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I am considering installing Windows XP on an external hard drive in a VM with VirtualBox, but I am worried about it's speed? Would the slow transfer rate of USB slow down the performance of VirtualBox and Windows XP? Should I be worried about anything?

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I/O will definitely take a penalty when working over a USB connection. If you have the option on your machine I would recommend an eSATA drive to give better performance.

What are your other options, really? Partition your installed HD? Create virtual disks? Depending upon your needs, an external drive is usually the most flexible option (especially when using a laptop). Depending upon what you're doing, it may actually be faster (overall) to have the virtual machine on a separate platter, as there will be no contention between the host and guest systems on the same hard drive.

YMMV, but external storage is a good solution.

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I used to give a few presentations where I had virtual machines running from a USB disk.

Honestly, booting is slower and if you are running ~3+ at once, you do notice it is slower but if you have one or two doing standard tasks, it isn't very slow at all. It is only when you start doing intensive I/O based tasks that you notice it is slower.

If you disable the pagefile, you can also speed up the system (but you do need more memory) as it significantly reduces the amount of I/O operations that the system uses.

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I run an XP Pro VirtualBox VM with Visual Studio 2008 for development use off an XP Pro host, the VM being on an external USB 2.0 HDD. It's perfectly fine and I can't see it being any different off a Mac host. Especially if it has lots of RAM.

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i have 2 GB, what is your configuration? – itsaboutcode Dec 1 '09 at 22:15
2GB also, 0.75GB allocated to the VM. It's perfectly usable although hardly earth-shattering performance-wise. – Alan B Dec 2 '09 at 10:20

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