Thursday, April 22, 2010

Virtualization and gaming

With experimental 3D acceleration available nowadays on VirtualBox, I thought I'd compare gaming performance in a VM as opposed to using Wine. The point of this exercise is to find out just how viable gaming is on virtualized hardware.

Of course, it's not possible to play any recent game on virtualized hardware. There's just way too much overhead involved. But an older game with much more modest hardware requirements would probably be playable on current day hardware.

So I've picked an old favourite: Icewind Dale II. Surely a game near a decade old that runs well on a Pentium III with 320MB RAM will run smoothly on a 2.6GHz dual core virtual machine with 512MB RAM? It's not even 3D!

Well, actually it did run but with very inconsistent performance. The game would either go into fast forward mode for a short spell before slowing down to a crawl, or it'd just be sluggish all over the place. It's not a nice experience. Playable, but not nice.

By contrast, Wine runs the game smoothly with only the occasional short pause. There's also a very bad mouse lag in the party selection/creation screen but thankfully only that.

With a seemingly huge overhead for virtualized hardware, it's pretty amazing that everybody's so eager to jump on the Vm bandwagon. Then again games do tend to stress hardware much more than regular hardware. Still, it's quite bad if an 8 year old game does so badly.

Even stating that I have a HD3200 IGP sounds like an excuse. A HD3200 easily outpaces the GeForce256 I had on that old Pentium III. With no 3D in the game that I can see, even saying that 3D acceleration is experimental sounds lame. With or without 3D acceleration, the performance is the same. I checked.

As interesting as virtualization is today, it's still a long way yet from being really useful to the general user. Outside from some simple use cases, I doubt if the performance hit is worth it. Maybe once Llano becomes available things will look up. A lot could happen in a year...