Gaming Under Parallels Desktop 6
By Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher
20 popular Windows games.
How playable are they?
Gaming Under Virtualization
One of the questions that we regularly get at MacTech is about running games in virtualization. Which games work well, how well they run, and what they look like are all common questions.
Over the past several weeks, we took a look at some of the most popular games. Based on ratings by IGN and other web sites, popularity, and more, we selected 20 games to evaluate using Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac. To test this, we assembled a team of game players and evaluated the playability of the game (not the game itself), measured frames per second, and attempted to video capture each one. The combination of these things will give game players a solid idea of what they are in for when playing these games under virtualization.
The Test Bench
All the tests were run on MacBook Pros running Mac OS X 10.6.5. The MacBook Pros have the benefit of a faster processor and additional graphics processing power.
4 GB MacBook Pro, Intel i5 processor ("Unibody MacBook Pro")
Specifically: MacBook Pro 15.4 in 2.53 GHz i5 4 GB/500 GB
The virtual machine was set up with Windows 7 and all current updates, 1.4 GB of virtual machine RAM, and 2 virtual CPUs. If the game would allow us to easily do so, we typically configured them to play in full screen mode.
Scores And Measurements
As our testers evaluated each game, they gave a score of playability. Since this type of scoring is subjective, we averaged the testers' scores for consistency. The games were scored according to the following scale:
1-3: Game not playable
4-6: Game playable but with significant issues
7-9: Game playable but with minor issues
10: Game a great playable experience
With that in mind, this is how our selected 20 games performed. 25% of the games were a great playable experience. Another 50% of the games were playable, but had minor issues. 15% were playable with significant issues. And, only 10% were not playable at all. When you consider what is going on under the hood (games being played under virtualization), these are astounding results.
Game a great playable experience
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Empire: Total War
Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars
MS Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition
Transformers: War for Cybertron
Game playable but with minor issues
Batman Arkham Asylum
Battlefield Bad Company 2
Borderland Game of the Year Edition
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Game of the Year Edition
Far Cry 2
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light
Mass Effect 2
Game playable but with significant issues
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Game not playable
Fallout: New Vegas
World in Conflict
For performance, we used a "Frames Per Second" measurement as determined by FRAPS (a Windows tool with low overhead on measurements which we've seen work well for this type of testing). The FPS measurements were taken over 60 seconds and tested multiple times. The most representative FPS score was taken.
||Frames per Second
||Average Playability Score
|Batman Arkham Asylum||27.12||7.5||Video|
|Battlefield Bad Company 2||28.58||7.0||Video|
|Borderlands Game of the Year Edition||28.61||6.5||Video|
|Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Game of the Year Edition||29.42||8.0||Video|
|Call of Duty: Black Ops||5.27||4.0||Video|
|Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2||8.50||5.0||Video|
|Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion||48.65||10.0||Video|
|Empire: Total War||70.28||10.0||Video|
|Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars||29.93||10.0||Video|
|Fallout: New Vegas||n/a||1.0||n/a|
|Far Cry 2||31.87||9.0||Video|
|Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light||16.33||7.0||Video|
|Mass Effect 2||33.12||8.0||Video|
|MS Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition||15.02||10.0||n/a|
|Transformers: War for Cybertron||18.87||10.0||Video|
|World in Conflict||n/a||1.0||n/a|
Individual Game Notes
For each game we tested, our team commented on the playability of each game, in addition to the rating and video captures. These comments are typically the issues to expect, and the games are playable otherwise.
Batman Arkham Asylum (27.12 fps, 7.5 playability score)
General: The game looks excellent. Moving around is smooth, has good gameplay, and is easy to control the players.
Caveats: The game has occasional lag which at times can be significant, but is typically not a big deal. This is especially the case when loading new areas. Combat is a bit choppy but playable. The longest pauses typically happen before moves that break to a cut scene.
Battlefield Bad Company 2 (28.58 fps, 7 playability score)
General: The game is very playable, though can sometimes be slow.
Caveats: At times, slower frame rates result in some difficulty in aiming, but it's relatively minor. Cut scenes usually end with a lag as they switch out.
BioShock 2 (18.82 fps, 5 playability score)
General: While the character is walking around, the frame rate is solid.
Caveats: Frame rate slows during some cut scenes. There are major frame rate issues with intense action sequences reducing the playability of this game.
Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition (28.61 fps, 6.5 playability score)
General: Game play is smooth with only a little bit of lag here and there. At first, we found it difficult to set up resolutions and settings to properly display, but we were ultimately able to figure it out.
