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QEMU is a popular emulation environment for Windows and Linux. This software is a generic and open source machine emulator and virtualizer.

This software relies on dynamic binary translation to achieve a reasonable speed while being easy to port on new host CPU architectures.

Installation of QEMU under Windows is more complicated than most of the other software we are evaluating here. Having to resort to a command line to create a blank disk image, and then running the software from a command prompt is minimialistic. Users might want to use the Qemu Manager, a separate application, to make QEMU easier to install. Using command line parameters to create and run guest operating systems can only be off putting to causal Windows users thinking of giving Linux a whirl.

To launch QEMU with the installed guest operating system (in this example, a 32bit Ubuntu 8.10 ISO image) you might type:

qemu.exe -kernel-kqemu -L . -cdrom ubuntu-8.10-desktop-i386.iso -hda hda.img -m 512 -boot d

To get respectable performance Qemu relies on an open source kernel module to directly execute the code of the guest system on the host. This kernel module is called kqemu, and it is the -kernel-kqemu flag which enables this full virtualization. Without using this flag, performance is lamentable.

QEMU lacks specialist device drivers, and running multimedia applications is not recommended. Whilst the software is not overly full-featured or 'user friendly', it is very flexible in use. Moreover, QEMU is worthy of inclusion bearing in mind some of its code has been used in other popular virtualization software, including VirtualBox.

The two screenshots above show QEMU in action, both with Ubuntu running a terminal emulator, Firefox, and

 QEMU 0.10.2

Free to download



Fabrice Bellard


Support Sites:
Documentation, FAQ, Wiki, Using QEMU on Windows, Qemu Manager

Selected Reviews:
larrydsmith, Phoronix

Features include:

  • Save and restore the state of the virtual machine with all programs running
  • Supports the emulation of various architectures, including IA-32 (x86) PCs, AMD64 PCs, MIPS R4000, Sun's SPARC sun4m, Sun's SPARC sun4u, ARM development boards (Integrator/CP and Versatile/PB), SH4 SHIX board, PowerPC (PReP and Power Macintosh), and ETRAX CRIS architectures
  • Virtual hard disk images can be stored in a special format (QCOW2) that only takes up disk space that the guest OS actually uses
  • Emulate network cards (of different models) which share the host system's connectivity by doing network address translation, effectively allowing the guest to use the same network as the host.
  • Integrates several services to allow the host and guest systems to communicate, for example, a SMB server and network port redirection (to allow incoming connections to the virtual machine).
  • Boot Linux kernels without having to prepare a bootable image with a bootloader
  • Portability; virtual machines can be run even where a user does not have administrator rights
  • Bluetooth emulation
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Last Updated Sunday, April 19 2009 @ 04:09 PM EDT

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