With Windows 10 now installed on a mind boggling number of PCs worldwide, those who haven’t yet made the switch may well be tempted to give it a try. Upgrading an entire operating system is a pretty big deal though, so one way to test it out without committing yourself entirely is to use a Virtual Machine. In this feature we’ll show you how to achieve this, so you can delve deeper into the mysteries of Windows 10.

See also: Windows 10 review

What is a virtual machine?

A Virtual Machine is a piece of software that essentially creates a sandbox into which you can install an operating system without it directly affecting the existing one on your PC. The benefits of this is that you can trial run a new OS while leaving your device unmolested: simply turn off the VM and your system is exactly the same as it was before. You can also run more than one VM on your machine, meaning you can sample Windows 10, Ubuntu 15.10, and Fedora 23, while never leaving the comfort of Windows 7. Virtual machines can be quite resource hungry, so you might want to avoid having all of those operating systems open at once, or your machine may slow to a crawl.

There are several well known VM programs available, but probably the best place to start is with the free and fully featured Oracle VM VirtualBox, which you can download from the link below.

Oracle VM Virtualbox download

Run Windows 10 in a VM

What you will need:

Windows

Once you’ve downloaded the VirtualBox software you’ll also need to acquire a copy of Windows 10. This is a little more difficult now that the Technical Preview is no longer free, and requires you instead to enter a Windows activation key. It is possible to download the Windows ISO for the technical preview, then click Skip when at the activation stage of the installation, but we’ve seen mixed results with this approach. Still, it’s worth a go.

Another approach is to download the Windows 10 Enterprise 90 day evaluation ISO which will give you an idea of how the OS runs, and enough time to decide whether it’s for you. Just remember that some of the advanced features won’t be there on the Home edition.

Hard disk space

Installing operating systems, even into VMs, still requires a far bit of storage space on your machine. Microsoft recommend 20GB for the 64-bit version of Windows 10, but you’ll obviously want more than that spare on your machine to avoid generally slowing down your system.

RAM

With all the thinking a PC has to do when running multiple operating systems at the same time, you’ll want as much RAM as possible. Official recommendations are for 2GB, but we think 4GB would be the most comfortable minimum.

Setting up the Virtual Machine

Once you’ve downloaded and installed VirtualBox, run the program and you’ll be presented with a mostly empty menu welcoming you to the software. To create the Windows 10 VM you’ll first need to click on the New icon in the top left corner of the window. Next you’ll be asked to name the VM and select which type it is from a couple of drop down menus.

Run Windows 10 in a VM

After selecting your version of Windows you’ll need to allocate the Memory size that the VM will have access to. VirtualBox will recommend an amount, and we suggest you go with that then click next.

Now you’ll be asked if you wish to add a virtual drive for the VM? Agree to this by clicking the Create button, then select VDI (Virtual Disk Image) from the list, click next, then select the Fixed Size option on the next page. Finally you’ll be asked to name the drive and confirm it’s size (again go with the recommended amount). Click Create to complete the process.

Run Windows 10 in a VM

When the virtual drive has been built you can now begin installing Windows 10. To do this select the Start arrow then click on the folder to the right of the dropdown menu that appears. Here you can navigate to the version of Windows 10 that you downloaded earlier.

 Run Windows 10 in a VM

Once you’ve selecting the ISO click on the Start button and the OS should now install on your virtual machine, where you can explore Windows 10 at your leisure.

In some instances we have seen problems with compatibility of certain PCs. Solutions to this can range from needing to update the BIOS, to disabling Hyper-V on your system. If you do encounter any errors, then the best thing is to enter the codes into Google and hunt down the solution that is relevant for your specific system, as there would obviously be too many possibilities to list in this article.