Improving the performance of Virtual PC over Remote Desktop

People often complain of poor performance when using Virtual PC over Remote Desktop (also known as RDP or Terminal Services). The reason why this happens is because to Remote Desktop, Virtual PC is just a rapidly refreshing bitmap with unknown contents, and as such Remote Desktop cannot apply any of its optimizations. It should also be noted that Virtual PC is completely unusable over Remote Desktop if Virtual Machine Additions is not installed on the guest operating system (because Remote Desktop does not support relative mouse coordinating which we require when Virtual Machine Additions is not present). Once you have Virtual Machine Additions loaded – there are a number of changes that can be made to the guest operating system to improve performance:

  1. Don’t use a desktop background. This just adds to the amount of data that Remote Desktop needs to send over the network.
  2. Turn off mouse pointer shadows (‘Control Panel’ => ‘Mouse’ => ‘Pointers’ => uncheck ‘Enable pointer shadow’). This enables use to use hardware cursor acceleration – which will greatly improve the performance of the mouse inside of the guest operating system.
  3. Ensure that video hardware acceleration is at its highest setting (‘Control Panel’ => ‘Display’ => ‘Settings’ => ‘Advanced’ => ‘Trouble Shooting’). Windows Server 2003 turns this setting down by default and it really affects performance in this scenario.
  4. Don’t display window contents while dragging (‘Control Panel’ => ‘Display’ => ‘Appearance’ => ‘Effects’ => uncheck this option). Remote desktop usually disables this behavior on the physical computer – and it helps to disable it in the virtual machine too.