TweetFollow Us on Twitter

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

Start | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4

3D and HD Graphics Tests

When we first started out to test 3D and HD Graphics, we were looking for ways to measure in a benchmark setting. What we found were a couple of things. First, in some cases, the performance on both platforms was so good; there was nothing that we could measure. Second, the common metric, frames per second, is a poor method for measuring this. Let's look at each case to explain.

One thing to note about the differences between BootCamp and virtualization products: According to Apple's tech note, when it comes to the new MacBook Pros with multiple graphics processors, there are issues with graphics support when running Apple's BootCamp. Specifically, "You may notice that the built-in NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics subsystem does not appear in the Device Manager and cannot be used with Microsoft Windows XP or Vista." (See http://support.apple.com/kb/TS2457 ). This is not the case for the virtualization products mentioned here, where it works fine.

Play Windows Video High Definition, 720p

To test HD Video, we used the movies on Microsoft's web site at www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/musicandvideo/hdvideo/contentshowcase.aspx. We found that 720p movies played quickly and smoothly in both environments under XP.

For Vista, however, it was entirely differently. Parallels Desktop was unable to play it at all. VMware Fusion stuttered on the MacBook, MacBook Pro, and iMac, but was able to play it fine on the Mac Pro.

Play Windows Video High Definition, 1080p

The 1080p videos also came from the above Microsoft site. They played well under both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion running XP. Given the 720p results, we didn't bother attempting them under Vista.

Games

One of the most frequent questions that we were asked after our last virtualization benchmarks was "What about games?" Choosing games to test in virtualized environments is extremely difficult. After all, you'd want to look at games that run on both platforms (even though both virtualization products support slightly different graphics capabilities). And, you'd want to test a game that isn't available on the Mac (otherwise, why wouldn't you just run it there?) And, of course, you want to test games that people are eager to play.

There are very few games that fit all of these parameters, but we were able to find two.

Civilization IV: Colonization

This is a relatively new game built on the well-established Civilization IV engine. Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization is the third offering in the Civilization IV series. It's essentially a modern re-make (Firaxis calls it a re-imagining) of the classic Colonization game Sid Meier created in 1994, Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization is a conversion of the Civilization IV engine into a game experience in which players lead a European nation on their quest to colonize and thrive in the "New World." Players are challenged to guide their people from the oppressive motherland, discover a New World, negotiate, trade and fight as they acquire great power and battle for their freedom and independence. As you can see from the overview screen shot, the graphics provide an amazing experience.


Figure 12: Civilization IV: Colonization, Overview of game running on PC

To benchmark, we loaded the same Civilization IV: Colonization scenario on each machine, and used the built-in tools of the game to measure frames per second. The results showed Parallels Desktop winning the FPS test across the board, but this was not representative of the situation. Yes, Parallels Desktop had a faster FPS (see spreadsheet if you are really interested), but the richness of the VMware Fusion graphics was significantly more detailed and better. For example, instead of just water, VMware Fusion had many more fish jumping out of the water, more realistic textures, really nice reflections, detail on land, etc. At the same time, Parallels Desktop was more fluid (i.e., it worked better) on the slower machines. FPS was clearly not a good test to judge these environments by.

In general, the game ran very well in both environments. VMware Fusion had difficulties showing the startup video (it would often not play the video, just the sound), but if you hit the escape key, and took it full screen, it worked fine after that. Parallels Desktop didn't have those issues, but as we mentioned, the graphics were not as rich. You can get an idea comparing the two screen shots here, but it's even more apparent with the graphics in motion.


Figure 13: Civilization IV: Colonization under Parallels Desktop


Figure 14: Civilization IV: Colonization under VMware Fusion

VMware Fusion had issues running it on the MacBook, presumably because of the lighter graphics capabilities of that model. Under Parallels Desktop on a MacBook, it was playable, but not a great experience.

Either way, if you have an interest in this period of history, they both played well in virtualized environments, and you should check them out. http://www.firaxis.com/

Portal

Portal is an incredibly enticing "action/puzzle" game developed by Valve Software (http://www.valvesoftware.com). As described by Valve, "The game is designed to change the way players approach, manipulate, and surmise the possibilities in a given environment: players must solve physical puzzles and challenges by opening portals to maneuvering objects, and themselves, through space."


Figure 15: Portal under Parallels Desktop

After installing the game through Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/), we tested the game by measuring frames per second while running a consistent demo mode. Here, there were mixed results. When looking at frames per second in Portal, all the machines did fairly well, except we were unable to get the game to run at all on the MacBook running VMware Fusion. No idea what that's about other than possibly, again, the light graphics capabilities of a MacBook. There were some additional comments on the VMware community board on problems with Portal for some running XP SP3. Parallels Desktop was a bit choppier on the MacBook, but it did run, and was completely playable.

