Note: Windows Sandbox is not available on Windows 10 Home. It’s only available on Professional, Enterprise, and Education editions of Windows 10.
What is Sandbox?
In short, Windows Sandbox is half app, half virtual machine. It lets you quickly spin up a virtual clean OS imaged from your system’s current state so that you can test programs or files in a secure environment that’s isolated from your main system. When you close the sandbox, it destroys that state. Nothing can get from the sandbox to your main installation of Windows, and nothing remains after closing it.
How Do I Get It?
All you need is a modern version of Windows 10 running Windows 10 Professional or Enterprise—Windows 10 Home doesn’t have this feature. The Sandbox feature became stable back in May 2019.
Step One: Make Sure Virtualization is Enabled
First, you’ll need to make sure virtualization is enabled in your system’s BIOS. It typically is by default, but there’s an easy way to check. Fire up Task Manager by hitting Ctrl+Shift+Esc and then head to the “Performance” tab. Make sure the “CPU” category is selected on the left and on the right, just make sure it says “Virtualization: Enabled.”
If virtualization is not enabled, you’ll need to enable it in your PC’s BIOS settings before you continue.
Step Two: Turn On Nested Virtualization if You’re Running the Host System in a Virtual Machine (Optional)
If you’re testing out the Insider build of Windows in a virtual machine already and you want to test Sandbox in that VM, you’ll need to take the extra step of turning on nested virtualization.
To do that, fire up PowerShell in the version of Windows running inside the VM and then issue the following command:
Set-VMProcessor -VMName <VMName> -ExposeVirtualizationExtensions $true
That lets your guest version of Windows in the VM expose the virtualization extensions so that Sandbox can use them.
Step Three: Enable the Windows Sandbox Feature
After making sure virtualization is enabled, turning on the Windows Sandbox feature is a snap.
To do so, head to Control Panel > Programs > Turn Windows Features On or Off. (By the way, we’ve got a full write-up on using those Windows Features if you’d like to learn more.)
In the Windows Features window, enable the “Windows Sandbox” checkbox.
Click “OK” and then let Windows restart.
Step Three: Fire It Up
After Windows restarts, you can find Windows Sandbox on the Start Menu. Either type “Windows Sandbox” into the search bar or dig through the menu and then double-click on the Icon. When it asks, permit it to have administrative privileges.
You should then see a near replica of your current OS.
There are some differences. It’s a clean Windows installation, so you’ll see the default wallpaper and nothing but the default apps that come with Windows.
The virtual OS is dynamically generated from your main Windows OS, so it will always run the same version of Windows 10 you are using, and it will always be fully up to date. That latter fact is especially nice, as a traditional VM requires taking the time to update the OS on its own.
How Do I Use It?
If you’ve ever used a VM before, then using the Sandbox will feel like old hat. You can copy and paste files directly into the Sandbox like any other VM. Drag and drop does not work, though. Once the file is in the Sandbox, you can proceed as normal. If you have an executable file, you can install it in the Sandbox where it’s nicely cordoned off from your main system.
One thing to note: If you delete a file in the Sandbox it does not go the recycle bin. Instead, it’s permanently deleted. You will receive a warning when you delete items.
Once you are done with testing, you can close the Sandbox like any other app. This will destroy the snapshot entirely, including any changes you’ve made to the OS and any files you copied there. Microsoft has been kind enough to provide warning first.
The next time you launch Sandbox, you will find it back to a clean slate, and you can begin testing again.
Impressively, Sandbox runs well on minimal hardware. We performed the testing for this article on a Surface Pro 3, an aging device without a dedicated graphics card. Initially, the Sandbox ran noticeable slow, but after a few minutes, it ran surprisingly well given the constraints.
This better speed persisted through closing and reopening the app as well. Traditionally, running a Virtual Machine called for more horsepower. Because of the narrower use cases with Sandbox (you won’t be installing multiple OSes, running multiple instances, or even taking multiple snapshots), the bar is a little lower. But it is this very specific target that makes the Sandbox work so well.
Image Credit: D-Krab/Shutterstock.com
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