How to set up a Windows XP virtual machine for free

Whether for nostalgia or using old software, there are benefits to running a Windows XP machine – for all the right reasons. Obviously, using Windows XP as your sole operating system is not recommended as it is outdated, unsupported and full of security risks.

Fortunately, it is entirely possible to set up a Windows XP virtual machine for free. While the official methods require a PC with Windows 7, you can use Windows 10 and other operating systems, although this method requires a bit of a workaround. To make Windows XP work as a virtual machine, you must follow these instructions carefully.

Download Windows XP and extract installation files

To start using your Windows XP virtual machine, you must be using a Windows 10 PC with virtualization enabled in the BIOS or UEFI settings. You can use a different operating system, but these instructions are designed with Windows 10 in mind.

The operating system you are using must also be supported by: VirtualBoxthe software we will use to run Windows XP.

  • When your PC is ready, download Windows XP mode EXE file from the Microsoft website (named WindowsXPMode_en-us.exe† If the file is no longer hosted on Microsoft, you can: download it from CNET† Once downloaded, do not run the file† This XP installer is only supported by Windows 7, so we need to extract the files you need to make XP work on Windows 10.
  • If your PC hasn’t installed it yet, download and install 7-Zip before continuing. Once 7-Zip is installed, locate your Windows XP installation file in Windows Explorer, then: right click the file.
  • From there click 7-Zip > Open Archive > Cab to open the EXE file in 7-Zip File Manager.
  • In 7-Zip File Manager, double-click the sources folder and then double-click the xpm File. This will open a second 7-Zip File Manager window containing the files from your Windows XP virtual machine.
  • Please select the content before clicking the Extract knob.
  • Choose a suitable location for your files. You may need to create a new folder before doing this. When you’re done, click Okay to extract the files to your PC.
  • Open the folder containing your Windows XP files in Windows Explorer. Find the VirtualXPVHD File, right clickrenamethen change the name of VirtualXPVHD until VirtualXP.VHDadding a period between XP and VHD.

Adding the VHD file extension turns this file into a virtual hard disk file, supported by VirtualBox, allowing you to run Windows XP as a virtual machine.

Set up a Windows XP virtual machine with VirtualBox

Once you have extracted your Windows XP download files, you are ready to set it up as a virtual machine.

  • First you need to download and install VirtualBox† After installation, open VirtualBox and click the New to start creating a new virtual machine.
  • In the Create Virtual Machine window, click on the Expert mode button at the bottom.
  • Type Windows XP in the Name to automatically configure the settings for XP. Double-check that the Version Gets up Windows XP (32-bit)and then set the Memory size near 512MB or higher. You can go higher, although XP is fine with less.
  • In the Hard Drive part of the Create Virtual Machine window, select Use an existing file on the hard drive. press the folder icon next to it and then click To add in the Hard drive selection window.
  • Find the VirtualXP.VHD file and then click Open to add it. Once VirtualXP.VHD appears in the Hard drive selection window, select it and then press the To elect knob.
  • Once you have returned to the Create Virtual Machine window, double-check that your settings are correct before pressing the To create knob.

Final VirtualBox Configuration and Windows XP Testing

Your newly created Virtual XP Simulator will appear as a virtual machine in the VirtualBox Manager. However, you need to make a few changes before using it.

  • In VirtualBox managerselect your XP virtual machine and click the Settings button to start the configuration.
  • Click on the System tab first. below Boot Orderuncheck the box floppyand then arrange the items in the following order using the side arrows: Hard disk, optical, floppy, network
  • Click on the Display tab. To increase Video memory from 16MB until 128MB using the slider in the Screen section.
  • Once your settings are correct, click Okay to save the settings of your Windows XP virtual machine. You can now use your XP machine for the first time by pressing the Get started knob.
  • You need to confirm some initial XP settings when using XP as a virtual machine for the first time, such as your keyboard layout and time zone. Confirm these settings at each step by pressing the Next one knob.
  • Name your XP virtual machine and provide an administrator password. You can leave the password blank if you want. Click Next one continue.
  • After you confirm your time and date settings, XP will complete the installation process and reboot. Once this is complete, click Devices > Insert Guest Addition CD Image in your VirtualBox window. This will install additional drivers and settings to make your XP experience work better in VirtualBox.
  • Follow the installation process and press go on anyway to any driver warnings that appear.
  • With VirtualBox Guest Additions installed, click Finish to reboot your XP virtual machine.

The Windows XP virtual machine currently being loaded can only be used for 30 days because there is no valid license. If you can find your Windows license key for Windows XP (for example from an older PC), you may be able to add it directly to your virtual machine, although it may still not activate.

To work around this, take a snapshot of your virtual machine immediately after creation.

  • With your XP virtual machine running, click Machine > Snapshot† Name your first Windows XP Snapshot before pressing the Okay knob.
  • If you want to later restore your virtual machine to this snapshot, press the menu icon next to your XP virtual machine in VirtualBox manager and select Snapshots† Select your snapshot here before pressing the To recover knob.

Restoring your Windows XP virtual machine using a snapshot resets the clock so that you can use XP indefinitely, although you will lose any files or software you installed afterward.

Running newer operating systems in VirtualBox

When your thirty days are up, don’t forget to go back to your first VirtualBox snapshot to reset the clock on your XP licenses if you want to keep testing it.

You can only do so much with a Windows XP simulator like this one, but if you want to keep testing you can try other operating systems like VirtualBox virtual machines. For example, if you want to give Linux a try, install Ubuntu in VirtualBox.

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