapshots and other things just work a lot better. –  Goyuix Dec 23 '09 at 21:43
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I have done this, but it can be dangerous! I had a VirtualBox VM that I ran off of my main hard disk. Once I accidentally failed to tell grub to boot Windows in time. It loaded Linux, which promptly tried to run e2fsck on my / and /home partitions, which were already mounted by the non-virtual os. After hours of work with testdisk I was able to recover all my data, but that was the last time I tried something like that.

If I'd had a separate physical disk to play with it probably would have been fine. Oh well.

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Just a word of caution: if you're running virtualized Windows RC1 connecting to a real Windows partition, with write access, you should first backup your data before trying. As alberge says above, if something goes wrong, you could lose a lot of stuff. I'm not sure you will get write access, but if you do, this is a precaution you will be happy to have taken.

(Or maybe I got your question wrong...)

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I could be wrong, but I couldn't find anything in their documentation that lead me to believe it was possible to boot from a real hard drive instead of a disk image. Taken from the User Guide:

VirtualBox supports two variants of disk image files:

  • Normally, VirtualBox uses its own container format for guest hard disks -Virtual Disk Image (VDI) files. In particular, this format will be used when you create a new virtual machine with a new disk.
  • VirtualBox also fully supports the popular and open VMDK container format that is used by many other virtualization products, in particular, by VMware.
  • Finally, VirtualBox also fully supports the VHD format used by Microsoft.
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You could use VMWare Converter to make a VMDK of the live system, then use it with VirtualBox in Windows 7.

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if I've got a VMDK, can I just use VMware player for free instead? There's no particular reason it has to be VirtualBox. –  Alnitak May 2 '09 at 13:25
    
Sure, no reason not to. –  alif May 2 '09 at 23:14
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