The Long and Winding Road to RemoteFX

Well, I should have know better. But I had the ambition to build a “mobile” RemoteFX reference environment that is good for demos and protocol performance tests. I want to use such test results at my upcoming Synergy and Tech-Ed sessions. I had to learn the hard way that this is not as simple as it seems to be.

NOTE: For those of you who don’t know what RemoteFX is, Michel Roth wrote a nice article introducing the technology and the architecture: An Up-Close Preview of Microsoft RemoteFX in Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and Windows 7 SP1.

First I wanted to run the RemoteFX tests on an HP Pavilion server I still had in my lab. It has an Intel Core2 Quad Q6600 CPU and I added an ATI FirePro v5800 3D graphics adapter to this box. This ATI card is on the RemoteFX compatibility list and it had the most attractive price at the time. Other compatible graphics adapters are ATI FirePro v7800 and v8800 series and NVIDIA Quadro 3800, 4800, 5800 and Quadroplex S4.

After installing the beta version of Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 – which includes RemoteFX – I ran the CheckRemoteFXCapability script provided by Microsoft. Bummer! The Q6600 CPU was not compatible. The test script result said that I needed a CPU with SLAT. Unfortunately, none of the CPU vendors tells you on their website which CPU includes SLAT. After some investigation I found out that SLAT is a feature of i3, i5 or i7 CPUs only. (I don’t know about the AMD side of things yet)

Good, first lesson learned. So I orderend a Shuttle barebone with i7 chipset, an Intel i7 CPU, a fast harddisk and 8GB of RAM. I thought that together with the ATI FirePro v5800 graphics adapter this would make a perfect system for RemoteFX. But after installation, RemoteFX did not use the GPU. All the graphics rendering happened on the CPU. So I contacted the RemoteFX team and they told me that there may be an issue with the ATI cards at this stage of the SP1 beta.

Good. So I ordered an NVIDIA Quadro 5800 which replaced the ATI card in my Shuttle box. But it still didn’t work as expected. Even though the RemoteFX was using GPU support now, the performance was really bad when connecting from a Windows 7 SP1 client over the network. Only when connecting with the RDP client from the Hyper-V console session performance was good. I suspected that this may be a network issue.

My guess was confirmed by the RemoteFX team. They also encountered the same issue with the Marvell Yukon network adapters used on many mainboards from HP or Shuttle. So I ordered an Intel Pro/1000 NIC now, hoping that this will finally fix the issues and make my RemoteFX demo environment fly.

I’m pretty sure that at the time SP1 will be finally released, most or all of these issues will be fixed. But right now it’s a long and winding road to assemble a low-footprint and lightweight hardware platform that is RemoteFX compatible.

Stay tuned. I will keep you posted about the progress I’m making with my RemoteFX reference environment.

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