With the increasingly affordable powerful desktops, comes the ability to do a lot more from one machine. In the video forensic world, having a well managed ‘playback’ PC is vitally important and helping you in this task are virtual PC’s.
For those not aware of virtual environments, the best way to explain it is an Operating System running in software. You have your ‘Host’ Computer. You install some Virtual software, and within this software you can load other Operating Systems. No dual booting, no swapping drives…you can move between guest computers freely and move and share documents as easily as drag and drop!
There are a number of Virtual Machine clients but the two I use are:
Both are free to use.
There is good YouTube content with visual guides going through the set up process but it is fairly self explanatory. If you are purchasing a PC to act as a ‘player’ then there is no need to break the bank. A £700 tower unit should do it nicely and for that you will get a high end quad core i5 CPU, a good motherboard and at least 8Gb DDR3 RAM. All of this is important as you can configure your Virtual PC’s to use single cores for processing and have a certain amount of memory allocated to each of them. By carefully managing these amounts, you can comfortably work across OS’s with no lag or delay. Most Modern Motherboards will also have BIOS settings for Virtualisation but I have never dared to delve that deep!!
Lets take a look at this example system:
Asus P8Z68-V MBoard, Intel 2500K i5 CPU, 8Gb DDR3, Windows 7 64Bit OS
Boot Drive, Data Drive, VM Drive
Three WinXP VM’s.
XP-One is a clean XP Machine with Service Pack 3 and a few other updates. No added drivers or programs. This can be used to identify codec conflicts and install issues. Can also be used for installing the lorinix codec when needed (That codec screws everything else up!!)
XP-Two is also XP but with standard video playback programs and also the Combined Community Codec Pack. I wouldn’t install this on a main system as it does include some codecs that seem to cause issues with a few used for CCTV. It has however come up trumps a few times so deserves its own VM.
XP-Three has all the the Proprietary players that do not play nicely, or at all in Win7. It must be pointed out here though that I still do find a number of players that will not even play properly within a VM. Keeping hold of an XP box is the modern version of keeping hold of that VHS deck. (Athough we have to have them as well!!)
Next we have a Linux VM. whatever distro takes your fancy. I used to run Ubuntu but have moved to Linux Mint recently as I like the cleaner interface.
Lastly, why not take a look at the developer preview of Win8.
All use a single core and all have 1Gb memory allocated. These seetings can be tweaked prior to starting a VM so they are very flexible.
Being able to encode/transcode video on the Host PC using 2 cores, test playback or review some files within an XP machine and at the same time do some research from within the Linux Mint VM really does tidy things up.
Finally, when you have your systems set up, remember to make regular backups and snapshots of the VM’s. That way, if you do have a drive problem or conflict you have working systems ready to put back on and load. No time wasted.
One you have got the hang of running a few VM’s, its worth trying them out on laptops used for the recovery and retrieval of Video evidence. Some DVR Clients are a bit fussy and need specific settings. You can store all of these in its own VM. Both VM programs allow you to assign unique IP addresses to the VM’s……and remember, when you have got a working VM – Back It Up…just in case!