Virtual Machine Performance on a Laptop

So, now that I’ve had an opportunity to run my virtual machines on my new E6400 laptop, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. But, first, a bit about the other piece of hardware that I use with my virtual machines:

Because virtual machines are notoriously slow, you want to do everything you can to help them out. Probably the most important thing you can do is to host them on a different physical drive from your operating system. Less contention for the disk means faster disk access. It also helps to get the fastest drive possible, since virtual hard drives are nothing more than incredibly large files that you will inevitably want to copy and move around.

So, for years now, I’ve carried around a small (2.5”/60GB), fast (7,200RPM), USB 2.0 (440Mb/sec) drive to host my virtual machines. It has worked great: it’s portable, it’s fast, and I can plug it into virtually any computer and be up and running in minutes.

Sure, a larger drive would be better. 60GB was the largest 7200RPM 2.5” drive at the time I bought mine. Now, you can get 300GB+ at 7200RPM for just a couple hundred dollars.

A faster drive would also be nice. 7200RPM was the fastest 2.5” drive on the market at the time I was buying. Now, you can get 2.5” 10,000RPM drives. And, you can even get 15,000RPM drives, if you don’t mind lugging around a 3.5” drive and another power brick.

Finally, a faster pipe would really help. When I bought my drive, USB 2.0 was the fastest ubiquitous connector out there. Now, you can often find FireWire 800 ports (at 800Mb/sec). And, low-and-behold, my new E6400 has an eSATA port (at 3Gb/sec!).

So, needless to say, I had to try out the SATA port. Long story short: IT SCREAMS! It is easily 5-10x faster than the USB connection. In fact, it’s so fast, I defy anyone to tell me whether or not they’re running the host OS (on the metal, as they say), or the guest OS (virtually)! Don’t believe me? Come over and see for yourself!

I am a convert! I will not be going back to USB any time soon!

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