In the world of virtualization, the ability to pass through a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to a virtual machine is a powerful feature. It allows the VM to utilize the full capabilities of the host GPU, enhancing the performance of graphics-intensive applications. In this article, we will compare two popular virtualization platforms – Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM) and VirtualBox, focusing on their GPU passthrough capabilities.
KVM supports GPU passthrough, allowing direct access to the host GPU for enhanced performance in graphics-intensive applications. VirtualBox, on the other hand, does not support GPU passthrough for Nvidia GPUs but offers 3D acceleration as an alternative. In summary, KVM is recommended for high-performance applications, while VirtualBox is suitable for less demanding graphics-intensive tasks.
What is GPU Passthrough?
GPU passthrough refers to the process of allowing a virtual machine direct access to the graphics card on the host system. This is particularly useful for running applications that require high graphical processing power, such as gaming, 3D rendering, and machine learning applications.
KVM and GPU Passthrough
KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machine) is a full virtualization solution for Linux on x86 hardware containing virtualization extensions (Intel VT or AMD-V). It allows the host machine to run multiple, isolated virtual machines.
KVM supports GPU passthrough, which can be set up using the
vfio-pci module. This module “binds” the GPU to the VM, allowing it to directly control the hardware.
Here is a basic example of how to bind a GPU to a VM in KVM:
echo "options vfio-pci ids=10de:1b81,10de:10f0" > /etc/modprobe.d/vfio.conf
In the above command,
10de:1b81,10de:10f0 are the IDs of the GPU and its audio function. This command tells the
vfio-pci module to take control of these devices at boot.
Before proceeding, ensure that VT-D (Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O) is enabled in your system’s BIOS. This technology allows direct access to I/O devices in a virtualized environment.
VirtualBox and GPU Passthrough
VirtualBox is a powerful x86 and AMD64/Intel64 virtualization product for enterprise and home use. It is a general-purpose full virtualizer for x86 hardware, targeted at server, desktop, and embedded use.
Unlike KVM, VirtualBox does not support GPU passthrough for Nvidia GPUs as it lacks the
vfio-pci module. However, it does provide a feature called “3D Acceleration”. When you enable 3D acceleration, VirtualBox provides the VM with its own 3D graphics driver, allowing it to run graphics-intensive applications.
To enable 3D acceleration in VirtualBox, navigate to the settings of the VM, select the Display tab, and check the “Enable 3D Acceleration” box.
Please note, this is not the same as GPU passthrough and the performance might not be as good as when using KVM with GPU passthrough.
While both KVM and VirtualBox provide robust virtualization capabilities, they differ significantly in their support for GPU passthrough. KVM, with its support for GPU passthrough, offers superior performance for graphics-intensive applications. On the other hand, VirtualBox, while lacking in GPU passthrough, does provide 3D acceleration, which may be sufficient for less demanding applications.
For users seeking to run high-performance applications in a virtualized environment, KVM would be the recommended choice due to its GPU passthrough capabilities. However, for less graphics-intensive applications, or for those who prefer a simpler setup process, VirtualBox’s 3D acceleration feature should suffice.
Remember, the choice between KVM and VirtualBox will largely depend on your specific use case and the resources available on your host machine. Always ensure to check the compatibility of your hardware with the virtualization platform and the requirements of the software you intend to run on the VM.
Yes, KVM supports GPU passthrough. You can set it up using the
vfio-pci module and binding the GPU to the virtual machine.
To enable GPU passthrough in KVM, you need to configure the
vfio-pci module. This involves specifying the IDs of the GPU and its audio function in the
/etc/modprobe.d/vfio.conf file. Additionally, make sure that VT-D (Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O) is enabled in your system’s BIOS.
No, VirtualBox does not support GPU passthrough for Nvidia GPUs. It lacks the
vfio-pci module required for this feature.
VirtualBox provides a feature called "3D Acceleration" as an alternative to GPU passthrough. When enabled, it provides the virtual machine with its own 3D graphics driver, allowing it to run graphics-intensive applications.
To enable 3D acceleration in VirtualBox, go to the settings of the virtual machine, select the Display tab, and check the "Enable 3D Acceleration" box.
For high-performance applications, KVM with GPU passthrough would be the recommended choice. It offers superior performance for graphics-intensive applications.
Yes, VirtualBox can be suitable for less graphics-intensive applications. It provides the 3D acceleration feature, which may suffice for such applications.
The choice between KVM and VirtualBox depends on your specific use case and the resources available on your host machine. If you require GPU passthrough and superior performance, choose KVM. If you have less graphics-intensive applications or prefer a simpler setup, VirtualBox’s 3D acceleration feature may be sufficient.