3D graphics for Virtual Desktops Smackdown

Virtualization industry experts Benny Tritsch, Ruben Spruijt, and Shawn Bass have produced a comprehensive and up-to-date document covering exactly what technologists need to know about "3D Graphics for Virtual Desktops."

Virtualization industry experts Benny Tritsch, Ruben Spruijt, and Shawn Bass have produced a comprehensive and up-to-date document covering exactly what technologists need to know about "3D Graphics for Virtual Desktops." It’s a thorough, independent, and well-researched technical deep dive into strategy, vendors, solutions, features, qualifying questions, and much more. This will be an invaluable source of information for CTOs and technical architects looking to realize the many benefits of virtualizing and remoting 3D graphics applications.

Well, that is the essence of the new white paper 3D graphics for Virtual Desktops Smackdown. This is the fifth white paper in the series of Smackdown documents. This new Smackdown paper was written by Bernhard Tritsch, Shawn Bass and Ruben Spruijt, Team Remoting Graphics Experts #TeamRGE. The complete, unbiased and independent whitepaper can be downloaded here.

We believe that delivering 3D graphics for virtual desktops isn't a niche market. Millions of users can benefits from graphics with their virtual desktop. While technology evolves and competition increases, the cost of adding 3D graphics to virtual desktops will be affordable for everyone. Every PC has a GPU so why not for VDI?! Most new operating systems and application leverage GPUs while a larger group of people benefit from using high-end graphics for 2D, 3D, multimedia applications, and high-performance computing environments.

Why 3D Graphics for Virtual Desktops?

What are the business drivers for enabling 3D graphics for Virtual Desktops?

  • Flexibility: Work isn’t a place, it’s something you do from anywhere.
  • Access: Virtual desktop works independently of location, endpoint and network. Use the Virtual Desktop from any client endpoint; Work Anywhere, with Any Device in LAN, WiFi and WAN scenarios. Support work from home, global product development teams, contractors and BYO scenarios.
  • Application integration: more and more application integrate with each other, large files and datasets (sometimes TBs) are accessed by users all over the globe. File transfer and WAN acceleration are not the solution.
  • Security and control: Information systems and data stays in the datacenter center; Protect Intellectual Property (IP).
  • Freedom: Every user can have his own (virtual) desktop with administrator privileges when needed.
  • BYO: enables delivery of applications and desktops for Bring Your Own Device or Corporate Owned Personally Enabled (COPE) scenarios;
  • High-Performance: High-end graphics and flash based storage solutions delivers high-end 2D/3D graphics and resource intensive applications to any device while keeping the data central.
  • Reduce Cost: Operating System, Applications and user environment is centrally managed. resources are shared where needed.
  • Legacy: It is simple to offer legacy applications on a state-of-the-art end-user client computing platform;
  • Cooling: Use thin clients with multiple screens in larger setups in the offices and keep heat generating workstations inside the cooler datacenter.  Reduced noise helps to improve employee working conditions as well.
  • Disaster Recovery: Multi-site and multi-datacenter around the globe is easier (not easy) to design because apps, data and desktops are centralized.

Use cases

The use-cases of 3D graphics for virtual desktops are huge and is increasing fast.

Deliver 3D graphics and resource intensive applications for Aerospace, Automotive, Construction, Energy, Film/media, Engineering, Hi Tech Electronics, Industrial Equipment, Medical Equipment, Oil/Gas exploration and HPC environments is possible today. Various customer around the world in different segments are using the technology to meet their use-cases.


Perceived performance and user experience are critical elements in a 3D graphics for virtual desktop project. It’s important to understand the user population, what applications or type of applications they use and what the performance and resource impact of these applications is. It doesn’t matter how you classify your users and what names you use to group them.

Classify the GPU requirements of the applications is also important. Does the application requires an GPU to operate, is the application GPU intensive or is the GPU just an assistant for the application. Below is an example to group the various 3D graphics users with examples of 3D graphics for virtual desktop solutions. The concepts of the different 3D graphics solutions will be explained further in the document.

Designers / Engineers - Power Users: Designers are the most demanding user group in the organization, they view, create, manipulate, render complex 2D/3D graphics. GPU acceleration of Direct3D, OpenGL, CUDA, OpenCL applications is required. Designer require a high-end virtual desktops with high performance storage and dedicated GPU for graphics acceleration. GPU pass-through with NVIDIA or AMD can be the solution for designers.

Engineers view, create, manipulate, 2D/3D graphics. Engineers require a higher-end virtual desktops with high performance storage and a high-end vGPU profile.

Operators / Contractors - Knowledge Workers: These power users need to view or edit 3D files, access graphical applications and workflows from anywhere. High-performance, SSD speed, storage to start and use applications is needed. Hardware accelerated graphics is needed while high-end graphics is overkill. High density NVIDIA vGPU profile, GPU sharing with Citrix XenApp can be suitable for power users.

Task workers: The segment of users in the organization that are not engaged in professional graphics design. Hardware accelerated graphics may or may not be required to deliver business graphics, such as the Windows
8 style apps, PowerPoint transitions in Office 2013, or perform light 2D and 3D work.

3D Graphics for Virtual Desktop concepts summary

The white paper describes the five different 3D graphics for virtual desktop concepts in detail. The picture below gives an overview of the concepts.

