How to install Windows 11 in a VM to try it without risk
Windows 11 is now rolling out to users around the world, and it’s an exciting time as Microsoft is finally bringing a breath of fresh air to Windows. Many of us are eager to try out the new features and design changes in the new OS, but there’s some risk involved. As with any newly-launched product, some issues can arise, so some of us are still worried about the impact of the update. If you’re worried about not enjoying the experience however, you can still try Windows 11 using a virtual machine (VM). Even if you’ve installed Windows 11 already, you can use a virtual machine to test Insider builds too.
Virtual machines are a great way to test software without damaging your computer. They create an isolated environment so that any files handled inside a VM can’t affect the host operating system. VMs also make it easy to boot up and shut down an operating system when you want to try it, so you don’t have to reboot your PC or have another one at hand.
There are many programs that allow you to create virtual machines, but in this case, we’re going with Hyper-V. This feature is built right into Windows, but it’s an optional feature you’ll need to enable. Officially you’ll need a Pro, Enterprise, or Education edition of Windows 10, but it’s possible to install it on Home editions with some tinkering.
How to enable Hyper-V in Windows 10/11
First things first, you need to make sure you have a PC compatible with Hyper-V. Running a VM is not a lightweight workload, so you’ll need at least 4GB of RAM on your host PC. In fact, for Windows 11, you’ll want even more, because the VM you’re creating should have 4GB to itself in order to support Windows 11, according to the system requirements.
There are two other things you’ll need:
- A 64-bit Processor with Second Level Address Translation (SLAT).
- CPU support for VM Monitor Mode Extension (VT-x on Intel CPUs).
Most modern processors should support these features, but it’s always best to make sure. You can check if your computer can support Hyper-V using Command Prompt or PowerShell. Here’s how to do it:
- Right-click the Start icon or press Windows key + X, then choose Command Prompt (Admin), Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Windows Terminal (Admin). Which option shows up depends on your version of Windows.
- Type systeminfo.exe in the Command Prompt/PowerShell window and press Enter.
- Check the Hyper-V requirements section at the end. All the items should say Yes for Hyper-V to work.
If Virtualization Enabled in Firmware says No, you can enable it in your computer’s firmware/BIOS settings, but those vary by device. Finally, you’ll need to make sure Hyper-V is enabled as an optional feature. To do this, follow these steps:
- Open Start and type Control Panel, then press Enter.
- Click Programs, then Turn Windows features on or off.
- Hyper-V should be one of the first options. Make sure it and its additional features are all enabled, as seen below:
Downloading a Windows ISO
With all that sorted out, you’re almost ready to create a virtual machine. The last thing you need is an ISO you’ll use for it. You have a few options here:
- Download an ISO for the latest stable version of Windows 11 from Microsoft’s website. This is the easiest and most reliable way to download Windows 11 to set up a VM.
- Download the latest Windows Insider Preview ISO, in case you want to test upcoming versions of Windows 11 before they’re generally available.
- Create your own Windows 11 ISO if you’re comfortable doing that. We’d recommend one of the other two options though.
Creating a Windows VM in Hyper-V
Creating a VM in Hyper-V isn’t as scary as it might initially seem. Here’s what you need to set up a VM with Windows 10 or 11:
- Open Start and type Hyper-V. Press Enter to launch Hyper-V Manager.
- If it’s the first time you’re launching it, you may need to click your PC’s name on the left-side menu first.
- On the right-side menu, click New, then Virtual machine.
- The Virtual machine Wizard will launch to guide you through the process. Click Next, then choose a name for your Windows 11 VM.
- A VM is saved as a file, and you can change where the file is saved if you want to. Once you’re done, click Next.
- Here, you’ll be asked what generation of VM you want to create. For new versions of Windows, like Windows 10 or 11, you’re going to want to use Generation 2.
- Next, you have to specify how much memory you want to assign to the virtual machine. As mentioned before, you’ll need at least 4GB of RAM, so enter 4096MB or more. Also, make sure to leave the Dynamic Memory option enabled.
- In the next step, change the connection type to Default Switch. This will allow your VM to access the internet, which you’ll need to download the Windows 11 update.
- Now, you have to set up a virtual hard disk. This will be the storage available for your VM, and you can choose any value you want as long as your host PC has that space free. However, you have to remember that Windows 11 requires 64GB of storage, so that’s the bare minimum you’ll need to choose. You can also change where the virtual hard disk is stored and change its name, but this is completely optional.
- This is where you’ll need the ISO file you downloaded before. Choose Install an operating system from a bootable image file, then click Browse to search for the ISO file you downloaded.
- Click Next, then Finish.
- In the Hyper-V Manager window, right-click the VM you just created, then click Settings….
- Click the Security section on the left-side menu and make sure the Enable Secure Boot and Enable Trusted Platform Module options are both enabled. You’ll need these for a Windows 11 VM. Also enable the option that says Encrypt state and virtual machine migration traffic. Click Apply before continuing.
- Switch to the Processor section on the left-side menu and increase the number of virtual processors to two or more. This is another minimum requirement for running Windows 11, so your VM needs to match. You can choose as many as you want, as long as you have a powerful enough processor.
- Click OK.
You’re now ready to use your Windows 11 VM. Double-click your newly created VM, then click Start. You’ll have to set up Windows 11 as a completely new installation.
Install Windows 11 on your VM
From here, installing and setting up Windows 11 works just like a clean install on a real PC. Here’s how to do that:
- Choose your language and region settings. The default settings should be fine, so you can click Next. On the next page, click Install now.
- Enter a product key if you have one at hand. You can choose to skip this for now, but you’ll need it later.
- Choose the edition of Windows 10 you want to install. You have to choose an edition that matches the product key you used.
- Accept the license agreement, and then choose Custom: Install Windows only (Advanced).
- You’ll now have to create a partition to install Windows. Simple click Drive 0 Unallocated Space, then click New. Use the default size, then click Apply, and then OK. Multiple partitions will be created.
- Click Next to begin the installation, and you’ll soon be running Windows 11.
- From here, you can just set up Windows 11 as you would on a brand-new PC. If you need any help with this process, we have a guide on how to install Windows 11, which goes over the out-of-box-experience (OOBE).
You’ll now be running Windows 11 in your VM. There may be further updates to download in Windows Update if you want to get the latest features. Be sure to check out our update tracker to know all about the latest updates for Windows 11. And if you want to know everything you can try right now, we also have an extensive list of everything that’s already available in Windows 11 previews.
Finally, if you’re unsure whether your PC supports Windows 11, we have a list of PCs that will get the upgrade, but you can also check Windows Update or use the PC Health Check app on your PC. Of course, stay tuned to XDA as we cover all the updates and new features as they come out.