Hypervisor Hunt

After getting burnt by Hyper-V, I decided to go for the tried and true and installed VMware Player on Windows 10. I had to install Ubuntu again on the new virtual machine, but it was a breeze thanks to VMware’s automated installation process. Everything that was missing in Hyper-V was there. I was able to use my laptop’s real resolution, networking over Wi-Fi was done automatically, audio magically started working, and even performance was noticeably better.

After a few weeks of heavy usage, I started noticing some problems with VMware. Every once in a while the guest OS would freeze for about a second. I didn’t pay too much attention to it at first, but it slowly started to wear on me. I eventually realized it always happens when I use tab completion in the shell and the real cause was playing sounds. It’s still progress over Hyper-V’s inability to play any audio, but it was not exactly a pleasant experience.

The other, far more severe issue, was general lack of performance. It just didn’t feel like I was running Ubuntu on hardware, or even close to it. I experienced constant lags while typing, alt+tab took about a second to show up, compiling code was weirdly slow, video playback was unusable, and everything was just generally sluggish and unresponsive. Overall it was usable, but far from ideal.

Today I finally broke down and decided to give yet another hypervisor a shot. Next up came VirtualBox. I didn’t have high expectations, but VMware was starting to slow me down so I had to try something. Installation was even easier since VirtualBox can just use VMware images. Then came the pleasant surprise. Straight out of the box performance was noticeably better. Windows moved without lagging, alt+tab reaction was instantaneous, and sound playback just worked. Once I installed the guest additions and enabled video acceleration, video playback started functioning too. I still can’t play 4K videos, but at least my laptop doesn’t crawl to a halt on every video ad.

As a cherry on the top, VirtualBox was also able to properly set the resolution on the guest OS at boot time. In VMware, I had to leave and enter full screen once after login for the real resolution to stick. Switching inputs between guest and host in VirtualBox is also easier. It requires just one key (right ctrl) as opposed to two with VMware (left ctrl+alt).

I realize these results depend on many things like hardware, drivers, host/guest versions, etc. I bet I could also solve some of these issues if I put some research into it. But for running Ubuntu 17.04 desktop on my Windows 10 Dell XPS 13 with the least hassle, VirtualBox is the clear winner. Let me know if you had different experience or know how to make it run even smoother.

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