Virtualized Tech Machine

Why I decided to create a Virtualized Tech Machine?

It allows me to satisfy a goal in dealing with the unknown element of customer drives and machines. I am now able to scan and manipulate a customer’s hard drive in an isolated/sterile environment.  As a benefit I am also able to utilize greater processing power when scanning drives. It also lets me get my fix of playing with VMs and really fully using the resources of a computer.

 

Hardware:

Asus P6T X58 LGA1366

Intel Core i7-920 (2.4ghz 4C/8T)

 Kingston 6x4GB DDR3

 Nvidia GTX580

 iStarUSA D-400L 4U Server Chassis

 LianLi 750W PSU

 USB 3.0 Controller Card

 3x Dual Drive USB 3.0 Dock

 1x Single Drive USB 3.0 Dock

 

Storage:

OCZ RevoDrive X2 240GB {Windows 10 – HostOS}

Seagate Constellation 1TB {NAS VHD Storage}

WD Scorpio Black 500GB {VM Testing}

WD Scorpio Black 750GB {Persistent VHD Storage}

 

Software Setup:

For this setup I chose Windows 10 and Hyper-V. I want to be able to interact with the VM Management environment directly on the same machine I will be connecting disks to. Additionally it allows me Direct Disk Access to the drives.

First you want to install your HostOS on the base of the system. At this point I generally disconnect all other non-involved drives. In this case I installed Windows 10 Enterprise. Note: It is required you install Windows 10 Pro or higher to use Hyper-V along with having a VT-D enabled processor. Once Windows 10 is installed as normal with all updates and drivers you are ready to install Hyper-V. Go to Add/Programs and Features then add Hyper-V ensuring that Hyper-V Manager is installed as well. Windows will require a reboot and then you’ll be ready to start managing the server.

VM Tips:

A crucial detail at this point about the HostOS, it is a full OS. You can game on it and do full browsing if you wish but bear in mind this is the foundation of your other systems running on top. Keep it simple and clean and then no problems will arise.

Now that you have rebooted you can start managing your VMs and layering your OSs on the machine. 

VM Tips:

A few things to bear in mind while configuring VMs. How do you intend on using them? Do they need to be Generation 1 for CSM booting or Generation 2 for UEFI booting? How much system RAM am I using? Which hard drive am I thrashing while updating an OS and what else is trying to use that drive.

I use the USB Docks for interacting with drives. This allows you to power the drives of independently of the whole system. It will allow you to connect the drives directly to each VM if you wish. Note you have to bring a disk offline to allow Hyper-V Direct Disk access. You can run multiple VMs at once connected to different drives in different docks. If you configure Windows VMs to direct disk access drives on the SCSI controller you can hot plug drives from the VM without rebooting it.

VM Tips:

This diskpart command will change Windows to not bring any newly connected disks online. Essential to keeping the HostOS clean. All drive interaction should take place with the VMs not the HostOS. (Unintended side effect: USB Flash Drives cannot be brought online manually on my HostOS. Hard drives can be brought online manually just fine.)

 DISKPART.EXE

DISKPART> san

SAN Policy: ?????

DISKPART> san policy=OfflineAll

DISKPART> san

SAN Policy: Offline All

Resource management is an important aspect to VM creation. You have to be aware of how much processing power and RAM to give each VM. I find most of my VMs can get by on 2-cores each and I generally give them 2GB of RAM. Recent versions of Windows have featured Dynamic Memory Allocation when used with Hyper-V. This allows each VM OS to report how much RAM it really needs and the HostOS can adjust accordingly. For an AV scanning VM I might bump up to 4-Cores. I witnessed 19GB of RAM usage on this machine during a work day this week.

Persistent VM creation can be a long but rewarding process but the beauty of VM work is that you can shut down the VM copy the VHD. Then make a change if you are unhappy simply roll back. Once you create the TechOS with all of your tools integrated create a backup. Depending on your Windows License you may be able to duplicate out to other machines if you wish.

 

For Compatibility Configurations that will work with VMWare and Linux/MacOS Environments

Choose Gen 1 CSM then Create and use a VHD formatted file.

There is a VHDX to VHD Conversion Tool if you need it.

 

Organization:

VMs can become a mess if you don’t keep them organized here is how I’ve got mine laid out.

Volume Labels

C: Windows 10 (RevoDrive)

D: VHD TEST Store 500GB

E: VHD DATA Store 1TB

F: VHD OS Store 750GB

Locations

Bootable ISOs – I keep on  C in a folder in the root “!Images”

Persistent VMs – I keep on  F in a folder “VHD Storage”

Test VMs – I keep on D in a folder “!VHD Testing”

NAS Storage – I keep on E in a folder “VHD Storage”

Hyper-V Manager Screen Shot:

2013-02-23b

Working Tools 2/23/2016:

Gandalf’s Windows 10 PE – Live ISO Based

Gandalf’s Windows 7 PE – Live ISO Based

Hiren’s 15.2 – Live ISO Based

Paragon 14 – Live ISO Based

Windows 10 TechOS VM  – Persistant

Windows 10 NAS VM  – Persistant

 

Work In-Progress…

Linux Mint 17

Ubuntu 14 LTS

Windows 7 TechOS

 

Real World Usage:

Example A)

I frequently find myself cloning disk to disk using on a Paragon VM on one dock, a second dock doing the same thing with another Paragon VM, and then a third dock with a single drive connected to another my Win 10 Tech VM doing a virus scan.

