- What do you need for setting up a virtual machine?
- How to create a virtual machine on any operating system
- How to shut down a virtual machine
- Why would you want to set up a virtual machine?
- Stay secure while using a virtual machine
What do you need for setting up a virtual machine?
Creating a virtual machine is not as difficult as it may sound. The most common method is setting up a hypervisor — or a virtualization environment allowing you to run virtual machines. A hypervisor is also known as a virtual machine monitor (VMM).
Though the components you’ll need to create a VM may vary depending on your operating system, your device, and the guest operating system you want to install, here are the components you’re most likely to need.
- A computer with virtualization support. To set up a virtual machine, your computer’s processor needs to support virtualization (not all processors do). Modern CPUs like AMD and Intel have hardware features that allow you to create virtual machines. As a result, the operating system can effectively utilize the computer’s processing power, allowing one single processor to run as multiple individual processors.
- Sufficient disk space (at least 8 to 20GB). Virtual machines require significant amounts of computer resources. Before starting the setup process, make sure your host computer has sufficient disk space.
- Installation media or ISO file. You’ll need a physical CD/DVD, a bootable USB drive, or an ISO file with the installer for the guest operating system you want to use.
- Admin privileges on your device. Admin privileges allow you to configure your device and make significant changes to the system. A virtual machine is complex and requires access to system hardware and software configurations to function properly. That’s why you’ll need admin rights — which you will most likely have on a personal device.
How to create a virtual machine on any operating system
Though setting up a virtual machine involves several steps, it isn’t as complicated as many people think. That’s one of the reasons why virtual machines have become so popular with individual users, not just developers and system admins.
You can also find many tools for setting up a VM with a guest OS for free, making it a cost-effective option for running several operating systems at once. Let’s look at how to set up your new VM on Windows, Linux, and macOS.
How to set up a virtual machine on Windows
You can set up a virtual machine on Windows in several ways, but Microsoft recommends using the Hyper-V Manager. This native Windows component is designed for managing and administering virtualization on Windows machines and is likely to deliver the safest and most user-friendly experience.
Before you create a virtual machine, you’ll need to have your Hyper-V Manager enabled. Here’s how to do that:
- Right-click on the Windows button and select “Apps and features.”
- Then, on the right, under settings, select “Programs and features.”
- Choose “Turn Windows features on and off.”
- Check the Hyper-V checkbox, click “OK,” and follow the prompts to install it.
When you’ve installed the manager, follow these steps to create a new virtual machine with a guest operating system.
- Open Hyper-V Manager. Click the “Start” button and use the search bar to find Hyper-V Manager.
- Start creating your virtual machine. From the “Action” pane, click “New” then “Virtual machine.” From “New virtual machine wizard,” click “Next.”
- Pick the appropriate VM settings. At this stage, you’ll need to follow the virtual machine wizard to finish setting things up. The wizard will ask you to specify the machine’s name and location, assign memory, configure network settings, and connect a virtual hard disk. You’ll also need to choose whether you want a Windows virtual machine or a virtual machine with a guest OS (such as Linux).
- Verify your choices. After choosing your settings, you will need to verify that you’ve set everything up correctly on the summary page. When you’ve checked your settings, click “Finish.”
- Start your virtual machine. In Hyper-V Manager, right-click the virtual machine and choose “Connect.” In your virtual machine connection window, select “Action” then “Start.”
Note that the native hypervisor isn’t available on all versions of Windows. Currently, you get it on Windows Server, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 10, and Windows 11 (x64; Pro, Enterprise, and Education).
However, Hyper-V isn’t the only way to create a new virtual machine on a Windows device. If your device doesn’t support Hyper-V, use alternative virtual machine programs, such as a Windows 10 VirtualBox, VMware, or Parallels Desktop.
How to set up a virtual machine on macOS
Setting up a virtual machine on macOS is also relatively straightforward as long as you have an Intel-based Mac computer.
While many virtual machine programs are available, Parallels Desktop is the most popular. Here’s how to set up a virtual machine on macOS using this virtualization program.
For the purpose of this guide, let’s imagine you want to create a Windows 10 virtual machine on your Mac device. The steps for creating virtual machines for other Windows versions will be similar.
Note: Before starting the process, ensure you have purchased and installed Parallels Desktop. It’s important to get the virtual program from the Parallels’ official website or a trusted retailer to avoid exposing yourself to security risks. Download the installer and follow the prompts to set up the program on your Mac.
- Download the Windows 10 ISO. Click on the Parallels icon in your Mac menu bar. Select “New,” then “Get Windows 10 from Microsoft.” Choose “Download Windows 10.”
- Choose the integration level. Once you’ve downloaded Windows 10, you can choose your integration level. A more integrated VM will make the Windows apps appear like Mac apps, while a more isolated VM will run in a distinct window.
- Allocate resources. Parallels will recommend a certain amount of RAM and CPU to allocate to your virtual machine. You can accept these recommendations or change them depending on your needs.
- Start Windows installation. The next step is to install your Windows VM. Simply follow the setup instructions to select your language and set up your account.
- Active Windows with product key. Initially, your Windows VM will run without activation, but you’ll need to activate it with your product key. You can purchase one from Microsoft or a licensed retailer.
