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Airam Rojas Zerpa
Airam Rojas Zerpa

VirtIO Drivers: The Best Way to Access Devices and Peripherals for Windows on KVM/QEMU


What is virtio and why you should use it




Virtio is an I/O virtualization framework for Linux that provides a standardized interface for virtual machines (VMs) to access simplified devices such as block devices and network adapters. Virtio devices are implemented using a combination of virtqueues, which are data structures for exchanging data between the host and the guest, and feature bits, which are used to negotiate the capabilities of each device.


Virtio devices offer several benefits over emulated devices, such as improved performance, reduced CPU overhead, and lower latency. By using virtio devices, you can achieve near bare-metal levels of I/O throughput and efficiency in your VMs. Virtio devices are also extensible and compatible with various hypervisors, such as KVM, Xen, and VMware.




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In this article, you will learn more about virtio devices and drivers, how to download and install them for Windows guests, how to use them for existing devices, and how to troubleshoot common issues.


Virtio devices and drivers overview




Virtio devices and drivers are the main components of the virtio framework. They work together to enable paravirtualized communication between the host and the guest.


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Virtio devices: In and out the virtual world




A virtio device is a device that exposes a virtio interface for the software to manage and exchange information. It can be exposed to the guest environment using PCI, Memory Mapping I/O, or S/390 Channel I/O. Its main task is to convert the signal from the format they have outside of the virtual environment (such as electricity or light from a NIC) to the format they need to be exchanged through the virtio dataplane and vice-versa.


Virtio devices can be either emulated or physical. Emulated devices are software implementations of common hardware devices, such as disks or network cards. Physical devices are actual hardware devices that support virtio natively or through a driver in the host kernel. For example, some NICs have a virtio driver in Linux that allows them to be used as virtio devices by VMs.


Currently, virtio supports the following types of devices:


  • Block (disk drives)



  • Network (ethernet cards)



  • Console (serial ports)



  • Balloon (dynamic memory management)



  • SCSI (SCSI host bus adapter)



  • 9P (file system sharing)



  • RNG (random number generator)



  • GPU (graphics processing unit)



  • Input (keyboard and mouse)



  • Crypto (cryptographic accelerator)



  • Memory (memory hotplug)



Virtio drivers: Paravirtualized drivers for Windows guests




A virtio driver is a driver that implements the virtio interface for a specific device type in the guest OS. It allows the guest OS to communicate with the virtio device using virtqueues and feature bits. A virtio driver consists of two parts: a frontend driver in the guest OS and a backend driver in the host OS.


Windows does not have native support for virtio devices included. However, there are open source drivers available that are compiled and signed for Windows by Red Hat. These drivers are called virtio-win and they work with Windows 7, 8, 8.1, 10, and Server 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2019. They support the following device types:


  • viostor (block device)



  • netkvm (network device)



  • vioscsi (SCSI device)



  • vioserial (serial device)



  • balloon (memory balloon device)



  • viorng (random number generator device)



  • viocrypto (crypto device)



  • vioinput (input device)



  • viogpu (GPU device)



How to download virtio drivers for Windows




To use virtio devices in your Windows VMs, you need to download and install the virtio-win drivers. There are two ways to do this: downloading the ISO file from Fedora or using the online repository.


Downloading the ISO file from Fedora




The ISO file contains all the virtio-win drivers for different Windows versions and architectures. You can download it from the Fedora website or use the direct link. The file size is about 400 MB and the file name is virtio-win.iso.


Mounting the ISO file in a virtual CD-ROM/DVD drive




After downloading the ISO file, you need to mount it in a virtual CD-ROM/DVD drive in your Windows VM. You can use any virtualization software that supports ISO mounting, such as VirtualBox, VMware, or Hyper-V. Alternatively, you can use a third-party tool like WinCDEmu or Daemon Tools to mount the ISO file in Windows.


Installing the virtio drivers using the wizard or manually




Once you have mounted the ISO file, you can install the virtio drivers using the wizard or manually. The wizard is a graphical user interface that guides you through the installation process. It is located in the root directory of the ISO file and it is called virtio-win-gt-x64.msi for 64-bit Windows or virtio-win-gt-x86.msi for 32-bit Windows. To use the wizard, simply double-click on it and follow the instructions.


If you prefer to install the drivers manually, you need to locate the driver files for your specific device type and Windows version. The driver files are organized in subdirectories of the ISO file according to the device type and Windows version. For example, if you want to install the viostor driver for Windows 10 64-bit, you need to go to the viostor\w10\amd64 subdirectory and find the viostor.inf file. To install the driver manually, you need to right-click on the .inf file and select Install.


How to use virtio drivers for existing devices




If you already have a Windows VM with emulated devices and you want to switch them to virtio devices, you need to edit the libvirt configuration file of your VM and change some attributes. You also need to remove the address tag of your devices to avoid conflicts.


Editing the libvirt configuration file




The libvirt configuration file is an XML file that defines the properties and settings of your VM. You can find it in /etc/libvirt/qemu/ with the name of your VM as the file name. For example, if your VM is called windows10, then your configuration file is /etc/libvirt/qemu/windows10.xml. To edit it, you need to use a text editor such as nano or vim.


Changing the bus and target attributes




To change your emulated devices to virtio devices, you need to change the bus and target attributes of your devices in the configuration file. The bus attribute specifies which bus type your device uses, such as ide, scsi, or virtio. The target attribute specifies which device name your device uses, such as hda, sda, or vda.


For example, if you have an emulated disk device with these attributes:






You need to change them to these attributes:





Similarly, if you have an emulated network device with these attributes:





You need to change them to these attributes:




Removing the address tag




The address tag specifies the physical address of your device on the bus. How


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