News, tips, advice, support for Windows, Office, PCs & more. Tech help. No bull. We're community supported by donations from our Plus Members, and proud of it
Home icon Home icon Home icon Email icon RSS icon
  • Boot physical hard drive in virtual machine?

    Posted on WSBackspacer Comment on the AskWoody Lounge

    Home Forums AskWoody support Windows Windows 10 Questions: Win10 Boot physical hard drive in virtual machine?

    Topic Resolution: Resolved
    Viewing 7 reply threads
    • Author
      • #1979778 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        My wife’s computer died.  Replacement is on order, but will take until late next week.  I am going to put her hard drive into my computer so she can get to her files.  But what would really be great is if she could actually login to her own Windows on her own drive.

        I know about dual-booting from the two different drives, but we are likely to switch places multiple times a day until her new system arrives and would rather not have the hassle of closing all of our work in progress every time the other person takes their turn.

        Is it possible to boot Windows from her drive inside of a VM?  If so, could we create an account for her on my system, log her into it, start up the VM, log her into that, and then just switch users between her user (on my system) and my user?

        If so, how might I go about setting that up?


      • #1979833 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        Yes, it is possible. Just add the physical disk to the virtual machine as you would any other (you don’t even need a virtual disk here).

        Just a couple of things to take into account:

        • The disk must only be used by the virtual machine. If two OS are writing into it (or even have it mounted), that could corrupt the contents, as each would think it knows the full disk state.
        • Licensing: As you will be running Windows from a different hardware, it may consider that your license is no longer valid / want to phone home to validate.
      • #1979837 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        Hmmm, I hadn’t thought about the licensing issue.  I’d hate for Microsoft to invalidate it just because we used it in a different system for a week.  Would they likely do that or would it just refuse to run in mine?

      • #1979851 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        I’m not sure about how it works nowadays. I did this years ago with a much older Windows version, and it was an OEM license.

        As you only need the VM solution for a week, you may be able to run the OS in with a pending activation for that time. Not sure if it would tell the activation server and that getting problematic with the new hardware. You may want to start by running the VM with no internet access and, if everything seems right, then decide if connecting it to the internet. I think what you want would be perfectly legal, and their servers shouldn’t block you from doing that, but I don’t know if that will really be the case. It will probably depend on the actual type of license you have.


        • #1979893 Reply

          The Windows almost certainly will deactivate when it recognizes the different hardware of the VM.  It won’t prevent you from using it, though.  When Windows is not activated, it just turns the desktop wallpaper black, puts a “This Windows is not genuine” watermark in the corner of the desktop, and nags you periodically to activate.  It won’t let you use the customization options to change back the wallpaper, colors, or theme, but otherwise, everything works.

          Are you planning to reinstall everything on the Windows in the new computer, or to move the drive over?  Your concern over the activation state of the old Windows suggests that you’re thinking of moving the drive with everything still intact.  If it was an OEM Windows that had been user-installed, it would possibly deactivate even if it was on another PC of the same model.  Microsoft has not revealed much about how the hardware fingerprinting process that determines whether or not it’s the same PC as when Windows was first activated, but it’s known to look at a bunch of things in the hardware, some of which will change even on the same model of PC.  The MAC address or addresses of networking devices would be different, as would be the serial number of the PC is stored in the UEFI, as is the norm with computers recently.  Sometimes the same PC model may have other hardware component changes, like a new revision to a motherboard, which will be enough to let the activation program know that a change has occurred.

          Like Indoda, though, my experience with this type of thing does not involve Windows 10, which has an all-new way of handling activation through digital entitlements.  How it will handle this is a very good question.  If it doesn’t recognize that it is a different PC (meaning that it decides to keep the old activation), you should be in good shape.  I have no idea what the odds are of that, but if you use the disk from a VM before swapping it to the new PC when it arrives, it will be starting from an already deactivated state.  What that means… I don’t know, but my gut tells me the odds of it working favorably would be less that way than if the Windows was unchanged.

          For this reason, you may wish to make a virtual hard drive (VHD) copy of the physical drive, and use that virtual hard drive in the VM, using Microsoft’s Sysinternals tool for that purpose, as Paul T has suggested in another thread on this site.  Windows will most likely deactivate the virtual version in the VM, but the real hard drive will still be in the fully activated state.  What will happen as Windows phones home with the deactivation from the VM, I have no idea.  I haven’t tried this kind of thing with 10, and it’s all new compared to older versions of Windows.

