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My question is:

Is is possible to run a virtual machine natively on your hardware if you have installed the proper drivers etc? In other words, can I use a VHD as a regular hard drive to boot from?

The reason I want to do this is that I do both graphics-intensive and audio-intensive work, but my computer is not powerful enough to handle both at the same time and many times I install a bunch of audio programs that I don't want affecting the stability of my graphics programs. Basically I wanted to have sandboxing between the two sets of applications. So I tried running the graphics-intensive programs in a VirtualBox VM and the audio-intensive work natively (simply because it's a pain to route ASIO audio devices in/out of VirtualBox). This kind-of works - the graphics-intensive stuff is tolerable, but still relatively slow, because it's running inside a VM.

So my next idea was to just dual-boot and install the graphics and audio programs in separate partitions but I frequently use them in tandem, so it wouldn't be practical to reboot my machine every time I need to use the other set of programs.

But I could live with this scenario: If I need to do more audio-intensive stuff, I'll just boot up to the audio partition and run the graphics programs in a VM, and then when I'm working heavily on the graphics part, I'll just boot the graphics partition as a regular OS directly on the hardware.

Is this possible? For example by booting up a VHD as a regular hard drive? Or by setting up dual-boot, and every time the audio partition is shut down, synchronize the graphics VM VHD with the native graphics partition? Is it practical, given the above scenario?

And if it's not possible, barring buying another computer, can anyone suggest a best-of-all-worlds setup (the two worlds being performance, sandboxing, and running in parallel) for the above scenario? Thanks in advance.

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  • Have you tried assigning the audio and video cards to the virtual machine? Oct 22 '13 at 14:24
  • What do you mean by assigning? In my audio settings, none of my ASIO drivers show up, only the Intel HD Audio and another generic WDM audio driver shows up. As for the graphics, I'm not sure of how to assign my native graphics card to VirtualBox. Is there a way to do that?
    – Anshul
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:48
  • 1
    Maybe Oracle VM VirtualBox » How to Use PCI Passthrough can help you even if the Intel vt-d/AMD IOMMU support "bug" is still open. Oct 22 '13 at 15:02
  • That is a great link. It's crazy that that bug is still open after 4 years and VB has not addressed it.
    – Anshul
    Oct 22 '13 at 15:33
  • Why not partition your drive in 3, dual-boot two copies of the same OS but keep all your documents on the third partition? Oct 23 '13 at 9:23
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This is possible with Windows 7 and up, if you are using MS VHDs. It may be limited to Pro & Enterprise versions, but it might not.

Here is an article explaining how to do it in Win 7 and Server 2008. And here is an article for Win 8 and Server 2012.

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  • That option looks promising. But when you boot up Windows 8 from a VHD, do you know if it actually runs natively or does it run on Hyper-V? Also do you know if there are any driver issues? That would be my biggest concern. Thanks.
    – Anshul
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:05
  • Ive actually never done this, just know that its possible... it cant hurt to try.
    – Keltari
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:09
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    @Anshul - Drivers issues would be unique to each use case. Hyper-V supports Intel's VT-D technology which basically means you wouldn't be able to tell it was a virtual machine instead of a bare metal installation.
    – Ramhound
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:17
  • Windows 7 supports boot to VHD, you should be able to get the boot loader to prompt and you would pick from local disk or vhd
    – MDT Guy
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:38
  • I would assume since its running from a file instead of a real disk, the IO would be a little slower
    – Keltari
    Oct 22 '13 at 14:44
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I have successfully done the opposite with VirtualBox - Boot a native harddrive partition (WinXP) inside of the virtual machine. It required updating a few registry things by following the migration process to make sure that all of the core disk drivers were available, and making the virtual machine match the host system's disks as closely as possible.

The end result was the same however, in that I could choose to boot the partition at startup from the boot loader, or boot into the main system and then boot the second partition through VirtualBox.

You can even mount the partition as a standard drive in Windows Explorer when it's not loaded inside the VM for ease of access to copy files back and forth quickly.


This was set up for my mother when I moved her from her old Windows XP system to a nice new Windows 8 machine. I didn't have time to sit and show her how to do everything that had changed, and this made a very convenient solution. All I had to do was show her how to launch the virtual machine, and copy files back and forth, and get her core day-to-day things set up in Windows 8. This allows her to get familiar with Windows 8 at her own pace, and still fall back to the system she's familiar with when she's in a rush.

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  • Was the device driver migration process a tricky one in your case? Or did it go pretty smoothly? My concern is that I have a lot of non-standard devices (audio interface, MIDI controllers etc.) but they are all mostly USB and a few PCI. Also, have you tried USB passthrough and/or PCI passthrough with VirtualBox? Thanks.
    – Anshul
    Oct 22 '13 at 15:42
  • @Anshul - Finding drivers that support both Windows XP and Windows 8 has its own problems. Depending on the supported hardware virtualization driver support should be seamless.
    – Ramhound
    Oct 22 '13 at 16:17
  • @Anshul There are no device driver problems with the migration. I did not try setting up USB passthrough with the virtual machine, but all the drivers for the native hardware simply aren't loaded inside the VM (because the hardware isn't detected), and vice-versa for the virtual hardware drivers when it's running natively. Running in a VM wouldn't mess anything up, it would at minimum simply appear as if the special devices weren't plugged in. Oct 22 '13 at 17:02

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