Virtualised life

There are various occasions when we take a backseat in experimenting with new software, courtesy our fear of unstable windows. Not to mention our hesitance to try our hands on those colourful Linux distributions, debating if its really worth to spare a partition for the new OS. And after last dose of Bart’s PE, many brave guys must have burned a few not so good CDs and others fearing to risk a disk, not sure if their .ISO will work. And lets remember our biggest fear, reinstalling OS and all our programs due to various reasons. Have you ever thought if there is any one solution to all these problems?

To all those troubled guys, here is the single solution that fixes all your problems- Virtualization. Virtualization deals with creating various virtual machines under one single physical machine. The virtual machines share hardware resources with the physical machine.

The advantages of using virtual machines are numerous. You can install and run multiple operating systems(guests) on a single machine(host) and switch between them easily using the host machine without need to logoff from any of them. That means running vista, Ubunto, Fedora, Red hat etc in various windows under your windows XP!

Apart from that, you have the facility to create shared folders between the host and guest PCs, enabling data sharing. Install all your programs under the virtual XP and save its state. Always run virtual XP and in future if there is any issue with it, just switch back to the saved state on a click! Else install and use not frequently used and large programs like office suit etc in virtual XP to save your host registry from 20,000 entries.

Else just create a virtual PC, don’t install anything, and boot it from you Bart’s PE live windows CD or even through an ISO on your host HDD! Great way to test your live Windows before burning to CD.

There are various tools available in market that supports virtualization. From freeware to free to try ones. But the one I chose taking into account its functionality, ease of operation and cost (free!!!) is Sun Virtual box. Download the software from home site, some 30 Mb size.

Installation and usage:

Installation is easy and neat. After you install it, run the application. You are welcomed by the first run menu that directs you to creating a new virtual PC. Steps are given here under to set up a virtual PC.

  1. Click on New tab in welcome screen. This runs a virtual machine wizard to create a virtual machine.
  2. Set a name to the virtual machine and select the type of OS and its version you plan to install. Else select others and unknown version if you just want to make a virtual PC. Click next.
  3. Select the amount of RAM you can spare to your guest machine. The Rule of thumb is to assign 1/4th of net memory to the machine for a 512 MB machine, half of memory for 1 GB memory machines etc. Keep in mind not to starve your host PC for memory and to take care not to over assign memory to a single machine when you plan to install multiple machines. A machine to run Bart’s PE requires just 64 MB memory where as a XP machine requires at least 256 MB for guest machine and at least an equal amount for the host. When done, click next.
  4. Select the virtual hard disk. Since this is the first time, you need to create a virtual hard disk first. Click  new to enter the create VHD wizard. In hard disk type, select dynamic expanding type store since it is created quick and is advantageous. In a dynamic expanding storage, the actual amount of space occupied by the VHD on the host HDD isn’t equal to the set limit, but equal to the actual being used or required as of then. For example, when you create a 10 GB dynamic VHD, and install XP on it, it occupies just around 2-3 GB space and grows as guest claims disk space, till the specified limit is reached. Select type and click next.

Set the size depending on the OS you plan to install in the virtual  machine. Click finish to complete VHD wizard.

  1. Select the created VHD and click next and then finish to complete the virtual machine creation wizard.
  2. The virtual machine is created. Select the machine and go to settings. Here you can anytime alter the resource allocation of the virtual machine. Set video memory, boot order and snapshot( saved system state) location.
  3. In CD/DVD ROM tab, you can mount a bootable ISO or set your machine to boot from your optical drives. Also you can enable floppy drive, USB drives, network adapters etc.
  4. To create a shared folder, its location has to be set but it can be enabled once guest OS is installed by installing virtualbox guest additions on the guest OS. Procedure is described at later stage.

Installing guest OS:

Make sure you have enabled CD/DVD ROM in your virtual machine and insert the installation media in the optical drive. Start you virtual PC. It opens in a window, but looks the same way your pc would have behaved during XP installation. Proceed the same way as you do when installing XP on you physical PC. Don’t run any more applications on the host PC since it may create competition for memory and CPU usage.

NOTE: While in virtual machine window, your mouse pointer is grabbed inside it  and you need to press your right CTRL key to free your pointer. So, don’t panic!

