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Hardware unsupported by Windows 7 will have a hard time running in a virtual machine. There currently is no good solution.

I have PixelView TV tuner card on my computer and it worked fine for years with Windows XP. These days, I upgraded my PC to Windows 7 and as I was warned previously by Windows 7 upgrade advisor, the TV tuner was not recognized in device manager at all. So I decided to try Oracle VirtualBox virtual machine to install Windows XP as a guest OS and then try to reinstall PixelView on it. The virtual Windows XP was installed successfully, but it did not recognize the TV tuner. I had installed the TV tuner software from its CD with no errors, but it does not work. Indeed, virtual box doesn't recognize my RADEON video card also and installed some of its own other drivers instead of the original device drivers I had on my old, real Windows XP. What can I do?

In this excerpt from Answercast #77, I look at the difficulties involved in moving older hardware to a new computer without updated drivers.

Hardware unsupported by Windows 7

What can I do?

Unfortunately, not a lot. The problem is that what virtual machines do (virtual machines like VirtualBox, or Parallels Workstation that I use, or any of a number) is that they actually don't - and for various reasons, they can't - provide direct access to random hardware: in other words, to the physical hardware that's on your machine.

They provide what is effectively a translation layer. They provide a virtual video driver that then maps between what you're running in your virtual machine and what your actual hardware is. This is done through the Windows that's installed on your actual hardware: in your case, the Windows 7.

So the Windows 7 video driver knows how to deal with video - the video card you have. And the virtual machine knows how to deal with this virtual video driver that provides to Windows XP and translates to the generic Windows calls that then Windows 7 translates into the actual hardware.

In other words, there's no way for Windows XP to know that you actually have a RADEON card installed. The video driver, the virtual video driver is provided entirely by the virtual machine.

Non-standard hardware

The problem with the tuner is that it's a non-standard piece of hardware. That's a piece of hardware for which you need drivers. Now, you can get those drivers for Windows XP, which is fine, but they don't exist for Windows 7 which means that Windows 7 can't have those drivers installed.

The "virtual box" doesn't understand what the tuner is because it doesn't have with it any of the translation knowledge that it would require to say, "OK, we're going to make a fake virtual box in the virtual machine and we're going to translate it to this other standard piece of Windows hardware."

Well, it's not a standard piece of Windows hardware, so there's no way to translate it.

Ultimately, a virtual machine is not a solution for arbitrary custom hardware like this. It's just one of those things that a virtual machine is not going to do (certainly not any time soon).

Theoretically, I suppose it could. I'm currently not aware of any virtual machine technology that does. So, I believe for that reason you're currently going to be out of luck.

Virtual machine technology is great for getting Windows XP software to run. But when it comes to supporting unsupported hardware, that's where a virtual machine really isn't the right solution.

(Transcript lightly edited for readability.)

Article C6117 - December 10, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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4 Comments
Dan
December 11, 2012 10:16 AM

Couldn't he partionion the hard drive and make it dual boot. Boot as an XP when wanting to use the TV card and Windows 7 for all other times?

James
December 11, 2012 10:46 AM

I just figured this out on my own. I decided to try VirtualBox to see if I could get some old software running. And it seemed to work. Then I thought why not this piece of hardware? Unfortunately it does nothing but freeze the virtual machine and the VirtualBox software itself.

Then today, I read this article with the exact same situation.

Robin Clay
December 11, 2012 11:26 AM

Well, could he / I ? Would that work ? And if so, how would he / I do it ?

I tried a virtual box for exactly that reason - but running uBuntu - but that didn't work... Now I know why ! Thank you.

kydajen
January 15, 2013 10:11 AM

I noticed this is a few months old now but ...... Virtual machines are capable of accessing arbitrary hardware. Xen specifically has PCI pass through allowing you to give VM's more or less direct access to hardware. I have successfully done this with network cards and video cards in the past. Xen is not available for windows but runs just fine under Ubuntu (Robin Clay).

note: Xen is a Hypervisor and facilitates a different type of virtualization then virtual box

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