I've been working with QEMU for some time now, and from my experience I see it being very slow compared to other VM tools like VirtualBox or VMware.

Even enabling KVM isn't much of a benefit to me. Many people say I might have the worst hardware configuration to which I disagree. VirtualBox and VMware work pretty well for the same hardware. Also I didn't face it on a single system. I tried it on multiple system.

To make my point even clearer, I created the same VM configuration with the same amount of RAM and other things identical as far as I could. Still it seems QEMU is too slow. Especially if I run the VM in GUI mode. For example, if I run Ubuntu in text mode, it's very fast. But when I run Ubuntu in GUI mode, it's much too slow. What is the reason for QEMU being slow? How is it different from VMware or VirtualBox?

I start QEMU using:

qemu-system-i386 -enable-kvm -hda Ubuntu.img -monitor stdio

In the monitor if I run the command info kvm, it says kvm is enabled. Also I tested QEMU on Ubuntu 12.04, 13.10, and 14.04. As guest I run Windows XP and Ubuntu 12.04. I tested with both the 32-bit and 64-bit hosts, but the guest OS was always 32-bit.

Also I did run QEMU with no other existing virtualization tool in the system. My system configuration is good enough with 8GB RAM and Intel Core i3-2100 CPU @ 3.10GHz × 4.

  • Can not really tell from what little you posted. Could be vitrulaization needs to enabled in your bios or it could be the vitrulabox module is conflicting with the kvm module (you can not use both at the same time). See dedoimedo.com/computers/kvm-virtualbox.html
    – Panther
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:25
  • It performs same way even if I don't have the VirtualBox or VMWare uninstalled. From my experience on testing on multiple hardware, I was tending to believe that QEMU has this issue. But then I came to know QEMU is supposed to be fast enough which caused me to put this post. So I started searching and in every forum people talks about enabling KVM. But in my case KVM is already enabled. I don't know what's wrong. Apr 30, 2015 at 21:33
  • How do you know KVM is enabled and that qemu is using acceleration ? How are you starting qemu ? What version of Ubuntu ? In my experience, KVM + spice is just as fast as anything else. Could be you are using unity which is going to be slower, but I assume you are using the same DE across vrualization
    – Panther
    Apr 30, 2015 at 21:35
  • I start qemu using: qemu-system-i386 -enable-kvm -hda Ubuntu.img -monitor stdio. In the monitor if I hit command: "info kvm", it says kvm is enabled. I suppose it means qemu is using acceleration. Right? Also I tested with Ubuntu 12.04, 13.10, 14.04. As guest I run Windows XP, Ubuntu-12.04 Apr 30, 2015 at 21:37
  • I had this problem long ago. Virt in vbox was fine but donkeys on qemu. Bodhi.zazen is right in suggesting you need to check that virt is enabled at bios/efi level
    – tk-noodle
    Apr 18, 2017 at 7:34

4 Answers 4


Do you have to use -hda or the stdio IO call? Also note that you will need to add the -enable-kvm flag at a minimum, but I would encourage you to first try installing virt-manager and/or use libvirt as it will fully configure qemu in a way to support good performance.

qemu always uses the most compatible configuration by default, but can easily get within a few percentage points of bare metal performance if configured properly.

As an example on how many options may be needed for an optimal install here is is the contents of the /proc/$pid/cmdline from a VM I just spun up.

