How to Convert a Physical PC into a Virtual One

As a writer and product tester, I spend a lot of time working on my computer. When I bought a new laptop, I wanted very specific features: a big LCD to reduce eye strain, a large comfortable keyboard to minimize hand fatigue, a super fast CPU, lots of memory and storage, Bluetooth, Blu-ray optical drive and high-speed wireless N network capabilities. I have the machine of my dreams and other then battery life and weight, I’m very happy with it. Now if only I could use it more often.

You see, my job keeps me in the field working from client sites on a pretty regular basis and as a result I spend most of my time working remotely on my company’s corporate laptop. This laptop is about three years old and frankly, it wasn’t all that impressive new. Unfortunately I’m stuck using it because it has been preconfigured to access our corporate VPN and is equipped with a variety of proprietary applications that we use when serving clients.

As a result, I’m left with two choices. Either I can carry two laptops with me when I travel, or as is often the case, just bite the bullet and deal with the limitations of that dark-screened, underpowered, piece-of-outdated-technology.

Recently however, I stumbled upon a third option. By using a set of free utilities available from VMware, I have found a way to convert my underpowered company laptop into a virtual machine (VM) which I can then run on my personal laptop. The benefit of this approach is that I can still retain access to our corporate VPN and all of our office applications, while still being able to read my personal e-mail, do my online banking, watch movies and browse all of my favorite sites; all from a single machine.

The only drawback to virtual machines is that they usually have some pretty hefty hardware requirements. This is because the VM is essentially a simulated computer that needs to supply the operating system and applications with the same resources as a physical PC. Only now, all of those resources need to be provided by a solitary system.

In VM speak, the Physical computer is known as the host, while the simulated PC is referred to as the guest. So just what type of PC can you use? Almost any PC sold within the last two years should do, and I would suggest that at a minimum you’ll need a system with a dual-core CPU, 2GB of memory and at least a 250GB hard drive. Anything above that and you should be golden.

If your PC is so equipped, we can get started. To configure this setup for yourself you’re going to need to download two pieces of software from the VMware website. The first one is going to be the VMware vCenter Converter Standalone 4.0. This is the software that will actually convert your physical machine into a VM.

The other is the VMware Player 2.5.2.  This is sort of a streamlined version of the full VMware Workstation product. Unlike Workstation, you cannot use the VMware Player to create new virtual machines; it will only run existing ones. For our purposes today, that’s all we need. However, both the Player and Workstation application can be used for what we’re doing here. So if you’re feeling adventurous, you can download the free 30 day trial of VMware Workstation.

This procedure will take place in two parts: First we need to convert your physical machine into a virtual one. Second, we will install the VMware Player onto the host PC, copy over the newly converted VM and then launch it using the player.  Let’s begin.

Download and install the VMware vCenter Converter Standalone 4.0 application onto the physical machine you want to convert. To do this, simply visit the site, press the “Download” link and follow the instructions. Once you download the software you can begin the installation. The installation is very simple and straightforward.

  1. Double-click the file you downloaded and press Next

  2. Accept the license agreement and press Next

  3. Keep the default installation folder and press Next

  4. Select “Local installation,” press Next and then Install

  5. After it installs make sure the box Run Converter Standalone Client now is checked and press Finish.

With the application installed, we can now begin the conversion process.

  1. At the top of the application you’ll see two buttons: Convert Machine and Configure Machine; select Convert Machine.

  2. On this screen select the source type which is Powered-on machine.”Then specify the powered-on machine by checking this local machine. Now press Next.

  3. With the source specified, now we need to configure the destination. For destination type select VMware Workstation or other VMware virtual machine from the drop down menu.

  4. hen select your VMware product. For our example we will be using VMware Player 2.5.x.

  5. Under Virtual machine details you should see the name of your PC and then you need to choose the destination where the VM will be stored. My suggestion would be to store this on an external hard drive. After selecting your location, press Next to continue.

  6. On this next screen you can set specific options. The important one to look for is the amount of memory being allocated to the virtual machine. More is always better, but if you allocate more than your system has available, the virtual machine won’t start. My suggestion would be to allocate 50 percent of your physical memory to the VM. When done, press Next to proceed.

  7. Finally review your settings and press Finish to begin the conversion process.

It might take it a few minutes for the status window to be displayed on your screen. Be patient and wait for it. The status screen will show the job statistics including the estimated completion time. Our test system took about 50 minutes to convert almost 15GB of data.

With the physical machine successfully converted, we’re can now move on to the second part of our project. The first step is to transfer the folder in which you created the VM, over to the host PC. Now from the host PC, go and download VMware Player 2.5.2. As with the Converter, the download and installation is very simple. After downloading the program double-click the file, press Next, Next, Next and finally Install to the start the installation process. Press Finished when completed. At this point you’ll most likely need to restart the system.

Once the system has restarted:

  1. Start the VMware Player

  2. Accept the license agreement and click OK.

  3. This will launch the main application. Under the Command section click Open.

  4. Move to the folder where you stored the VM you created, select it and press Open.

At this point the VMware Player will start to boot your new VM. It will start just like the physical PC does. To control the VM just click your mouse anywhere inside the window. If you need to press CTRL+ALT+DEL to enter your username and password, then you’ll need to press CTRL+ALT+INSERT instead. This is because the CTRL+ALT+DEL command is associated to the host PC.

 Additionally, the first time you login to Windows you might get some “New Hardware Found” notifications. One will most assuredly be for the VGA driver. Just ignore it and tell it not to prompt you again. Depending on the hardware in your system, you might see others. You don’t have to worry about most of them though. For example, things like wireless network adapters will no longer be found, or needed for that matter. In this situation the VM will actually bridge the network connection of the host PC for network conductivity. After the wizard finishes with its hardware detection it will restart the system.

From this point on your VM should be up and running and fully operational. If you have additional questions or happen to run into problems with either the conversion process or the player itself, I would suggest reviewing the User Guides for each. These will cover the product requirements and procedures in far greater detail then I can here. The User Guide for the Converter can be found here and the Player here.

I hope you found this information as useful as I did. I would be remiss though if I didn’t point out that the VMware vCenter Converter Standalone 4.0 application has much more to offer then just the example we illustrated here, and I invite you to discover for yourself what else it can do for you.

Ronald Pacchiano is a contributing writer for

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