This content is part of the Essential Guide: Everything you need to know about GPU virtualization

How does VMware Soft 3D work?

VMware's Soft 3D makes CPU emulate a GPU so workers who have minimal graphics needs on their virtual desktops can still get the performance they want and need.

Some applications need a lot of GPU power and others only need a little. Soft 3D provides that little bit of GPU power for very light demands. It requires no special hardware, so it is easy to implement.

The objective of putting a 3D graphics adapter or graphics processing unit (GPU) in a virtual desktop is to accelerate putting pixels on users' screens. In general, GPU makes applications run faster and feel more responsive, but not every user needs tons of fancy graphics.

Soft 3D uses a CPU to emulate a GPU; any CPU that vSphere supports can deliver a Soft 3D GPU to a virtual machine. Although it doesn't require any specific hardware, Soft 3D places a load on the CPU in the ESXi server. If your VDI hosts are already short on CPU, then Soft 3D may actually make the desktops harder to use because it creates more competition for CPU time. Most ESXi environments are limited by RAM rather than CPU, however, and the additional CPU load for Soft 3D is unlikely to be a problem.

CPU does not make a very good GPU, so Soft 3D is a low-performance option. It provides enough GPU to run the Windows Aero interface, for example. Applications such as CAD and other graphics-heavy apps need a real hardware GPU to give good application performance. Staff members who have Windows 7 or 8 computers at home will be happier with their VDI desktop if it delivers the same user interface, which is what Soft 3D helps achieve for virtual desktops.

If you are using Soft 3D, you may also need to manage which applications use the emulated GPU. For example, Internet Explorer can use a GPU to render Web pages, which makes IE much more responsive. But when the GPU is really a CPU, it is more efficient for IE to use the CPU to render pages.

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