Create Virtual PC hard disk with a backup disk image

The easy way to create a fully populated virtual machine for Microsoft's Virtual PC virtualization software is by starting with a backup image of an existing Windows desktop installation. Here's how to do it.

Microsoft's virtualization software for Windows, called Virtual PC, allows administrators to run multiple Windows virtual machines on a Windows system.

There are several advantages to virtual machines running desktops, notably the ability to confine crashes and other problems to the virtual machine without other virtual machines or the underlying hardware being affected. This has made desktop virtualization popular in software development environments, as well as other areas where flaky or malicious software is frequently encountered.

Virtual PC is easy to set up. The hardest part of putting a virtual machine on a properly equipped Windows machine (meaning one with lots of RAM) is installing the applications and utilities to run on the virtual machine. Fortunately, you can use your backup of an existing system to install the virtual PC hard disk. According to Microsoft, creating a Virtual PC hard disk image by using a backup disk image fileis a six-step process:

  1. Create a backup disk image and a recovery disk using your backup software.
  2. Copy the backup disk image to a disk volume (or partition) that does not have Virtual PC installed.
  3. Use the Virtual Disk Wizard in Virtual PC to create the virtual hard disk image in a file on an existing virtual machine.
  4. Create a new virtual machine.
  5. Select the disk image from the old virtual machine and install it as a hard disk on the new virtual machine.
  6. Use the recovery disk to restart the newly created virtual machine and restore the backup image from drive D: of this virtual machine to drive C: (This makes it the primary drive for the virtual machine.) Once the image is copied to C:, you can remove D: from the machine.

There are two caveats. You must have administrator privileges on the Virtual PC's host computer (the physical computer running Virtual PC). Also, you should create the disk image on an expandable disk. Needless to say, you must have enough physical disk space on the disk that will store the image to hold it. Virtualization is neat, but it isn't magic.

Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years he has been a freelance writer specializing in issues related to storage and storage management.

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This was first published in March 2006

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