          If Windows does not accept the old hard drive with the new computer combo, it would then deactivate Windows… and what comes next, I am not sure.  Since the new PC will presumably come with a Windows license tied to that machine, maybe it will sense that and reactivate Windows with no muss and no fuss (assuming it’s the same version of Windows as before, Home or Pro).  Or maybe it will do something else.  If it directs you to call Microsoft and type a code into the PC, you can do that (I have no idea if this still happens with 10; it was still a thing as of 7 SP1), and if it works, you’re set.  If you have to talk to an agent, make sure you mention that this was a repair, not an upgrade.  OEM licenses can be reactivated (if Microsoft wants to) on PCs that have different hardware because of repair due to hardware failure, but not because of upgrade.  I’ve had to do this with Windows 7, and it worked fine, but that was not 10, of course.

          Sorry that there are so many questions about what will happen, but MS has changed the rules of the game more times than I can keep up with (and I’m not gaining any new experience with 10, as I’ve gotten off of the Windows train).


          Group "L" (KDE Neon User Edition 5.18.3).

      • #1980472 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        We have a nearly identical system on order.  I had planned to just stick her old drive into the new system and boot on that.  But it sounds like that will not go smoothly.

        The “new” system on order is actually a refurbished unit which comes with a refurb version of Windows 10.  Hopefully I can spend some time on the phone with Microsoft and somehow get one working system out of the two licenses that we’ve paid for.  But I don’t think I’ll add confusion by booting her old drive in my system first.  She’ll just have to tough it out for a week.

        Right now her drive is in my system but just as a data drive.  I set her up a user so we can switch back and forth and she can get to her files.

        Thanks for the heads-up and advice!

      • #1988026 Reply
        AskWoody Plus

        It would be very helpful to me, and perhaps other members of this Lounge, if users of prior versions of Windows could chime in on their experiences with these virtual machine transfer and activation issues.

        My specific example involves taking a perfectly functioning 150 GB XP drive with 15 years of use and history up to the present day, and and installing it as a virtual drive on a Windows 7 SP 1 machine, for use on into the next several years.

        (I have no use or concerns for security updates or patches of any kind in Windows 7, having those issues addressed in other ways.  I am only interested in a smoothly functioning, stable system that Microsoft cannot interfere with — all Updating turned off, etc.)

        So my questions are:

        1.   Should I convert the drive into a virtual machine on the Windows 7 500 GB hard drive, using VMWare?  Or should I just attach it via a USB port as seems to be the suggested mode in the above article, while (somehow) accessing it as a virtual machine?  (And how does that work?)
        2.   And then, re Activation: will XP sense it is in a different environment, and deactivate?  In which case will a call to Microsoft and an explanation to their techs suffice, to reactivate the old OEM license (which is valid, and should not present any reason to be blocked by MS)?
        3.   Or has MS discontinued Activation checking on XP, allowing environmental changes on non-blocked XP licenses to got through automatically?

        Any help, input or advice (other than suggesting I migrate to Windows 10, etc!) would be most welcome!

        Thank you,

        — AWRon

      • #1989495 Reply
        AskWoody Lounger

        I actually marked this “Resolved” a few days ago, so I don’t know if anyone will see your question.  I certainly don’t know the answer to it.  If nobody does answer, you might need to start your own thread.

        I will mention, however, that back in the days of XP and even Win7 I used to move discs from machine to machine all the time with no problems.  (Prior to PnP it was very difficult to move drives from one system to another with any hardware differences at all.)  As long as Windows was registered, it was registered wherever you moved the drive.  And the registration didn’t just tie to the drive hardware.  You could clone it onto a new drive, pop that drive in your system, and it worked just fine.  I suspect there might have been problems if you tried to clone a drive and run it on a second system while still running the original installation, but I would not have taken that risk since I am both honest and a small business owner with a lot more to lose than a few bucks for a license.  I only did it when I was legitimately upgrading hardware.

        So it seems like you should have no problems, but I haven’t actually done it, so my opinion is probably not worth the bits it takes to store it.

      • #1990212 Reply
        Paul T
        AskWoody MVP

        Should I convert the drive into a virtual machine on the Windows 7 500 GB hard drive, using VMWare

        Yes! Then you can back up the entire machine by copying a couple of files.
        Whether you use VMware or VirtualBox is up to you.

        And then, re Activation: will XP sense it is in a different environment, and deactivate?

        I don’t remember whether XP activates via the web – it’s been so long – but there should be no issue as it’s now on a VM and you can just roll back to the last time it booted.

        cheers, Paul

    Viewing 7 reply threads

    Please follow the -Lounge Rules- no personal attacks, no swearing, and politics/religion are relegated to the Rants forum.

    Reply To: Boot physical hard drive in virtual machine?

    You can use BBCodes to format your content.
    Your account can't use Advanced BBCodes, they will be stripped before saving.