Need help for graphics/VDI hw+sw decisions for my ESXi homebrew


Jul 4, 2011
As the question says, I'm setting up an ESXi host, which I'm planning to use to run household desktop (VDI) and small server functions. The general workload will be light and the setup should be able to cope, but the graphics load + handling + hardware is the one area I'm still unclear what I will do.

I'm looking for advice mainly on issues that affect the desktop experience - choice of VMware packages, graphics card/s for vSGA, and any other graphics acceleration cards or hardware aimed at reducing remote desktop perceived latency. My main concern in this post is that I want good performance and snappy responses from the desktop guests on the server, so I'm happy to invest a bit to get around bottlenecks on performance. From where I'm at, graphics performance is likely to be the main remaining performance issue which I haven't yet addressed. If the info below is missing anything, please let me know.

Hardware spec and network environment:

Xeon v3 8 core (2667-v3), 128GB ECC 2400 ram, 10G dedicated dual NIC to a FreeNAS VM store and LAN (Chelsio T420 low latency). The FreeNAS server is also Xeon based (1620-v3 for single thread speed) with 128GB 2400 ECC, Intel P3700 NVMe SSD as ZIL for low latency sync writes, running from SSDs. There's an offsite replication server. The LAN is pure IP + NetBIOS based with no local DNS/AD or interest in running them. The VM store will be iSCSI or NFS, not yet decided which, I'll try both and go with whichever works best.

Guest OS's + usage:

The host will run several Windows 8.1/10 VM guests (although at any given time most will be idling, off, or low load), and a handful of very small low-load *nix + windows servers. Most of the Windows guest use will be 'power user' multitasking (WIMP based desktop composition, office apps+browser+video playback, rather than 3D gaming). As even desktop composition puts a fair strain on the graphics system in a modern OS, handling of the desktops across all Windows guests purely in software would probably not work brilliantly, so some kind of graphics card/s would be worthwhile. At most 4 guests will be active at any time, and of those, at most 2 will be doing heavy loads.

I've run low on GDI/user object resources a couple of times in Windows 8.1 x64 under VMWare Workstation when multitasking on the desktop during a long session, if that gives any idea of my own graphics subsystem usage. I don't expect to have much if any gaming but there could be a little - if there is, it doesn't need heavy frame rates or latest capabilities, but I need a guest to be able to enjoy at least some kinds of 3D game while I'm working. But for myself and other desktop users, I want to feel a consistent and fairly "snappy" response when using the Windows guests via remote desktop on the LAN.​

Right now I'm finalising the hardware, having bought all but the graphics cards. I need help in 3 areas where I just don't have the knowledge I need, after Googling and reading around:

  1. 1. Should I install "bare" ESXi, Horizon View, or a hybrid of bare ESXi with the additional Horizon functionality only used for the Windows guest VMs? (I gather that View/Horizon runs on top of ESXi, so I could run my 'regular' non-GUI *nix server VMs on the same host at the same time).

  2. I think I will need some kind of graphics hardware to stop graphics load across VMs hogging system resources and to minimise perceived latency. I've ruled out dedicated passthrough of multiple video cards because it's just not fluid and self-managing enough as the VM mix is fluid, and as it's only a home brew I can't afford GRID.
    Virtualisation blogs suggest VSGA and a single card can be enough for good multi-client 3D gaming even back in 2012, which sounds ideal, it sounds like all I might need. Should I get something like the card in that post, a Quadro 6000 with plenty of RAM, or are there other (cheaper) cards I can consider? Do I need any other hardware to get the desired benefit I'm after from it?

  3. When it comes to the remote link, I've got 10G running, but what hardware would you advise is relevant to me, for areas like PCoIP, thin/zero clients, graphics or graphics accelerators in thick clients, and so on, to speed up the remote desktop link and keep perceived latency down? EBay has plenty of cheap standalone Teradici 2 cards and thin/zero HP clients, would they be relevant? Do I need any extra accelerator cards in the server itself?
I really appreciate the help, thanks for reading and for the help you can give, in the areas I don't know enough.
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