Remote Desktop Connection and vSphere Client Console can run Aero on Windows 7 VMs, hosted by ESXi 5.0

No need for a GPU on your ESXi 5.0 or later system: Aero can work on VMs without any physical GPU on the host.

Just follow these steps, and you’ll be able to use Remote Desktop Connection to see the Aero interface in your VMs, using either the vSphere Client Console, or using the much more practical, Remote Desktop Connection.

Here’s the possible gotchas to ignore (everybody else does!):

  • You’ll need to have VMware Tools installed
  • You’ll need to have a  fast (LAN) connection, of course
  • You’ll really only want this for VMs where you really want improved graphical performance/acceleration
  • I tested with vZilla, a Core i7 based system with no discreet GPU added, you may have considerably less luck with older hardware
  • You’ll also find that Windows+Tab effects only work with full screen Remote Desktop Sessions, but all the other effects run fine even in Windowed mode, as seen in screenshot below.

So, enough of that downer stuff, still ready to give it a try?

Here’s the step-by-step:

  1. In vSphere Client, choose the Windows 7 virtual machine, then Edit virtual machine settings, choose Hardware tab, Video card, turn on Auto-detect settings and turn on Enable 3D support
  2. From your client workstation, run Remote Desktop Connection (mstsc.exe) and choose Options, Display, be sure High Quality (32 bit) color is chosen,
    and on the Experience tab, be sure Desktop composition checkbox is on
  3. Now click on Connect, and you should see Aero active on the remote system (translucent effects). If not, click the remote system’s start orb, type Personalization, and select an Aero Theme.
Similar techniques but more steps are required for Windows 2008 Server flavors of Windows, where not even sound support is turn on by default.
 
Please consider commenting below, to let others know how you fare!

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