Once finished installation, open XP. You may notice that only the virtual HDD is accessible and no contact be made to your host HDD. Now shared folders has to be set up to create data transfer channel between the physical and virtual PCs. Get out of virtual PC pointer hold and click on Devices tab on the running virtual machine window. Click install guest additions. A setup window pops up inside the virtual machine which sets up guest additions. After this, you have access to shared folder, and your mouse pointer isn’t grabbed anymore.

After setting shared folders, install software inside your virtual machine. When done, save its state to which your machine can be restored if it encounters any problem in future.

In a similar way, many virtual machines can be set up on a single host PC, depending on its hardware resources (memory mostly). Have a happy virtualization!!

Break the barriers- boot through removable media

There are occasions when there arises a need to by pass the orthodox way of booting through your system HDD. This may be a case when you fail to boot from your hard disk and want to recover your data, or you forget your account password and have to recover your data before you format the HDD. Or an incident when you don’t have your HDD anymore! Or when you need to seek-peek into some one else’s system to get your hands on his data. Like they show in movies, plug in a USB device to by pass all barriers and accomplish your mission. Though there is stuff available on net to download and get going without breaking a sweat, the thrill of making your own “Bootable USB windows pen drive” is really adrenaline pumping.

Getting down to serious business, what you need is-

  1. A mother board that supports booting from USB devices ( check boot device priority to verify boot from USB HDD, USB device etc, most new generation mobo’s support that).
  2. A pen drive of minimum 256MB capacity ( else a CD to make bootable CD).
  3. Your windows XP setup CD.
  4. Software-
    1. Bart’s PE builder 3.1
    2. PEtoUSB tool from http://www.codebeetle.com.
    3. N-lite
    4. Plug-ins as desired. Following are must haves-
  1. Fire fox .cab plug-in available on http://www.bootcd.us/BartPE_Plugins_Author/Sherpya/.
  2. WinRAR plug-in from http://www.cybervyk.com/bartpe/WinRAR.cab
  3. Total commander setup
  4. Deep burner setup
  5. McAfee stinger (latest version)
  6. Irfan view.

Download the stuff mentioned in point 4, all are freeware.

Step1: Insert your windows XP setup CD and copy all the contents of the CD to a folder on desktop. These are the installation files which will be required by Bart’s PE.

Step2: Install N-lite and run the program. This program is used to scale down the size of XP installation on by removing the services and applications that aren’t required or desired by you. The interface lets you choose the applications you want to include and remove others. Wisely manage the applications and save the made setup. This will be overwritten in the folder you made on desk top.

(Apart from the above, N-lite can be used to integrate service packs, hot fixes and patches in your windows installation and make a bootable setup CD for installing windows)

Step3 : Install Bart’s PE builder and run the program. In source (path to windows installation files), show the location to the folder containing files copied from XP CD.

Step 4: Now its time to integrate plug-ins into your installations. In the Bart’s PE main interface, there in a plug-in tab.

  1. Install deep burner free on your system and copy files from installation directory to-

<PE-Builder>\plugin\deepburner\files directory.

Then click enable tab in plug-ins window. Click help in plug-ins window to see help regarding operation. Deep burner is a CD/DVD burning software that you may require to burn back up to optical media from host PC.

  1. Install Irfan view and following help file of plug-in window, copy files from installation directory to the folder specified in help. Irfan view is a photo editing and viewing software that you may require to view and copy your important photos.

Note: There may be issue of irfanview not getting enabled due to missing file error. Go to C:\pebuilder3110a\plugin\irfanview and open the irfanview.inf file. There you may need to change name of source disk files from Irfan view to iview_32 and change extension of help file from .hlp to .chm . Save it and that must solve the problem.

