Home  |  Tips

Virtual PC Tips

This page contains tips and tricks to increase your productivity when using
Virtual PC. If you have tips of your own that you would like to share,
please email Virtual PC Central.


Tips Key:

  Indicates that the tip is specific to Virtual PC 4
  Indicates that the tip applies to Virtual PC 3 and 4

Copy & Paste within Virtual PC

Virtual PC incorporates several copy & paste mechanisms.

Marquee Selection Copies: This feature allows you to select a portion of the PC’s video screen and copy it as text or graphics, depending on the current mode of the emulated video card. (For example, “text mode” is used in DOS and “graphics mode” is used in Windows.) To use this copy method, hold down the command key (to uncapture the mouse pointer) and drag a rectangle around the text or graphics that you want to copy. This method of copying is great for taking screen shots of PC software.

Text Pasting: If you copy a string of text on your Mac, you can paste this string into Virtual PC. It handles this type of paste by emulating simple key presses. In other words, it will look to the PC like you’re just typing the characters being pasted (but much faster than you could normally type). If you get into trouble while pasting text (e.g. you just accidentally pasted a huge block of text), you can press command-period to cancel the action.

Advanced Copy/Paste Integration: The most useful copy/paste feature requires that the Virtual PC Additions are installed. Using this feature, Virtual PC is able to integrate the guest (Windows) and host (Mac) clipboards so they act like a single clipboard. In other words, if you copy a block of text from within Windows, and then switch to the Mac and paste, it will transfer the data as expected. Virtual PC also allows copy & paste of simple graphics, but not files.

LED Toolbar — More Than Activity Indicators

Virtual PC uses icons in the lower left corner of the PC video window to represent various devices attached to the virtual machine.

The green and orange LEDs that flicker on and off indicate access to the associated device. For example, a green LED on the hard drive icon indicates a read from one of the virtual hard drive images. A green LED always indicates that data is being read or received. An orange LED indicates that data is being written or sent.

In addition to activity indication, these icons provide other shortcuts. A right click (control-click on the Mac) displays available options in a pop-up menu.

Dragging a valid floppy image to the floppy icon “captures” it in the virtual machine.

Dragging a folder or a volume to the folder icon shares the folder in the virtual machine.

Infrared ports and Virtual PC

Almost every portable Mac that has shipped over the past several years incoporates an IR (infrared) port. This allows PowerBooks to communicate with other PowerBooks, cell phones, PDAs, etc.

How can you access the infrared port within Windows under Virtual PC? Unfortunately, Virtual PC doesn’t emulate an IR port. So, Windows has no idea there is IR hardware available.

The best you’ll be able to do is to configure Virtual PC to “link” one of the emulated COM ports to the IR port on your Mac. Then configure your PC software to talk to COM 1 or 2. This may work for some applications, but others (e.g. the built-in Windows file sharing over IR) may insist on having actual IR hardware.

Incorrect Mouse Behavior in Games

Virtual PC includes a number of “additions” files that provide integration between the Mac and the PC. Without these additions, a number of features like Shared Folders and Drag and Drop would not work.

Another Virtual PC addition provides Mac mouse integration. Without this functionality, you wouldn’t be able to move the mouse pointer beyond the edge of the PC video window (after all, a real PC doesn’t allow you to move the pointer beyond the edge of its monitor!). The “host cursor integration” feature allows you to seamlessly move the pointer between the Mac and the PC environment.

Host cursor integration works well in most circumstances. However, there are situations when it can cause problems. You will normally see these problems in games that draw their own pointer images or use the mouse for purposes other than moving a pointer around on the screen.

As of Virtual PC 4.0, you can now disable host cursor integration while you’re running Virtual PC. The option can be found in the Mouse Settings panel. You can turn it off temporarily while you’re using a game that would otherwise operate incorrectly.

Now, have fun with those games!

Virtual PC and DoubleTalk or DAVE

When you install Virtual PC on a machine running Connectix DoubleTalk or Thursby System’s DAVE Virtual PC displays a dialog that indicates there may be compatibility issues. What’s the problem?

Both DoubleTalk and DAVE provide compatibility with Windows file and print servers. Windows uses a networking protocol known as NetBIOS (sometimes referred to as SMB). Just as the MacOS contains a file sharing mechanism (personal file sharing), Windows also implements both a NetBIOS client and server.

When you boot Windows within a Virtual PC using “Shared IP” mode, Windows starts up its NetBIOS server, attempting to make use of several hard-coded TCP/IP port numbers. Normally, the “Shared IP” mechanism can grant Windows use of those ports on the Mac because the MacOS doesn’t use these ports. However, if you’re running DoubleTalk or DAVE, these ports are already in use. In this case, file and printer sharing services within Windows won’t work correctly.

What are the work-arounds? First, if you can afford to give Windows a unique IP address, switch from “Shared IP” mode to “Unique IP” mode. If the PC and the Mac are using separate IP addresses, the port numbers won’t collide. Second, you can temporarily disable DoubleTalk or DAVE before running Virtual PC. Both of them support the Location Manager, so you can set up a different “location” for when you want to run Virtual PC.

