Hyper-V graphics performance and SharePoint 2010 development

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I’ve built a Windows Server 2008 R2 (with Hyper-V) laptop for SharePoint development but I haven’t mentioned one of the only major gripes that I’ve not been able to solve – namely that graphics-intensive operations bring the system to a halt. This is particularly noticeable when audio is playing and you launch a new program while Hyper-V is exporting (as if you have a sonic performance metric), or (to use the Microsoft example) when pressing CTRL+ALT+DEL.

Until the other day I had always chalked this up to something about this driver (an NVIDIA GeForce 8400 M GS on a Dell XPS M1330) and the Hyper-V role or Server 2008 R2 itself (since we didn’t have this problem with the same driver on Windows 7). However, one of our technical architects got a bit more annoyed by this than me and identified that it’s a known issue for almost every graphics driver on 64-bit-capable laptops. With a bit more time and impetus I tracked down the authoritative Virtual PC Guy blog entry on the matter. It points out that the issue was originally unveiled in this Technet thread and he revisited the issue later in August in response to the Microsoft is Forcing Me to use VMWare post. While the “buy another server” response would go exactly nowhere in my flat, I think he spells out the Microsoft position fairly succinctly and clearly. I’m curious to see what the “options available” will be and hope the follow-up post comes out soon. In the mean time, these are the best Microsoft work-arounds I’ve found:

  • Replace the graphics card with a lower-end one
  • Use the VGA.sys driver (and live without multi-monitor support)
  • Find a 64-bit XP driver that will install successfully on Windows Server 2008 R2 (not likely)
  • Upgrade the system/processor to something that supports SLAT (a big request)

I suppose the magnitude of this problem is going to vary based on how people work. It’s not that problematic for me. So far all of the developers that we have using this system seem to be happier with it than they would be without it. Beyond that, I suspect the productivity benefits of snapshots (including the ability to import/export them) and the performance benefits of using Hyper-V for operations that aren’t graphics intensive still stack up in Hyper-V’s favour overall.

It will be interesting to see how the beta of SharePoint 2010 will influence this discussion, as there aren’t that many 64-bit-capable virtualisation solutions. Unfortunately this information is not very visible to new adopters of Hyper-V and I expect a number of people will adopt Hyper-V for SharePoint 2010 development/testing/demos. This could reflect poorly on SharePoint 2010 and/or Hyper-V.

I also wonder if this pill could be sweetened by finding a way to get multi-monitor support on the VGA.sys driver. Would that be enough? It would be for me, but I’m not a developer.

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