Remote control of VMware Workstation using RDP

Michael PietroforteMVP By Michael Pietroforte - Thu, April 13, 2006 - 14 comments google+ icon

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in system administration.

My VMware test environment runs on a host which I remotely control using RDP. I always found it strange that the Windows XP GUI is so slow within the VMware Workstation console with this setting. The same applies to VMware Server and most likely also to VMware GSX Server and ESX Server (I didn’t test the latter two). Application windows open somewhat slowly and the mouse pointer is quite jerky even with a 100 Mbit connection. Since it is faster with Windows Server 2003, I was sure that this is not only a bandwidth issue. Now, I found some time to solve the problem. Some of the tips here can also be used on other guest operating systems like Linux, for example.

Don’t mistake this problem with the one I discussed some days ago. I am not talking about the VMware Server Console, that you can use to remotely connect to VMware Server machines. In my view this feature of VMware Server is more or less useless since it needs too much bandwidth. So if VMware runs on a Windows system, I recommend connecting thru RDP and starting the VMware Server console on the host. This works fine, as long as you don’t use Windows XP as guest system.

However, there are several settings that will make the Windows XP GUI much faster. The tips, I give here, are ordered according to importance. So if you find your Windows fast enough, after changing some of the configurations, you might forget about the others. It probably will just cost some more bandwidth this way.

1. Install the VMware tools
These tools contain a graphics driver that is optimized for virtual machines. In my test, I did not experience a difference in the performance of the Window GUI though. But the effect of some settings I discuss here might be dependent on the VMware tools. So I recommend installing them first. To install them, click on the “VM” menu point and then on “Install VMware tools”.

Mouse Properties2. Disable the mouse pointer shadow
The change of this setting will make the annoying jerkiness of the mouse pointer go away. Go to the Windows Control Panel to change your mouse settings. Uncheck “Enable pointer shadow” on the pointers tab. It is also recommended to use the default pointer scheme (see screenshot). On other operating systems than Windows XP you should try a standard monochrome mouse pointer.

Display Properties3. Don’t use a background picture for your desktop
RDP always has problems with the display of bitmap graphics. Go to the control panel and change the desktop background in the display properties to “None”.

Display_Properties_Themes4. Use the Windows classic theme
This setting helps windows to open faster. Go to the control panel and change the theme from “Windows XP” to Windows classic in display properties.

Performance Options5. Adjust for best performance
One also can change some visual effects in the “Advanced tab” of the system properties (control panel). Some of the settings discussed above, can also be configured here. I recommend disabling all visual effects here. You can do this by configuring “Adjust to best performance” here.

6. Reduce the screen resolution
This might help a little, especially, if you have a very slow connection speed to your host system. If your connection is fast (DSL or faster), this setting won’t change much. Change the screen resolution to 800×600 in the display properties.

7. Reduce the color quality
I found this recommendation most often on the web. It didn’t make any difference in my tests though. However, this is useful if you have applications which use many various colors. It won’t hurt any way, if you change the color quality to “Medium (16 bit)” in the display properties.

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14 Comments- Leave a Reply

  1. Kashif Memon says:

    your article is very much helpful. I was using windows 2000 professional in vmware environment through Remote Desktop and the mouse pointer was very slow I spent 3 to 4 days but could not figure out the problem but after reading your article I tried the second step “Disable mouse pointer shadow” and finally the issue resolved.
    Thanks Michael

  2. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    You’re welcome. Just in case you plan to run Windows Server 2008 under VMware, then you have to set your graphics adapter to maximum hardware acceleration (display settings -> troubleshooting) after you installed the VMware tools

  3. BigGrizzly says:

    Great ! This damn’ shadow was THE thing that slows down all my W2K and WXP VM’s through RDP… Many thanks for the helpful clues !

  4. Nadia says:

    The best, most complete article about this issue of VMware Workstation ever found. Useful for XP, 2000, Vista and Server 2008!
    Thanks.

  5. Gavin says:

    Fantastic help. I have been trying to work out why my mouse was so slow for about 2 months. In the end it was the mouse shadow. Thanks again.

  6. Stanley says:

    Thanks! The shadow really works.

  7. DonLuigi says:

    A life saver! I also was stuck with jerky mouse cursor. “Disable mouse pointer shadow” works like a charm. Thanks.

  8. Mark says:

    I have been suffering with this problem for ages now and never thought to disable that!
    Brilliant find! Many thanks!

  9. Keith says:

    Thanks, I have been searching for an answer to the choppiness for a long time. The ‘Disable Pointer Shadow’ tip worked for me. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Katherine says:

    Thanks so much – my problem was on Windows 2008 and the hardware acceleration setting fixed it for me. Brilliant!

  11. Marcelo says:

    Thanks a lot man!

    I was about to give up on ESXi4 cause of this problem!

  12. Dave says:

    For ESX4i, I disabled Windows Aero (Mouse Properties -> Pointers -> Scheme — Set from Windows Aero to None). Now the mouse movement is acceptable.

  13. Brainwood says:

    For those now using VMware Workstation 7.x and now facing the same problem again, even with all the fixes above, try setting the normal mouse cursor to “arrow_i.cur” in Control Panel -> Mouse options.

    Hope that helps someone, it’s been frustrating me since upgrading to v7.

  14. Rob says:

    Awesome! I was getting a strange black box around the cursor when looking at my vms through teamviewer. Disabling the shadow has solved it! Thanks

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