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How to use virtual machines to test Windows 10 Insider builds without risking your system

The Windows Insider Preview program allows anyone to install early builds of Windows 10 to test upcoming features that will become part of the operating system. It's easy to enroll and install, but we just can't recommend that you use it as your OS on your primary computer. Preview builds can be buggy, they can glitch, if something goes wrong, however unlikely, it could take down your entire computer.

But if you don't have a second computer around and still want to test out the latest Windows 10 Insider builds, don't worry. There's a safe and easy way to install and try them out: virtual machines — a computer within your computer.

If you're running Windows 10 Pro, you can install Hyper-V on your PC to create a virtual machine to test drive the operating system without having to put your system or data at risk.

In this Windows 10 guide, we'll walk you through the steps to install Hyper-V, create a virtual machine, and install the latest test version of the operating system.

Things you'll need for this guide

How to install Hyper-V on Windows 10

Hyper-V is a virtualization technology from Microsoft, which you can install on Windows 10 to create and manage multiple virtual machines running different operating systems on one physical computer. This feature is part of the operating system, but you have to install manually, and the easiest way to add it to your system is by using Control Panel.

How to make sure your PC supports Hyper-V

Before you move ahead with the installation, it's important to note that Hyper-V is only available on Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, and Education.

Your computer must also meet these minimum hardware specifications:

  • 64-bit CPU with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT)
  • Processor must support VM Monitor Mode Extension (VT-c on Intel chips)
  • Minimum of 4GB of RAM

In addition, you have to make sure the Virtualization Technology and Hardware Enforced Data Execution Prevention options are enabled on your system BIOS (usually these settings are enabled by default).

You can quickly verify your computer has the required support for Hyper-V using Systeminfo.exe:

  1. Open Command Prompt.
  2. Type the following command and press Enter:systeminfo.exe
  3. Look under Hyper-V Requirements, and if the result reads Yes, then you can run Hyper-V.

If the command displays No under Hyper-V Requirements, then your computer doesn't support this feature, or you need to make sure to enable the corresponding settings.

How to install Hyper-V

Now that you know your PC meets the minimum requirements, you can proceed to install Hyper-V:

  1. Open Control Panel.
  2. Click on Programs.
  3. Click on Turn Windows features on or off.

  1. Check the Hyper-V option making sure: Hyper-V Management Tools and Hyper-V Platform are also selected.
  2. Click OK to begin the process.

  1. After the installation completes, click Restart now to apply the changes.

How to create a virtual machine using Hyper-V

Once you completed the installation of Hyper-V, you'll need to create a Windows 10 virtual machine.

Before anything else, you must create a virtual switch to enable the device to connect to the internet:

  1. Open Start, do a search for and open Hyper-V Manager.
  2. Click on the Action menu.
  3. Select New and click on Virtual Switch Manager.

  1. On the left pane, select New virtual network switch.
  2. On the right, select External.
  3. Click the Create Virtual Switch button.

  1. Enter a new descriptive name for the switch (e.g., MyVirtualSwitch).
  2. Under connection type, make sure your network adapter is select on External network.
  3. Click Apply.
  4. Click OK to complete the task.

Once you have created the virtual switch, you can proceed and create a new virtual machine:

  1. Open Start, do a search for and open Hyper-V Manager.
  2. Click on the Action menu.
  3. Select New and click on Virtual Machine.

  1. Click Next to begin the process.
  2. Enter a descriptive name for your virtual machine (e.g., Win10CA-Preview).
  3. Leave the default location to store your virtual machine or check the Store the virtual machine in a different location option to enter a new path.
  4. Click Next to continue.

  1. You're building a test machine, as such you can leave the default Generation 1 option selected.
  2. Click Next.

  1. Enter the amount of RAM to allocate for your virtual machine. For example, you can enter 2048 to allocate 2GB of memory.You can allocate as much memory as you want, but this setting will always depend on the physical memory available on your computer. You'll also want to ensure you leave enough memory to still run your standard Windows 10 install at the same time.
  2. Click Next.

  1. On Configure Networking, select the virtual switch you created earlier from the drop-down menu.
  2. Click Next.

  1. You can leave all the default settings to create a virtual hard drive, but under Size make sure to use a more reasonable drive size like 30GB to 40GB.
  2. Click Next to continue.

  1. On Installation options, select the Install an operating system from a bootable CD/DVD-ROM option.
  2. Select the Image file (.iso) option.
  3. Enter the path for the ISO file with the Windows 10 installation files.
  4. Click Next.
  5. Click Finish to complete the task.

How to install Windows 10 on a virtual machine

Now you need to fire up the virtual machine and install the operating system.

  1. On Hyper-V Manager, under Virtual Machine, right-click the newly created device, and select Connect.

  1. Click the Power button to start the virtual machine.
  2. Click Next on the Windows 10 setup screen.

  1. Click the Install now button.

  1. Enter the product key if prompted. (You can always click the I don't have a product key option, to skip the step, but you'll need to enter it after the installation.)
  2. Click Next.