  1. Stinger is a stand alone antivirus scanner that you may need to make sure you aren’t coping viruses in your backups. It is a single file application. Just copy the file to plug-in directory and enable the plug-in. If it shows error, you may need to change the name of source file in stinger.inf to the name of downloaded file. Save and enable, that solves the problem.
  2. Unlike in our windows, Bart’s PE environment doesn’t come with explorer to access files with ease. Though it has a file management utility, it is better to add total commander, a utility that eases the operation of managing files. Install Total commander and copy the files from installed location to the plug-ins directory. You may need to alter code in totalcmd.inf to suit the copied files.
  3. Now its time to include custom plug-ins. To start with, go to ADD tab in plug-ins window and add the Firefox plug-in. This plug-in includes all files too. So, just add the plug-in and enable it.
  4. Similarly add the WinRAR plug-in. This doesn’t contain files and hence install WinRAR on your system and copy the required files mentioned in help file to the plug-ins directory. Adding WinRAR will easy the backup task by reducing size of backups and making archive of file groups.
  5. Disable Drive snap shot, which is trial version, and can’t be used without key. Instead download the NT backup plugin and include in your installation. This lets you make and restore backups using windows NT backup.

Step 5: When you finish including all plugins, select close. Then select the build command in main interface. In media output section, select to make a bootable .ISO, which may later be burned to a CD using any CD/DVD burner. Apart from the image, the Bart’s PE installation is built in C:\pebuilder3110a\BartPE.

Step 6: Run PE2USB application. Following instructions, show the location of Bart’s PE files to the folder where you built the installation, C:\pebuilder3110a\BartPE , by default. Enable format and enable copy. Click start and your pen drive will be ready in no time.

Step 7 : To boot from pen drive, go to BIOS and enable boot from USB device or change the boot device priority with USB HDD as first device and HDD as second. Save and restart.

Note: To take backup of your installation, compress the C:\pebuilder3110a\BartPE folder to a archive and  save it. When ever you need a bootable pen drive, no need to repeat all the procedure, just run PE2USB, show location of extracted files of Bart’s PE and copy them to pen drive. i.e., just follow step 10.

I am still working on making Bart’s PE more useable, having enabled PDF reader, power point viewer , VLC player and NT backup. I am working on including Realtek audio drivers for playing music in VLC player ( only video playing till now) and including word viewer to see word files. I would appreciate it very much if some one can help me out in this. See you then….!!!

Visit the following sites for more plugins –

http://www.ubcd4win.com/contents.htm, http://www.bootcd.us/BartPE_Plugins_Repository.php, http://www.bootcd.us/BartPE_Plugins_Author/Sherpya/

Into the core- Tweaking the BIOS

BIOS (Basic Input Output System) is the heart of your PC, it is where vital operation of interaction between OS and hardware takes place. Speaking in easy language, it is the blue screen that appears when you press DEL or F10 during booting windows. It performs operations like POST (Power on Self Test) and detection of hardware apart from checking for any bootable media, before giving control to windows. BIOS can be used to tweak windows at low level, changing attributes of hardware. We now learn a few tricks of trade to make most of the BIOS.

Boot device priority: By default, the first boot device is floppy disk, second is CD/DVD drive and the third is HDD. During normal usage, when we aren’t booting from secondary devices, this booting sequence causes delay in boot time (i.e. time taken by windows to start). Hence, it is wise to set HDD to first boot device and set rest to OFF. This saves lot of time in booting.

NOTE: When you are reinstalling OS, you need to set first boot device to CD/DVD drive to boot from optical media, lest I doesn’t get detected.

Changing shared memory: Motherboards with on board shared graphics share graphic memory from physical memory (RAM). If you don’t have a graphic card, but substantial RAM, you can check if there is chance to increase this shared memory in Advanced BIOS feature and increase it. Keep in mind that this memory isn’t available for usual purposes and is deducted from physical memory. On other hand, if you have a graphic card installed, or have less RAM, you can reduce this memory to improve performance.

CPU thermal monitor: This feature available in newer motherboards automatically controls CPU clock and fan speeds to ensure that processor works under desired safe temperature range. The CPU multiplier is also reduced simultaneously to ensure less heating and lower power consumption.

CPU temperature control: This feature makes the PC reboot when ever processor crosses the set temperature value. This reduces the chance of damage due to thermal overheating.

Note: Setting this value of temperature too low causes PC to reboot every time there is an increase in temperature due to heavy loads.

Delay for HDD detection: When we attach new or extra hard disk, this delay waits for detection of new hardware. But in normal operations, it is better to set it to zero, ensuring fast booting.

