Linux Blog

Running dual boot for gaming or using Virtual Machines

Filed under: General Linux,Linux Software — Owen at 12:01 am on Tuesday, May 26, 2015

This is a guest post by Fredrick Cameron and Parking Games 365!


Being a hardcore gamer is not an easy “job” – you have to invest large amounts of money into cutting-edge hardware, and just when you think you have the best gaming rig, something better pops up. As if that’s not enough, you might find yourself in the situation of having to use multiple operating systems, which will lead you to one crucial question: what’s the best approach for getting everything working just right? When it comes to using multiple operating systems and gaming on a single machine, is dual-booting the better choice, or will virtual machines get the job done just as good?
Convenience vs. Performance
Dual-boot and virtualization are both use for the same final purpose: being able to run multiple operating systems on a single machine. However, each approach works differently, and thus they’re not both appropriate for all tasks.

Virtual machines are exactly what their name suggests – virtual computers that run inside your own real computer. The main advantage of virtual machines is that they run inside the main operating system, and as long as your hardware can keep up the pace, you can have multiple virtual machines running simultaneously, each machine being able to run a different operating system. By running inside the operating system, virtual machines are easy to manage, configure and deploy, thus being very convenient if you need to quickly switch between operating systems, as you don’t have to restart your PC and wait for everything to load over and over again.

Dual-booting implies installing two operating systems on a PC. Unlike the case of running virtual machines, in a dual-boot system you have to restart the PC every time you want to switch between operating systems. Installing the two operating systems also requires considerably more work and configuration. So far all these aspects seem to indicate that dual-boot is far less convenient than running virtual machines, so you might expect there’s a catch, and there is: dual-booting means that each system gets exclusive access to the hardware in your PC. In other usage scenarios, this might not mean much, but when it comes to gaming, it’s a complete game-changer. Literally.

Virtual machines get limited access to hardware, as they run as “guests” inside the main operating system. For example, if you’re running a PC with a dual-core processor and 4GB of RAM, one core of the processor and 2GB of RAM might be used by the host operating system, leaving the guest operating system with just one core and the other 2GB of RAM. This basically cuts down the performance of both the host and the guest operating systems to 50%. When you’re running a powerful gaming machine, with quad-core, hexa-core or even octa-core processors and tons of RAM, having the host operating system consume a chunk of those resources might not seem like such a big deal, but gamers tend to hold on to every bit of computing power, as recent games are power-hungry.

However, the key factor that prevent virtual machines from being adequate solutions is the fact that they can’t access and use the hardware as efficiently as a separate operating system does. Ironically, the main component that can’t be fully taken advantage of via a virtual machine is the graphics card, which also happens to be the most important component when it comes to gaming. There is a VGA pass-through procedure that should allow you to give the virtual machine direct access to the video card, but setting it up is a lengthy and complicated process.

Dual-boot may seem a bit inconvenient at first, requiring you to install and configure two separate operating systems, and have to go through “the pain” of a system reboot every time you want to switch, but it’s still far better than having to go through the pain of seeing your games shutter or lag.