How to choose the right 3D graphics for virtual desktop solution?!

What is the right 3D graphics for virtual desktop solution and how do you make the choice for that solution? First of all, when you don’t know the requirements from end-user, application, or IT perspective, the easiest and best way to determine the right solution is flipping the coin. Instead you need to classify application usage, perceived performance and IT, and user acceptance.

The chapter ‘Enabling 3D graphics for virtual desktops solutions’ will explain some of the solutions which can give insights in graphics application usage. The diagram displays the high-lights of the different 3D graphics concepts and its characteristics.


Remoting Protocol Turned Inside Out

Graphics Remoting Fundamentals: User experience remoting has been around since the 60s of the last century, initially focusing on text-only remoting across serial lines. Modern graphics remoting goes far beyond such a basic model. It allows rich Windows applications and their graphical output device to be separated by a remoting boundary. It facilitates user interaction with a remote computer system by using a remoting protocol to transfer graphics display data from a host system to the user sitting in front of a client system. User input is transported from the client to the host and replayed there.

Modern versions of remoting protocols, such as Microsoft RemoteFX, Citrix HDX or Teradici PCoIP, try to improve performance by taking advantage of physical Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) on the remoting host. In addition, the remoting protocols identify the client capabilities at connection time and constantly analyze the network conditions throughout the entire remoting session time in order to adjust communication settings dynamically. This all helps to make the desktop remoting environment self-adaptable and provide the best performance possible.

When looking at the impact network conditions have on the performance of remoting protocols, most people believe that bandwidth is the most significant factor. While this is true for networks with a low bandwidth profile, it is different for networks with more than 2Mbps per remote user session. In such cases, latency and packet loss become the limiting factors. User experience will typically degrade when latency is more than 50ms and it will be very challenging when latency exceeds the 200ms threshold. Packet loss should be below 1% for a good user experience. However, there are new remoting protocol variants that were specifically designed to perform well in low bandwidth and high latency/packet loss scenarios. Note: Remoting protocols typically don’t limit themselves with respect to available network resources. In other words, if one remote user session requires high bandwidth for rich multimedia content, it may well consume up to 100Mbps if such bandwidth is available.

Smackdown, 3D graphics for virtual desktops solutions

The diagram below gives a complete overview of the 3D graphical capabilities of the different 3D graphics for virtual desktops solutions.

*) Level of capabilities dependent on OS and 3D APIs

**) Only BareMetal GPU on RDSH brings 3D API support. No GPU Passthrough in Hyper-V Virtual Machine scenario. Rendering content leverages GPU capabilities. RDP/RemoteFX Capture and Compress cannot take advantage of GPU

3D graphics solutions for virtual desktops- feature comparison

It’s important to understand that comparing features is the last step in the decision tree. Vision, Strategy and Technology are the former steps. Each solution has its own functionality and feature-set. The chapter in the white paper describes some of the features and more importantly the qualifying questions to determine the right solution. solutions covered in the white paper are: AMD, Amazon, Citrix, Intel, HP, LiquidWareLabs, Microsoft, Mainframe2, NICI, NVIDIA OTOY, Teradici, VMware, UberAgent and much more!


The aim of this white paper is to educate the market about trends in virtual desktop/application delivery, graphics formats used by applications and the various products/solutions available from different vendors to assist in delivery of rich and complex graphical applications. This white paper is by no means a complete coverage of all offerings in this space, but over time it will be enhanced and will ideally become the reference document for high end graphics for virtual desktop and application delivery. There is rapid innovation in this field and it’s a very exciting time for rich graphics in virtual desktops.

The 3D graphics for virtual desktop Smackdown white paper is available for download here.

Thank you for reading this white paper, we hope that it was helpful to you!

TeamRGE (Benny, Ruben and Shawn)

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Nice article.  Could you please update the SoftGPU support listed for XenDesktop?  Citrix has an OpenGL DLL that replaces the old OpenGL 1.2 software version that ships with Windows.  This has been around for a little over a year and is fully supported on XenDesktop 7.x.  It provides full OpenGL 2.1 rendering done entirely in software and actually supports many of the OpenGL 3.0 commands as well as some of the OpenGL 4.0 commands as well.  I have used it with great success on many of my VDI projects.  It is fully multi-threaded and performs very well; especially on VMs that have 2 or more vCPUs.  We have done a terrible job marketing it as it is contained within the XenApp 6.5 package. Don’t ask me why you have to download it there, because it has no official dependency on XenApp 6.5.  It is a fully supported feature for Windows VDI on XenDesktop 7.x  (Win7 and Win8 as well as RDS on Win2008 and Win2012).

You can find it here:



Dan Allen



Fair statement and yes we can amend the chart to include SoftGPU support through OpenGL 2.x for XD7 SoftGPU.   I too agree that Citrix does a horrible job indicating support for XD7 for the OpenGL accel pack and to be honest it should probably be enabled in the default VDA install as an option rather than making people install it separately (especially since the download/docs all refer to XenApp 6.5 as you indicated).   We will only revise the checkbox to include OpenGL 2.x as we only include those checkboxes when 100% API compatibility is offered.   It's impossible for us to fairly show partial API compat across products.

Thanks for the feedback.



We have updated the whitepaper with new Intel GVT content and various other topics.