13 February 2013

RTLUSB in VirtualBox virtual machine

Months ago I was advocating the creation and distribution of a Linux virtual machine image with pre-installed software for RTLSDR work (drivers and end user applications). The release of Zadig and SDR# for MS Windows has quickly obsoleted my idea. But how about running the whole SDR thing within a virtual machine? Would the "virtual USB" software layer be fast enough to pass through RTLSDR IQ samples?

A test within the virtual machine is quickly done with the rtl_test.exe utility distributed with RelWithDebInfo.zip file (google). My setup:
  • host computer i5 processor Win7 64bit
  • guest computer WinXP 32bit
  • R820T dongle
I have tried running rtl_test.exe at several sampling rates and always got lost bytes, even at the lowest value of 250 kSPS! And the CPU usage was not impacted at all, it remained low/idle.

My conclusion: unless you accept data loss in your RTLSDR decodes, a VirtualBox virtual machine does not guarantee enough "USB bandwidth" for successful reception within the VM itself.