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Head-to-Head: Parallels Desktop for Mac vs. VMware Fusion

Volume Number: 25 (2009)
Issue Number: 04
Column Tag: Virtualization

Head-to-Head: Parallels Desktop for Mac vs. VMware Fusion (cont.)

How do VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac stack up?

by Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher

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Application Performance Tests

In many cases, applications today, perform so well and so fast, even under virtualized environments, that anyone would be pleased for small documents and activities. We focused our efforts on larger tasks that were not only large enough to measure, but will also stress the systems to some extent.

For Microsoft Word, we took a very large document and did a global search and replace of about 95,000 items. For Microsoft Excel, we ran a macro that generated a large quantity of random numbers, and filled cells with them. And, for PowerPoint, we had the application render slides with transitions as quickly as possible (all the other PowerPoint tests worked too fast to measure).

  • Word Global Find & Replace

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 4% faster (range: 0.5 seconds slower to 6.5 seconds faster, fastest: 34 seconds)

    • Vista: Parallels Desktop 9% faster (range: 14 seconds slower to 21 seconds faster, fastest: 42 seconds)

  • Excel Macro Test

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 14% faster (range: 0.5-1.6 seconds faster, fastest: 5.5 seconds)

    • Vista: Parallels Desktop 13% faster (range: 0.3-1.3 seconds faster, fastest: 4.5 seconds)

  • PowerPoint View slide transitions

    • XP: VMware Fusion 2% faster (range: 0.2 seconds slower to 0.2 seconds faster, fastest: 5.5 seconds)

    • Vista: Both performed almost the same (range: 4.7-5.6 seconds)


    Figure 6: Windows Application Performance

    Many web pages are simple enough that they load very quickly. So, to test the speed of Internet Explorer, we created a large, complex page in HTML loaded from a local LAN server. The page was very long, but used only common HTML elements, (no JavaScript, etc.). But, for whatever reason, VMware Fusion took significantly longer ... sometimes, an order of magnitude longer--across the board. As a result, we removed this test from the overall analysis (the average of averages ... or more technically, the geomean of geomeans) so that it wouldn't skew the overall results.

    The tests performed used the same web page ... with and without SSL.

    • Internet Explorer Load complex web page

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 82% faster (range: 40-60 seconds faster, fastest: 9 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 91% faster (range: 79-126 seconds faster, fastest: 9 seconds)

    • Internet Explorer Load complex web page (SSL)

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 80% faster (range: 40-60 seconds faster, fastest: 11 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 84% faster (range: 54-80 seconds faster, fastest: 10 seconds)


    Figure 7: Internet Explorer Application Performance

    Footprint Tests

    One of the most interesting things in the virtualization market is how little overhead virtualization takes today compared to what it used to. To assess this, we measured in a variety of ways. Specifically, we focused on CPU usage (overall for the Mac), real memory usage (overall for the Mac), and how long the battery would last. CPU and memory usage were measured using "top" (a command line tool that's part of UNIX with a minimum of 50 continuous samples averaged for the result).

    We ran three CPU usage tests. The first test was to boot Windows and let it sit for a few minutes to finish up its startup activities. Once done, CPU use was measured while both the Mac OS X and Windows were sitting idle. The next test studied the same thing except both Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook were launched and left sitting idle. The last test explored CPU usage while playing a DVD.

    (Note: For testing the playing of a DVD, we had a bit of a challenge. Parallels Desktop supports the default application for playing DVDs that comes with Windows (Windows Media Player), but we had problems with WMP under VMware Fusion. Their web site also talks about these issues. As a workaround, VMware suggests the open source VLC Player, but we had trouble getting VLC Player to work in Parallels Desktop. It was important for both virtualization environments to use the same application, so we used Media Player Classic for the tests.)

    For the two idle tests, both virtualized environments did very, very well with only 2-5% of the CPU being used. So, while one may be 1/3 or more faster, it's not a significant difference to the user in real terms.

    • CPU use for sitting idle (in %)

      • XP: Parallels Desktop used 1/3rd less CPU (range: 1-8% CPU use)

        Vista: Parallels Desktop used 1/3rd less CPU (range: 1-9% CPU use)

    • CPU use for VM sitting idle with both Word/Outlook (in %)

      • XP: Parallels Desktop used 1/5th less CPU (range: 1-8% CPU use)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop used 1/7th less CPU (range: 1-10% CPU use)

    • CPU use for play DVD (in %)

      • XP: About the same (range: 3-33% CPU use)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop used 1/25th less CPU (range: 3-36% CPU use)


    Figure 8: Virtual Machine CPU Usage

    The memory footprint was done for two idle tests, similar to the CPU usage tests above. Here, however, the differences were more meaningful, and would be noticeable to the user. Take note, we're looking at both 1GB and 2GB virtual machines here.

