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Without converting the Hard drive to an ISO or P2V format, is it possible to use a physical hard drive plugged in via USB as a Virtual Machine?

(Virtual Box is ideal, but not essential)

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Dupe over on ServerFault: Virtualbox booting from a real drive? –  techie007 Dec 29 '11 at 17:53
    
Woops, didn't think to look there! Thanks for pointing that out. –  Josh Dec 29 '11 at 18:11
    
It'd probably be more appropriate here these days, but that question is way old over there, so it'll probably stay there. ;) –  techie007 Dec 29 '11 at 18:26
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

For VirtualBox, please refer to http://www.virtualbox.org/manual/ch09.html#rawdisk:

Starting with version 1.4, as an alternative to using virtual disk images (as described in detail in Chapter 5, Virtual storage), VirtualBox can also present either entire physical hard disks or selected partitions thereof as virtual disks to virtual machines.

Note that this process involves creating a VMDK image file, but the file doesn't actually contain any data, but just the metadata referring to the disk or partition that you're pointing to.

Please also note that when you attempt to boot this, it will not be much different than moving the hard drive from one physical computer to another - one with different hardware (chipset / CPU / etc.). This will require your OS (you didn't mention what you're using) to be able to properly detect and install any appropriate drivers for the new virtual hardware that will be presented by VirtualBox. This may also cause similar difficulties if you attempt to use the drive natively again. Finally, be sure to heed the warning shown on this page:

Raw hard disk access is for expert users only. Incorrect use or use of an outdated configuration can lead to total loss of data on the physical disk. Most importantly, do not attempt to boot the partition with the currently running host operating system in a guest. This will lead to severe data corruption.

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The OS on the disk is Windows, either XP or Server 2003. –  Josh Dec 29 '11 at 18:12
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