The steps above detail how to install a Windows machine on a Mac. To install Linux on a Mac with Parallels Desktop, download a ready-to-go Linux VM from the main installation assistant menu and follow the prompts.
How to set up a virtual machine on Linux
Setting up a virtual machine is an excellent option if you want to use a second operating system on your Linux device.
The first step to creating a virtual machine on a Linux device is to check whether your computer supports virtualization. You can do this by opening the terminal and typing “lscpu.” This command will provide more details about your CPU, including virtualization capabilities.
If your machine supports virtualization, the best way to create a virtual machine on Linux is by using a virtual machine program, such as VirtualBox, QEMU, or VMware Workstation Player.
Below are the steps for setting up a virtual machine on Linux using VirtualBox. Before you start the process, you’ll need to install and set up VirtualBox. Make sure you get the virtual program from a trusted source — like a licensed retailer or the official VirtualBox website.
- Download the ISO. Before setting up your virtual machine, download the guest OS you want to install. Make sure you get it from a legitimate source — using untrustworthy websites poses security risks.
- Open VirtualBox. You can start VirtualBox from the application menu or by typing virtualbox in the terminal.
- Create a new virtual machine. Click “New” in VirtualBox, then enter the name of your new VM. Select the type (e.g., Linux, Windows, or macOS) and the version (e.g., Ubuntu 64-bit).
- Allocate resources. Use the slider or choose the amount of RAM allocated to the VM. It’s best not to allocate more than 50% of your total system RAM to avoid slow performance.
- Create a virtual hard disk. Click “Create” and select the hard disk file type (VDI is the default and recommended type).
- Configure your VM settings. With the VM highlighted, configure your system, display, and storage settings.
- Install the guest OS. Click the “Start” button, and the VM should boot from the ISO you attach. VirtualBox also recommends installing Guest Additions — a set of software tools designed to enhance performance and provide better integration with the host system.
That’s it — following these steps will install a new virtual machine on your Linux device. Though some steps may differ slightly depending on your Linux device, they should remain relatively similar.
How to set up multiple virtual machines
Want to create multiple VMs on the same device? Doing so shouldn’t be a problem as long as your physical computer has enough disk space.
While you can create multiple VMs in many ways, manually setting up new virtual machines is the simplest option. For example, if you’re using a Windows OS, add a new virtual machine following the Hyper-V Manager steps mentioned above.
However, be mindful of your system resources. Each virtual machine uses CPU time, memory (RAM), computer storage, and network. Running many virtual machines on the same computer may significantly slow your performance.
How to shut down a virtual machine
When your virtual machine is not in use, it’s a good idea to shut it down. Shutting down your virtual machine releases system resources and may improve computer performance.
How you shut down a virtual machine can vary depending on the virtualization platform and the OS. However, typically, shutting it down involves the following steps.
- Access the virtual machine screen. Ensure you have the virtual machine console or display window in front of you.
- Initiate shutdown on the start or system menu. The best way to shut down a virtual machine is to mimic a regular physical machine shutdown. This process allows the operating system to close any processes and services properly.
- Use the virtualization platform’s controls. If you can’t shut down the virtual machine using the system menu or if it becomes unresponsive, you can shut it down using the virtualization platform controls. Don’t use this method too much because it’s similar to powering off a system by pressing the power button (which isn’t great for your device).
Why would you want to set up a virtual machine?
You may want to install a virtual machine for many reasons — from trying out a new operating system to dealing with malware or viruses. Here are some common reasons users create virtual machines.
- Running different operating systems. A virtual machine allows users to run several OS on one processor without needing a separate computer for each operating system. Let’s say you mainly use a Mac because you love the interface, but specific software is only available on Windows. Creating a virtual machine means accessing this software easily from your Mac device.
- Using old programs. Some older software doesn’t work on the latest operating system versions. A virtual machine can help you access this software by running an older operating system version.
- Developing software. You can use a virtual machine to test your software in different operating systems without using different devices. It’s a convenient way to ensure your software runs efficiently across different operating systems.
- Sandboxing cybersecurity threats. Virtual machines are isolated from the main machine (the host computer) and other virtual machines. Their isolation makes them the perfect “sandboxes” — or virtual places where security experts examine potentially harmful files or malicious software. Opening a malicious file within a virtual machine environment prevents it from spreading to the rest of the device.
- Improving your device’s security. Using a virtual machine may provide cybersecurity benefits. For example, if you visit an unsafe website or open a spam email in a virtual environment, the threat won’t spread to your device and be isolated within the machine.
As you can see, creating a virtual machine can offer many benefits. However, when using one, it is always important to be mindful of your security and privacy. We’ll cover this in the next section.
Stay secure while using a virtual machine
Though virtual machines offer several security benefits, they may also pose several risks. Configuring your VM correctly and regularly updating it is important. Misconfigured or outdated VMs may introduce system vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.
One popular virtual machine hypervisor is Proxmox — a virtual environment that offers open-source virtualization and centralized virtual machine management. If you choose to use Proxmox, consider including NordVPN’s Meshnet in the Proxmox setup to enable secure remote control of the hypervisor. This configuration lets you securely manage and maintain your virtual machines from anywhere. Here’s how to use Proxmox VE remotely over Meshnet.