  1. Select the version of Windows 10 to which you have the product key.
  2. Click Next.

  1. Accept the licensing agreements.
  2. Click Next.

  1. Click the Custom: Install Windows Only (advanced) option.

  1. Click Next to begin the installation process.

After the installation, you'll have to follow the on-screen directions to finish setting up the out-of-box experience, and remember to use your Microsoft account to create a local profile on your computer.

Make sure to activate and enroll your virtual machine

The final step is to ensure your virtual machine is properly activated and enrolled in the Fast Ring.

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & security.
  3. Click on Activation.
  4. If you entered the correct product key during the installation, the chances are that you're PC is activated, otherwise click the Change product key to provide one. Or you can click the Go to Store link to purchase a new license.

If you followed all our steps installing the latest available preview build of Windows 10 and you used a Microsoft account during the setup, then your virtual machine will be automatically enrolled in the Slow Ring of the Windows Insider Preview program.

In case you're looking to test the latest preview, then you must change your PC ring level to Fast:

  1. Open Settings.
  2. Click on Update & security.
  3. Click on Windows Insider Program.
  4. Under Choose your Insider level, select Fast from the drop-down menu.

Now go back to Windows Update settings to check for updates and download the latest preview build of Windows 10 -- just remember that it can take up to 24 hours for any pre-release version of the operating system appears on your new virtual machine.

Wrapping things up

Using a virtual machine is perhaps one of the safest way to test pre-release versions of Windows 10 without putting your computer and data at risk from unfinished software.

Though, the only caveat is that you'll be running a virtual machine alongside your current installation, as such you'll be trading off some performance when you do. However, it's a good compromise if you don't have an spare computer or you don't want to go the dual-boot route.

It's worth pointing out that there is a number of virtualization solutions out there that you can choose from, but Microsoft's Hyper-V works, it fully supports Windows 10, and it's already available with the operating system.

How do you test Insider preview builds of Windows 10? Tell us in the comments below.

More Windows 10 resources

For more help articles, coverage, and answers on Windows 10, you can check out these resources:

Mauro Huculak is technical writer for WindowsCentral.com. His primary focus is to write comprehensive how-tos to help users get the most out of Windows 10 and its many related technologies. He has an IT background with professional certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTIA, and he's a recognized member of the Microsoft MVP community.

