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Virtualization allows one operating system (OS) to run on another OS. But did you know that a Virtual Machine (VM) clone of your hard drive can put your entire computer inside of another computer? With VMs, the possibilities are endless. For most people, though, virtualization enables playing older games using emulation How Does Emulation Work and Why Is It So Slow? How Does Emulation Work and Why Is It So Slow? You've probably heard of emulation before, but do you know what emulation actually means or how it works? Read More , the ability to sandbox What's A Sandbox, And Why Should You Be Playing in One What's A Sandbox, And Why Should You Be Playing in One Highly-connective programs can do a lot, but they're also an open invitation for bad hackers to strike. To prevent strikes from becoming successful, a developer would have to spot and close every single hole in... Read More , running multiple OSes What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? What's the Best Way to Run Multiple Operating Systems on Your PC? Undecided between Windows and Linux? It's possible to run multiple OSes on a single machine either by dual booting or using a virtual machine. Let's find out which one is best for you. Read More , and much more (practical VM uses 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine 7 Practical Reasons to Start Using a Virtual Machine The term "virtual" has been co-opted in so many ways. Virtual reality. Virtual RAM. Virtual schools. But Virtualization in the context of PCs can be confusing. We're here to clear it up. Read More ). You can even set up a Windows virtual machine in Linux How to Set Up a Windows Virtual Machine in Linux How to Set Up a Windows Virtual Machine in Linux Many home users prefer to run a dual-boot setup when both Windows and Linux are needed, but if you'd rather run Windows inside Linux, here's how to set that up. Read More .

This article covers how to create a VM clone of your system and how to use it once you’ve managed to create the virtual machine.

Creating a Virtual Machine Clone

Creating a VM clone is simple thanks to Microsoft’s Disk2VHD or CloneVDI. Disk2VHD creates a copy of your installed software that runs on software known as a virtual machine What Is a Virtual Machine? What Is a Virtual Machine? Virtual machines allow you to run other operating systems within your current operating system, but why does that matter? What are the pros and cons? Read More . A virtual machine fakes the environment of a physical computer. Think of it as a holodeck for software. Once created, the duplicated image can work on any hardware with a VM installed. While Disk2VHD creates a copy of your hard drive’s contents, it doesn’t function as a system backup.

The software requires very little space, works on Windows Vista and later, and doesn’t require installation (it’s a portable app). To create a virtual machine, simply unzip the archive and run the Disk2vhd.exe executable as an administrator. The easiest method to do this in Windows 10 is to open the Disk2vhd folder and right click on the Disk2vhd.exe file and select Run as administrator from the context menu.

In the Space Required column, Disk2VHD shows you the amount of hard disk space you will need to have in order to create the virtual hard disk from your computer’s partitions. The larger the partition, the longer the process takes. Furthermore, the process creates a complete copy of your system, so you need at least double the space required. For example, if your C:\ takes up 140 GB, you will need at least 140 GB of free space. Once ready, click on the Create button at the bottom of the interface. The process can take a long time, depending on your processor’s speed and the size of your installation.

It took my Acer Switch Alpha 12 around 10 minutes to create a VHD file. The example below is of a VHDX file, which is similar to a VHD file.

Note: The VHDX file format isn’t supported by all Virtual Machine software. You may want to uncheck that box if you aren’t sure if your software supports it. It’s located on the upper-right side of the interface.

After creating the VHD file, you can use a virtualization app to run it. Several VM programs exist, but my favorite is the open source VirtualBox (the MakeUseOf guide to VirtualBox How To Use VirtualBox: User's Guide How To Use VirtualBox: User's Guide Learn to use VirtualBox. Get virtual computers up and running inside your computer, without having to buy any new hardware. Read More ). However, VMware’s Workstation Player doesn’t cost a dime and offers better functionality. For the purposes of instruction, however, I will use VirtualBox.

