Ask HTG: Enabling Aero in VirtualBox, RAID Array Disk Overhead, and RAW Processing Without Photoshop

Ask-How-To-Geek-TemplateOnce a week we round up some of the interesting questions you guys mail in, answer them, and share them with the greater readership. This week we’re looking at how to enable Aero in VirtualBox, figuring out how much overhead your RAID array will chew up, and RAW processing without Photoshop.

Enabling Aero in VirtualBox for Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8


Dear How-To Geek,

Is it possible to enable the Aero visual effects in Windows 8 virtualized in VirtualBox? I’m running the Windows 8 Developer Preview and I can’t stand the interface without Aero enabled. Is it possible to enable it? What do I need to do? Thanks!


Aero Craving in Connecticut

Dear Aero Craving,

Fortunately it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to enable Aero in VirtualBox. The biggest obstacle will be whether or not the video card in your host machine is up to the task (and the best way to find out if it can handle the job is to simply try out it).

First you need to, while the virtual machine in question is powered off, right click on the entry for that machine and access the settings menu. From within the settings menu navigate to the Display tab. Within the display tab you need to make sure Enable 3D Acceleration is checked—might as well check the box for 2D acceleration while you’re at it. Then boost up your Video Memory; VirtualBox usually sets the virtual memory amount rather low. We cranked ours up to 128MB. You need to get it at least into the 40s to avoid errors.


Once you’ve set those two settings, return to the main interface and start up your virtual machine. From within Windows navigate to Control Panel –> Personalization –> Window Color and Appearance and make sure Enable transparency is checked. In the screenshot above you can see two levels of Aero visual effects. The VirtualBox window’s transparency is supplied by the host OS (Windows 7) and the virtualized OS has transparency (Windows 8 Dev with the 3D acceleration turned on).

This same method works for virtual machines running Windows Vista, Windows 7, and even versions of Linux running Compiz (although you may need to install additional drivers via the Guest Additions add-on to get things running smoothly in Linux).

Calculating Disk Overhead for a RAID Array


Dear How-To Geek,

I’m thinking about building a home server with a RAID array inside. I’m having trouble visualizing how different types of RAID will eat up disk space, however. I know that with certain types of RAID you lose X% of the total disk space to the RAID overhead and parity. Is there a simple formula?


RAID Ready in Rio

Dear RAID Ready,

If you’re interested in doing hand calculations (and learning a lot about RAID arrays in the process), we’d recommend checking out this Wikipedia article (check out the chart in the Standard Levels subsection for more information and space efficiency equations).

If you want some quick and easy answers, there are tons of RAID calculators floating around online. Here’s a free one from server company International Computer Concepts.

If you’re planning on using a non-standard RAID configuration or any sort of software-based RAID we highly recommend consulting the documentation for that specific RAID tool to get a clearer picture of what kind of disk overhead you’re looking at.

Processing RAW Images Without Photoshop


Dear How-To Geek,

I decided to mess around with the RAW settings on my DSLR. What I didn’t even think about was that I’d need some way to process the RAW photos when I was done with them. I vaguely recall that my DSLR came with a program from the manufacturer and I know that you can use Photoshop (but I’d rather not shell out for it). Is there a third party alternative?


Experimenting with Raw in Reno

Dear Experimenting,

There is an open source application, Raw Therapee, that sounds like a good fit for your needs. It’s available for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. You can check out our guide to using Raw Therapee here if you’d like to get a feel for the application before downloading and installing it. Readers have reported that the newest verison, 3.0, is out and stable. Newer versions have come out since the date of that article so make sure to jump right to the RawTherapee Download page to try out the new releases.

Have a pressing tech question? Shoot us a line at and we’ll do our best to answer it.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.