Windows 7 on virtual machine in/beside Ubuntu 10.04 to watch streaming Netflix - will it work?
June 30, 2010 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Windows 7 on virtual machine in/beside Ubuntu 10.04 to watch streaming Netflix - will it work? And will it work well? Will I be able to watch Netflix streaming movies (preferably in HD) on a Windows 7 guest system running inside VirtualBox OSE on an Ubuntu 10.04 host? Google has turned up very little recent chatter, with one or two people saying that it doesn't work well. Anyone here manage to get it working?

My wife and I would like to get rid of cable (or at least reduce our subscription), and I suggested that with the right tools, we could substitute Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and other on-line resources for the cable subscription. My initial inclination was to purchase a PS3 and use it as a media renderer and streaming box (we have a home NAS right now), but I also wanted to make my files available securely over the internet, and was thinking I could also reduce my VPS hosting costs if I built a home server instead. So I am building a new machine to act as an always-on or wake-on-LAN file server, web server, and HTPC (in the long term I'd like more than one machine to separate functions, but it's not an option now).

Because I intend to have the file and web servers always on (or wake-on-access-of-some-sort), I thought that it would be best to have a single operating system always running, and was looking to Ubuntu 10.04 (from which I could also run MythTV or Boxee). As far as I can tell, though, I will have to have a Windows installation to access Netflix streaming. But I am much more familiar and comfortable with running a file server and web server from a linux box. So I am hoping that I can run Windows as a VirtualBox or other hypervisor guest, and stream Netflix through the virtualized Windows system. Will this work? There doesn't seem to be much on the web with respect to doing this with recent versions of the relevant software. [Although it does look like I cannot use XEN to pass through my video card because I don't have the right chipset.] Does anyone have experience getting Netflix to stream well to a virtualized Windows (preferably Win7) environment?

Alternatively, I could (1) do a dual-boot system, and just not have access to the file or web servers while we are using the Windows install for Netflix (or possibly Blu-ray down the line), or (2) just use Windows, with it running a file share and web server in the background all the time. But if I can have the main system running Ubuntu/linux full time, I would greatly prefer that. Thanks!

System specs:
Case: Antec Three Hundred ATX
PSU: OCZ ModXStream Pro 500W
GPU: Integrated ATI Radeon HD 4250
CPU: AMD Athlon II X3 435 Rana 2.9GHz
Memory: OCZ 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600
TV Tuner: None yet

I would also welcome suggestions on TV Tuners or IR/RF receivers, preferably that would work with a Logitech Harmony remote.
posted by dilettanti to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'm streamed netflix on a WinXP vm running Debian (4 and 5) under KVM. It works fine. I don't know what impact trying to do it over remote desktop of vnc would have (if that's what you're thinking). I do this on a 2 year old Thinkpad (T61, 2.4GHz core 2 duo). I imagine you'd have similar performance with VirtualBox.
posted by roue at 12:33 PM on June 30, 2010

Before Netflix streaming worked on Macs, I used to run an XP VM inside OS X, and it worked just fine. (Mac Mini Core Duo 1.66GHz)
posted by schmod at 12:53 PM on June 30, 2010

I just tried this out on my not-very-powerful Core Duo 2 laptop, in the WinXP VM I have to keep around for work. 10.04 Ubuntu. Only watched a minute, but it seemed to work perfectly fine.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:54 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: On my 2 GHz core 2 duo laptop, streaming Netflix via a Windows XP VirtualBox client is mostly watchable but sometimes degrades to about 3 fps and gets stuck there until the next virtual reboot. My theory is that this is either because of weak VirtualBox support for my integrated Intel video, or because the virtual machine is using an expanding rather than fixed-size virtual disk. (The virtual machine has 2.5 GB of RAM, so that's not the problem.) Recommend using an actual disk partition for the virtual machine's disk.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2010

About a year ago I snagged a Win7 Ultimate beta VMWare image from tuxdistro and ran it through VMWare Player on my main Ubuntu machine (9.04) for just this purpose. With a Core 2 Duo @ 3.0GHz, a GeForce 9600GT, and a crappy Charter cable connection, I'd only see the occasional slight video stuttering.

