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My main PC at home runs Win XP and I'd like to keep it so mainly for games. However, I do most of my work on a Ubuntu 10.04 image running inside VirtualBox on that PC. Although I have 2GB of memory and a dual-core CPU, the performance of my Ubuntu image leaves much to be desired (I've given it 768 MB of main memory and 30 GB of HDD space). What I usually do on the VM is programming, so at any give moment I have:

  • A few gvim sessions open
  • A few terminals with multiple tabs, some running shells like ipython
  • 4-5 instances of firefox, each with several tabs

What hardware should I get to run a better performing VirtualBox VM with Ubuntu? Specifically:

  • Would more cores matter? (for example for complete separation of CPU running the VM and CPUs running other Windows stuff in the background: firewall, browsers, etc.)
  • Would giving more memory to my VM help? From Ubuntu's sys monitor it doesn't appear it even uses the 768 MB I gave it.
  • Would having a speedy SSD on which the VM image lives help a lot?

Please share your experiences re the optimal hardware setup for such a working environment. Thanks in advance.

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3 Answers 3

I use VM's a lot and I run 10.04 the same as you.

I am running:

  • AMD Phenom II 940 @ 3.7Ghz (Quad Core)
  • 6GB 1066Mhz DDR2 Memory @ 800Mhz

I have given the vm, 4 cores, 2GB Memory and full GPU Acceleration

I have a normal 7200rpm HDD, and the VM comes out just how it is installed on a normal pc system.

Hope this helps, my bits might be overkill but it works perfect for me, and I also use VMWare Workstation instead of Virtualbox as I like it's Unity mode (better than vbox) and also Exclusive mode (Allows the vm to integrate as if you're running it on a normal pc)

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768 MB is plenty for web browsing, but not so much if you run a lot of applications. Note that the system monitor tells you how much memory is allocated by applications, it doesn't include the disk cache. Linux will quickly fill up all available memory with disk caches, and that's very important for performance. I suspect you would benefit from giving Linux more memory.

A problem you're likely to run into is that if you give Linux more memory, Windows will have less. It may be worth increasing your RAM to 4 GB (although as far as I understand Windows XP is limited to a 4 GB address space and so will only use about 3.xx GB RAM) and dedicating 2 GB to Linux.

I don't think more cores will help, unless you run inherently parallel applications (e.g. scene rendering) or want to do things like run a large compilation in the background while you play a game.

Running the VM off a fast SSD might help if disk accesses are the bottleneck. But reducing the number of disk access by adding RAM is far more likely to pay off.

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All three points should help. If possible, the host and the VM image should each have their own dedicated hard-drive to allow parallel access. This is probably not as good as using an SSD, but should be much cheaper.

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