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Who needs partitions when you can just run your new operating system within your operating system? Once you’ve downloaded the Windows 8 Consumer Preview installation files and the setup program is asking you where you’d like to slap ‘em – on a USB key or as an ISO file to burn to a DVD – you’re going to want to pick the ISO option this time. Save the ISO file somewhere on your computer, but don’t go reaching for the DVDs just yet – no need.
Head on over to the official website of the (free) virtualization software Oracle VM Virtualbox (hereafter called simply “Virtualbox”) and download the setup file. Why are we not using Windows Virtual PC, you Windows 7 users might ask? Simple: It doesn’t support 64-bit installations of operating systems. Virtualbox does, and is every bit as free as Microsoft’s app.
Once you’ve installed Virtualbox, click on the big ol’ “New” button in the app’s upper-left-hand corner. Enter a good name for your virtual machine on the next prompt and make sure that both Microsoft Windows and Windows 8 are selected within the corresponding “OS Type” drop-downs (it goes without saying).
From here, there aren’t a lot of options that you really need to edit – you can pass through most using the default options that VirtualBox has already selected on your behalf, save for those we mention below.
Click Next until you’re given a slider that asks you to adjust how much memory you want to assign to you virtual operating system. Windows 8 require a minimum of one gigabyte to run; If you can spare it, up your virtual machine to at least two gigabytes (2,048 megabytes).
Now, where are you going to physically store your operating system’s files? On a virtual hard drive, of course! The option to “Create new hard disk” is selected by default once you reach VirtualBox’s Virtual Hard Disk screen. That’s great. Click Next until you reach the screen where you’re asked to set your hard drive’s size. Remember: 16 gigabytes minimum for a 32-bit installation, 20 gigabytes minimum for a 64-bit installation. Adjust your size as you see fit, then click Next (selecting all the default prompts from that point forward) until you’re taken back to the main Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager screen. Almost there!
Highlight your new Virtual Machine and click on the big “Settings” icon above. While you can fiddle with a number of advanced settings to boost the performance of your to-be-Windows 8 installation – like adding support for more of you CPU’s cores within the “System” menu – the most critical piece of the puzzle that you need to set into place is your Windows 8 installation CD. Or, in this case, the ISO you previously made that your Virtual Machine will need to mount to install the OS.
Click on the “Storage” option on the left-hand menu on the Settings window. Under “IDE Controller,” you should see a big fat “Empty” next to an icon of a DVD. Click on "Empty." Then, click on the icon of a CD that appears next to the “CD/DVD Drive” drop-down menu on the right portion of the Settings window. Go find your ISO file. Click “OK” to mount the disc and exit out of the Settings window.
Ready? Click on the big green “Start” arrow after you’ve clicked on your Windows 8 virtual machine. Run through the Windows 8 installation process (it’s easy, since you’re just custom-installing the operating system to a single virtual hard drive), run through the Windows 8 personalization process, and enjoy your new OS within an OS.