How to Create a Portable OS on an External Drive Objective
The objective is to create an OS installation on an external USB attached media with which you can carry your OS to any system. I have tested the procedure with Windows 8 and Zorin, an Ubuntu based Linux distro.
In such a configuration the OS becomes independent of the hardware it runs on. The VMware Player becomes the base system.
Besides the portability, it also allows you to run another OS side by side with your current system and switch back and forth with 1 click. It is completely independent of your installed OS. Requirements
- A USB port - preferably a USB3 port (Note: eSata is not supported by WMware Player)
- An external device - SSD or 7200 RPM HDD
- An external enclosure for the disk
- VMware Player installed on the system where you want to run (I suggest to carry the VMware Player installation .exe on the external device for easy and quick installation)
For obvious reasons, the SSD works the best. Operations on the HDD will be slower. I have also tried a fast USB3 stick. But that was too slow. See performance section for details.
I found a $55 'value pack' - a SSD
and a USB3 enclosure
including cable. The 30GB SSD is large enough to accommodate Windows 8 or any Linux distro with room to spare. Installation on the VMware Player
After the installation of the VMplayer on your host system, I highly recommend you do the initial installation of the guest OS on your host system. It will create a folder called 'Virtual Machines' (or whatever name you gave it) in your Documents folder which is the virtual system. When the installation is completed, copy or move that folder to your external device.
Here is an excellent tutorial
by Shawn that will help you to make this first step. The tutorial describes the installation of Windows 8 but should also give you sufficient guidance for other operating systems. Starting your virtual system
Since you have displaced the original installation, you have to point VMware Player to the new location. Open VMware Player and you will see this window.
After you clicked on "Open a Virtual Machine", an Explorer window opens where you have to navigate to the virtual machine folder on your device. There you drill down until you find the file with the .vmx extension. Highlight and open that file.
Now the virtual system on your external device is recognized. You will be back on the VMware Player window where you highlight the system you want to play on the top left and then click on "Play Virtual Machine".
You will be asked whether you have copied or moved the folder - click on 'Copied'. The system will take a little while to start this first time. Both VMware Player and the OS seem to make some adjustments.
Note, there will also be adjustments made when you shutdown the OS in the virtual system. The shutdown of the OS will take only a few seconds, but VMware Player may elaborate for a minute or two. Just minimize VMware Player to the taskbar and go on with work in your host system. Operational aspects
Make sure you install the VMware Tools. This will be an option during the installation. If you miss that, you can get the tools from this site
The tools give you full integration of the guest OS with the host OS. You will e.g. share the clipboard between the guest and the host which makes file copy back and forth extremely easy. The cursor will automatically respond to whether it is in the guest system or the host system. That way you can operate on both systems simultaneously.
For the host system, you have full access to the taskbar and to e.g. your hidden Rocket Dock (if any) whilst the guest system is up. The keyboard buttons (e.g. the Start button) will trigger action on the host or the guest depending where the cursor is located - on the guest window or the host taskbar. The same goes for keyboard shortcuts.
You can also maximize the guest window. Then you have no access to the host system. This is practical when you work for a longer period of time on the guest system. It avoids trying to close the virtual system whenever you go to the red X on the top right and confuse the red X of the guest window with that of the VMware Player.
Sometimes the cursor seems to disappear completely - e.g. during shutdown. Press CTL+ALT and the host system cursor will be activated.
An important operational aspect is the fact that you can take your external installation and run it on another system where VMware Player is installed. I had no difficulty moving the systems from my desktop to my laptop. The systems will make some automatic adjustments at that time.
If you move frequently to other systems, it may be useful to carry the VMware Player installation .exe (72MB) on the external device. Then you can quickly install the VMware Player and do not have to download it again. System backup
If you want to backup the system, you just copy the VMware Player folder to another disk. That beats any imaging in speed. And to recover - if anything should ever happen - you just replace the folder of the defunct system with the backup folder. Performance considerations
I have installed and tested Windows 8 and Zorin on different media and attached it via USB2 and USB3. Note that eSata is not supported by the VMware Player. Those were the tests.
- Windows 8 on internal M4 SSD
- Windows 8 on external Mushkin SSD attached via USB3
- Windows 8 on external Mushkin SSD attached via USB2
- Windows 8 on 5400 RPM external HDD attached via USB3
- Zorin on internal M4 SSD
- Zorin on external Mushkin SSD attached via USB3
- Zorin on a fast USB3 stick
All those were run on my Dell XPS 8300 desktop. In addition I ran a couple of configurations on my Toshiba laptop with USB3.
The SSD configurations
ran great. There is little difference between internal and external SSD. The boot times for Windows 8 ranged between 25 sec to 41 sec (Event 100 in Event viewer). What amazed me is that there was also little difference between USB2 and USB3 attachments. Both were very fluent with a slight advantage for the USB3. Here is a video conversion example that I ran on the host and in VMware:
I converted a 100MB video clip with Format Factory from .wmv to .avi.
The host system ran Windows 7 with 4GB of RAM from the internal disk.
The VMware system ran Windows 8 with 4GB of RAM from a USB attached disk.
CPU usage was 30% +/- in both cases.
It took 3 minutes 10 seconds on the host system and 3 minutes 40 seconds in the VMware system. Really not a big difference.
The 5400 RPM HDD
was workable on USB3. I would call it borderline. But I am sure that a 7200 RPM HDD would be quite acceptable.
The USB3 stick
was a big disappointment. After my good experience with my Windows 8 to go
project, I had expected a reasonable result. But unfortunately it did not work out that way. The system was too slow for comfort. Considering that I paid more money for this 32GB USB3 stick than for my 60GB Mushkin SSD, I had expected a better result with the stick. Have a look how it works Note: If the audio of this video is too low, do the following:
Right click on the speaker icon in the task tray (bottom right) > Playback devices > double click on your output device > Enhancement tab > check the 'Loudness Equalizer' box Related Tutorials How to Share Partitions Between Host and Guest in VMware Player