Both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac are excellent products, and both allow you to run Windows XP and Windows 7 quite well (except for graphics in VMware Fusion). In the end, your decision as to which product you should take into account what's most important to you.
Windows 7 is such a pleasurable experience that unless there's some driving reason otherwise, you should be using it under either virtualization product.
When it comes to whether you should use multiple processors or 64-bit virtual machines that depends on your use. If you have a real need for either, and can articulate a reason for it, than use them. They do work well. That said, if you don't have a specific need, then don't bother with multiple virtual CPUs. As for 64-bit, you should use it especially in Windows 7 unless you have a driving reason not to.
Many people have the feeling of "more is better," but when it comes to RAM in the virtual machine, that is not necessarily the case. More RAM means longer virtual machine launch times, suspends and resumes. For most users, 512MB to 1GB of virtual machine RAM will work best. Use more than that only if you really know you need it. Gaming may do best with 1.2-1.4GB of RAM if you can spare it. Windows 7 with 768MB to 1GB.
In the vast majority of overall our tests, Parallels Desktop 6 won. Again, if you count up the general tests (including one 3D graphics score), Parallels won 61% of the tests by at least 10%, and was also a bit faster on an additional 23% more of the tests. In other words, Parallels Desktop 6 beat VMware Fusion 3.1 in 84% of the general tests we ran.
If you focus exclusively on 3D graphics, as measured by 3DMark06 version 1.2, Parallels won by an even larger margin. Specifically, Parallels won 73% of the tests by at least 10%, and was also a bit faster on an additional 19% more of the tests. In other words, Parallels Desktop 6 beat VMware Fusion 3.1 in 92% of the 3D graphics tests we ran.
If gaming, graphics, and 3D are your thing, you have a clear choice. Parallels Desktop 6 has so much better graphics support, and is so much faster in most of the comparisons, there's simply no contest.
To be clear, this article is not a product review; it's a benchmarking analysis. You should use it as part of your decision combined with other factors such as product features, user interface, which OS you want to run, graphics capabilities and support to make your product choice.
One thing is clear: virtualization for the Mac works well. Really well—even for casual gamers. Even with that, given the track record, I continue to expect that weall see virtualization products keep getting better and better.
About the author(s)...
Neil is the Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of MacTech Magazine. Neil has been in the Mac industry since 1985, has developed software, written documentation, and been heading up the magazine since 1992. When Neil does a benchmark article, he likes to test the features that people will use in real-life scenario and then write about that experience from the user point of view. Drop him a line at publisher at mactech.com
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