Caveats: After wrestling with it a bit, we were able to have the game take up most of the screen, but the colors were completely incorrect and much of the screen was white or washed out (somewhat monochromatic). Graphics details were fine however.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Game of the Year Edition (29.42 fps, 8 playability score)
General: The transitions between scenes were noticeably good. Most of the time the game played with very little lag, flowed very well, and had strong frame rates.
Caveats: There were times the lag was substantial. In these cases, if we restarted the game, it returned to excellent game play and fluidity of movement.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (5.27 fps, 4 playability score)
General: Game was borderline unplayable with frame rates regularly below 3 frames per second.
Caveats: Combat was impossibly laggy at times with substantial delays in shooting, moving, and controlling the player.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (8.5 fps, 5 playability score)
General: The game worked, but had a great deal of lag.
Caveats: It took a long time to start the campaign. Cut scenes were at normal speed, but there was a great deal of lag when moving. It took a while to transition to and from the main menu, and it was difficult to aim.
Crysis (29.15 fps, 7 playability score)
General: Very playable. When looking at the video, take note that the screen capture for the video shows lag, but the video capture made the lag much worse than it otherwise was.
Caveats: At times gets laggy and seems to pause. If you like what you see in the video, you'll be pleased with the game as that's the worst-case scenario.
Crysis Warhead (18.57 fps, 7.5 playability score)
General: Played well. Like the original Crysis, video screen capture made the lag worse, so take that into consideration when looking at the video.
Caveats: At times, the game would show black for a short period of time, and then return to normal.
Dirt 2 (29.17 fps, 8.3 playability score)
General: Cut scenes played well. Typically, the controls worked well and the graphics had minimal lag.
Caveats: At times during gameplay, frame rate would drop to 15-20 frames per second and controls were occasionally unresponsive and graphics would lag.
Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (48.65 fps, 10 playability score)
General: Overall, very solid gameplay. The frame rate was more consistent than on an Xbox 360.
Empire: Total War (70.28 fps, 10 playability score)
General: Worked perfectly.
Enemy Territory: QUAKE Wars (29.93 fps, 10 playability score)
General: The game played absolutely flawlessly.
Caveats: We couldn't get it to play in full screen mode.
Fallout: New Vegas (n/a fps, 1 playability score)
Caveats: Loads and shows cut scenes, but when game is about to start, mouse stops working and application quits with "FalloutNV has stopped working" error.
Far Cry 2 (31.87 fps, 9 playability score)
General: Colors and graphics look great, and it played smoothly most of the time.
Caveats: There was some lag at times,.
Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (16.33 fps, 7 playability score)
General: Plays fairly well, but there are minor lags fairly often.
Caveats: Occasionally, the lags become more severe and the game will lock for a few seconds.
Mass Effect 2 (33.12 fps, 8 playability score)
General: Ran fairly smoothly and consistently
Caveats: At times there was lagging in action sequences.
MS Flight Simulator X: Gold Edition (15.02 fps, 10 playability score)
General: The game was very playable and consistent. Despite the frame rate being only 15 frames per second. The controls worked quite nicely.
Caveats: None related to game play. We were unable to do a video capture on this game, but we don't consider this an issue and is not related to performance.
Transformers: War for Cybertron (18.87 fps, 10 playability score)
General: Looked perfect. Played impeccably.
World in Conflict (n/a fps, 1 playability score)
General: Didn't work at all.
Caveats: See general.
Clearly, if you are a hard-gamer gamer for the maximum gaming experience, you are going to turn to a souped up WinTel machine tuned specifically to gaming and running a game in virtualization is not a consideration.
If, however, you are a casual gamer looking to enjoy a Windows game and avoid the hassles of booting in native Windows under Apple's Boot Camp, then playing a Windows game under virtualization can be a great option.
Remember, you can set up your virtual machine to use the Boot Camp volume. This means that you can boot under Windows when you can do without the Mac OS, and want the maximum Windows performance. Or, you can have the advantages of virtualization and still use the Boot Camp volume. One benefit to Parallels Desktop 6 is that you have the choice of being able to suspend a virtual machine even on a Boot Camp volume. (Of course, Boot Camp won't be happy if you don't shut it down first in Parallels before trying to boot again in Boot Camp.)
Of the 20 games we tested, about three quarters of the games played well (meaning a playability score of 7 or more). A quarter of the games played so well you forgot you were in virtualization. If that's not impressive, I don't know what is.
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
Special thanks to our game testers: Mike Ambrose, Keegan Fitzpatrick, Adam Ginell, Max Shapiro, and Jordan Ticktin.