Windows 11 is a capable operating system, but it’s also very complex. Beneath the shiny new design and simplified user interface, there are tools and services you may never have heard of.
These can be safely ignored most of the time, but what if you’re trying a new app and it asks to make changes to your device? Or perhaps you’re following a tutorial that involves editing the Registry, risking irreversible damage to your PC if things go wrong.
Equally, you might be curious about a different operating system, but don’t want to go through the hassle of buying a separate device you may never use.
In all these scenarios, a solution is available for all Windows 11 users: virtual machines.
What is a virtual machine?
If you think of each laptop or PC as a physical machine, a virtual machine achieves the same effect using software. It allows you to run a full version of any operating system that’s completely separate from your main computer.
On Windows 11, you might be reluctant to make big changes and potentially not being able to go back to how things were. Using a virtual machine, that’s not a problem.
But Windows 11 isn’t an upgrade over its predecessor in all areas. Creating a Windows 10 virtual machine lets you dip in and out whenever you like.
Or maybe you’re curious as to how other operating systems work these days. Provided you can get your hands on an ISO file of macOS, Chrome OS, Linux or Ubuntu, all can be installed as virtual machines.
You can create as many of these as you like, but you probably won’t want to run them all simultaneously. Virtual machines typically require a lot of your computer’s resources, so use one at a time unless you have lots of spare RAM capacity.
How to create a virtual machine in Windows 11
The first stage involves downloading the operating system you’d like to create a virtual machine for. For the purposes of this tutorial, it’s a Windows 11 ISO file from the Microsoft website. An equivalent file is also available for Windows 10, but you’ll have to go elsewhere for other operating systems.
Once complete, make sure the ISO file can be easily located within File Explorer. Then, you’ll need to pair it with software that can run virtual machines. On Windows 11 Home, that’s only available via a third-party app. We’re using VMware’s Workstation Player, but other software will also work:
- Head to the VMware website and download Workstation Player for Windows. It’s free for personal use
- Once complete, open the file and allow it to make changes, before restarting your device
- Next, locate the setup file within File Explorer and double-click it
- Follow the instructions to complete installation, using recommended settings and not entering a licence key
- Open the installed app, then choose ‘Use VMware Workstation 16 Player for free for non-commercial use’ and click ‘Continue’
- Click ‘Finish’ from the next screen and you’ll be presented with the main app home screen. Click ‘Create a New Virtual Machine’ to begin
- Ensuring ‘Installer disc image file (iso)’ is selected, click ‘Browse…’ and choose the downloaded Windows 11 file before hitting ‘Next’
- Choose ‘Windows 10 and later x64’ as the version and click ‘Next’ again
- Choose a name and location for the virtual machine – this can be anywhere within File Explorer. Click ‘Next’ once more to confirm
- Enter at least 64 as the ‘Maximum disk size (GB)’ and select ‘Store virtual disk as a single file’ before hitting ‘Next’
- On the summary screen, choose ‘Customize Hardware…’ and increase the ‘Memory for this virtual machine’ to 8GB (8000 Mb). Click close, then ‘Finish’
- You’ll now see the virtual machine appear in the app. Click ‘Play virtual machine’ to start using it
- Click ‘OK’ to dismiss hint, then any key to boot from the ISO. If you see a message saying it timed out, restart the virtual machine and try again
- Follow the setup process as normal, choosing ‘I don’t have a product key’
- If you see a message saying, ‘This PC can’t run Windows 11’, hit Shift + F10 on your keyboard
- From the Command Prompt window, type the following and hit enter:
REG ADD HKLMSYSTEMSetupLabConfig /v BypassTPMCheck /t REG_DWORD /d 1
- Close the window and go back one step on the setup
- Following the process as normal, you should now be able to proceed. When presented with a choice of installation methods, choose ‘Custom: Install Windows only (advanced). As usual, the installation will take a few minutes
- It will refresh once complete, then follow the setup process as normal
That’s it! You’ll now have a fully functioning Windows 11 virtual machine that works independently of your main PC.
If you have Windows 11 Pro, third-party software isn’t necessary. Microsoft includes the Hyper-V virtualization tool with this version of its OS, but you’ll need to enable it first. Head to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features > Turn Windows features on or off to do just that.
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