VMware Player vs. VirtualBox: feature comparison

VMware Player and VirtualBox are the two most popular virtualization software packages for x86 processor architecture. VMware Player is free for personal non-commercial use, and available for commercial use if VMware Fusion commercial license is purchased. VirtualBox is released for free under the terms of the GPL version 2, and additional proprietary components are available under a proprietary PUEL license.

When you compare VMware Player and VirtualBox side by side, it is hard to say which one is better, as each one has its own pros and cons, compared to the other. Which one to choose all boils down to your need and requirements.

In this post, I will highlight advantages and disadvantages of VMware Player and VirtualBox in terms of their features. The comparison is done for VMware Player 5 and VirtualBox 4.2.12.

Pros and Cons of VMware Player

Pros:

  • Creates on host machine a virtual switch dedicated for NAT networking, which allows NATed guest virtual machines (VMs) to be reachable from one another, as well as from host machine through the virtual switch.
  • Offers a built-in DHCP service shared by all NATed VMs.
  • Can add as many as ten virtual network adapters (or vNICs) to a guest VM, while VirtualBox can add only up to eight vNICs to each VM.
  • Supports nested hardware-assisted virtualization. That is, you can instantiate guest hypervisors which require hardware-assisted virtualization. All major hypervisors such as KVM, vSphere, Xen, XenServer are supported.
  • Support for USB 3.0 (available for Windows 8 guest VMs).

Cons:

  • Does not offer built-in VM snapshot.
  • Does not offer built-in VM cloning.
  • Bridged networking does not work with some WiFi network adapters, in which case VMs with bridged network are not reachable from the host machine's WiFi network.
  • Supports only single disk image type (i.e., vmdk).
  • Does not support multiple virtual monitors for a guest VM.
  • Cannot be installed on OS X and Solaris host operating systems.
  • Less frequently updated (i.e., yearly major version upgrade).
  • Very limited command-line interface for managing VMs (e.g., VIX API).

Pros and Cons of VirtualBox

Pros:

  • Offers built-in GUI-based wizard for cloning a VM.
  • Offers built-in VM snapshot, and supports multiple snapshots.
  • Supports multiple types of disk image (e.g., vdi, vmdk, vhd, hdd, qed, qcow).
  • Supports multiple virtual monitors for a guest VM. Multiple virtual monitors belonging to a VM can be displayed in multiple windows of host machine, or via multiple physical monitors.
  • Can be installed on OS X, Windows 7, Windows 2008 Server, Solaris, OpenSolaris, FreeBSD host operating systems.
  • More frequent minor version upgrades.
  • Comprehensive built-in command-line interface for creating and running VMs (e.g., VBoxManage).

Cons:

  • Cannot access NATed guest VMs from host machine without enabling port forwarding on host machine.
  • NATed guest VMs are isolated from one other, and cannot communicate with one another.
  • Bridged networking or host-only networking is required if guest VMs need to communicate with one another on the same Layer-2 network.
  • Can add up to eight vNICs to a guest VM, while VMware Player can create up to ten vNICs per guest VM. You can configure only four vNICs via VirtualBox GUI. To add more than four vNICs, you need to use VirtualBox CLI.
  • Does not support nested hardware-assisted virtualization.
  • No support for USB 3.0.

If there is anything to add or correct, feel free to post a comment.

For performance comparison between VMware Player and VirtualBox, check out my subsequent article on this topic.

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Dan Nanni is the founder and also a regular contributor of Xmodulo.com. He is a Linux/FOSS enthusiast who loves to get his hands dirty with his Linux box. He likes to procrastinate when he is supposed to be busy and productive. When he is otherwise free, he likes to watch movies and shop for the coolest gadgets.
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22 thoughts on “VMware Player vs. VirtualBox: feature comparison

  1. FYI...
    VirtualBox host only networking addresses the first 2 cons for it.
    VirtualBox allows up to 8 vNICs though only 4 are exposed via GUI (use CLI otherwise)

    • Hello Dan,

      Thank you for your effort on writing these posts and interacting with us answering question and comments.

      On your text you mention that VirtualBox did not support hardware-assisted virtualization, and I saw on a comment that you said not think it supported to run a guest hypervisor.

      I was looking exactly for it on the Internet when I found your post.

      Per hardware-assisted virtualization we are talking about VT-x and AMD-V, correct?
      On VirtualBox 4.2.18 (the one I have now here) => VM Settings => System => Tab Acceleration, there is an option to Enable VT-x/AMD-V

      I also found a post on the Internet from a guy who successfully installed ESXi 5.1 on VirtualBox: http://autodiscover.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/installing-esxi-5-1-vcenter-5-1-on-virtualbox/

      I did not test yet, but I will pretty soon.

      Thanks again,

  2. vmware only supports up to 4 or 8 threads while virtualbox supports up to 24 threads.

    "Does not support nested virtualization." if you mean by VT-x or AMD-V, it supports it. it's called Nested Paging (Options -> System -> Acceleration tab)

    • What do you mean by supporting X number of threads?

