Installing Windows 11 to your main machine directly is foolhardy and overall, just really silly. If the developer build of Windows 11 fails in any capacity and you go over your ten-day limit before Windows purges the ‘.old’ file from its reserves, you’ll have to reinstall Windows 10 from scratch – more about that in our guide.
This is why I always fall back onto Virtual Machines whenever we have to do any testing of operating systems, because ruining a whole PC just to get some tests done on rather generic stuff, isn’t really my M.O.
What is a Virtual Machine?
A virtual machine is a piece of software that emulates an operating system off the back of your hardware. There are a few different versions out there, but today we’ll be using VMWare Workstation Player 16, a free (for non-commercial use) virtual machine that is currently the go-to for Windows 11. Because it’s the only free software that runs it properly.
Before we start
As of writing this, I’m working from home due to isolation, so my big souped-up PC with an AMD 2700X, 32GB of RAM and an NVIDIA 2070 with several SSD hard drives precariously hanging out the back is more than enough to take on a virtual machine.
While Microsoft isn’t enforcing the minimum specifications for the developer build – go read how to put Windows 11 on a Raspberry Pi – it’s highly recommended if you plan to use a Virtual Machine to consider what you’re actually doing.
You’re not only running your PC, but you’re also running a virtual PC, effectively a whole other computer, off the same hardware. Ensure you meet the minimum requirements to run VMWare first, as you’ll have to split resources with your new virtual machine, which if you begin running anything via Windows 11, will divert to the virtual machine in favour of yours.
Just think of it as losing a few bits along the way, then having to carry those bits in a bag up a hill. Pray your cardio is good and you’ll be fine.
Enable Virtualisation in BIOS
Modern systems have the ability to give virtualisation a lot more power. VMWare Workstation will not boot if the specific settings in the BIOS aren’t checked first. This is mostly to cover them so that they don’t get multiple complaints a day about how their software doesn’t work, it does, it just needs more than a singular CPU core to run.
We’re going to need to head into the BIOS for this, which there’s a couple of ways to do it.
First, reboot your PC and hit either F2, F4 or DEL to get in.
There should be a little message at the bottom to give you an indication of what button gets you in.
Access BIOS through Windows
The other method is via Windows. Go into Settings, Update & Security, and down the sidebar will be Activation.
Then click Restart Now under Advanced Start-Up.
Your PC will now boot into a blue page, we want Troubleshoot, Advanced Options, UEFI Firmware Settings. Then hit restart.
Turn on Intel and AMD Virtualisation
Now that we’re here, you’re going to want to locate a setting – it’s usually in the Advanced Mode – under CPU Configuration.
Intel Systems will find it’s called Intel Virtualisation Technology, while AMD will want to activate SVM Mode. The names might change between manufacturers, but it’s typically laid out like this.
Restart and boot back up into your PC.
Setting up VMWare
Head to VMWare’s download page and grab the file. Install this wherever you like, we’ll get into specifics in a moment.
We have a full guide on how to uninstall Windows 11, but the main tool we used there was the Media Creation Tool from Microsoft. This lets you straight-up download a whole ISO from them directly to install at a later date.
Plop the file onto a drive of your choice, I made it the same one where I was going to be installing Windows 11 via the Virtual Machine.
Create a New Virtual Machine
Click ‘Create a New Virtual Machine’, which will send you into the Wizard and then choose ‘Installer disc image file (iso)’, where we want to navigate to the ISO that the Windows Media Tool downloaded for us.
Give it a name and choose a drive with enough space to give your new virtual OS. I set mine to my external SSD, ensuring a quick system. Avoid your C: drive, you don’t want to bog it down with extra weight.
Set Storage Space
Give yourself plenty of room to install Windows 11, which is not the 60GB suggest size. This is for Windows 10, but even then, I set it to 128GB to emulate a laptop of some sort.
Change System Settings
Before you hit finish, you want to go into the Customize Hardware menu to rejig the specs you’re giving this machine. That’ll be where we diverge.
If your system has about 16GB or more in it, give yourself 8GB, this is plenty. The minimum is 4GB for a smooth running system.
The 2 CPU cores it’ll set you up with is also more than enough. Press finish and boot up!
Also, download the VMWare Tools, it’ll assist with emulation.
Install Windows 11
This is the boring bit, just follow the regular set-up and get into Windows 10.
VMWare supports multiple monitors, fullscreen and will allow you to copy and paste files or screenshots between the two systems. It’s the ideal sandbox for anyone wanting to test without any real commitment.
Once you’re done with the virtual machine entirely, you can just delete it all from within VMWare or File Explorer and go about your days as if nothing ever happened!