    • Real Memory use for sitting idle (in MB)

      • XP: Parallels Desktop used 48% less RAM (range: 716-1748 MB less)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop used 21% less RAM (range: 274-1125 MB less)

    • Real Memory use for VM sitting idle with both Word/Outlook (in MB)

      • XP: Parallels Desktop used 39% less RAM (range: 527-1567 MB less)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop used 21% less RAM (range: 257-1109 MB less)


    Figure 9: Virtual Machine Memory Usage

    Take note, Parallels is doing something interesting here with memory allocation: Parallels Desktop only takes memory from Mac OS X when Windows needs it. In other words, if you have a 2GB virtual machine, it will initially take less than 2GB of memory from the Mac, until you've opened enough application or documents that Windows needs the RAM. By contrast, VMware Fusion appears to allocate all the memory for the virtual machine at launch.

    For the exhaust battery test, we ran an "endless loop" macro in Excel that generated random numbers. When approaching the end of battery, Parallels Desktop will pause the virtual machine, and ultimately, the Mac will go into a hibernate mode saving off where things are at. VMware Fusion will suspend the virtual machine before sleeping.

    • Exhaust Battery: Endless Macro in Excel

      • XP: Parallels Desktop battery usage lasted 8% longer (9 minutes longer for 99 min total)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop battery usage lasted 9% longer (9 minutes longer for 92 min total)


    Figure 10: Virtualized Machine Battery Performance

    File and Network IO Tests

    Originally, we ran file copy tests on all the environments. In analyzing the results, we realized that there was a huge problem. Mac OS X and Windows were interfering, in a good way for typical users, with the results. Both Mac OS X and Windows have some pretty sophisticated caching schemes, but they also made File and Network IO tests unpredictable. As just one example, sometimes a MacBook was faster than a Mac Pro, and other times it was not. In the end, we tossed out the several hundred test times, and re-tested.

    Due to time constraints, the retests focused solely on the MacBook Pro. To avoid the interaction problems with Mac OS X and Windows, we tested using data set sizes that were about the same size as the physical memory, or larger. This prevented the Mac and Windows from any type of caching. The data sets we copied from one location to another were 3.7GB total (two 1.85GB files because we needed to stay below the 2GB file limit).

    The same set of files was used for all the copies so that you can see the differences between the different methods of copying. (Most of which were in the same relative time frame, except for copying to a USB Flash Drive. See the chart.)

    Networking was done via the default NAT setup in both virtualized environments, and the defaults for disk setup for each application were used as well.

    Here were the results:

    • File copy - duplicate on local virtual hard drive

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 31% faster (75 seconds faster, fastest: 165 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 43% faster (137 seconds faster, fastest: 181 seconds)

    • File copy - to local Mac hard drive

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 11% faster (18 seconds faster, fastest: 149 seconds)

      • Vista: VMware Fusion 8% faster (14 seconds faster, fastest: 181 seconds)

    • File copy - from local Mac hard drive

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 36% faster (94 seconds faster, fastest: 167 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 42% faster (134 seconds faster, fastest: 182 seconds)

    • File copy - to LAN Server

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 35% faster (113 seconds faster, fastest: 213 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 16% faster (36 seconds faster, fastest: 186 seconds)

    • File copy - from LAN Server

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 28% faster (70 seconds faster, fastest: 176 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 14% faster (27 seconds faster, fastest: 168 seconds)

    • File copy - to USB Flash Drive

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 6% faster (53 seconds faster, fastest: 774 seconds)

      • Vista: Parallels Desktop 4% faster (37 seconds faster, fastest: 859 seconds)

    • File copy - from USB Flash Drive

      • XP: Parallels Desktop 15% faster (52 seconds faster, fastest: 300 seconds)

      • Vista: VMware Fusion 8% faster (22 seconds faster, fastest: 283 seconds)

    Or, said much better on a graph, it looks like this:


    Figure 11: Virtual Machine File and Network I/O Performance



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