With Windows 8, Microsoft has replaced the lackluster Windows Virtual PC solution with the powerful Hyper-V capabilities from Windows Server 2012. This is an amazing change, but it somewhat limits how virtualization works in Windows 8. That is, instead of focusing on application compatibility, Hyper-V in Windows 8 is aimed at software development test environments and IT pros who are managing environments based on Microsoft’s enterprise virtualization solutions.
Aside from lacking Windows Virtual PC’s XP Mode and its attendant application virtualization niceties, Client Hyper-V, as Microsoft calls it, is more capable and powerful than its predecessor. It offers much better performance and lets you run multiple virtual machines simultaneously. It works with both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems, and not just 32-bit like Virtual PC. And it comes with an amazing management interface, just like the version from Windows Server. (In fact, they’re identical.) This means that your experience using Client Hyper-V in Windows 8 will be directly applicable to Windows Server 2012 as well.
Hyper-V is so powerful, in fact, that it comes with very specific system requirements.
64-bit PCs only. Like the Server software on which it is based, Client Hyper-V only runs on 64-bit PCs that are running the 64-bit version of Windows 8 Pro (or Enterprise).
Chipset requirements. Client Hyper-V requires modern Intel and AMD microprocessors that include Second Level Address Translation (SLAT) technologies. Fortunately, this is a feature of all current generation (“Sandy Bridge” on Intel) microprocessors. But it means that your older Core 2 Duo-based PCs may not work.
Memory. Your PC must be configured with at least 4 GB of RAM. Of course, more is always better with virtualization, so if your needs are high-end, you’ll want more RAM than that.
To install Client Hyper-V, you use the well-hidden Windows Feature control panel. (Thanks to the wonders of Start Search in Windows 8, however, it’s easily found if you know what you’re looking for: Search for windows features, filter to Settings, and select Turn Windows features on or off.)
Expand the Hyper-V entry and you’ll see two sub-entries, Hyper-V Managements Tools and Hyper-V Platform. If the second is grayed out, you can’t install Hyper-V. (That said, you may need to turn on virtualization features in your PC’s BIOS or UEFI firmware first. So check that before despairing.)
Select the features you want to install, click OK, and Client Hyper-V will be installed. After a reboot you’re good to go.
There are two primary interfaces for interacting with Client Hyper-V: Hyper-V Manager and Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection (VMC).
Hyper-V Manager is the Hyper-V management console and the exact same utility that is provided with Windows Server 2012. It’s a modern and full-featured tool, and all you need to create, manage, and run virtual environments on your PC.
Documenting every single feature of this amazing application would be lengthy and time consuming, but some of the key features include:
Connect Hyper-V on your PC or on other PCs or servers. While you can of course work solely on your PC, you can also connect to other Hyper-V installs on other PCs or servers in your environment. I use this feature fairly regularly, as I also have a Hyper-V install on my Windows Server 2012 Beta machine.
Create a virtual machine. The primary function of Client Hyper-V, of course, concerns the creation and configuration of virtual machines, or VMs. These are created via a simple wizard with a name, (dynamic) RAM allotment, a network, one or more virtual hard disks (VHDs), and an attached installation media (which can be a physical disc, an ISO, or other source). (You can make further configuration changes later.)
Create and manage a virtual hard disk. You can also create and edit virtual hard disks, or VHDs, that can be used by virtual machines or the host, physical PC. Note that Client Hyper-V now supports the newer VHDX format, which provides support for virtual disks up to 64 TB big but is not supported in OSes earlier than Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012. Also, VHDs can be configured to be dynamically sized. That way, a 2 TB virtual disk—which appears as a single file to the host system--won’t take up much too much disk space unless you later fill it up with content. To edit a virtual disk, select Edit Disk from the Actions pane. (Note that you can also create VHDs and VHDXs from Disk Management in Windows 8.)
Manage and configure virtual machines. Once you’ve created a virtual machine, you can access its settings and configure many features, including the device boot order, the memory (RAM), the number of virtual processor cores, the attached hard disks (which can be virtual or physical), and much, much more. You can also use VM snapshots to capture and return to "point in time" versions of the VM.
Install and run an operating system in virtual machines. At some point, you are of course going to need to install an operating system in that virtual machine, configure it to your liking and then possibly install applications within it. You do so as you do when installing Windows or other OSes on a physical PC, but of course in this case it’s running virtually and is typically accessible in a window.
Import and export virtual machines. If you’ve created a virtual machine in another instance of Hyper-V, you can use the Import functionality to import it to whatever machine you’re connected to (the host PC or a remote PC). Likewise, you can export virtual machines so they can be used elsewhere.
And so on.
Hyper-V Virtual Machine Connection can be used when you want to just work with a single virtual machine that’s already created and configured. It looks and works almost exactly like the related Remote Desktop Connection utility. (You can also connect to virtual machines using RDC, of course, though that has different requirements of its own, both in the virtual guest and on the connecting PC.)
Overall, Client Hyper-V is an amazing addition to Windows 8 and one that will prove to be very useful to developers of all kinds and of course IT Pros. If Microsoft could just figure out an XP Mode addition of some kind, replicating the amazing application-only accessibility from Windows Virtual PC, it would be perfect.