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Optimizing Vista on VMware Fusion 2: Reducing Memory Use and Improving Application Performance

As the team gets ready for VMworld in Las Vegas this week, I have been building new demo virtual machines for our VMware Fusion 2 demos.

Whenever I build new virtual machines, there are number of small changes I make to Windows to make it run even better on the Mac.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to share them with you.

Tweaking Microsoft Vista to Work Better in a Virtual Machine

In VMware Fusion 2, in addition to all the great features we added like Unity 2.0 and Multiple Snapshots with AutoProtect, we continued to look for ways to make performance even better, especially with the little things that matter for every day use.

I am happy to say that we found a number of technical improvements that make a big difference with VMware Fusion 2, especially when dragging and moving Windows application windows around the screen.

In addition to the performance improvements we made in VMware Fusion 2, you can make some additional  tweaks to Windows that combine to really enhance Microsoft Vista’s performance.

With Windows XP harder and harder to come by, it’s important to tune Vista, to make it easy to run the Windows applications you care about , while avoiding any unnecessary Vista overhead and background apps that get in the way.

The tweaks I make to new Windows virtual machines are:

1) Disable System Restore
2) Disable Screen Savers
3) Optimize Power Management for Virtual Machine
4) Disable Windows Sidebar
5) Disable Remote Management
6) Run Windows Disk Defragmentation Utilities
7) OPTIONAL: Change to Classic UI

While of these changes apply to Windows XP as well as Vista, I am focusing on Microsoft Vista for my examples in this post.

Step 1 – Disable System Restore

While Microsoft’s System Restore makes sense when running on a physical computer, it makes much less sense in a virtual machine especially when you have Multiple Snapshots with AutoProtect protecting your virtual machine.

Step 2 – Disable Screen Savers

There is little reason to have a screen saver enabled both in your Windows virtual machine as well as on the Mac. Disable screen savers on Windows and reduce a little more Windows overhead.

Step 3 –  Optimize Power Management for Virtual Machine

VMware Fusion 1 was the first virtualization solution on the Mac to provide power management support. This is great on a laptop to make sure that the virtual machine suspends when power gets low, but there is little reason to have the virtual disks to spin down every minute. By enabling the right power management profile, you get the benefits of tracking battery life and suspending your virtual machine when needed without Windows slowing down things that don’t matter.

First, you need to shut down your virtual machine and enable the Battery option.

Second, you need to create a Virtual Machine power management profile in Windows that disables display and hard drive sleep.

By enabling the right power management profile, you get the benefits of tracking battery life and suspending your virtual machine when needed without Windows slowing down things that don’t matter.

Step 4 –  Disable Windows Sidebar

Most people I have spoken to run Windows on their Mac in order to run specific Windows applications they prefer to Mac alternatives, or whic they can’t otherwise run on the Mac.

The Windows Sidebar in Microsoft Vista have Windows "Gadgets," which are made redundant by the MUCH better Dashboard Widgets that come with the Mac. Disabling the Windows Sidebar on Microsoft Vista will reduce unneeded overhead that can be used for the Windows applications you care about.

Step 5 –  Disable Remote Management

If you are using Windows personally and don’t rely on others to remotely fix Windows, you can disable Remote Management which trims another background service at startup.

Step 6 –  Run Windows Hard Disk Defragmentation Tools

Over time, your Windows installation will get lots of fragmented files that slow down performance. Luckily, Windows includes disk defragmentation utilities that help resolve this problem. Since most virtual machines are not running 24×7, but only when needed, the "Schedule Disk Fragmentation" feature of Windows won’t be of much help. Set a reminder in iCal to run the Windows Disk Defragmenter once a month to reclaim some lost performance.

OPTIONAL Step 7 –  Change to Classic UI

Windows Vista has a greatly improved user interface that is trying to compete with Mac OS X Leopard. The problem with all these UI bells and whistles is that they take away some performance.

While I don’t feel it 100% necessary to change to Classic UI, if you feel you need one last extra bit of performance, switching from the new Vista UI to the Classic UI may help – though I don’t think it is needed for more modern Macs (those that have shipped in the last year or so) with enough RAM.

What Tweaks Do You Make to Improve Windows Performance?

By using these tweaks, I am able to get excellent performance running Windows Vista with only 1 GB of RAM assigned to my VM on my 4 GB MacBook Pro.

Do you have any other tweaks you make to improve Windows performance? If so, let us know in the comments.

BTW, if you are at VMworld this week, make sure to come to the VMware Fusion sessions or drop by the VMware booth for a demo of VMware Fusion 2.

This entry was posted in vmware_fusion on by .

About Pat Lee

Pat Lee is the Senior Director, Remote Experience for VMware Desktop and Application products. The Remote Experience team is responsible for 3D graphics, remote display protocols, remote device access, desktop clients, thin clients, web clients, and mobile clients.

17 thoughts on “Optimizing Vista on VMware Fusion 2: Reducing Memory Use and Improving Application Performance

  1. Aaron Powell

    I find that disabling the sidebar is not really a benefit. It allows me to run Windows specific gadgets (like the Outlook calendar one) and others.
    Is there a possibility of a more in-depth optimisation guide for Fusion? Particularly around the power settings

  2. Hartvig

    Does Fusion 2 provide better display drivers for Vista or is it only XP that’s improved?

  3. Onyx Mueller

    Thanks for the tweaking tips! Even though I don’t use Vista (I use Win XP Pro), I learned one tweak that I can use in my environment. =]
    One thing that I tweak with my Win XP Pro VM in order to improve performance, is that I disable useless services. For example, since my Mac OS X host operating provides the internet connectivity, I disable (or set it to Manual, so that the service doesn’t start automatically) the Wireless Zero Configuration. I do not need this service since I do not allow my Win XP Pro VM to control my AirPort wireless network.

  4. Stian Oksavik

    One important thing with Vista, even though it’s not so much a “tweak” as just good practice: Make sure to install the latest service pack (and other Windows Updates as well.)
    I run SP1 both in my VM on my iMac, and on my native Vista laptop. The difference in performance was quite dramatic, especially in the VM.

  5. rezor

    Thank you helpful post.
    Make sure you disable all unnecessary services: fast user switching, wzc, remote access, telephony, consider multimedia (I didn’t and even managed to play trackmania in fusion…)
    Most importantly:
    Stop disk indexing (right click on the drive in Explorer, properties, index this disk
    If you _really_ want to tweak it, use process explorer to determine which services eat up most cpu time (or taskmanager will do for applications), so leave the machine running normally and after a half hour consider the cpu time of each process and service. then consider if you really really need the google update notifier or windows update…

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