A Guide to Boost Your Virtual Machine Gaming Performance

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Yes, using a virtual machine for gaming is possible. In this article, we’ll explain what virtual machine gaming is all about and in what cases you can use it. You’ll also find out how to maximize performance and make gaming on a virtual machine smooth and pleasant.

Virtual Machine Gaming: Setup and Performance Boost

Virtualization creates many opportunities to optimize the use of hardware resources. That works not just  organizations that build high-performance servers to run complex environments but regular people too. What if you want to use a virtual machine for gaming instead of your own gaming laptop?

In short: that’s possible. A gamer can use a virtual machine (VM) to run games with reasonable benefits over traditional PC gaming approaches. Virtual machines were designed to make hardware usage more convenient and flexible along with the boost in security. However, when you consider VM gaming, things become more complicated. The performance issue arises especially urgently when you want to run a resource-intensive game on a virtual machine. 

In this post, we explain the benefits of using a VM for gaming. Read on to learn how to increase a VM’s performance to play games more conveniently and pleasantly.

Why Use a Virtual Machine for Gaming?

Let’s suppose that you have a workstation running several VMs for production purposes in your home office. Such rigs usually have powerful high-end hardware that you don’t always use at a 100% load. You need your VMs running continuously to complete projects and be available any moment but building a different rig just to run games is not an option. In this case, creating another VM for gaming using the spare resources of your main hardware seems to be the best option.

Along with the use of hardware resources that you already have, using VMware for games can bring you other advantages. Configuring Hyper-V for gaming is also a way to consider and the benefits can remain the same.

Choose OS for Gaming

An OS is used to manage resources besides simply enabling the utilization of hardware and software installed. Various operating systems can have their own pros and cons in terms of resource usage, which can directly affect gaming performance. Based on the game you are going to play, you can install the most suitable OS on that gaming VM and get the best performance possible.

Another reason to use this advantage of VM gaming appears when you want to play old-school games. Titles released in the 90s or early 2000s, for example, do not always run on modern hardware or support latest Windows versions. You can install Windows 98 on a VM and enjoy the gaming classics of the past years on a high-end rig without wasting hours setting up emulators and drivers.  

Keep Environments Secure

VMs are independent from each other, thus creating a security layer inside the IT environment. When you set up a separate VM for gaming, you can protect your main system from threats such as ransomware or viruses. In case some kind of malware sneaks into a gaming VM after certain software experiments, that malware remains isolated. You protect the host and other virtual machines from the infection, plus the infected VM can be quickly deleted and replaced with an identical one.

Easily Back Up VMs

A VM and a VM’s virtual storage disk are files. A file can be copied and moved to a different location to enhance data safety. Thus, you can have a default copy of your gaming VM to use in case an incident renders the main virtual machine inoperable. 

However, when you use virtual machines on VMware or Hyper-V for gaming, you might want to automate regular backup workflows and have control over your gaming data, such as game configurations, settings and saved game files. Modern backup and recovery solutions can give you that automation and control. 

Minimize Downtime

A virtual machine is flexible and easy to move between hypervisors on various physical hardware. Whenever you need to redistribute the resources of a main workstation or reconfigure your environment, you can move your VM for gaming with all your games to a different device (a laptop, for example) and play games there while the main machine is busy or unavailable.

Additionally, when you use a modern data protection solution to back up your gaming VM, the same solution can help you recover a fully functional virtual machine in minutes. If your virtual machine for gaming gets infected with malware, or you go the wrong way while experimenting with configs, you can quickly recover a default VM and continue gaming. 

Optimizing a VM for Gaming

When considering the use of a virtual machine for gaming, what impacts the gaming experience the most is performance. For sure, virtualized workloads can demand more hardware resources than usual gaming PCs to run games properly. Still, you can spend some time optimizing your gaming VM. In this case, your gameplay can become smoother, and the experience from gaming on a virtual machine might be significantly more pleasant.

Here is a list of hardware and software optimization tips that you can consider to optimize a VM for gaming.

  1. Host a gaming VM on a Solid State Drive (SSD) whenever possible because SSD disks have noticeably higher read and write speeds than regular HDDs. It’s even better if you can use high-speed NVMe SSDs that are faster than SATA drives by design. 
  2. Create a gaming VM with a fixed virtual hard disk (VHD).
  3. Regardless of circumstances, don’t apply encryption or compression to drivers on a gaming VM.
  4. Have minimum 1 gigabyte RAM free as a spare resource on your host. 
  5. Defragment hard disks on the host. Defragmented disks exclude file scattering and boost overall performance.
  6. Check the antivirus configs and ensure they don’t conflict with the gaming VM’s workflows.
  7. When using Hyper-V for gaming, enable the Dynamic Memory feature on your gaming VM. Thus, that VM can have more RAM when necessary to run the game with more frames per second. 
  8. While gaming, try to run only the necessary operations on the host. Disabling the apps which are not critical within the environment can boost a game’s performance on a gaming VM.  
  9. You can redistribute host resources to increase a gaming VM’s performance and play high-end games when the main host isn’t busy with resource-intensive production tasks.

In short, gaming on a virtual machine is possible and can have certain benefits, such as:

  • The opportunity to choose and flexibly change the OS on a VM.
  • Secure the production environment from possible threats by isolating a VM.
  • Back up a gaming virtual machine to preserve important data such as saved game files.
  • Restore the default VM for gaming with the games and settings from a backup in minutes.

Optimizing a virtual machine for gaming purposes can take time and effort but the performance boost is worth it. Consider hosting a VM on an SSD, using fixed virtual hard disks, defragmenting drives on the host and configure antivirus software properly.

Also, don’t compress or encrypt drivers on a gaming VM and disable the unnecessary apps on the host while gaming. Don’t forget to enable Dynamic Memory if you use Hyper-V and to redistribute the host hardware resources when planning to play high-end games.

Article contributed by Alex Tray.

About the author: Alex Tray is a seasoned system administrator with a decade of experience in the IT industry, specializing in Windows Server and Desktop Administration. Armed with a Bachelor’s degree in computer science, he has worked for various Silicon Valley companies and helped launch several start-ups. As a freelance writer and cybersecurity consultant, Alex contributes his data protection and backup expertise to NAKIVO Backup and Replication, focusing on the Hyper-V backup from NAKIVO, which protects virtual machines running on Hyper-V. 

His extensive knowledge also encompasses Azure, Active Directory, Office 365, DNS, DHCP, Group Policy, Endpoint Manager (Intune), and Microsoft Endpoint Configuration.

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