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The start screen is really slick and smooth and I'm quite impressed by how snappy everything seems, but I noticed something interesting...

Even when connected over RDP, the animations seem just as smooth and snappy, which seems odd given how hardware accelerated graphics are nerfed through RDP connections.

Is the Modern-UI hardware accelerated? If not, how do they make it so slick without needlessly taxing the system?

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Great question! I've wondered about this too.

Turns out there are massive improvements to RDP with Windows 8. You can read about graphics improvements to RDP on the Remote Desktop blog from Microsoft.

To specifically answer your question, here is a quote from this blog:

In Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8, the full local desktop is composed and rendered on the host in a remote session before the resulting image is encoded and sent by RemoteFX. In other words, RemoteFX is based on host-side rendering. As a result, the full desktop experience of the Windows 8 desktop as well as all application user interfaces (UIs) is consistently sent remotely at the highest quality with 32 bits per pixel (BPP). To balance user experience with encoding and bandwidth cost, the target frame rate in a remote session is 30 frames per second (FPS).

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Ahh I see. I was wondering why the UI was so slick, while any Java/DirectX programs were their old laggy selves. this makes sense! –  Jared Tritsch Oct 26 '12 at 20:19

Yes, the new interface makes much better use of available graphics hardware, pushing far more of the work to the graphics card over the CPU than was done in the past. The Windows 8 team wrote a great blog post on the subject describing the use of graphics hardware and how there was a huge focus on improving the experience through better use of the GPUs.

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You will notice that when you scroll on the start screen, live tile updates cease to occur. The UI seems extremely smooth because when you are scrolling, it behaves simply as a cached image, which takes little processing power to render.

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I never noticed that! Sneaky Microsoft. I applaud. –  Jared Tritsch Oct 26 '12 at 20:07

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