Example B)

Customer brings in modern Win 8-10 based UEFI system. Machine will not power on. I can take the customer HDD connect to my UEFI Gen 2 VM (A blank VM just configured with UEFI and Secure Boot) then boot the customers hard drive up and interact with their OS.

Example C)

New build has been commissioned while bench testing the RAM and CPU. An SSD or HDD can be connected to a UEFI Gen 2 VM with a Windows 10 ISO connected. Then load Windows enter OEM audit mode and install all Windows updates and copy over any necessary drivers and software for the end hardware.

 

Limitations:

No direct drive information, all SMART data from drives is suppressed. So initial scans still must be done before the VM machine can take over.

 

 

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How Third Party Manufactures (OEMs) are Ruining Your Windows Experience.

I was inspired to write this article this morning based upon issues I had installing the recently released Windows 7 Service Pack 1. While doing additional research on the issue I came across a Microsoft forum posting by a MSFT moderator. In his posting he was asking for additional information from the customer, he asked are you using a preinstalled OEM image on your computer and did you ever have McAfee antivirus ever installed. Simply installed, not activated, not run. At the time of writing I don’t know if this is this issue or not but for the purposes of this article it got me thinking.

Why do people so love their Apple computers? The long of the short they just work.
Why do they just work? In my opinion it has to be the lack of preinstalled third party software. This is one of two major reasons people hate the performance of a Windows computers they buy from an OEM manufacture. Sony, Acer, HP, Compaq have been doing Microsoft such a disservice for many years they cripple your brand new state of the art computers with bloated software. This biggest issue this causes is that many users don’t even know it’s not a part of the operating system. Many of us computer users who are asked to fix peoples PCs, are left bashing our heads against the table when we look at a users computer and see 30 system tray icons. The average user doesn’t know this is a problem, well this is a huge problem that’s where all of your CPU is going that’s where all of your RAM is going. This is the major reason why people think Macs perform so well they aren’t preloaded with anything more then what comes from Apple. Furthermore none of those things that are loaded that you don’t want load on start up. So it really doesn’t matter that they are there, they simple occupy disk space not active system resources. The second big place that OEMs ruin the users experience are low RPM low performance hard drives 5400rpm. I would be hard pressed to find many third party manufactured computers that come equipped with fast hard drives 7200rpm, exceptions being mainly gaming PCs. This has been a downfall of OEM PCs for years, this is one of the major places that home brewed PCs easily picked up speed. The best places to improve performance of your OEM computer is to; A) Clean the system of all bloat applications that run in the background, antivirus, anti-spyware, etc. I’m not advocating none just limit yourself to one or minimal. B) Replace your hard drive with a faster one 7200rpm or if your willing to spend the money a shiny new Solid State Drive. Yes this can be a daunting upgrade for many users. To ensure success make sure you have burned your recovery disks. Most images included with computers can be loaded directly onto your new drive. Backup user data then simply remove your old drive (DO NOT ERASE DATA) install the new one attempt to reimage the system. If you have issues you can go back without losing data. If you have issues and want help BestBuy or your local computer store should be able to help you get Windows going on your new drive. C) Add system memory (RAM) this is yet another place OEMs like to save money. This is a harder upgrade for many identify your type of memory and making sure you have the right kind is critical. In general the best way to ensure proper memory is to look at the existing modules and read them carefully. Make sure to get the exact same kind, that the new memory won’t put you over the main board limit, and that you have the proper OS for the new amount (Note going over 4GB requires a 64-Bit OS)

Please comment and note if I have overlooked any major details.

If I have feedback asking for it I may write Part II: What can Google Android learn from Apple, Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile 6.x

Mac Mini (Late 2008 Edition)

Tech Specs:
Late 2008 Mac Mini
Intel Core 2 Duo T5600 1.83Ghz
1GB DDR2 667 upgraded to 4GB DDR2 667
160GB 5400rpm upgraded to 128gb Patriot Warp v3 SSD
1TB MiniStack External
Acer x223h 21.5″ 1920×1080 LCD
Mimo 7″ USB LCD
OS X 10.5 upgraded to OS X 10.6

System Description & Comments:
When I bought this it was my first Apple product. I have been a Windows user for many years but I’ve found OSX to be a incredibly powerful OS that is very easy to pick up and use quickly. My only real complaint with Apple is that none of the upgrades I made with the exception of my OS upgrade are available from Apple. They are crippling their own computers but not offering upgrade options let alone at competitive prices. Once I put 4gb of RAM in and a SSD this is an absolute rocket it feels far faster then a 1.8ghz dual core should. These are the resources that Apple should strive to get into every system they make. If they did this then there would be no question who made the fastest computers in the world. But their price gouging and closed upgrade system keeps holding them back. I find it crazy and stupid on Apples part that they did not offer the upgrades I made at any cost. Despite the fact that they offer SSD drives in their MacBook air and Pro. Please note Apple if you quit cutting corners on memory and putting 5400rpm drives in your products people could see what they truly can do. Never underestimate what more RAM and an SSD can do to your computer.