Ethernet Speeds within Virtual PC

If you’re curious about the various hardware emulated in Virtual PC, I’d recommend using the Windows “device manager” (within the System control panel). The device manager lists all the hardware that Windows has found through its “plug-and-play” hardware detection mechanism.

If you open the device manager and click on the network controller, you’ll notice several things. First, the chipset being emulated is a DEC/Intel 21041. (The history of this chipset is a little complicated because the technology was purchased by Intel from DEC several years ago.) Second, you’ll note that the emulated network controller is a 10-baseT card. The “10” implies that the card’s bandwidth is limited to10 megabits / second.

I’ve received emails from several users who are concerned that Virtual PC isn’t taking advantage of the fact that their Mac is connected to a 100-baseT or 1000-baseT (gigabit) network.

It turns out that there’s no need to be concerned. Although Virtual PC’s card does appear to Windows as a 10-baseT card, Windows does nothing to limit networking bandwidth to 10-baseT speeds. Neither does Virtual PC. In both cases, networking packets are handled as fast as possible. So, if your Mac’s hardware and your local area network support speeds greater than 10 megatbit/sec., software running within Virtual PC will take advantage of the available bandwidth.

Monitor Scan Rates

When you use “full-screen” mode in Virtual PC and the “Adjust Mac video resolution” option is enabled, VPC attempts to find the best screen resolution and bit depth for the current PC video mode. For example, if the current PC video mode is 800x600 16 bits per pixel, VPC may set the Mac’s monitor to the closest resolution — perhaps 832x624 and “thousands of color” mode. If the modes don’t match exactly, VPC centers the PC video on the Mac’s screen and draws a black border around the edges.

For every given resolution and bit depth, there are often multiple “scan rates” for a particular monitor. You can see this by opening the Monitors control panel. Lower scan rates (e.g. 60Hz) may appear to flicker. So, higher scan rates are generally preferred. However, some monitors can’t display higher scan rates. If you were to switch to a scan rate not supported by your monitor, the screen would just “go black”.

When VPC switches resolutions, it takes the conservative approach and chooses the highest scan rate that the MacOS considers “safe” (i.e. is guaranteed to be supported by the monitor). If this scan rate is lower than what you prefer, you can manually switch to a higher scan rate in the Monitors control panel. If you do this while Virtual PC is full-screen mode, it will “remember” that you successfully switched to a higher scan rate and assume that you would prefer this higher scan rate in the future.

CD-R(W) & DVD Drives

A number of VPCCentral readers have recently asked how to access their CD-R(W) drives through Virtual PC. In particular, they want to be able to use Windows-based CD burning software. Other readers have asked how to access either data or video off of DVDs through Virtual PC.

The short answer is that these are not possible with current versions of VPC. Virtual PC emulates an IDE controller along with a single CD-ROM drive and one to three hard drives. It intercepts IDE commands from Windows and translates them into driver commands on the Mac. Current versions of Virtual PC only understand the IDE commands relating to CDs and hard drives — not the extended commands for CD-R(W) and DVD drives. If you have a drive of this type, Virtual PC will still allow you to access traditional CDs in that drive. But you won’t be able to run CD burning software or access data from DVDs.

If you simply need to access data from a DVD, you can do so by sharing it as a “shared folder”. (Note that this requires Virtual PC Additions to be installed within your guest OS.) To do this, simply drag the DVD icon in the Mac Finder to the folder icon in the lower left-hand corner of the Virtual PC window. You should then see a networked volume icon show up in the “My Computer” window, and the DVD contents should be accessible.

Optimizing Video Settings

Virtual PC must display the PC’s video contents onto your Mac’s screen many times a second. There are performance trade-offs involved in displaying the PC video. If VPC does this too infrequently, the video starts to appear “choppy”, and menus won’t appear to pop up the moment you click on them. However, if VPC updates the Mac’s screen too frequently, there will be less time for emulating the processor.

There are several settings that you can make to help VPC minimize the time spent drawing the video contents to the Mac’s screen.

• The larger the emulated video screen, the more time it takes to keep it updated. Generally an 800x600 video setting will run slightly faster than a 1024x768 mode.

• Try to keep the Mac’s video bit depth at “thousands” or “millions” of colors — especially if you’re running VPC 4. The latest version of VPC has removed fast support for 256-color video modes. In fact VPC will warn you if you are using a 256-color mode.

• You don’t need to worry about determining the optimal settings for full-screen video. When VPC takes over the Mac’s entire screen, it will determine the best video size and bit depth for the current PC mode.

Working with Self-mounting Hard Drives

Virtual PC 3 contained a useful feature that allows users to mount their PC hard drive images directly in the Finder using the PC Exchange software built in to the MacOS. If you “Get Info” on one of the hard drive images created with Virtual PC 3, you'll notice that it’s an application file. This is because the drive images included a small application that simply mounted the drive and then quit.

