Hyper-V video issues fixed by Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta?

Recently we’ve been considering a hardware refresh for our developer/consultant/architect laptop build (on Windows Server 2008 R2 Standard with Hyper-V). After a fair amount of deliberation we decided to pilot a new model but stumbled massively at the first hurdle: when we enabled the Hyper-V role on a new Dell Latitude E6410 we got a blue screen. Further testing revealed that the graphics driver was at fault and the SVGA driver worked fine. However, the SVGA driver only has single monitor support. Back to the drawing board.

I hit the search engines in earnest and found that these problems were prevalent across a fairly wide range of graphics cards. We enlisted Dell’s help and they told us that they do not certify that Hyper-V will work on any laptops. More precisely, they clarified the primary support concern is that future driver releases may not work with Hyper-V even if we find a model that works with today’s drivers. At this point we were considering a pricier Precision model and they put us in touch with their Precision product team in Texas. They were most helpful but we were told that Dell themselves do not use Hyper-V on laptops except for demonstration purposes and they simply use it as a server for connected workstations, so they would never experience the same graphics issues. Dell kindly offered to let us test our development build on various models at their campus if we agreed to share the results with them, but before we could arrange that visit, Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta* was released and I upgraded my machine in order to test out Dynamic Memory.

As I was installing it I had a chat with my colleague (and serial early adopter) Lambros Vasiliou to gauge his impressions. He mentioned his favourite improvement is that the known Hyper-V host graphics performance issues are either gone or greatly mitigated. This is an issue that’s been repeatedly discussed in our organisation since we moved from a hotchpotch of virtualisation technologies to Hyper-V as our standard development build last year. It’s probably the single thing that irritates our users of this system more than anything else.

I did some testing myself with videos playing and moving windows about with Windows Key + Arrow hot keys. The results were fairly impressive – without doubt a big improvement. One thing that still behaved poorly on my Dell XPS M1330 (with NVIDIA GeForce 8400GS) is full-screen YouTube, Vimeo, etc. The CTRL+ALT+DEL redraw operation seems a bit sluggish still as well. I noticed that my PowerPoint Presenter View was better, but still not 100% responsive.

I also tested on the Dell Latitude E6410 (with NVIDIA NVS 3100M). Not only is the previously-mentioned blue screen fixed and the graphics generally improved in the same ways as on the XPS, but the full-screen in-browser video and CTRL+ALT+DEL are instantaneous. One possible explanation for this different experience is that the Latitude has a processor with SLAT, but I can’t validate that at all yet… because I can’t find any information whatsoever about why/how this has changed!

I think it’s unlikely that these changes are related to RemoteFX (since the XPS M1330 does not have a processor with SLAT and I never enabled it on the Latitude E6410). I would expect RemoteFX to improve the experience connecting to the guests, not the Hyper-V root partition (although it’s possible that this improvement is somehow related). I’ve tried pinging Virtual PC Guy and posted this query on the SP1 Beta TechNet forum but so far the community can only confirm that this is indeed working on a number of different models including a Mac (drill down in the links on the TechNet thread for more information). One way or the other this is great news, but I’m finding the lack of information about these changes quite maddening given the amazing detail that’s been produced for the Dynamic Memory launch. I’d really appreciate further insights if anyone can reveal the internals.

* A few notes regarding the Service Pack 1 Beta installation process:

  1. The links on the SP1 Beta page are a bit confusing. You should be aware that if you click the “Evaluate Windows Server 2008 R2 and SP1 Beta” link you will be taken to a page with a “Download Windows Server 2008 R2 Trial Software” section at the top. “Download SP1 Beta Software” is beneath that section. This is what you want. If you click the first link you will initiate a download of the full Windows Server 2008 R2 (SP0) installer. If you “upgrade” your system using that installer you’ll wind up with a nice new trial version of SP0. AGH. Starting again from the links in the right section I was able to run a small installer that presents the updates to Windows Update and that has all worked fine, so I’d recommend that route. Alternately the Service Pack can be downloaded stand-alone. I did that for my second install and it worked fine too. Also note the Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta Reviewer’s Guide, “to evaluate the core features of Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta release in your environment”.
  2. If you use Forefront you will need to uninstall it in order to install SP1 Beta, so make sure to remember to reinstall it afterwards.
  3. When I installed the Service Pack my screen went black for about ten minutes following the first reboot. Be prepared for this. You’ll see plenty of ongoing disk activity but nothing on the screen. Fairly disconcerting, but perhaps this is all a part of these same video changes.

5 thoughts on “Hyper-V video issues fixed by Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 Beta?”

  1. For those that are following these developments, Virtual PC Guy got in touch with me and said that RemoteFX is responsible for many graphics fixes. I will post more when we get the fuller picture.

  2. Well, you see, RemoteFX require that the graphics card drivers be installed on the server. If installing them causes a BSoD upon next boot, RemoteFX will be impossible to use.

  3. And if you take a look at virtualpcguy’s twitter feed, you will notice that he did tell me that “For best graphics experience with Hyper-V R2 SP1 – have a computer that supports SLAT (second level address translation)”. BTW, the OpenID login on this blog is broken.

  4. Hi Yuhong. Sorry about the OpenID problems. That’s a bit of a work in progress here. I need to get back to sorting that out (errr… I should remove it for now). I’ve been on holiday for a week, which also explains my delayed reply here. So sorry about that.

    Anyway… yeah, I’ve been following the RemoteFX and SLAT graphics issues but it’s still not really clear to me how RemoteFX fixes the graphics issues on an R2 SP1 server that *isn’t* running RemoteFX (only Hyper-V). VirtualPCGuy’s answer to my question about this on Twitter indicates that the fix is *related to* RemoteFX but I’m still not clear about the how.

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