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3D-Graphics Acceleration in View Virtual Desktops

VMware Horizon with View offers excellent 3D-graphics capabilities to View users everywhere.

To ensure top-flight performance for 3D graphics in View, administrators have three different graphics-acceleration options to choose from: Soft 3D, vSGA, and vDGA. Read on for a look at the differences between the three, and which one in particular leads to the highest availability for 3D-graphics acceleration in View.

(Check out the newly revised Graphics Acceleration in View Virtual Desktops for everything you need to know about 3D-graphics acceleration in View.)

Definitions of Soft 3D, vSGA, and vDGA

Soft 3D, vSGA, and vDGA all sound similar. So here is a look at what distinguishes these three solutions from one another.

  • Soft 3D – Introduced with View 5.0, the Software 3D Renderer (Soft 3D) uses the Soft 3D graphics driver, which is automatically installed with VMware Tools on Windows 7 View virtual desktops. Soft 3D provides support for software-accelerated 3D graphics without any physical GPUs being installed in the ESXi virtual-desktop host.
  • vSGA – Introduced with View 5.2, Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration (vSGA) allows multiple virtual machines to share physical GPUs installed locally in the ESXi host(s). Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration also uses the Soft 3D graphics driver, which is automatically installed on Windows 7 View virtual desktops with VMware Tools.
  • vDGA – Introduced with View 5.3, Virtual Dedicated Graphics Acceleration (vDGA) uses the native graphics-card driver provided by the graphics-card vendor, and allows a single virtual machine to be mapped to a single physical GPU installed in the ESXi host.

With these differences in mind, a hierarchy becomes clear: vDGA hardware 3D-rendering provides the most powerful solution for 3D-graphics acceleration in View, while Soft 3D software 3D-rendering offers the most straightforward graphics-acceleration solution for virtual desktops with less intensive workloads.

Virtual Shared Graphics Acceleration (vSGA), on the other hand, is a uniquely appealing option, and here is why: The flexible and dynamic vSGA solution, which includes several different graphics-acceleration options, offers the highest availability for 3D-graphics acceleration in View virtual desktops, without sacrificing performance. However, vSGA configuration does demand a better understanding of the environment and technology. Read on to learn how vSGA works, and to discover your various choices when configuring vSGA-enabled virtual desktops.

vSGA Breakdown

The core of vSGA’s capacity to provide higher availability for 3D-graphics acceleration lies in this fact: Thanks to the Soft 3D graphics driver, administrators can set a vSGA-enabled virtual machine to Automatic, which allows it to dynamically switch between hardware and software 3D rendering, without reconfiguration, depending on the availability of GPU resources. Additionally, by using the built-in Soft 3D graphics driver, vSGA allows a virtual machine to take advantage of VMware vSphere vMotion, which enables the virtual machine to be migrated to an ESXi host that has available GPU resources.

To configure vSGA, you have two locations to choose from: vSphere Client (or vSphere Web Client) or Pool Settings for View. Here is a look at each.

  • Configuring vSGA with Pool Settings for View

Pool Settings for View allows administrators to configure graphics-acceleration settings for aggregate pools of View desktops. Here is what the interface looks like.

Figure 1: 3D-Rendering Options in Pool Settings for View Virtual Desktops

The options for vSGA 3D rendering in Pool Settings for View are as follows:

  • Manage using vSphere Client – Enables individual virtual machines to be configured (with an Automatic, Software, Hardware, or Disabled setting) via the vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client. With this setting, you can no longer configure aggregate pools of virtual desktops via Pool Settings, but must configure each desktop on a one-by-one basis through the vSphere Client of vSphere Web Client. This setting is most useful during testing, or for manual desktop pools.
  • Automatic – Uses hardware 3D rendering when hardware GPU resources are available, but switches to software 3D rendering when they are not. This allows virtual machines to be started on, or migrated to (via vSphere vMotion), any host (vSphere 5.0 or later) and use the best solution (either hardware or software) available on that host.
  • Software – Uses software 3D rendering, even if hardware GPU resources are available. This setting both allows a virtual machine to run on any host (vSphere 5.0 or later) and allows you to block virtual machines from using a hardware GPU in a host.
  • Hardware – Uses only hardware GPUs. Virtual machines set to this option will not start in (or be able to be migrated to) any host without an available hardware GPU. This setting can be used to guarantee that a virtual machine will always use hardware 3D rendering when a GPU is available; but that, in turn, limits the virtual machine to hosts with hardware GPUs.
  • Disabled – Uses neither hardware nor software 3D rendering. Use this setting to ensure that a desktop pool with non-graphical workloads does not use unnecessary resources.

Note: If you select the Manage using vSphere Client option, VMware recommends that you use the vSphere Web Client to configure virtual machines, rather than the traditional vSphere Client. This is because the traditional vSphere Client does not display the various rendering options; it displays only Enable/Disable 3D support.

  • Configuring vSGA with the vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client

Use the vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client to configure virtual desktops on a one-by-one basis.

Note: Graphics acceleration in virtual machines with a hardware version of 9 or later can be managed only via the vSphere Web Client.

Figure 2: 3D-Rendering Options in vSphere Web Client

The options for vSGA 3D rendering in vSphere Client or vSphere Web Client are as follows:

  • Automatic
  • Software
  • Hardware
  • Disabled

Want More?

A new update to Graphics Acceleration in View Virtual Desktops was just published. Check it out!

Also, take a look at this video for an in-depth look at vDGA installation. Finally, here is a video for a deeper look at vSGA.


By Alexander West, technical writer for VMware End-User Computing Technical Marketing, with significant contributions from Stephane Asselin