Can You Run a Virtual Machine Off a USB Drive?

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Can You Run a Virtual Machine Off a USB Drive?

Virtual machines are handy to have especially for those who would want to multi-task with one single computer and for those who need to run programs and software only compatible with certain operating systems.

But it would also be nice if you could actually carry a virtual machine around in a very easy and convenient manner. So, can you actually run a virtual machine off a USB drive?

Virtual machines can run off a USB drive as long as you make sure that your virtual machine host is set to make sure that it keeps and reads the files off of a USB drive. But running a virtual machine off a USB drive will actually hamper the performance though because USB drives are not as fast as hard drives.

Essentially, you will be trading speed and performance for portability and convenience when you are running a virtual machine off a USB drive. But that won’t really matter much if you think about how great it can be to carry around an operating system with you wherever you go. And that is what we are here to talk about and elaborate even further.

Can you run a virtual machine from a flash drive?

The beauty of having a virtual machine these days cannot be overstated because of how handy and useful they are for those who want to be able to run multiple operating systems in essentially one single computer.

For those who don’t know, a virtual machine is a software that allows you to run a program that will mimic the entire interface and environment of an actual operating system without changing the operating system of the computer you are using it on.

You are basically opening an entirely different computer (as far as the virtual world is concerned) in one single window while still running and operating your host computer’s own operating system. Think of it as an emulator that emulates a computer with its own operating system and identity. 

People use virtual machines for a lot of different purposes such as when their operating systems cannot handle certain programs that are only compatible with certain operating systems. There can even be cases where virtual machines are used as “dummy” computers in place of the actual host computers for security purposes.

So, with that in mind, one would think that using a virtual machine requires it to be on your computer’s hard drive the entire time for you to use it. Well, while that can be true to some extent, but it isn’t always the hard truth.

The truth is that you can run a virtual machine off an external drive such as a USB flash drive. Yes, that’s right. You can actually store a virtual machine in your USB flash drive so that your virtual machine can run on any host computer wherever you may be as carrying around a flash drive is as convenient as carrying your wallet with you. 

This leads us to this point…

How do you put a virtual machine on a USB?

Before we get started, there are some things you need to know about using a USB flash drive for your virtual machine. 

First off, you need to have a flash drive that is actually spacious enough to contain the operating systems and the files you will be using. Maybe 16GB will be enough to store all of those files as operating systems alone can be somewhere between 2GB and 5GB.

Second, reformat the USB flash drive to NTFS because you cannot write large files onto the FAT32 formats that flash drives come with. However, you won’t be able to use a Mac as your host computer unless you have software that allows you to read NTFS.

Finally, make sure that you understand that using a flash drive will actually slow your processes down because flash drives have slower reading and writing speeds compared to the hard drive your computer comes with.

Now that we got that out of the way, this is how you put a virtual machine on a USB flash drive:

  1. Choose the virtual machine app or program you want to run your virtual machine through.
  2. Download the virtual machine app or program and make sure that you extract all of the files to your USB drive.
  3. Open the installation file so that you can download the necessary installation files (if needed depending on the virtual machine app or program). If given the choice to download the files into your flash drive, do so.
  4. After the program has been installed, it should open on its own. 
  5. Set the virtual operating system of your choice up by choosing the different options available to you on the virtual machine software.
  6. After the setup has been completed, you can now carry the USB drive wherever you go and pop it into any host computer. Just open the .exe file and you will be good to go.

How do I move a virtual machine to an external flash drive?

In case you already have a virtual machine installed on your computer’s hard drive, it is also possible for you to move it from the host to the USB flash drive to make it portable enough for you to carry it around wherever you go. Here is how you do it:

  1. Open the virtual machine program but make sure your virtual machine is powered off.
  2. Right-click on the virtual machine you want to move and then choose settings and storage after that. Select the .vdi file under the Controller option. Choose Remove Attachment.
  3. Back at the main options, select the .vdi file you want to move and then choose the Remove option but make sure to click the Keep option.
  4. Look for the .vdl on your desktop file manager after detaching it. Move it to the USB flash drive.
  5. Return to your virtual manager and then select the virtual machine. Click on the settings and then choose Storage. Under Controller: SATA, add the flash drive by clicking on the option right next to the Controller: SATA. Click OK.
  6. Choose Existing Disk and then look for the .vdl file that was saved in your USB flash drive. Click OK and you are now able to use your virtual machine off your USB.


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