Optimize Windows 7 Visual Effects for Virtual Desktops

Some of you might be aware, others might not.  Did you know that the mouse icon in Windows 7 (and earlier versions) has a shadow?  I bet a bunch of you are looking for it now. It is hard to see, but it is there.  Something that most people wouldn’t recognize as being on or off can have an impact on how much bandwidth is required for a virtual desktop.

Citrix XenDesktop and HDX are smart enough to not send the screen updates for the mouse image to the endpoint, instead they just send coordinates.  Saves a lot of time if you think about how many pixels the mouse takes.  But if you enable the mouse shadow (which is enabled by default), we are talking a different story.  The shadow pixel changes must be sent across the wire because it isn’t just a shadow, it is a blending with the image on the screen.  If you truly are interested in optimizing your Windows 7 desktop virtualization images, then disable the mouse shadow.

It’s pretty easy to do, just go into your mouse properties and deselect “Enable pointer shadow”.image

Of course there are always other approaches. You can also go into Performance Options and unselect “Show shadows under mouse pointer” as shown in the next picture. You might want to disable many of these other options as well now that you are here.

imageBut these changes only set the optimizations for the user.  This is a good way to test to see which options are the ones you want to disable, but not a good way to implement globally.  That is where group policies come in. Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t provide policies for these items, but you can use a GPO to set the registry values.  The first value you need to set is to allow for customization of the performance options.  This is done by creating a user-based GPO that sets the following registry key:

  • Key: HKCU\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\VisualEffects
  • Value Name: VisualFXSetting
  • Value Type: dword
  • Value data: 3

Second, you need to set the user preference mask. The value is binary and each option within the previous picture changes the bit value.  What I recommend is you manually set the configuration you want, look up the binary registry key, and then use a GPO to apply that to other Windows 7 virtual desktops. The GPO setting would be

  • Key: HKCU\Software\Control Panel\Desktop
  • Value Name: UserPreferencesMask
  • Value Type: REB_Binary
  • Value data: 9E1E078012000000 (This changes based on the options you enable/disable, this value disables mouse shadows only)
  • Two keys to better optimize Windows 7.

    Daniel – Lead Architect

    3 thoughts on “Optimize Windows 7 Visual Effects for Virtual Desktops”

    1. I usually disable it in both XP an Windows 7 using the HKLM\software\Microsoft\Windows\Currentversion\Ecplorer\VisualEffects\Cursor Shadow change default value to 0. This gets applied to all users.

      HKCU and performance options get applied only to the logged in user.


    2. Hello Daniel,

      In my experience, these visual effects changes directly in the registry never gets actually applied !
      Is there a a trick for this , or maybe I am missing something ?


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