Running A Laptop As A Virtual Machine

This is a post I started back in March, I’m just now finishing it :).

I’ve been carrying a series of work-issued laptops for more than 15 years.  About six years ago, the Air Force issued me an HP 6930p.  It is a workhorse and worked well for me.  My company issued me an HP 6570b back in December, and after I changed contracts in March, I turned the 6930p back in with some regret.

I had previously backed up all the work files from the 6930p to the 6570b, that was easy. But I had some apps I wanted to have access to on the 6930p that I could not transfer. Since I didn’t want to buy an aftermarket 6930p, and I sure didn’t want to carry two laptops, I decided the best way to keep those apps around was to virtualize the 6930p.  I did some research and decided I would install a second disk in the 6570b.  I bought a laptop 2TB disk and a drive carrier, and started experimenting.

The first thing I did was install disk2vhd on the 6930p.  I told it to capture the disk, and off it went, this was about 2100.  From the progress bar, it looked like it would take about three hours to capture the disk.  I let it run overnight.  At 0200, W10 installed updates and rebooted, so that killed the capture.  I started it again the next afternoon, and at 1700 it was still running.  I carried the running computer out to my car while it kept capturing, and it was still capturing at home at 2300 when I went to bed, and at 0700 the next morning.  Hmmm…

I killed the process, and went looking for info.  Turns out that is common behavior by disk2vhd.  OK.  I noted the vhdx file was about the right size, and so I though WTH and tried to mount it.  Windows told me it was already mounted.  It would not un-mount.  That meant I could not copy it.  I restarted the computer with System Rescue CD, mounted the W10 drive, and copied the vhdx file off to a thumb drive.  So far, so good.  It was interesting that Windows found the vhdx file and auto-mounted it.

A note, I tried the disk2vhd program several times to try to get it to terminate.  I tried changing the output to vhd, and several other things (it’s easy to let the machine run overnight for tests like that).  Disk2vhd never properly terminated, but it still produced good files.

In the meantime, I was getting the 2TB drive ready.  I decided I would like to have my old friend Fedora running again, so I downloaded Fedora 22 and installed it.  But, it would not get the laptop wireless working.  Yum didn’t work at all (weird, that one).  A couple of other devices were not working.  I played with it a couple days on and off, and eventually got annoyed, and downloaded Ubuntu 14.04 workstation (I run 14.04 server on the school server, so that was a good match).

I had to use diskpart to hammer the existing Fedora installation install, for some reason Ubuntu wouldn’t overwrite the disk.  I built Ubuntu, and at the very end, it noted that it was installing GRUB.  I booted Ubuntu and it worked great, all devices worked, looking good.  Except, Ubuntu or GRUB had reached out to the other physical disk and wiped it out, very annoying.  I got that disk fixed, then came back and re-installed Ubuntu on the 2TB disk with the W7 disk completely removed from the computer and locked into a lead-lined vault (just kidding about that last).

I downloaded VMWare VirtualBox and installed it.  Then I copied the vhdx file over to the Linux disk.  I tried starting it, and VirtualBox helpfully told me to change the BIOS setting of the computer to support virtualization.  I rebooted, made the BIOS change, got back into VirtualBox, and started the VM, and… it started.  Just like that.  Just like that.  Whoa.

I was presented with my W10 login screen, and logged in.  There was my W10 desktop, surrounded by Linux.  Weird, and cool.

When it started, VirtualBox had showed several messages about keyboard and mouse capture, but they both worked equally with Linux and the VM.  The VM was connected to the wired network connection that Linux had, no problem (and I found later that it worked great when Linux was on a wireless connection as well).

There are a couple oddities.  The video driver that the VM uses isn’t the 6930p video card, so instead of a 1280×800 display (wide) I get a 1024×768 (I looked very briefly about installing a virtual driver but didn’t follow up).  One app (my Garmin Basecamp GPS mapping tool) complains that it can only run in 2D mode instead of 3D mode due to the video, but I don’t notice any difference.

W10 boots a little slower, but once booted it runs pretty darn fast.  I haven’t been able to get the VM to recognize USB drives.  Linux and VirtualBox recognize them, but the configuration setting doesn’t pass the drive through to the VM.  I’ve made up for that by using Google sites and Google drive to pass data into and out of the VM.

In the VM, I used a license crawler tool to get the MS Office license, then I removed Office (I use Office on my W7 laptop, and LibreOffice in Linux, no issues transferring between the two).  That Office license will go to upgrade Raegan’s office on her desktop.

I don’t know how long I will use the W10 VM.  I made an effort to ensure that my Ubuntu would do the same stuff that the W10 would do.  There have been two things I’ve had issues with, one is a replacement (or rehosting) of the Garmin Basecamp tool, and the other is a tool to convert a series of JPEG images captured from a wireless camera into an MPEG format for viewing.  I have access to an XP machine to do that right now, and it works OK.

So the virtualization effort was pretty painless.  The VM, when it is running, doesn’t impact my Ubuntu performance.

I might virtualize my W7 installation and see how it works next…

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