38 Comments
  • Won't insider builds activate with your MSA??
  • Unfortunately not.
  • well, that sucks.
  • So wait, I'm confused here. Do we need a NEW activation code for just testing a virtual Windows 10 OS within our activated Win10 OS??
    .
    Basically, buy two copies ?! That's just crazy ! They should at least give insiders a better option ! An option to just install the virtual part using ur account details so that piracy is minimised.
  • To be fair, there is no way for an OS which is running inside a VM to know that it is running inside a VM.
    But yes, from the user's point of view it is illogical. They could have let the insider builds free so anyone could test them, but then people would install them and use them as their everyday OS. So they let them run but they disabled personalisation features.
  • OR they could have it such a way that you NEED an activated copy (genuine) to run your 'free' VM.
  • Earlier W10 builds (in 2014 and 2015) allowed anyone to use the Insider builds and in some cases, people were able to get an authentic/genuine version once W10 was released.
    .
    This can cause Microsoft to lose potential customers who would rather buy new computers, and prevent piracy from spreading even further, so Microsoft doesn't have that option anymore.
  • Why can't Hyper-V take care of activating a virtualized Windows? Hyper-V knows you're running a virtual machine, it can know if your actual machine is activated, and I imagine it can somehow mimic/relay your hardware key (the one that comes embedded on new PCs so you don't have to enter a product key) to activate.
  • Nice idea, that's certainly feasible. They should implement it.
  • This is actually how it works on Windows Server Datacenter Edition only (and you pay dearly for that licensing model).
  • I thought your mea carries the digital licenses, I've activated new pc's with insider builds before
  • We're talking about insider builds as a VM.
  • Just to mention that you need a unique license for every single copy of Windows 10, even for insider builds that are installed inside a VM. Without a license, some features (personalisation settings for example) will be disabled. I don't know who will purchase a license just to test insider builds inside a VM, but if you are smart there is a way to mitigate it. I will not say how though.
  • If you are a developer, MSDN subscriber, or a university student (DreamSpark), then you get a couple of licenses included in the deal which can be used for W10 Insider builds
  • Tried Hyper-v. Better performance with the virtual machine than virtual box. But I noticed having Hyper-v installed affected gaming performance negatively with lag on almost all games. It's better and easier with virtualbox.
  • Hyper V is designed with Server in focus. So Yeah, 3D, Gaming and other graphic related stuffs won't work properly.
  • Quick question on Hyper V - if you set this up on a powerful workstation, can you RDP into the virtual machine in full screen mode from another, weaker, PC on the network, making it SEEM like you've got a better desktop?
    My 11yr old is programming in Roblox now but has an i3 laptop. Thinking of getting an i7 desktop for myself, but wondering if I can create a VDI session for him to use remotely?
  • Of course you can.
  • Yea you assign the resources on the vm then when they rdp to the vm it uses the vms resources not the computers resources that you're rdping from. Just a note on that though make sure you not only enable remote access via rdp in the system settings you also need to allow rdp through the windows firewall.
  • Ys you can...
    BUT, you will still be stuck with lower video quality of the machine you remote in from.
  • Understood. But that should be fine. Roblox is like Minecraft anyway, and he needs it more for processing than fluid graphics. I've RDP'd from Windows 10 into servers before and know that the Start menu and Taskbar look like legacy Windows XP/7, but when you remote from Windows 10 to a Windows 10 VM, is the desktop UX the same as if you're logged in locally?
  • lower video quality only if the devices are RDP over WiFi. If everything is done through wired internet then no loss of video quality
  • Or just use Oracle Virtual Box....way easier to setup. It's for testing purposes, so performance isn't a concern for most in this siutation. You're testing features and bugs for the most part.
  • Can I run android iso in hyper v?
  • If the Android iso uses virtualization, you might not be able to.
  • Well, the Visual Studio Android Emulators use Hyper-V, I use the emulators for development but also every now and again for Android Prime Now, as in the UK you still have to use an app rather than the website and there is no W10M app for Prime Now
  • You can run android for win32 architecture. Also if ur just looking android apps you can use bluestacks
  • Ok
  • This is good for testing, but remember that to really be a useful Insider you're best to use it every day. Microsoft won't gain very much benefit from the telemetry coming from infrequent use on virtual hardware. The really helpful information comes from daily usage on real hardware.
  • That's what I came here to say. I think most insiders are insiders because they want new features now. They want to use, not test. Testing is for MS employees. Maybe they're targeting app developers with this? But if that were the case, I would assume they would know how to setup a VM.
  • Yeah, I think you're right. There's a strong culture of complaining when there are no builds, and then complaining when builds don't work. But I think for the most part this is ok, provided you're running the builds fairly regularly. Microsoft gets a lot of valuable information from that even if you're not reporting issues (and due to the low quality of many issues reported, I think that's best left up to people who know how to do it effectively). Running a VM is fine if you want to check out the new features or ensure that a build isn't horrendously buggy before installing it. But it's not going to help Microsoft at all, and without your specific combination of hardware it's not going to be a very good test as to whether it will run ok on your machine or not. Personally, at least 50% of why I'm an Insider is because I want to contribute to making Windows as great as it possibly can be. The other half is so I can try new features as soon as possible.
  • I've been using Virtualbox for testing with since the first Insider builds. For some reason my install activated too using the Windows 7 product key that I used to upgrade my actual pc (in effect it activated twice using the same licence)
  • Fun fact, a lot of low-end laptops and workstations are fully compatible with Hyper-V. A few years ago I used to run it on my netbook that surprisingly had a 64-bit CPU. Actually ran decently.
  • I uninstalled Hyper-V, because I had a BSOD every time I started another virtual machine. Or Android emulators, such as BlueStacks.
  • This happened to me when I tried to install Android 6.0 in HV.
  • Usually, the OS prevent two different Virtualization architectures (such as Hyper-V & VirtualBox) to run simultaneously. There are workarounds for this. A more cumbersome one is to uninstall Hyper-V eevbrytime you want to use something else and reboot. A less cumbersome way which comes from a seemingly legitimate source is here: http://www.hanselman.com/blog/SwitchEasilyBetweenVirtualBoxAndHyperVWith...  In case the link fails in the future, here is the crux of it-- """ Instead, from an administrative command prompt I made a copy of my boot menu with a "No Hyper-V" entry: Note the first command gives you a GUID and you then copy it and use it with the second command. C:\>bcdedit /copy {current} /d "No Hyper-V"
    The entry was successfully copied to {ff-23-113-824e-5c5144ea}. C:\>bcdedit /set {ff-23-113-824e-5c5144ea} hypervisorlaunchtype off
    The operation completed successfully. In order to access the new boot menu, I select Settings (Windows Key + C) then Power, and Restart but hold down shift on the keyboard while clicking Restart with the mouse. """ Another commenter proposed a batch file to simplify the restart and selection procedure: """ You can also make a .bat file which will reboot into No Hypervisor Mode directly (or any other special boot option you may create):
    bcdedit.exe /bootsequence {your-target-boot-option-guid}
    shutdown.exe /r /t 0 /f #(Reboot the computer immediately) Note: The bcdedit /bootsequence parameter does not make any permanent changes to your boot sequence; it only applies on your next reboot. """ One commenter on this thread posted links on how to Simulate Android on Hyper-V, whcih can be a good alternative. The third link failed on me but I am posting it here regardless. """ http://blog.dot42.com/2013/08/running-android-43-in-hyper-v.html
    http://luisrato.wordpress.com/2013/10/15/how-to-install-android-x86-on-h...
    http://www.servethehome.com/installing-android-x86-hyper-v-windows-8-1/ """   One poster seemed to have lucked out somehow, nobody seems sure how: https://forums.virtualbox.org/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=69011#p328868 hope this is useful for someone, someday
     
  • Minimum RAM should be 8GB. I tried on my 4GB and it was so slow....
  • Shouldn't the requirement of using a Pro or Enterprise host have been listed in the requirements section?