-name guest=ubuntu16.04_32_bit_test,debug-threads=on
-object secret,id=masterKey0,format=raw,file=/var/lib/libvirt/qemu/domain-1-ubuntu16.04_32_bit_t/master-key.aes
-machine pc-i440fx-zesty,accel=kvm,usb=off,dump-guest-core=off
-cpu Skylake-Client
-m 1024
-realtime mlock=off
-smp 1,sockets=1,cores=1,threads=1
-uuid 4aaf9c8f-f8b5-477b-ac18-d273318dfe90
-chardev socket,id=charmonitor,path=/var/lib/libvirt/qemu/domain-1-ubuntu16.04_32_bit_t/monitor.sock,server,nowait
-mon chardev=charmonitor,id=monitor,mode=control
-rtc base=utc,driftfix=slew
-global kvm-pit.lost_tick_policy=discard
-global PIIX4_PM.disable_s3=1
-global PIIX4_PM.disable_s4=1
-boot strict=on
-device ich9-usb-ehci1,id=usb,bus=pci.0,addr=0x5.0x7
-device ich9-usb-uhci1,masterbus=usb.0,firstport=0,bus=pci.0,multifunction=on,addr=0x5
-device ich9-usb-uhci2,masterbus=usb.0,firstport=2,bus=pci.0,addr=0x5.0x1
-device ich9-usb-uhci3,masterbus=usb.0,firstport=4,bus=pci.0,addr=0x5.0x2
-device virtio-serial-pci,id=virtio-serial0,bus=pci.0,addr=0x6
-drive file=/var/lib/libvirt/images/ubuntu16.04_32_bit_test.qcow2,format=qcow2,if=none,id=drive-virtio-disk0
-device virtio-blk-pci,scsi=off,bus=pci.0,addr=0x7,drive=drive-virtio-disk0,id=virtio-disk0,bootindex=2
-drive file=/home/gdahlman/Downloads/ubuntu-16.04.2-server-i386.iso,format=raw,if=none,id=drive-ide0-0-0,readonly=on
-device ide-cd,bus=ide.0,unit=0,drive=drive-ide0-0-0,id=ide0-0-0,bootindex=1
-netdev tap,fd=26,id=hostnet0,vhost=on,vhostfd=28
-device virtio-net-pci,netdev=hostnet0,id=net0,mac=52:54:00:22:78:27,bus=pci.0,addr=0x3
-chardev pty,id=charserial0-deviceisa-serial,chardev=charserial0,id=serial0
-chardev spicevmc,id=charchannel0,name=vdagent
-device virtserialport,bus=virtio-serial0.0,nr=1,chardev=charchannel0,id=channel0,name=com.redhat.spice.0
-device usb-tablet,id=input0,bus=usb.0,port=1
-spice port=5900,addr=,disable-ticketing,image-compression=off,seamless-migration=on
-device qxl-vga,id=video0,ram_size=67108864,vram_size=67108864,vram64_size_mb=0,vgamem_mb=16,max_outputs=1,bus=pci.0,addr=0x2
-device intel-hda,id=sound0,bus=pci.0,addr=0x4
-device hda-duplex,id=sound0-codec0,bus=sound0.0,cad=0
-chardev spicevmc,id=charredir0,name=usbredir
-device usb-redir,chardev=charredir0,id=redir0,bus=usb.0,port=2
-chardev spicevmc,id=charredir1,name=usbredir
-device usb-redir,chardev=charredir1,id=redir1,bus=usb.0,port=3
-device virtio-balloon-pci,id=balloon0,bus=pci.0,addr=0x8
-msg timestamp=on

Using qemu from the command line will work, but it will not be high performance.

The libvirt virt-install command will help you with this from the command line and it's --os-variant flag will take care of most of the quirks and optimizations for you.


For what it's worth, qemu was running very slowly on my Ubuntu 14.04 installation. I installed qemu-kvm after installing qemu, and started the program with following command:

kvm -cdrom xxxx.iso -m 700 -boot d

The difference was amazing, and runs very fast now.

  • the OP said KVM doesn't help
    – user595510
    Nov 17, 2016 at 13:07

If you are talking about 3d graphics performance, it is because qemu does not have a hardware accelerated gpu emulator.

  • I'm not running anything that requires high performance graphics card. Only running Windows or Ubuntu in UI mode. Running them in UI mode makes it very slow, even the mouse pointer gets stuck. Apr 30, 2015 at 23:13
  • @user1120675, how much ram did you give the guest? The default is only 512mb which really isn't enough.
    – psusi
    Apr 30, 2015 at 23:22
  • I tried upto 4G. Doesn't make any difference. VMWare or VirtualBox could run even faster with 128 MB Ram May 1, 2015 at 0:51

I had the same problem (Ubuntu 20.04 host and guest). I had rebuilt a machine, and had forgotten to turn on kernel virtualization in the BIOS. qemu/kvm was super slow; the fix was to both turn on KVM, and to rebuild the VMs I had prior to that.

First check that KVM is actually being used - if using virt-manager, check the Overview for the VM (it does not need to be running; open the VM, and in the menu bar go to View / Details, then select Overview in the left column). In the area on the right, it should say Basic Details at the top, then Hypervisor Details below. The Hypervisor Details should show Hypervisor: KVM. (In my case, even after enabling KVM, all of the VMs were still saying the hypervisor was Qemu, so not using KVM even though it was available.)

If not using virt-manager, check the XML schema; it should begin with <domain type="qemu">.

Resolving that put the performance back at what I was used to. Just enabling KVM without also recreating the VMs didn't work.

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