Monday, January 3, 2011

VMware Workstation, Windows 7 Host: Setting Up WinXP Guests

I was transitioning away from running Windows XP in a VMware Workstation virtual machine (VM) in an Ubuntu host.  The new concept was that I would still run WinXP in VMware, but would do so on a Windows 7 host.  This post describes my early explorations in that direction.

I had found out that I could use my VMware Workstation license in either Linux or Windows, so I didn't need to buy another copy of that.  Hence, I could dispense with some of my previous deliberations about VMware Player.  I had also been concerned about having to create new WinXP VMs.  In part, that concern seemed to be justified.  I had some problems with a VM created by VMware Converter.  The original WinXP installation underlying that VM was around 25GB, which meant that it took longer to start up and save the big VM that Converter created from that installation.  These problems persuaded me to try to use smaller WinXP VMs in Workstation.

In the interests of improving the performance of Workstation and its VMs, I set up Win7 software RAID arrays, not only for data, but also for Win7 system files and for booting.  It developed, unfortunately, that it was not possible to boot Win7 from a software RAID0 array.  I therefore considered hardware RAID and also looked into booting Win7 within a virtual hard disk (VHD).

These proved to be very time-consuming investigations.  At the same time, I was also having second thoughts about the stability of Windows 7.  I had found it necessary to reboot it fairly frequently.  I was not entirely sure, in fact, that it would prove to be any more stable than Windows XP SP3 had been.  Under these circumstances, it was not entirely logical to sink a large quantity of time into refining what might prove to be a fairly flaky Win7 installation.  VMware Workstation for Windows had been stable enough, but WinXP, running within it, ran at a crawl.

What I decided to do, then, was to scale back my performance expectations, perhaps for the coming year, and to focus on stability and reliability.  This tended to argue against a RAID0 structure, among other things.  In short, it looked like I might just go back to a plain vanilla system for the time being -- plain, at least, in the sense that I might not be using RAID0, VMs, or VHDs.  I therefore decided to stop work on this post at this point, but to keep it for future reference in case I should decide to return to this pursuit later.