Virtual PC 4 removed the self-mounting drive feature. Connectix reports that this was done for several reasons. First, the feature was apparently not used by many users (as it was not very well publicized). Second, PC Exchange could only mount drive images up to 4GB in size, and only FAT16 and FAT32 formatted volumes. Third, File Exchange doesn’t understand the format of the new dynamically-expanding drive images introduced in VPC 4. And fourth, the technique of using File Exchange to mount the drives won’t be available in MacOS X.

What if you want to use this feature in VPC 4? If you want to use the new dynamically-expanding drives, you’re out of luck. However, if you create a new fixed-space drive image using the Virtual Disk Assistant in VPC 4, you can modify the drive so that it is still mountable. You’ll need to open the drive image in a resource editor like ResEdit. Change its type to “APPL” and its creator to “VtHD”. At this point, you can mount the drive image using DiskCopy. If you want to take the next step and make the drive image self-mounting, you’ll need access to a preexisting VPC 3 drive image. Once again, using ResEdit, copy all of the resources from the original image over to the new image (plus, don’t forget to change the file type and creator). You’ll now have a fixed-space drive that will mount itself in the Finder.

Avoiding Sound Choppiness

If you’re running into performance problems with Virtual PC — especially if you notice frequent breakups in emulated sound playback, make sure you don’t have processor cycling enabled in your Mac’s Energy Saver control panel.

When “processor cycling” is enabled, the PowerPC processor is put to sleep for short periods of time and is only awakened to respond to user events. You can observe this by playing a sound in Virtual PC with processor cycling turned on. Moving the mouse rapidly will prevent the processor from sleeping, so the sound will play normally.

Some readers may be especially surprised to find that this option is available not only on PowerBooks, but also on desktop machines.

Connecting Non-modem Serial Devices

Virtual PC emulates two COM (serial) ports. The MacOS only allows one application to “open” a serial port at the same time. If Virtual PC were to open the specified serial connection as soon as you started up the PC, you wouldn’t be able to use that serial port for anything else until you quit Virtual PC.

To work around this problem, Virtual PC solves this problem by assuming the serial device the PC is connecting to is a modem. By making this assumption, VPC can wait for the PC software to send a modem command to the emulated COM port before opening the Mac serial port. Modem commands usually begin with the letters “AT” (short for “attention”).

If you’re using a non-standard modem or a device other than a modem, this trick won’t work. In these cases, you should select the “Non-modem device” option in the COM settings panel.

With this option enabled, Virtual PC will open the selected serial port immediately instead of waiting for an “AT” command.

Shrinking Hard Drives

Dynamically-expanding drive images grow as information is added to them. Is there a way to “shrink” them once information is deleted?

The problem is somewhat complicated. It turns out that most operating systems (including Windows) don’t really delete file contents when a file is thrown away. (This is why programs like Norton Utilities can unerase files.)

To “shrink” an expanding drive once some of its contents have been deleted, do the following…

1. Run a program that zeroes the unused space on the drive (Norton Utilities will do this).

2. Shut down Windows (don’t save the PC).

3. Open the Virtual Disk Assistant, choose the Examine/Modify option, and select the drive image in question.

4. Select the “Reclaim Zeroed Drive Space” option.

The Virtual Disk Assistant will create a new drive image that only contains the non-zero portions of the first image.

Hiding the PC List

The “PC List” window acts as a central “control panel” for all the configured PCs. However, some users find this window annoying and wish it would go away after a PC is started (after all, most of us only use one PC at a time).

There are a couple of ways to make the PC List window go away.

1. If you hold down the option (alt) key when starting a PC, the PC List window will close itself after the PC’s window opens.

2. If you quit Virtual PC with one or more PCs running, the application will (by default) re-open these PCs when it is next launched. It also remembers whether the PC List window was displayed when you quit the program. When Virtual PC is relaunched, it will not display the PC List window if it was hidden last time you quit the application and there is at least one PC automatically started.

Restoring PCs at Launch

If you quit Virtual PC 4.0, all of the PCs that are running at the time are normally restarted when you relaunch the program. You can override this behavior in one of two ways:

1. Disable the Restore PCs At Launch option in the Preferences dialog.

2. Hold down the command key when launching Virtual PC will prevent any PCs from starting up.

Another useful, related feature is the ability to quit Virtual PC and save all the running PCs without being confronted with the “Shut Down” dialog (the one with the off switch). You can do this by holding down the option key when quitting.

Eliminating Pause Messages

Have you experienced the annoying “your PC has been paused” messages in VPC 4?

The reason for these messages is that VPC is not able to allocate enough memory for the PC to run. It attempts to free up some memory by “paging” portions of it to your hard drive. However, this paging process slows down emulation drastically. Some operating systems (even Windows 98 and 2000) will crash if they are slowed down too much. Rather than risking crashes, VPC warns you that there is too little memory to proceed.

You can resolve this issue by closing other applications. If there are no other apps open or you continue to get the message, you should either consider adding more memory to your machine or reducing the PC’s memory allocation (definitely a cheaper alternative!).

  Return to Virtual PC Central home page