Running Windows on my space-constrained Macbook
November 4, 2007 9:18 AM   Subscribe

I need some help with running Windows on my Mac.

Okay, I know that this topic has been covered extensively on Ask MeFi before. I have reviewed what I've found here (as well as at various websites specializing in this sort of thing) and couldn't really get all of my questions answered, so I'm posing them myself.

THE SITUATION: I currently have a somewhat old Windows XP SP2 desktop machine sitting in my room, as well as a year-old Macbook (2 GHz Intel Core Duo, 1GB of RAM). I use the Windows machine essentially for just one program for my job. Next January, I will be moving into a dorm, and will likely not have room for the desktop machine; thus I am interested in getting Windows on my Macbook.

THE PROBLEMS: Windows XP came pre-installed on the desktop, so I have no install CDs. I also have no recovery CD(s), although I assume I could make one (a set?) if the need arises. Also, I only have around 10GB of space left on my Macbook, which presents problems for virtualization software (virtual machines tend to be big, I hear). Finally, Boot Camp is not an option, as I am not going to be upgrading to Leopard any time soon.


Would there be any way to simply remove the hard drive from my Windows machine, put it in an enclosure, plug it into my Mac, and make virtualization work that way?

If I did this external-HD plan, would a virtualization program still have to create a virtual machine on my Macbook's hard drive, or would it do that on the external drive? The latter would be much preferred, due to my Macbook's space limitations.

Would running a virtual machine over USB 2.0 or Firewire 400 mean any performance decreases from what I would experience running it from an internal drive? (Not too much of a problem, as the program I'll be running under Windows is pretty light.)

As usual, thanks so much for your help.
posted by dondiego87 to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
The short answer is: It might work, but probably won't. Windows XP would freak out when running on the completely new hardware and, in my experience, probably won't boot. If you're lucky it'll boot and end up re-detecting all your hardware, but even that path leads to little niggling problems that never go away. Oh, and XP will want to be re-activated, too. If you had an XP CD then a repair install over the top should fix things, but you don't...

Both Parallels and VMWare are capable of booting external Windows disks, though VMWare tends to be better at it. Firewire is definitely the route to take, USB 2.0 hard disks are never as fast as they claim.

Have you considered buying the OEM edition of Windows XP? It's pretty cheap.
posted by Mwongozi at 9:25 AM on November 4, 2007

What Mwongozi said.

Plus, the install disc that came with your desktop might insist only on running on that particular machine. Maybe your school will give you an XP disc? Mine did.

There's no reason you couldn't put the virtual machine on the external HD, though. And you might even see better performance - at work, I run all of my VMs off of an external hard drive because two operating systems trying to get at the same drive at once is ugly; the performance loss in going over FW400/USB2 is less than that from the contention between the host and guest operating systems when both want to read/write.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:44 AM on November 4, 2007

In addition to what has already been suggested, I would suggest that you upgrade your Macbook to 2GB of RAM. I tried running Windows virtually on my Macbook with 1GB of memory and it was painfully slow. I upgraded to 2GB and it made a world of difference.
posted by phrayzee at 10:02 AM on November 4, 2007

Have you thought about Crossover? Given that it is a Wine derivative, you wouldn't need a copy of Windows for it to work. Compatibility would be lower, but you could always download the demo and see if it will work.
posted by zabuni at 10:36 AM on November 4, 2007

I've been told VMWare is better for this particular problem, but I personally haven't used it as I have Parallels.

Second phrayzee's statement about the extra RAM. You'll want to split your ram 1Gb for Mac, 1Gb for Windows for decent performance. The "dynamic auto-allocate" RAM just caused too much disk swapping when I tried it.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 11:07 AM on November 4, 2007

I'm not sure what the state of WINE on the Intel Macs is but I've been successful running a few of my Windows only programs under WINE on a Ubuntu machine. It's at least worth looking into and was pretty easy to set up as well. I think I had a program actually running under WINE within about half an hour.
posted by 6550 at 10:00 PM on November 4, 2007

I use Boot Camp on Tiger. Works just fine. Naturally, the download seems to have disappeared from the Apple site (might have been a beta), but I'll bet it's still available somewhere.
posted by bricoleur at 5:12 AM on November 5, 2007

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