Auto power ON: This feature allows auto power on of your PC at specified date and time. Also features are available that lets you start PC on click of a key or shake of your mouse. Unlike stand by, here PC starts from OFF mode to ON. Response of PC when pressing power button can also be altered in BIOS.

Turn OFF unused features: Newer motherboards have many features that aren’t used usually. Like if you use PATA and SATA is enabled, turn it off. Same follows for RAID and SMART capabilities.

Boot initialization: When you use a graphic card inserted in PCI-Ex slot, set first boot initialization to PCI-Ex, not AGP. The opposite is to be followed when you use a AGP graphic card. This saves RAM from onboard IGP.

Enable DMA: In “advanced” tab, confirm that your hard drive and optical drive are working in DMA mode. Enabling DMA mode improves performance by reducing load on processor during data transfers

Over clocking: As discussed in previous post, over clocking is done in BIOS. Read the previous post for further details.

Having tweaked all the settings, save the new profile and reboot. Observe the difference!!

Tip: When drives don’t get opened on double clicking, it means that you have an infection in your PC. Follow this procedure to solve the problem-

  1. Check if task manager is enabled. If not, use processes explorer from sis internals suit to see the running processes. Ensure that you aren’t running any other process. The one using maximum CPU usage (50 to 100 % usage, consistently) and running under explorer.exe is the virus. Double click on the process and see the location where from it is executing. Usually it runs from c:\windows\system32.

(Viruses usually have names like regsvr.exe, New folder.exe or the new nasty form of New folder.exe, KHATARNAK.exe!!)

  1. Run kill box and paste the location in the file to delete tab. Tick end explorer shell while killing option. Kill and delete the file. Check the process explorer for emergence of the same process from another location, c:\windows this time. Follow the same steps and delete that file too. Now go to search and type the name of the infected file again. In advance search options, enable search hidden and system files. Scan the whole PC and delete the files found.
  2. Delete all previous restore points that may have been made earlier since they may contain the virus.
  3. The viruses of this kind usually disable RUN, FOLDER OPTIONS and TASK MANAGER. Registry editor is also disabled. Even though the infected file is deleted, the changes in registry remain unchanged. Download the default registry entries and restore the defaults.
  4. Go to TOOLS\FOLDER OPTION\VIEW and enable show hidden files and folders, and un-tick show extension of known file types and hide operating system files. Get inside a drive and delete the hidden file autorun.inf which has been left by the virus. Similarly delete the file in all drives.
  5. Go to run and type %temp%. Enter. In this directory, delete all files. Similarly type temp and delete all files in that directory too.
  6. Go to RUN and enter MSCONFIG. In startup tab, disable any suspicious entries or if you cant make out anything, disable all. Save and exit.

Reboot the system and verify all is working fine. Install a latest anti virus and update it to ensure no future inconvenience.

Over clock your components- Steroids for your PC…

Here is something special for you guys, something you can do to push your PC to the limits… Something that involves interacting with your motherboard on a very low level to ultimately wake up the demon within your PC. Yes, it is over clocking.

Over clocking: It is the process of pushing the clock frequencies of core components of your system beyond their defaults to increase the overall performance of your system. This basically means your 2.4 GHz system can run at, say, 3.0 GHz !! Components like processor, RAM, motherboard chipset and graphic cards can be over clocked. While graphic cards can be over clocked in windows interface, over clocking other components require you to dive into your system BIOS.

Word of caution: Though this may sound really fun, haste to squeeze max can be hazardous. Pushing your PC too much or carelessly can drive it insane, unstable and can even fry your components!

Basics: The attributes we are going to tweak are clock speed, core voltage etc.

The speed with which your PC runs is a product of clock speed and the multiplier. E.g., a system with bus speed 133 MHz and a multiplier of 23 is given by-

133 x 23 = 3.06 GHz

Basically the multiplier is constant, thus the clock speed of processor can be increased a little, say 144 MHz, making the resultant speed equal to 3.3 GHz .

Similarly the BUS speeds of Ram can be increased to perform at par with the increased processor speeds.

Prerequisites: Since over clocking makes your core components run above rated speeds, they tend to heat up, hence, sufficient provisions for cooling should be made. These include extra fans, bigger heat sinks and proper ventilation.