      I don't think VirtualBox supports nested hardware VT. i.e., running guest hypervisors which require hardware-assisted virtualization.

    • Nested paging is not nested virtualization. Nested virtualization means running a vm host inside a vm guest. Nested paging is how a guest is able to access/see system memory.

  3. VMware does support multiple monitors, even physical for a guest OS. I have an Ubuntu VM using two monitors without problems.
    Good comparison 5 stars qualified!!!
    Do you have any feature about OS guest performance whether VMware or VirtualBox decreases or has impact on guest OS performance?

    Thank you

  4. VirtualBox does not support usb 3.0 as a device. And they are not planning to fix this. I can't use my usb stick on win 7 guest with linux ubuntu host because it's usb 3.

  5. VMware Player allows drag-and-drop between host and client screens as well as shared copy/paste clipboards between client and host.

    Although Virtualbox mentions it does, drag-and-drop between client and host doesn't really work.

    Virtualbox also offers copy/paste from shared clipboard between client and host. Client-to-host, host-to-client and both directions.

  6. VMware Player is a 32-bit program since it installs under "C:\Program Files(x86)" whereas VirtualBox installs under "C:\Program Files" and is therefore a 64-bit program using the full potential of 64-bit systems.

  7. "Cannot access NATed guest VMs from host machine without enabling port forwarding on host machine." - My opinion is that this is the proper behaviour. This is how NAT works in a normal network. As these tools are intended to produce a virtual model of an actual system, I don't see this as a Con.

    "NATed guest VMs are isolated from one other, and cannot communicate with one another." - This is again I think intentional. This makes sense from a security perspective to have as a default. Convenience aside, it is capable to make the machines talk to each other in a NAT network by using 'VBoxManage'. When you create a new machine, the GUI creates a distinct NAT network for that machine by default. You can always add one machine to another machine's network using the cmdline tools.

    In relation to VMWare's Pro: "Offers a built-in DHCP service shared by all NATed VMs."
    VBox can also create an internal network with DHCP for multiple machines through the commandline.

    Most of these differences are minuscule and are only in what the UI can do. The VBoxManage tool is much more flexible.

    • "This is how NAT works in a normal network. As these tools are intended to produce a virtual model of an actual system." -- Well, both implement NAT correctly. The difference lies where NAT is realized. With VMware Player, host machine acts as a NAT, while VirtualBox itself does NAT. To me, the former offers more flexibility.in terms of VM reachability.

      "This makes sense from a security perspective to have as a default." -- If you want to create isolated networks, that's what internal network (in VirtualBox) or LAN segment (in VMware Player) is for.

      "You can always add one machine to another machine’s network using the cmdline tools." -- AFAIK, that can be done only in internal network mode. You cannot connect two VMs to the same NAT.

      "VBox can also create an internal network with DHCP for multiple machines through the commandline." -- The limitation of Internal networks is that they do not have connectivity to external networks.

  8. "and additional proprietary components are available under a proprietary PUEL license."
    But this does not mean you have to buy a license! You only need to by a license if TWO or more people are accessing the same virtual machine using e.g. Remote Desktop. But if you run e.g. database server no limit how many user accesses virtual machine. Buying a license is also recommended for companies to have bugs fixed with priority.

    "Cannot access NATed guest VMs from host machine without enabling port forwarding on host machine."
    This is NAT and in my humble opinion this is not the Cons, but it is how virtual machine is suppose to work.

    "NATed guest VMs are isolated from one other, and cannot communicate with one another."
    There is special network called Internal Network Interface to communicate VMs with each other. And there is Host-only network to have host+VMs access to VM. So multilpe options does not mean disadvantage, but advantage.

    "Can add up to eight vNICs to a guest VM..."
    Who needs so many virtual NICs... anyway.

    "Does not support nested hardware-assisted virtualization."
    Will be supported in 4.3 currently in beta.

  9. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. These comparisons of features mean nothing if the product doesn't work, is compatible, and is stable. Most of the time VirtualBox is fine, but not all the time. VMware is always stable. I've never had it crash on me. I can't say the same for VBox.

    You wouldn't buy a physical motherboard, or pair of RAM sticks that wasn't 100% stable. I see no reason not to hold your virtual solution to the same standards.

    • Sadly, my experience -- with VMWare Fusion -- is just the opposite. Ever since I upgraded the guest OS (from FreeBSD-8.4 to 9.2), the entire Mac started crashing -- twice per day.

      It is possible, that this is not VMWare's fault (it is not running as root), but I'm switching to VirtualBox to test it.

  10. Hello all!
    I'm giving up Vista (32bit). System crashed and new install can't update to SP1 no matter what, tried all suggested solutions. At any rate I've installed 8.1 and I want to be able to play my old games (civ2 & others) on this machine. Not real fond of jumping through hoops with patches to system. So which VM software would be best for just running the games? Not interested in doing anything with communications to anywhere. I'm a retired (10 yrs) network administrator so a lot of it is familiar to me but some things have progressed beyond me. Appreciate any suggestions and Thanx!

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