Microsoft may be positioning its easy-peasy Windows Sandbox within the Windows 10 May 2019 Update as a safe zone for testing untrusted applications, but it’s much more than that. Windows Sandbox, and sandboxing PC apps in general, give you a solution for trying a “utility” that may be malware, or a website that you’re not sure about. You could leave those potentially dangerous elements alone, but with Sandbox, you can be a little more adventurous.
Windows Sandbox creates a secure “Windows within Windows” virtual machine environment entirely from scratch, and walls it off from your “real” PC. You can open a browser and surf securely, download apps, even visit websites that you probably shouldn’t. Sandbox also includes a unique convenience: you can copy files in and out of the virtual PC, bringing them out of quarantine if you’re absolutely sure they’re safe.
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At any time, you can close Windows Sandbox, and when you do, anything left there is totally obliterated. If that dodgy website rains malware down on your Sandbox, all it takes is one click to shut it down, without harm to your actual Windows installation. Next time you launch a new version of Sandbox, it will launch a pristine version of Windows 10 to start anew.
[ Further reading: The best antivirus for Windows PCs ]
You won’t need to buy a second copy of Windows to use the feature either—though you will need Windows 10 Pro or Enterprise. The Home version doesn’t support it.
Here’s everything you need to know to start using Windows Sandbox.
Get started with Windows Sandbox
Mark Hachman / iDG
Windows Sandbox, in a window, looks like Windows—because it is. It’s just another Windows desktop firewalled from your primary installation.
Technically, Windows Sandbox is a lightweight virtual machine, a tool often used by developers and researchers to test new software within a controlled environment. Virtualization creates an entire virtual computer, complete with operating system, storage, and memory, within your existing Windows PC.
Granted, Windows already offers Hyper-V to achieve similar tasks. What makes Sandbox so appealing is that Sandbox is to Hyper-V as Windows 10’s Mail app is to Outlook: a simplified, user-friendly version of a much more complex application.
Mark Hachman / IDG
If you open Windows Sandbox as a full-screen window, you’ll see some additional icons. Clicking the cellular-style signal bar produces this message, in part because the “remote” Windows you’re connecting to isn’t remote at all.
Beyond the Windows 10 Pro requirement, Windows Sandbox’s performance impact demands a modern, fairly powerful machine with virtualization capabilities. Here are the minimum specifications for the feature:
• A 64-bit processor capable of virtualization, with at least two CPU cores; Microsoft recommends a quad-core chip. (Virtually all Intel processors sold since 2016 support virtualization, though this Intel guide explains how to check. Otherwise, the Performance tab within the Task Manager will tell you whether virtualization is enabled—credit to Shailesh Jha for the reminder.)
• Virtualization enabled in your motherboard BIOS, if it’s not already
• Windows Pro, Enterprise, or Server
• At least 4GB of RAM (8GB recommended)
• At least 1GB of free disk space (SSD recommended)
Windows Sandbox is an alternate feature of Windows, and it won’t be installed by default even if it’s available to you. To enable it, you’ll need to go to the Windows Features control panel, which you can find by searching for Turn Windows features on and off. To enable Sandbox, you’ll need to scroll down and check the proper box. Windows will install the necessary files and may need to reboot your PC.
Mark Hachman / IDG
To enable Windows Sandbox, you’ll first need to install it. When the installation process is completed, there won’t be any bells or whistles. To enable Sandbox, you can simply type Windows Sandbox into the Windows search box. It may take a minute or two to load, if only because Windows needs to establish the virtual machine. Microsoft has said previously that it will “freeze” the state of the virtual machine, archive it, and bring it up when you launch Windows Sandbox again—basically, everything should launch faster next time around.
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