Windows 8 Hyper-V Unleashed

Only a couple of months ago I wrote an article about how to use a Windows 8 tablet as a client hypervisor. Inspired by the promising results of this first test, I decided to go a big step further. I got me an HP EliteBook 8560w laptop with i7 CPU, 32GB of RAM, NVIDIA Quadro GPU and a 256GB OCZ Vertex4 SSD. On this mobile workstation I installed Windows 8 Enterprise edition and activated the Hyper-V role in the same way I did it previously on my tablet. The goal was to use the laptop for resource-intensive work, for testing and for high-end demos when I’m on the road. Now that I’ve used this setup for a couple of weeks I want to share my experience with you.

First of all, this laptop is fast – even faster than some of my lab servers. Due to the SSD used as the system drive, boot time is down to less than 30 seconds even though I’m doing a “real boot” for the sake of being able to reset the machine properly. Without this, some BIOS settings and system configurations may just not work as expected. The “real boot” configuration is hidden in the Power Options. Click on “Choose what closing the lid does” and then click on “Change settings that are currently unavailable”, which requires administrative privileges for obvious reasons. Then go down to the end of the page and deactivate “Turn on fast startup”. When booting from an SSD, boot time will not be substantially degraded by this setting.

NOTE: Yes, I know that I can hibernate Windows 8 even with Hyper-V enabled and virtual machines up and running. It works perfectly well and also benefits from the SSD performance.

I’m not using any Windows Store application (formerly known as Metro apps). I’ve installed all important applications the traditional way, such as Microsoft Office 2013 or video editors. I hardly ever switch to the Windows Store UI; for me the tiles are just a Start Menu on steroids. Unfortunately, there is no painless way to get the old Start Menu back, so the new Ribbon in Explorer and the menu that pops up on pressing Windows+X become your best friends.

But besides using Windows applications and tools, the most important task is running virtual machines for test and demo purposes on this laptop. This is why I initially replaced the DVD drive by a secondary 500GB hard disk drive to give me enough storage space. The secondary disk allowed me to easily install and store 15+ virtual machines. CPU and memory on this machine are well capable of running more than seven or eight VMs simultaneously before hitting the limits. Unfortunately, the HDD became the bottleneck with this setup. So finally I replaced it by a 512GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD.

What a change in performance after replacing the data HDD by an SSD. Moving a VM from one SSD to the other through Hyper-V Manager resulted in a transfer rate of 350MB/s. My standard RDS reference environment with one DC, one infrastructure server (RD Connection Broker and RD Web Access), two load-balanced RDSH servers and one Win7 SP1 RDP8 workstation has a total image size of 90GB. Two of the VM images are stored on one SSD, three VM images on the other. Starting all five VMs from a saved state takes about 5 seconds – this is no typo. Demos are really snappy now.

The only thing that really bugs me is how Microsoft wants me to log out or to shut the laptop down. Until today I wasn’t able to find an easy way of doing this. Moving the mouse to the upper or lower right corner, selecting “Settings”, clicking on “Power” and choosing the right shutdown option is just too complicated for a simple shutdown. And it looks like I’m not alone with this opinion. As an example take a look at articles like 10 different ways to Shutdown or Restart Windows 8. I will definitely need to write me a shutdown shortcut using PowerShell.

One comment

  1. I noticed the same after moving my VMs (actually – all my data) to a Plextor M3 Pro 512 GB, which is roughly comparable in performance to the Samsung SSD 840 Pro. Working without an SSD for both programs and data has become impossible for me.

    Comment by Helge on February 1, 2013 at 12:32 am

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