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From the author of Hardware Virtualization

Hardware Virtualization

Virtualization software for Windows-based PCs can run with or without assistance from the processor. When virtualization is supported by your processor, you will see better performance if your virtualization program also supports hardware virtualization.

Hardware virtualization is optional with some virtualization programs and is required by others, such as Microsoft's Windows Virtual PC for Windows 7.

So which processor vendor, Intel or AMD, has better support for hardware virtualization?

AMD Beats Intel in Virtualization Support

Although AMD hasn't won a head-to-head performance matchup against Intel's desktop and mobile processors in quite some time, AMD is way ahead of Intel in support for hardware virtualization.

According to a May 2009 CNet interview with an AMD spokesperson, "All CPUs AMD is currently shipping, except Sempron, include AMD-V [AMD's hardware virtualization technology][el]" The same interview indicated that most previous 64-bit desktop and laptop processors from AMD also support AMD-V.

What about Intel processors? Intel processors with hardware virtualization support use Intel's Intel VT technology, but unfortunately figuring out which models include VT isn't easy. A May 2009 blog entry by ZDNet's Ed Bott provides some clarification.

In addition to hardware virtualization support in the processor, your system BIOS must also enable hardware virtualization.

Figure 2 shows a BIOS setting enabling virtualization on an AMD-based system.

Figure 2 Enabling virtualization in the system BIOS on a computer with hardware virtualization support in the CPU (processor)

Determining Hardware Virtualization Support

If hardware virtualization support is important to you, you can use utilities provided by Intel or AMD[md]or by a third party[md]to determine whether your processor includes virtualization support.

If you decide to use utilities provided by your processor vendor, you will first need to determine whether an Intel or AMD processor is installed in your computer.

To find out, right-click (My) Computer and select Properties, or open the System icon in Control Panel. The processor information is displayed as part of the computer information provided.

Once you have this information, you can use one of the following options to check your processor for hardware virtualization support:

Figure 3 AMD Virtualization Technology utility reports that this system has the hardware virtualization support needed to run Hyper-V or other virtualizers that require hardware virtualization support (such as Microsoft's Windows Virtual PC).

If you want to use a single utility to check for hardware virtualization support, regardless of what brand of processor you use, try one of the following:

Figure 4 Microsoft's Hardware-Assisted Virtualization Detection Tool provides links to information about Windows Virtual PC.

Figure 5 Check the Instructions section of CPU-Z to determine whether your system supports hardware virtualization (for AMD-based systems, look for AMD-V; for Intel-based systems, look for Intel VT).

Figure 6 GRC's SecurAble reports your computer's support for 64-bit processing, hardware data execution protection, and hardware virtualization.

No Hardware Support? The (Options) Envelope, Please

If your system doesn't include hardware virtualization support, what can you do about it?

Here are your options:

  • Use a virtualization program that doesn't require hardware support, such as Virtual PC 2007 instead of Windows Virtual PC.
  • If your processor supports hardware virtualization but your system BIOS doesn't, see whether a BIOS upgrade is available for your system.
  • If your processor doesn't support hardware virtualization, see whether your system supports a processor upgrade to a model that does support hardware virtualization.
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