Might that be a solution for you or are you dead set on VirtualBox? It looks like VMWare Workstation (which you'd need if you want to create your own Win7 VM) runs about $100 but you should be able to try out the setup I mentioned above if Microsoft hasn't yet thrown the kill switch on beta versions of Win7.
posted by xbonesgt at 1:58 PM on June 30, 2010

The Win 7 beta has definitely expired. You can probably hack it, but at that point you might as well just download a pirated image.
posted by meta_eli at 4:20 PM on June 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies so far! xbonesgt: I am not set on VirtualBox, though I certainly prefer free options where available (particularly since I'm going to have to drop $150 for a Win7 retail license). VirtualBox seems much easier to use than KVM/XEN/whatever, but I'm open to anything that works. But that's the catch - for HD streaming, I imagine I'll need to pass through the video to the host GPU - VirtualBox says this is supported, XEN says it's not (for my system), I can't find info for other options, and I have no evidence that pass-through for Windows 7 actually works on any of them. Also, I don't currently have installation media for any Windows version, but I may have an old XP license that may work if I can download or purchase an installation disk from somewhere. It is encouraging at least to know that people have had success with XP.

roue: No need to go through remote desktop or VNC, since the machine will plug directly into our A/V receiver. Just need to be able to stream Netflix, preferably in HD and preferably while running Ubuntu as the host OS.
posted by dilettanti at 5:07 PM on June 30, 2010

I haven't tried this in particular, but might simplest test be to try to stream flash or html 5 video in a linux virtual instance? Sure, it's not the same as silverlight, but it might give you a ballpark on how well this will work.
posted by yeoldefortran at 5:57 PM on June 30, 2010

Best answer: I setup a virtual machine of Windows 7 Ultimate on my Ubuntu 10.04 host tonight. It all went well except it didn't like my Windows 7 product key. My PC came with Vista 64 and I bought an upgrade to Windows 7. So now I have to install Win Vista as a virtual machine and then upgrade it to Win7 so my product key will work. Microsoft has become so retarded.

In addition I cannot get any sound on the virtual machine. Windows 7 just doesn't install a driver for my AC97 sound device that works fine on native Ubuntu or Windows 7 hosts. I am still playing with that. Other than that major issue, I fired up netflix just great and it played movies fine, just no sound.

I am trying to go 100% Ubuntu. I still rely on Windows 7 for two functions and I hate it since I have gotten used to better performance of Ubuntu. But Netflix won't run on Ubuntu and I like Microsoft's Movie Maker video editor. Man I wish Netflix would make it work on Linux.

I'm sure I'll solve the sound issue when I bite my nails down a little lower :) I am quite pleased with the speed of Windows 7 virtual machine though. Its great and Virtual Box is doing great Window/ device management between host and guest OS.
posted by nogero at 10:23 PM on June 30, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, all, for the feedback. nogero's sound issues mirror what little else I've been able to find on the web, so I'm worried that a Win7 VM will not work as I had hoped. It sounds like XP works, though, so I may have to see if I can purchase a valid XP license on the cheap (is XP still available in retail?). Or I may just buy Windows 7 and keep it dual boot until I can get a VM to work. Thanks again!
posted by dilettanti at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2010

Response by poster: Update: I successfully installed Win7 in a VirtualBox OSE virtual machine, complete with the Guest Additions. There was initially no sound, but that was because Win7 does not come with the drivers for the sound device VirtualBox emulates. Once I installed the Windows 7 drivers for the RealTek AC'97 audio device, sound worked fine. Installation of Silverlight was straightforward.

Playback of Netflix streaming movies works, but is extremely choppy right from the start. My HTPC has 4 GB of DDR3 memory, a full 2 of which is allocated to the virtual machine. I haven't yet played around with the memory allocation to see if I can improve playback, but right now it's pretty unwatchable. I also haven't tried qxntpqbbbqxl's suggestion of moving the VM disk to a separate partition. I am optimistic, though, that I can get smoother playback with appropriate memory allocation or other VM tuning. Just haven't done it yet.

I also have not been able to get Windows 7 working in VMWare at all. For now, I will devote my efforts to getting VirtualBox to work better.
posted by dilettanti at 10:28 AM on July 28, 2010

I had the exact same experience when I used a Windows 7 virtual machine. But... I did not have the choppy sound problem with a Windows XP SP3 virtual on the same host! Try that.
posted by nogero at 6:57 PM on August 13, 2010

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