How To Enable 3D Acceleration In VirtualBox

Virtualbox is an excellent application to have if you’re looking to try out new operating systems and/or are generally interested in virtualisation for the many benefits it offers.

Make Tech Easier has extensively covered VirtualBox a couple of times earlier and we are great fans of this cross platform, open source application.

One thing which VirtualBox was missing till some time back was support for 3D acceleration for guest operating systems. What this means is that the graphics driver used inside the guest virtual machines was only capable of simple 2D graphics and thus interfaces like Compiz on Linux and Aero on Vista were not useable.

There was basic 3D support for Windows guests in Virtualbox 2.1 but users using Virtualbox to run Linux guests were mostly confined to the 2D graphics driver. That has changed with the release of VirtualBox 2.2 recently and VirtualBox now supports 3D acceleration. The 3D acceleration support built in VirtualBox uses your native machine’s graphics hardware to provide this capability, so if your native graphics driver doesn’t have 3D capability, VirtualBox cannot make use of it.

The support for 3D acceleration is not enabled by default and with this tuturial we aim to help you guys set up a new virtual machine with 3D accelerated graphics support.

First create a new Machine the usual way, and install a guest operating system in it. We used Ubuntu for our testing.


Now, you need to edit the settings of your newly created virtual machine. To edit the settings for any virtual machine, the virtual machine has to be shut down. So, first shutdown whatever operating system you have running inside the virtual machine.

Now, while the virtual machine is highlighted, click on the Settings button to open up the settings window.


In the general settings pane, check the check box titled, “Enable 3D acceleration”.


That’s it. The virtual machine has been enabled for 3D accelerated graphics now. But, to actually start using 3D effects inside your guest operating system, you need to be using the special VirtualBox graphics driver, which is distributed with the “Guest Additions”.

To Install the VirtualBox “Guest Additions” drivers in your guest operating system, while the guest is running, click on the Devices menu and select the “Install Guest Additions” option.

VirtualBox Guest Additions

Now, follow the instructions to install the drivers in the guest operating system.

Now, you can enable Aero or Compiz effects in the guest operating system and make full use of the graphical capabilities of your machine’s graphics card.


Sharninder is a programmer, blogger and a geek making a living writing software to change the world. His tech blog, Geeky Ninja, is where he shares his wisdom, for free !


  1. Great post on 3d acceleration for macs with virtuL box…howevere, i’m having some trouble installing the Guest Additions. The Guest Systems Assistant, windows in my case, is asking for the drivers CD. Wich CD is that? windows or mac’s?


    1. I used a Linux host for this so I’m not sure what problem you’re facing. Try with the windows CD. Maybe it needs some drivers not present by default on your setup.

    1. What version of virtualbox are you using ? You should be using the latest version for this to work.

  2. Hi there,

    I’m wondering : did you actually manage to enable Aero effects (say, transparency) in a Vista or 7 Windows guest ?

    I’m trying to do so, with no success. 3D Acceleration is enabled for the guest, as well as 128 Mo V-RAM. GPU is a Geforce GTX 260+ card, though i don’t think it matters (VirtualBox does not really use this, as far as i understand, it virtualizes a “standard” VGA card with OpenGL 2.0 implementation – no DX10 so far). VBoxGuestAdditions are installed.

    The Windows 7 diagnostic tool indicates that the video driver is not WDDM compliant, wich seems confirmed some searches i made.

    So the question still is : did you (or someone) actually manage to enable Aero effects ?!

    Thanks for any input on this !

    1. Windows 7 Aero requires a driver built with the new WDDM architecture so that won’t work. Vista should work. I used Ubuntu and 3D effects worked for me on Ubuntu.

  3. Thanks for your post! I didn’t really know VB had come so far — it is definitely a god-send, considering VMW is pooching my ubuntu box when trying to get Win7 as a guest installed. I was racking my brain, but no longer. VB is the way to go!!

  4. Thanks, it works that simple on my machine at work, but at home, Ubuntu just hangs when I enable 3d acceleration (and/or goes wonky depending on how I resize the window)

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