The heat from surface of processor is picked up and exhausted by CPU cooler with a heat sink. For better heat removal, a special thermal heat sink compound can be applied between cooler and processor top. Varieties from Cooler master and arctic silver are available in the market.

Some software that are required during our ordeal are-

  • Z-CPU : This nasty little tool can be used to find the details of your CPU’s clock speed, core speed, rated FSB, multiplier etc. Useful to see results of your tweaking.
  • HW monitor : This tool gives information regarding core temperature, HDD and chassis temperatures and speeds of CPU cooler fan and chassis fans. Useful to test how temperatures are after over clocking.
  • CPU burn : This tool can be used to put your system on extreme limits of load and monitor system stability and temperatures using HW monitor.

This cycle of monitoring should be repeated after every shot of over clocking. Speed is of course bound to increase, temperatures and stability are the criterion for success.

Before we start tweaking the clock speeds, we need to understand the limits to which our PC can be over clocked and remains stable. This is done by trail and error method. Start by small changes in core clock speed. Do not make more that 10% change in clock speed and make sure not to exceed the core processor voltage more than 1.45 V . Follow this procedure-

1. 1. See parameters like clock speed and multiplier to estimate required boost in clock speed to bring about expected increase in core speed. Also see temperatures and analyse if sufficient cooling is provided. High temperatures, noise of CPU cooler even before over clocking means better you fix your PC rather than over clock it.

( In HW monitor, there will be a list of temperatures shown, the one showing the highest temperature consistently is your processor’s temperature sensors reading. Similarly, in case of fan speeds, the one higher than others is the one of you CPU cooler)

  1. Get into BIOS and change the clock speed of processor; preferably less than 10% change  to be on safe side, rated FSB increases on its own proportionally. Boot up (start windows I mean) and use Z-CPU to check the increased speed. Also check idle temperatures, fan speeds and then note them again running CPU burn. If there are signs of instability, increase the core voltage a little bit but never exceed 1.45 Volts . Re-analyse your system repeating the above procedure.
  1. Following the above two steps repeatedly, reach a speed where the system is stable and doesn’t lose its cool either.

Though I don’t run my PC over clocked ( 3.06 GHz naturally, what more ?!), I juiced the max out of it to demonstrate over clocking and assure you comfort while you do it. Here under is the analysis I made…

Instead of going for the kill in a single hit, I performed over clocking in steps, increasing clock speed cautiously. Under normal conditions on no-load, my PC was cool and composed. On analyzing using Z-CPU, I found my core clock speed to be 133 MHz, which let me decide how much I should increase it to get desired effects.

I increased it to 144 MHz first, making my core speed 3.3 GHz. I booted up and saw my windows stable. Sensing more scope, I restarted, entered BIOS and increased my clock speed to 155 MHz, which made my core speed 3.6 GHz . I started windows to see it stable on no-load. I sensed increased temperatures and fan speeds, obvious to heating taking place. To vigorously check stability, I loaded it with CPU burn and saw it to respond satisfactorily. Temperatures rose further on load. Thanks to rear chassis fan and another one opposite to processor cooler, disposing the heat wasn’t an issue.

Having come this far, why not give it a bigger push! I rebooted and clocked the core to 170 MHz, hoping to push it to verge of instability. On booting windows, I found my PC quite hot running at no-load on 3.9 GHz, more than 20% faster!! On putting load by CPU burn, it turned out that my processor got hotter than Angelina Jolie, and my fans began making loud noise, unable to bear her heat!! At 55 degrees and fans running at more than twice the normal speed, I called the limit. I would rather run it at 3.3 GHz or 3.6 GHz, depending on cooling I can arrange.

Note: To get into BIOS, restart your PC and strike F10 while it reboots or see the instructions on screen to enter BIOS settings or Advance settings. After you get into BIOS, see for advanced settings or any option related to clock speeds. Browse your way through, its just GUI with a different old fashioned look. Normally you will not end up provoking a disaster, even if you feel you messed up, you can restore defaults by a single click.

After over clocking if there arises an event that system turns unstable, just restore defaults and blame your luck! Apart from over clocking, BIOS can be used to tweak some other performance options. Will speak to you about that in next post….

CPU clock speed..  before and after...

CPU clock speed.. before and after...