Running a Virtual Machine Image

There are two ways that you can access the contents of a VHD file. Windows, from Vista on, can directly explore within a VHD file by double-clicking on it (most of the time, see below). The second method, booting a VHD file from within a VM, though, requires a bit more effort — and it isn’t worth the effort to make the image bootable.

To get started browsing the files of a VHD, navigate to Disk Management in Control Panel. Disk Management’s name in the Windows Search Bar is Create and format hard disk partitions.

From within Disk Management, choose Action from the menu bar at the top. Then click on Attach VHD.

The next few steps are self-explanatory. However, it requires manually locating the VHD file you created with Disk2VHD. Unless you changed its default location, the VHD file gets created inside of the Disk2VHD folder. That’s more than likely inside of your Downloads directory.

Click on Browse and then navigate to the directory where you stored the VHD file. Select it and then click OK. The image will attach itself to your system and become available as a standalone disk. You can then browse it as you would an external drive.

Should You Create a VHD?

On the downside, once you’ve created a VHD of your hard drive, you can’t boot it from within a virtual machine, without tallying another activation on your Windows license. On the other hand, an image of your OS retains essential files that you can always restore in the event of a catastrophic data loss. Overall, though, I prefer creating an image using Macrium Reflect.

What’s your take on virtualization of a hard drive? Does anyone have a better tool?

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  1. Sarah
    July 3, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    I would like to turn my old XP machine into a VM on my Win10 machine. Looking at the steps given, and the comments, I have a few questions:

    Do I run Disk2VHD / CloneVDI on the old machine or the new one? (Old one is still working fine, its just old, and XP.)

    I want to be able to continue to run a few legacy apps in the VM for some time to come (ie not just 3 days). Does that mean I can't use the above, but need some different s/w? I have the XP key.

    Thanks for all help! This is something new to me, though I am used to using a VM at work.

    Sarah

    • Kannon Yamada
      July 12, 2017 at 8:47 pm

      Hi Sarah, sorry for the late reply! So Windows has built-in piracy protection that prevents you from running a virtualized copy inside of an emulator. I believe it can be done but chances are that you won't be able to boot that copy unless it was a volume license installation (and then it would detect that you installed the software on new hardware and thus require another activation).

      The process here allows you to create a virtualized copy -- which unfortunately appears to be used for archival purposes. I believe it's possible to download a FREE copy of XP for use inside of a virtual machine. If you use this method, you could run XP and use the apps that you need from within the VM.

  2. Efi
    August 14, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    This one sucks it doesn't work with x64bit system ... use VMware vCenter Converter Standalone Client and then VMware Workstation 12 Player
    both are free

  3. Jim
    March 10, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Will this allow the VM to utilize the host network connection?

  4. naveen
    February 22, 2015 at 6:17 pm

    The windows OS image that is imported this way into Virtuablbox or any other virtualization tool , will only work for few days (3 days in generral) as Windows operating systems have a built-in feature for re-activation of license when there are significant changes to the hardware....so, if you really intend to make this as a parallel standalone OS in addition to existing OS, you should buy an additional license for the VM version!

  5. raj
    October 24, 2009 at 10:04 am

    gR8!!!I have been having this problem for so long, wondering how i could use my home comp in office w/o having to actually carry it. Its a great article and thanks a bunch.

  6. mchlbk
    October 13, 2009 at 5:00 pm

    This is the coolest thing ever!

  7. Ernesto
    October 12, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    Something strange is that Disk2vhd have a 64 bits version, which I use to test it. But.... Microsoft Virtual Pc don't support 64 bits systems. So it turns useless if you have a 64 bits system.

    Instead I used VMware Converter Free edition to backup, in case a future upgrade, my system.

    • afsdga
      November 12, 2009 at 10:41 am

      had the same problem:
      my current (host) windows xp x64 was imaged in a .vhd but i can't start it because virtual pc only supports 32bit guest operating systems :(

      • Siko
        November 3, 2016 at 1:40 am

        ATTENTION for all above comments:
        Use Oracle VirtualBox as virtualization tool which supports any kind of virtual HDD formats plus 32/64 architecture.