Speed up VirtualBox in Windows and run virtual machines faster

Solve VirtualBox performance problems with these top tips

What can you do if VirtualBox is running slowly and virtual machines like Linux are laggy and have poor performance? These top tweaks speed up VirtualBox and the virtual machines you run.

If VirtualBox is slow and performance is poor, these tips will speed up your virtual machines. Improve performance in Windows.

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VirtualBox is a great way to run other operating systems on your PC without having to partition the disk, fiddle around with boot managers, and other technical matters, all of which can cause problems if not carried out properly.

When an operating system is installed into VirtualBox it runs as a virtual machine. It is a sort of PC simulator or emulator and the guest OS that is installed, such as Windows, Linux and so on, runs in a window on the desktop like regular software apps.

VirtualBox is great for testing software because it runs in the virtual machine and does not affect, or infect in the case of malware, the rest of the PC.

Downloading and installing VirtualBox is easy and the software is free. Linux distros are free and work great in virtual machines. You can even download Windows for free and run it in VirtualBox.

Running software in an operating system running on a virtual machine (emulator/simulator) on top of an operating system like Windows can be quite good. It is not like running apps on the desktop, but apps do run quite quickly in virtual machines.

However, sometimes VirtualBox performance sucks. It can be really slow and laggy. Menus open slowly, buttons react slowly when clicked, apps load and run slowly and it can all be very irritating.

Here are some tips to boost VirtualBox performance and Linux, Windows and other guest operating systems running smoothly.

1 Get an SSD

VirtualBox and virtual machines make heavy use of the disk and the speed of the disk is a big factor affecting the performance of Linux or Windows running as a guest OS.

Upgrading an old style mechanical disk drive to a solid state drive is one of the best ways to make the computer faster. It is almost like getting a new computer.

The price of solid state drives are falling and they are now reasonably priced. The Samsung 850 EVO 250GB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD (MZ-75E250B/AM) has 15k+ reviews on Amazon and most of them are 5-star. It’s a great 250GB SSD to replace the internal drive in your PC.

Samsung solid state drive

Samsung SSD850 EVO 2.5" SATA III 250GB

If you need more disk space, the Crucial MX300 525GB SATA 2.5 Inch Internal Solid State Drive - CT525MX300SSD1 has twice the storage at over 500GB and has excellent ratings from buyers.

Both will massively speed up running Linux or Windows in virtual machines.

2 Allocate more memory

When virtual machines are created in VirtualBox, they are allocated the minimum amount of memory. It is barely sufficient to run and it will not run at a good speed. Windows and Linux run more slowly when memory is limited and increasing the RAM will increase the speed.

  1. Select the virtual machine and click the Settings button in the toolbar
  2. Select System in the sidebar of the Settings window
  3. Select the Motherboard tab on the right
  4. Drag the slider to increase the memory for the virtual machine

Memory settings in VirtualBox for Windows

The RAM in the PC is shared with Windows and VirtualBox. If you allocate too much memory to VirtualBox then Windows will suffer. The red area on the slider shows when too much memory is allocated.

There are three Extended Features and the first is Enable I/O APIC. This slows down the virtual machine very slightly, but it is essential for running 64-bit guest operating systems like Windows and Linux. This means that a 32-bit OS might run a bit faster because this setting can be off.

This PC has 8GB of RAM and so it is possible to allocate 4GB to VirtualBox and still have enough to run Windows. It is possible to run VirtualBox on a PC with 4GB of RAM, but the performance of both Windows and the guest OS will suffer.

It may be necessary to upgrade the memory in the computer to get good performance from VirtualBox. Use the tool on the homepage of the Crucial website to find out what RAM your PC uses and what upgrades are available.

3 Install Guest Additions in VirtualBox

The graphics driver that comes with VirtualBox is awful. It works, but it is very slow. Installing the VirtualBox extensions speeds up the display enormously and it makes a huge difference to the speed.

When a virtual machine is running, go to the Devices menu and select Insert Guest Additions CD Image. If you are running Windows in VirtualBox, open Explorer, go to the CD-Rom drive and double click VBoxWindowsAdditions.

In Ubuntu Linux, open a terminal and change to the location where the CD is mounted and enter sudo sh ./VBoxLinuxAdditions.run

3 Increase display memory

The more memory the video hardware has, the better the performance. This is partly why fast video cards have so much memory. VirtualBox enables you to set the amount of video memory available for the display and setting it to the maximum will maximise performance.

  1. Select the virtual machine in VirtualBox
  2. Click the Settings button in the toolbar
  3. Select Display in the sidebar
  4. Select the Screen tab on the right
  5. Drag the Video memory slider to the maximum

Set the graphics memory in VirtualBox for Windows

Bear in mind that this uses more of the PC’s memory. It is OK on a PC with 8GB or more of RAM, but if you are running VirtualBox on a 4GB PC you might need to set the video memory quite low and suffer the loss of performance.

The monitor count and scale factor should be 1 and 100%, unless you are doing something special with the virtual machine.

4 Use a better video card

The better the video card in your PC, the better the performance in VirtualBox. Therefore you could increase the speed of a virtual machine by using a better video card. You might be able to upgrade the one in your PC, but laptops are stuck with what is currently in them.

Here is a trick you can use on some, but not all computers. Some come with more than one graphics card and it is common in some laptops.

If I right click the VirtualBox icon on the desktop I can choose to run it with the High-performance NVIDIA processor or Integrated graphics (default).

Select the graphics card to run an application in Windows

The reason for the choice is that my computer is a laptop and using NVIDIA uses more battery than the Intel integrated graphics. If you are running the PC on mains power or don’t mind the extra battery usage, select the high performance graphics option to speed up VirtualBox.

5 Allocate more CPUs in VirtualBox

The processor in a PC has multiple cores (each core is like a separate CPU) and also has hyperthreading, which makes each core function as if they were two cores.

This means that an Intel Core i7 processor could have four cores and appear to have eight using hyperthreading. The more cores (real or virtual) that are allocated to a virtual machine, the faster it will run.

  1. Select the virtual machine in VirtualBox
  2. Click the Settings button in the toolbar
  3. Click System in the sidebar
  4. Select the Processor tab on the right
  5. Drag the CPU slider to the boundary between red and green

VirtualBox for Windows CPU settings

This allocates half the cores/hyperthreads to the virtual machine, leaving half for the PC running Windows. It provides the best balance, but if you don’t mind Windows suffering a little, drag the slider into the red to assign more CPUs to the virtual machine. It will run faster.

What if you cannot assign more than one CPU? This is because of a bad BIOS setting in the PC. Here is the solution: The one BIOS tweak you need to boost VirtualBox speed.

6 Change the power plan

Windows provides several different power plans and these determine the performance of the components in the PC and the amount of power they consume. When a laptop is running on the battery a power plan can be selected that turns down the performance of components to save power and prolong battery life. This slows down virtual machines in VirtualBox.

To cut a long story short (see How to speed up VirtualBox enormously with this simple tweak), set the high performance power plan.

  1. Right click the power/battery icon at the right side of the taskbar
  2. Select Power Options
  3. Click Show Additional plans if necessary
  4. Select the High performance power plan

Power plans in the Windows Control Panel Power Options

Do you have any tweaks to make VirtualBox run faster? Leave a comment below.


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