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4 Hardware Recommendations when Using VMs as a Product Development Tool

These days, there is no practical obstacle to using machine virtualization to solve computing problems without the need of acquiring additional hardware. In fact, virtual machines are a compelling product development tool.

There are a variety of virtualization tools available, from the free Virtual Box, to VMWare Workstation, as well as other solutions. Pick the virtualization solution that appeals to you, but also pay some attention to what kind of hardware you will be using.

When virtualizing other machines on your laptop (or desktop), here are some guidelines to obtain good performance. By following the points outlined below, you should have the best chance to have good performance even when using a laptop to host multiple virtual machines.

  1. Host machine bit-ness. Usually, if you are going to run virtual machines, it is a good idea to maximize the amount of memory in the machine. But if you are running a 32 bit OS on the host machine, you are limited to 4GB (actually somewhat less) of memory. This may result in memory contention on the host machine, and poor performance.These days, with so many choices of hardware and OS versions, there seems little good reason not to install a 64 bit OS as the host OS. This will allow breaking the 4GB memory barrier.
  2. Host machine memory. Once a machine has been upgraded to a 64 bit host OS, it is now possible to use more than 4GB of memory. Most 64 bit capable computers will take at least 8GB of memory, and most modern machines will take at least 16GB, or even more.Memory is relatively cheap, and an upgrade to 16GB used to be less than $100. Prices have since risen, but the upgrade should still be affordable for all but the tightest budgets even at the somewhat higher prices.
  3. Storage – HDD, or SSD? Today’s computer user now has a choice of using a hard disk drives (HDD), or a solid state drives (SSD) in their machine. This is really a key choice in gaining better performance.Having an SSD in your machine will give you blazing speed in just about everything your do on the base machine. And having your virtual machines on an SSD allows for a remarkable speedup in performance when running a VM.  If it is at all within your means, get the largest SSD that your budget will allow.
  4. CPUs. Consider a quad-core i7 laptop (or desktop). This will allow your VM (or multiple VMs) to have “dedicated” hardware for its use. More CPU threads allow higher utilization of the machine hardware by virtual machines sharing that hardware.

To recap, hardware that supports using multiple virtual machines can make a significant difference in your performance. The recommendations given above are intended to maximize the chances that you will obtain satisfactory, or even excellent performance when running one or more virtual machines. Check back at our blog site and let us know what you thought about these recommendations.

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