Windows

Three things to know about Parallels Desktop for Mac

While Erik Eckel usually recommends Apple Boot Camp for dual-booting Mac machines, if you go with a virtual machine solution, you can do worse than Parallels 5. Here's what you need to know.

Enterprise Mac administrators are going to encounter users that want or need to run Windows. It's inevitable. How well the experience goes is dependent, ultimately, upon how Windows is run.

Let's be clear. Based on my real-world experiences deploying numerous dual-booting Macs for a variety of clients, I recommend leveraging Apple Boot Camp. Many, not wishing to have to reboot to access Windows applications, turn to a virtualized desktop such as VMware Fusion, which granted,has gotten better.

Others within the Mac community, however, believe Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac is the best dual-booting solution. Among its proponents is popular Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Mossberg. Priced at $79.99 per license, the platform won't break the bank unless a large number of copies are required.

What else should you know if you're thinking of choosing Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac?

1. Parallels 5 is generally considered faster

As Mossberg notes, Parallels seemed to have momentarily slipped behind VMware's Fusion. That is, until Parallels' latest release. Now Parallels appears to have the lead, better managing visual elements, and generally providing faster performance, than does VMware.

The better the virtual machine software, the better. The big killer here, of course, is that Mac OS X must power the entire Windows install within Mac OS X. That's one of the reasons I advocate using Boot Camp instead. With Boot Camp, users receive the benefit of having all cores and all RAM dedicated to running Windows when the user requires Windows-based applications. When running Parallels, resources that would otherwise be available to Windows are tied up running Mac OS X.

Thus, even if Parallels' performance margin is only even slightly better than VMware Fusion's, you're talking about a case in which squeezing every last bit of performance from the machine may make a noticeable difference.

2. Parallels can run Boot Camp installs

Just as with VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop can power Boot Camp partitions from within Mac OS X. This is a tremendous benefit.

Users that originally loaded Windows using Boot Camp but who now need to run Windows simultaneously with their Mac installations can do so using these virtual machine solutions. Parallels enables users to begin accessing their Windows applications and files while simultaneously running Mac OS X without having to reinstall the Windows installations, applications and files. This is possibly the greatest feature programmers have included within Fusion and Parallels.

3. Parallels provides impressive video performance

Graphic designers, video producers, CAD engineers and other heavy graphics users will find Parallels' Windows video performance well-suited to their needs. Parallels' provides 3D, 64-bit, DirectX 9Ex and Shader Model 3 support, including within Windows 7.

While Macs running Parallels may not provide blistering 3D gaming performance, Parallels developers have worked to deliver better Windows graphic performance, and the improvements are noticeable.

Even Mac users needing to dual boot to Linux benefit. Parallels also supports OpenGL 2.1 within Linux installs.

Virtual solutions

I like to say virtualized machines are virtually a solution. Obviously, performance won't be ideal because the host OS (Mac OS X, in this case) must power a second operating system that proves parasitic in sucking valuable system resources. If Mac enterprise administrators are going to dance with the devil, they could do worse than selecting Parallels Desktop as their dancing partner.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

8 comments
dayen
dayen

No repair no sale, won't even let me look at VM just crash when I try and this is not the first time VMware Fusion???s, I have been able to recover my VM I will take slower over not being able to recover, I see it's been awhile scene anyone posted but I just want to let know it ain't fixed yet

jsulliv8
jsulliv8

I've never had boot camp partitions play nicely with either VMWare or Parallels. Both caused *severe* activation breaks on MS applications and even non-MS stuff (more and more a problem as so many programs phone home anymore) - so I've had to force Fusion and Parallels to leave my bootcamp partition alone. But Parallels even with virtual machines was a world of hurt compared to Fusion. I want my Windows and Mac environments to be isolated. I don't want to double-click a file on mac side and find that Parallels has started to launch Windows. Sure you can force Parallels to turn that crap off but out of the box it defaults to that. Fusion may be technically slower, but it is controllable and behaves itself. Parallels felt like a cancer in my system - just spreading out and infecting and re-directing everything without my asking for it. Windows program launches on my dock? Never wanted it, never asked for it, total hell to get rid of it. Sorry, but I'm not going down that path ever again. I'm sticking with Fusion.

online
online

I haven't used either in a corporate environment. Parallels is excellent, the first virtualization app I used when I got a Macbook Pro back in 2007. But the upgrade costs got to be too much, so I now use Oracle's VirtualBox, which is free and certainly adequate for my needs. I do miss not being able to use my Boot Camp installation of Windows, though...

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mchertel
mchertel

I know not everybody has one but just to let those who may want to get a new MBP i7 with 8 GIG memory it works well indeed. I use both Parallels 5 and Fusion 3. I set each MV to use 2 processors and 1536 megs of mem. I can run three virtual machines at the same time with no real performance hit. I generally have an XP, Win 7, and either Ubuntu or Linux Mint 9 open at the same time. I can still run Apple apps like Aperture. I don't do this on battery power though unless I only need 3 hours or less time. I tend to run Parallels 5 more than VMware Fusion 3. They both work well though. I have never used bookcamp.

JJPEngr
JJPEngr

Good assessment of virtual Windows on Mac. While applications like Parallels are a significant improvement over earlier products like Virtual PC for Mac, I still prefer dual boot and Boot Camp for better performance. I rarely need to share files between Windows and OS X and I use Boot Camp with Windows XP only when I need to run a few Windows only apps. 85-90% of what I do is on Mac, so as you indicate, the virtual OS like Parallels is too much of a parasite for my needs and the performance penalty and resource drain are not worth it.

mbesten
mbesten

using network settings in corporate environments is difficult with parallels, vm-ware settings are much easier, the bridged network settings just work, and is set only in the vm setting. parallels comes with a complicated network setup both in parallels and in the vm-setup. and: i had problems after the last update of v5.

mchertel
mchertel

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