Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


Connectix Virtual PC
for Windows
by
Morris Turpin

Emulators have been around for some time now and Connectix has been at the forefront with its Virtual PC for the Macintosh. This program has allowed Macintosh users over the years to run Windows or DOS-based programs by emulating a Pentium system on the Mac.  Connectix now produces Virtual PC for Windows, which allows Windows users to create one or more X86-based virtual machines on a Windows platform.

If you use legacy hardware or software that forces you to use a dual-boot system then this could be the solution for you. Or, if you want to run multiple operating systems for software development or just to experiment with different operating systems, Virtual PC for Windows will let you do all this on a single computer without the need to reboot.

Virtual PC for Windows enables a single PC to run multiple operating systems simultaneously. Unlike the Macintosh version, which must emulate the Pentium processor, the PC version runs most of its code natively. This results in faster code execution since code not directly accessing the hardware runs at the full speed of the host PC.

Host operating systems can be Windows ME, Windows 2000 Professional, Windows NT 4.0 with SP 6, Windows XP Home or Windows XP Professional. Operating systems running in the virtual machine (the guest OS) can be any version of DOS, any version of Windows from 3.1 to XP Professional, including server versions, OS/2 version 4, and many distributions of Linux or BSD UNIX.

Installation is about as easy as any program can be, just insert the CD and follow the installation wizards. The procedure is to first install Virtual PC for Windows on the host computer, create one or more virtual PCs and then install the guest operating systems. Again, the wizards walk you step-by-step through the installation.

Connectix provides two methods for installing a guest operating system. If you already have an OS you’d like to use it’s as easy to install it to a virtual PC as it is to install it on any other hard drive partition. The virtual PC will accept a bootable floppy or a bootable CD for the installation. As an alternative, Connectix sells OS Packs, which work with either Virtual PC for the Macintosh or Virtual PC for Windows. These packs are pre-installed and pre-configured versions of Windows 2000, ME or 98. This makes installation of the guest OS as easy as dragging the disk image from the CD to a directory on your hard drive.

To start a guest OS, first open Virtual PC, select the guest OS and click on the Start Up button. After booting, the OS is ready to use. At this point you can install your applications.  If the guest OS is a Windows machine, it’s recommended that you install VPC Additions at this time as well. VPC Additions provides further integration between the guest and host PCs. These enhancements include pointer integration, allowing the pointer to move freely between the guest and host PC, drag and drop of files and folders, copy and paste, sharing folders, sharing CDs, sharing volumes and clock synchronization.

Virtual PC gives you the option to set the virtual hard disk to “undoable”. This provides the ability to make any changes you want to the OS or any applications running on it, then turn off the PC and lose any changes that you made. This mode is extremely valuable when you’re experimenting and run the risk of doing damage to the application or the OS.  When re-started, the virtual PC is in its original state.

By default, the guest PC is networked with its host PC sharing the host’s TCP/IP address and, through Network Address Translation (NAT), with other computers on the host’s network. This provides the ability to access any of the host’s drives as well as any other resources that are available to the host on the physical network. Windows-based guest PCs can share folders with other computers on the network; this option assigns a local drive letter to the shared folder for easier access.

Connectix provides a copy of PC DOS 2000 with Virtual PC. I also installed Windows 98 and Mandrake-Linux. The only trouble I experienced was with the Windows 98 guest.  I was able to drag and drop a file from the guest PC to the host but was unable to do the same from host to guest. Connectix’ support department was responsive and was eventually able to duplicate the problem but so far no fix has been forthcoming. My primary reason for running Virtual PC was to gain access to my Xerox P12 laser printer; a fine printer but one without Windows 2000 drivers.  Under Virtual PC, I was able to do exactly what I needed to do without having to reboot into a separate Windows 98 partition.

Connectix specifies the minimum CPU speed at 266 MHz but recommends 500 MHz. Almost any Intel or AMD CPU meeting these speed requirements and having level 2 cache will do. The amount of memory varies with the host and guest operating systems used but it ranges from a minimum of 128 MB to run either DOS or Windows 3.1 as guest OS’s with Windows ME as the host platform to 320 MB to run Windows 2000 Advanced Server as the guest OS on a Windows 2000 Professional host platform. Specific information can be obtained from the Connectix web site at http://www.connectix.com/products/vpc4w.html.

My system has an AMD 1.33 GHz CPU with 512 MB DDR RAM.  Running Windows 98 as the guest OS, a little slowdown was noticeable between running applications in the Virtual PC compared with running them under Windows 98 natively in its own partition. Accessing the physical network was noticeably slower than under native Windows 98 but any delays were certainly tolerable. Using the “save PC state” option when shutting down results in shutdowns and startups of less than 5 seconds.

Virtual PC is not a product that everybody will have a need for but for those that do, it just could be the best solution available.


Bottom Line:

Connectix Virtual PC for Windows
US$199
from Connectix
Web site: http://www.connectix.com/products/vpc4w.html


Copyright and Usage
Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

The opinions expressed in these reviews may not necessarily
represent the views of the OPCUG or its members.