Virtual machine without administrator rights: QEMU

We’ve got a Windows 10 notebook and an old game that won’t run on this version of Windows. I have install disks for Windows 98, but we do not have administrator access so we cannot install VirtualBox.

QEMU can do this, kind of.

Went to

Downloaded installer. Ran it.

But it wants admin password…

OK, went to Win 10 machine where I do have admin rights and installed there (both machines 64 bit). It went into C:\Program Files\qemu.

Copied the qemu directory onto a USB stick and then onto the machine with no admin rights, just under the user account (C:\Users\username\qemu)

Opened CMD prompt and cd’d into qemu, which is where the executable files live. Ran

C:\Users\username\qemu>qemu-img create -f qcow2 win98.qcow2 1G
Formatting 'win98.qcow2', fmt=qcow2 size=1073741824 cluster_size=65536 lazy_refcounts=off refcount_bits=16

This created a 1 GB hard drive in native QEMU format (qcow2). So far so good. Tried to boot it.

C:\Users\username\qemu>qemu-system-i386 -enable-kvm -cdrom D: -hda win98.qcow2 -boot d

qemu-system-i386: -machine accel=kvm: No accelerator found

OK, the accelerator probably needs admin access to install a driver or something (I’m guessing, and too lazy to find out for sure; for now I just want to see if something will work). But it might run (slowly) without it.

C:\Users\username\qemu>qemu-system-i386 -cdrom D: -hda win98.qcow2 -boot d

Note: this just says to read the CD from the actual D: (could also be an image file) and to boot from D:.

Booted from CD ROM!

Then install — no worries. Step through the usual tedious Windows 98 install procedure. But it is slow. The lack of acceleration is apparent.

Shows a random screen from the install process.

Screen shot of the Windows 98 install dialogue inside the QEMU virtual machine.

Once install done, shutdown and rebooted with:

C:\Users\username\qemu>qemu-system-i386 -cdrom D: -hda win98.qcow2 -boot c

which boots from C: not the cdrom (D:)

Install completed OK.

Machine boots OK and runs but yes is very slow.

Put in game CD

Not found.

Cannot seem to be able to change CDs once VM is running. Need to reboot to change CDs. I don’t know much about QEMU. Closed down and rebooted with game CD in drive. Installed no worries.

Tried to install SciTech display doctor, but it could not find the info it needed, so stuck with 640×480, 16 colours. Tried reboot with -vga cirrus selected on command line, did not help, Windows 98 still just using generic VGA with minimal capabilities.

Booted without CD:

C:\Users\username\qemu>qemu-system-i386 -hda win98.qcow2 -boot c

Conclusion and to do

It works but is very slow, though the host system is not all that powerful. OK for basic board games, but nothing fancy.

Having said that, I have not spent any time trying to optimise it and it looks to me like anything that does not need admin rights would work, and so I suspect the graphics and sound and all that could be sorted out if I wanted to spend the time. There might be something I can do with acceleration, don’t know yet.

The bottom line is that QEMU does give a working VM running on a Windows 10 host without the need for administrator rights, but it is slow. Could be useful for messing around with old files or programs. Once an application is open, it’s not too bad as long as it is not very graphics-intensive.


Solved, kind of.

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About Darren

I'm a scientist by training, based in Australia.

2 responses to “Virtual machine without administrator rights: QEMU”

  1. Marduk says :

    If your PC has a Core i3, i5 or i7 CPU you should be able to get native hardware acceleration.

    Accelerating QEMU on Windows with HAXM

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