Preview: VirtualBox 3.0 Beta 1

Sun has published a preview of VirtualBox 3.0, dubbed Beta 1. As typical, they consider this to be buggy and offer it with no express commitment to stability. Not that such warning would deter any self-respecting geek!

Just as VirtualBox 2.0 added a whole host of amazing new features, so too will VirtualBox spring forward, bringing it closer to feature parity with products like Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. The major whiz-bang feature for VirtualBox 3.0 seems to revolve around improved 3D graphics support. Sun is claiming support for Direct3D 8/9 for Windows guests and OpenGL 2.0 for Window, Linux, and Solaris guests. In addition to these major features, the typical slew of bug fixes and minor enhancements have been added.

Setup

I downloaded and installed the Windows binaries of the new beta on my Vista 32-bit laptop. The specifications of the laptop aren’t great, but I was curious specifically about how well 3D Acceleration worked, even with limited support.

After verifying that 3D Acceleration was enabled in Settings?Display?Video, my first stop is at the Windows Experience Index. In the past, due to the lack of Direct3D support, graphics have been a particularly weak point, forcing Windows to not allow the Aero Glass theme to be used. Unfortunately, using Windows 7 build 7100 64-bit, I was unable to successfully complete the test and received the error message, “The Windows Experience Index for your system could not be computed. Could not measure video playback performance.”

I then realized I should update the VirtualBox Guest Additions (Devices?Install Guest Additions…). The installer that loads has an option to install Direct 3D support, which is deselected by default. During the installation, a nefarious notification message was posted warning the use that Windows File Protection may pop up, since some OS files were replaced. After configuration is complete, Guest Additions request a reboot, which I granted. Unfortunately, none of this changed the error message I received while measuring the WEI.

Checking the Device Manager, I see the Display adapter installed is listed as “VirtualBox Graphics Adapter” with a Hardware ID of “PCIVEN_80EE&DEV_BEEF&SUBSYS_00000000&REV_00″.

OpenGL

I went about checking 3D performance in other ways, specifically demos. My first stop was QtGears, glxgears for Qt. Even on my paltry hardware, I received approximately 750FPS. Running the same benchmark with 3D Acceleration off returned a speed of about 300FPS. Clearly, the OpenGL is working, as it was initially implemented back in VirtualBox 2.1.0.

Direct3D

I then ran the DirectX Diagnostics tool, dxdiag.exe. It reported that both DirectDraw Acceleration and Direct3D Acceleration were Enabled, but AGP Texture Acceleration was Not Available. Furthermore, in the notes section, it reported “No problems found”. When running 64-bit DxDiag, Direct3D was reported to be Not Available. Predictably, when running with 3D Acceleration off, even the 32-bit DxDiag reported that Direct3D Acceleration was Not Available.

Turning 3D Acceleration back on, I attempted to run Futuremark’s 3DMark ’03. Upon launch, it warned, “Hardware does not support multitexturing with at least 2 textures. 3DMark03 will not run properly.” and “Hardware does not support cube textures. 3DMark03 will not run properly.” and “Hardware does not support compressed textures (DXT1 and DXT3). 3DMark03 will not run properly.” and “Hardware does not support stencil buffer. 3DMark03 will not run properly.” and finally, “Your system cannot run any game test of 3DMark03. Please install and run 3DMark2001 for more comprehensive benchmarking.”

After installing and running 3DMark2001 to test Direct3D 8, I was still unable to tun the demo. I’m not sure what extra steps are necessary, but at least one person had a bit more luck than I.

Miscellaneous

Clearly, some great work has been done to support 3D rendering in virtual machines, but there are a few things missing. I’d love for this support to exist in time for the final release, especially to enable Aero Glass in Win7.

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