Switch between Windows Server 2012 core and Windows Server 2012 GUI

In Windows Server 2012 you can choose between a Server Core and Server with a GUI (full) during the installation. The Full Server GUI has all the tools and options to configure and troubleshoot. Server core is a minimal Windows installation with less tools and options.

Server Core has the following advantages over Server Full:

  • Smaller footprint (disk and memory).
  • It is more secure because the smaller attack surface.  For example the Server core version has no Internet Explorer included. So no IE patches are needed to install.

Server Core disadvantages over Server Full:

  • Configuration, management and troubleshooting can be more complex. For example when you want to change the binding order and NIC order you need to use PowerShell or Netsh commands.

In Windows Server 2008 R2 you cannot switch between Server core and Server with the full GUI. With Windows Server 2012 it is possible to switch between a Server Core and Server Full as needed. Switching between Server core and Server Full requires a reboot.

In Windows Server 2012 there are three GUI options to configure:

Windows Server 2012 GUI options

  • Server Core.  Includes the sconfig menu and PowerShell. It can be managed by RDP and Server Manager and MMC remotely.


  • Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure. Provides a minimal server interface and server management tools such as Server Manager and the Microsoft Management Console (MMC).


  • Server Graphical Shell. This is the full installation including Server Manager, MMC, Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer.


Use case  switching between Server Core and Server with a GUI (full) and vise-versa

When configuring the Hyper-V role with multiple NICs it can be difficult to optimize (for example NIC and binding order)  the NIC configuration in Server Core.


To make it easier to do the configuration you can begin the installing and configuring of the Windows Server 2012 in full GUI mode. After the configuration is completed you can switch to Server Core back. Another case to switch to the Server Full GUI is during troubleshooting.

Switch between Server Core and Server with a GUI (full)

Switching between the GUI modes can be via Server Manager and PowerShell. Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2012 stand-alone (free) version does not support switching between the Server Core and Server GUI!

Server Manager

In Server Manager you can add or remove the Graphical Management Tools and Infrastructure or the Server Graphical Shell (full) feature.



Here are some PowerShell examples that can be used:

List Server roles beginning with Server*

Get-WindowsFeatures Server*

Switch from Core Server to the Server Full

Install-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell –Restart

Switch from Server full to Core Server

Remove-WindowsFeature Server-Gui-Mgmt-Infra,Server-Gui-Shell –Restart

License Windows Server 2012 editions in virtual environments

As virtualization consultant I got frequently questions about Windows Server 2012 licensing in virtual environments such as VMware and Hyper-V.  Here is a short blog about Windows Server 2012 licensing in virtual environments.

What about the Windows Server 2012 license:

  • The Windows Server 2012 licenses are based on the physical processor
  • A single license covers two physical processors.

There are two license editions available:

  • Windows Server 2012 Standard edition. A Standard edition license will entitle you to run up to two VMs on up to two processors.
  • Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition.  A Datacenter edition license will entitle you to run an unlimited number of VMs on up to two processors

The  only difference between the two editions are the virtualization rights.  All the features that are available, are the same in both editions for example Windows Server Failover Clustering! The Enterprise edition is retired in Windows Server 2012 licensing.

Windows Server 2012 license examples:

  • For a 2 processor VMware or Hyper-V host with 8 VM’s you need 4 Standard edition licenses
  • For a 4 processor VMware or Hyper-V host with 4 VM’s you need 2 Standard edition licenses

The retail list prices of Windows Server 2012 are:

Edition Retail list price ($)
Standard 882
Datacenter 4809

Client Access Licenses (CALs) will be needed to access to Windows Server 2012 servers.

The decision to use the standard of datacenter edition licensing depends on the total number of VMs on your hosts. On hosts with more than 11 VMs the datacenter license will be cost effective.

It is allowed to reassign a Windows Server 2012 license from one server to another server but more often than every 90 days. There are some expectations of the 90 days rule to assign the license sooner for example:

  • When having a permanent hardware failure
  • Reallocate processors from one host to another

What about moving a VM?

When using a dynamic move a Windows Server VM to another node for example with Windows Server Clustering, VMware vMotion or Live Migration, the other node needs to be have sufficient Microsoft Windows Server 2012 licenses. So in most cases an Windows Server 2012 Datacenter edition license is recommend.

Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 support on VMware ESXi, Workstation and Fusion

The following VMware releases are supported with Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012:

OS Supported versions
Windows 8 32/64 Bits Workstation 9
Fusion 5.0
ESXi 5.0 U1
ESXi 5.1
Windows Server 2012 64 Bits Workstation 9
Fusion 5.0
ESXi 5.0 U1
ESXi 5.1

Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 are supported on ESX 5.0 U1 and 5.1. Here are some things to watch when implementing Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012 on ESXi environment.


For Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 the E1000e adapter is the default vNIC. The E1000e feature emulates a newer model of Intel Gigabit NIC (number 82574) in the virtual hardware. This is known as the "e1000e" vNIC. e1000e is available only on hardware version 8 (and newer) virtual machines in vSphere 5! 



The VMXNET 3 is optimized for performance in a virtual machine. Because operating system vendors do not provide built-in drivers for this card, you must install VMware Tools to have a driver for the VMXNET3 network adapter available. The VMXNET3 is available only on hardware version 7 and newer!

SCSI Disk controller

The default SCSI disk controller is the LSI Logic SAS.


The Paravirtual SCSI (PVSCSI) adapters are high-performance storage adapters that can result in greater throughput and lower CPU utilization.  When browsing through the FLP images there is no Windows Server  2012 driver available for the PVSCSI adapter.


The KB says nothing on Windows 8 or Server 2012 support (Link). In the computability OS guide it stated the the PVSCSI adapter is supported on Windows Server 2012 and Windows 8.


Using the 2008 PVSCSI FLP image will install the PVSCSI driver in Windows 8 and Server 2012.

Guest OS Customization support

Guest OS Customization support is only supported on Windows 8 and not on Windows Server 2012!