Windows Home Server

Tech Specs:
Asus P5KPL-VM
Intel Core 2 Duo E6420 2.13Ghz
2GB Mushkin DDR2 800 (2x 1GB)
High Point Rocket RAID 2640×1

2x Western Digital Scorpio Black 2.5″ 7200rpm 160GB
4x Samsung Eco Green F2 3.5″ 5400m 1.5TB
2x Western Digital RE2 3.5″ 7200rpm 500GB
Antec NSK2480

System Description & Comments:
This is my server computer currently I am testing Windows Home Server “Vail”. This is the second evolution of Microsoft’s Windows Home Server OS. The first generation was built on Windows Small Business Server 2003. The new version is based on Windows Server 2008 making this new version fully 64 bit unlike it’s predecessor.
I am using my drives such that one 160gb Scorpio is the boot and OS drive. The second 160gb is used for Virtual Machine storage. Under Windows Home Server version 1 my virtualization platform of choice was Microsoft Virtual Sever 2005. Due to it’s inability to install under Server 08 I have changed my VM’s over to using VMWare Server 2. As an added benefit of changing my host OS I am also able to use 64bit VM’s as well. The storage pool controlled by WHS is comprised of 2 1.5TB drives. This allows for ample storage space and very good performance when copying over the network. The other 2 1.5TB drives are in a RAID 1 mirror, the 2 500gb drives are in a RAID 0 array. These drives are used in conjunction with the MS SyncToy powertoy it checks the shared folders each night and creates a synced copy on the RAID drives. This means between the folder duplication built into WHS and the SyncToy synced drives I have at least 2 copies and as many as 4 copies of critical data. This helps mitigate any hardware failure in the future.

Follow up Article: VM’s in WHS Why?

Asus Eee PC 701 4G Surf

Throughout my life I’ve had many computers and I feel those that I have right now provide me with the best of everything. As a college student I like having a laptop on campus, however I could never bring myself to haul my 9+ lbs. laptop to school. But today I have no problems carrying my laptop to every class everyday. I have found my 2 lb. Asus Eee PC 4G Surf. 

Eee PC 701 4G Surf

Intel Celeron 900mhz 512mb DDR2 RAM 4gb Solid State Hard Drive

WiFi 802.11b/g 100mb LAN 3x USB 2.0

1x VGA 1x SD Card Reader 7″ LCD (800×480 or 800×600 scrolling)

By default the Eee comes preloaded with a very limited Linux OS however even that mode can be enhanced by enabling the advanced mode. The Eee also doesn’t run at the full 900mhz clock speed either in the default setup. Asus did this to limit heat production and to extend battery life.

Hardware and Storage Upgrades

I have upgraded my Eee by changing out the memory module for a 2gb stick. My Eee is an early model with the door over the memory compartment still, newer Eee’s no longer have this door.

I’ve also added a USB port, this port is driven by the USB header that would service the USB Webcam in the 4G model the header is simply bare on mine. So with the help of Ebay I have a USB header to USB cable. This cable can be installed inside the casing of the Eee allowing me to end with an additional USB port right next to my memory stick under the memory door. I have plugged a 4gb USB Flash drive into this header giving me additional storage on the Eee. 

That last and simplest upgrade is the addition of a 8gb SDHC memory card its plugged into the SD Memory card reader. 

Software Upgrades

Of course all that additional storage and system memory wasn’t just for running Linux. The distribution of Linux wasn’t even designed to use address more the 1gb  of RAM. So yes I have loaded Windows XP Professional on to the Eee this is aided by the fact that Asus gives me all the drivers for running the Eee with XP on it. XP boots very quickly off of the Solid State drive and love the 2gb of DDR memory I have plenty of storage space thanks to the USB Flash Drive and SD Cards adding 4gb and 8gb respectively. The system can run XP, Office 2007, Web Browse, IM, Wireless Internet in a convenient small lightweight package. It goes with me everywhere it can be tossed around turned on and off abused and used and used and used.

In addition to the ability to run the additional software that comes with Windows the switch to XP gives me the ability to fully unlock the speed of the 900mhz processor. Windows has many software overclocking tools for the Eee I use one called (eeectl) it allows me in real time to move the processor speed from 650mhz to 900mhz, it also allows changes to fan speed and the LCD Backlight.

But despite having a very nice netbook, I still find it handy to have a very nice good desktop around for when I really need to get work done. For that I have a custom built home pc.