I am in the process of building a new desktop machine for work and fun. I am looking to run a undecided flavor of Linux (guessing Ubuntu) as my primary OS and several Windows installs with a Windows 7 install for .net development and gaming as virtualized environments.

From my previous experiences with virtualization software in Linux I was never able to find an application that offered descent video card support / graphic acceleration etc. to be capable of playing any games within one of the virtualized environments. And since I will be investing quite a bit of money into this system for gaming I would naturally want to find the best option available to achieve this setup.

So Onto my question: Is there any virtualization software available for Linux that has full video card support, graphic acceleration and capable of taking advantage of everything the video cards have to offer within the virtualized environments?

Or am I stuck with running Windows 7 as my primary OS and using virtualization for Linux and the other OS's?

Also I have no preference on open/closed source and price range would be up to $175.00 to support at least 3 virtualized environments.

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    Is dual-booting to game so onerous? – sarnold Jun 5 '11 at 3:40

You can take a look at Xen VGA passthrough. It's not easy to setup, but once it's done, you have full access to your graphic card with no or minimal performance hit.

Here is a video that demonstrates what you can achieve with Xen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gtmwnx-k2qg

Note, however, that during passthrough, your graphic card will be hidden from the host. If you have more than one monitor, you can add a second graphic card and use it for you host OS (it can be a low-end graphic card if you are not doing fancy 3D stuff on the host).

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VMWare Workstation has accelerated video support.

Wine supports DirectX without virtualization.

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  • Ok, so to confirm with VMWare; with a windows 7 virtualized environment I will be able to play any games and run software that utilizes graphics heavily with no loss to what the video cards are capable of, as if the Windows 7 environment was not running within virtualization? – Urbn Jun 5 '11 at 3:35
  • With no loss? Not bloody likely. How would that even be possible? Some resources need to be devoted to the host OS, which makes it rather unlikely for the guest to run with 100% of native performance, even discounting any virtualization overhead per se. – John Zwinck Jun 5 '11 at 3:42
  • John is right - there's always going to be a slight performance hit from virtualization. Try it before you buy it and see if it meets your expectations. – jamesallman Jun 5 '11 at 4:03
  • O for sure there will be proformance losses because of the virtualization it self, I'm mainly looking to find out if there was any loss from it creating a "virtual" video card or using any type of generic video cards like what virtual box does (or used to do). – Urbn Jun 5 '11 at 4:41
  • I'll go ahead and assume that VMWare will function as I am expecting with the ability to use the video card as I am expecting within a virtualized windows 7 environment. Thanks guys! – Urbn Jun 5 '11 at 4:43

The only VM product which runs on Linux and tries to offer any 3D acceleration is VMWare Workstation 7. However, keep the following in mind:

  • VMWare can virtualize the graphics hardware, but there's quite a significant performance penalty in doing so. Expect at least 30% framerate drops depending on your graphics hardware and such. This is partially because VMWare is acting as a middle man between the graphics hardware, partly because games can't take advantage of ATI or nVidia specific features (because they see the VMWare card only), and partly because there's an extra level of indirection to access system RAM inside the VM (Nested page tables soften the blow here somewhat)
  • VMWare supports only up to DirectX 9 Shader Model 2.0. Enough to run Aero, but not enough for most recent games. Recent games will run, but at reduced quality/detail settings.
  • VMWare does not allow GPGPU applications to run.
  • Similarly, VMWare can't deal wtih PhysiX acceleration.

VMWare does provide some basic 3D acceleration, but if you want to game the only way to do that reasonably is to dual boot.

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HP Remote Graphics works on both Windows and Linux. Setting it up on Windows is easy. Haven't tried on Linux. There is negligible performance penalty on LAN or decent broadband

If setting it up in a virtualized environment, say with workstations or blades (w/GPUs) in a datacenter, LeoStream can be used as a broker. Works with VMWare too, but haven't tried that either.

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VMWare is not the only virtualization software that supports 3D acceleration. VirtualBox also provides some support, though it's probably not as complete as VMWare's. But VirtualBox is free.

VirtualBox is free only for personal use. When using it in a production environment you still have to pay a fee, according to the EULA on www.virtualbox.org and http://www.oracle.com/us/legal/terms/index.html.

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