Sun xVM VirtualBox 3.0 Review

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The important addition of symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) to this desktop virtualisation tool could give VMware Workstation serious competition.

Sun Microsystems’ xVM VirtualBox, a free virtualisation tool that enables virtual machines to run on a variety of standard operating systems, continues to improve its position as a potential challenger to workstation products from VMware and Parallels. Sun released Version 3.0 of xVM VirtualBox on 30 June and added symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) as the major new feature.

In addition to Windows and OS X, VirtualBox supports Linux, Solaris and OpenSolaris as host operating systems. I tested VirtualBox 3.0 on a Sun Fire x4170 server running Windows Server 2008 64-bit and equipped with 12GB of RAM and two quad-core Intel Xeon x5570 “Nehalem” processors. On this machine, I was able to create guests with up to 16 virtual CPUs by taking advantage of hardware-enabled hyper-threading.

I also tested it on a Lenovo T400s laptop running Windows Vista and equipped with an Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo CPU and 2GB of RAM, and on a Mac mini running OS X to run Windows XP.

In all cases, xVM VirtualBox installed and ran without problems. When I tried to assign virtual processors to a guest on the Lenovo notebook I was warned to enable I/O APICs (Advanced Programmable Interrupt Controllers) to avoid IRQ sharing.

Test Findings

xVM VirtualBox did not prevent me from assigning more virtual processors than were available on the physical host. In the case of the Sun Fire x4170 I was able to assign 32 virtual cores to a guest even though that was twice the number of available cores. And even that was “cheating” by using hyper-threading to double my eight physical cores. The user documentation clearly indicated that virtual cores should not exceed actual available physical cores.


Aside from SMP, xVM VirtualBox consists mostly of tweaks to existing features, including experimental support for hardware 3-D acceleration by supporting DirectX 8/9 and OpenGL programming interfaces. While “no cost” is the most compelling reason to look at xVM VirtualBox, the addition of SMP support along with the relatively quick tempo of product development recommends the product as a serious platform for IT pros; version 2.2.4 was released at the end of May.

Beyond the feature additions and improvements, there is a long list of bug fixes that include patches for various guest performance problems and for issues regarding the way VirtualBox handles the importing and exporting of OVF (Open Virtualization Format) virtual appliances. For the full list of VirtualBox 3.0 changes, see

The major addition of support for multiple guest processors in version 3.0 of Sun’s xVM VirtualBox desktop virtualisation tool, when considered alongside the product’s £0.00 price tag and broad host platform support, is certain to give VMware Workstation a run for its money.

Cameron Sturdevant is technical director at eWeek