For the other Mac models, VMware Fusion was much faster when looking at the frame rate measurements, but we didn't really see a difference in smoothness. One issue, however, with VMware Fusion is that we found that the graphics on all screens was much lighter (it made us feel like we were outside on a bright sunny day without sunglasses). Parallels Desktop felt much more comfortable to look at, and the detail showed better with the proper contrast/brightness. Compare the two figures for yourself to see.


Figure 16: Portal under VMware Fusion

Gaming Conclusions

First, while we were eager to see the frames per second measurements, and we've left them in the spreadsheet for you to see if you want to, we find this measurement a poor way to judge things. Clearly, the graphics for VMware Fusion were much richer in Civilization IV: Colonization, despite a lower FPS. And, similarly, while Parallels Desktop's FPS was lower for Portal, it was a better experience because of the "brightness" of the graphics. [Ed. Note: Parallels has told MacTech that Parallels Desktop is designed to work with vsync enabled in a synchronous mode with the monitor. In other words, they intentionally limit Frames Per Second (FPS) to not exceed the limits of the monitor, and that 60 FPS is standard for the majority of LCD monitors. Apparently, Apple's guidelines recommend this to save battery life and minimize fan operation.]

Our advice? If gaming is your primary reason for a virtual machine, then figure out what games you want to play, and see what the online discussions are about them. If gaming is just an added benefit for you, then choose the games that work best for your VM. Either way, we were pleasantly surprised at how well both these games played in a virtualized environment. And highly recommend both of the games we played with ... er, I mean, looked at, here. :)

Graphics Standards

The graphics standards can get confusing quickly. To clarify, DirectX 9.0 Shader Model 2 standard has two parts: Pixel and Vertex Shaders 2.0.

Both VMware Fusion 2.0.1 and 2.0.2 supports DirectX 9.0 with full Shader Model 2 graphics. That's why reflections in water and such look so good above.

Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac build 3540 (the version tested) supported Pixel Shaders 2.0 only and that made a visible difference as you saw in Civilization IV: Colonization. But, in build 3810 they added support for Vertex Shaders 2.0. This addition means that build 3810 and beyond supports DirectX 9.0 the full Shader Model 2 like VMware Fusion. [Ed. Note: Parallels reports to MacTech that this new version makes a visible difference in the quality of the graphics in Civilization IV: Colonization.]

Overall Conclusions

There are additional conclusions that we can extract from the results as well. Specifically, we looked at the differences between XP and Vista, as well as multiple virtual processors and 64-bit Vista.

XP vs. Vista

In our last virtualization benchmarking article, there was a significant difference between running Microsoft XP vs. Microsoft Vista. Now, the difference is much less significant, in fact, while XP continues to be faster for most things, it's probably not enough to matter. You should make your choice based on which OS you want. That said, anecdotally, we find XP under virtualization to be far more stable, and definitely less annoying to run.


Figure 17: Windows XP vs. Windows Vista Performance

Multiple Virtual Processors and 64-bit

There's a big push right now for multiple virtual processors and 64-bit Windows. And, while there are times that you may need them, most people will not.

Multiple virtual processors are helpful for when you have a computationally intensive application, and you need to split the work. The types of applications that you normally would need this for include video, Photoshop, CAD, etc... Frankly, if speed is that important to you, you should be asking yourself about whether to run the app native on your Mac instead of in a virtual machine. Sometimes, like for CAD, you may not have an option. Take note, however, Microsoft has limitations in their user license on the number of processors you are running. While Parallels Desktop supports multiple cores up to two quad core virtual processors, VMware Fusion supports only multiple virtual processors, not multiple virtual cores. As a result, we could only test both up to two virtual CPUs under Windows.

64-bit is another issue. Primarily, your big benefit here is that you can address a whole lot more memory. For most virtualization users, this is likely not relevant. Many of the Windows applications and drivers still are not 64-bit compatible, and there are all kinds of reports of issues. This is the future of where Windows is going, but it's not necessary for most users.

That said, we wanted to give you a look at what performance looked like for both of these for what most people probably run: Windows, Microsoft Office, and Internet Explorer. As you can see, while there's some difference, you have to judge if it's enough to be worthwhile. For most, 32-bit XP is likely adequate.


Figure 18: Multiple Virtual Processors, 64-bit Performance



Start | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4
 
AAPL
$102.50
Apple Inc.
+0.25
MSFT
$45.43
Microsoft Corpora
+0.55
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
+2.40

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Skype 6.19.0.450 - Voice-over-internet p...
Skype allows you to talk to friends, family and co-workers across the Internet without the inconvenience of long distance telephone charges. Using peer-to-peer data transmission technology, Skype... Read more
VueScan 9.4.41 - Scanner software with a...
VueScan is a scanning program that works with most high-quality flatbed and film scanners to produce scans that have excellent color fidelity and color balance. VueScan is easy to use, and has... Read more
Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
LaunchBar 6.1 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Rhonna Designs Magic (Photography)
Rhonna Designs Magic 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Photography Price: $1.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: Want to sprinkle *magic* on your photos? With RD Magic, you can add colors, filters, light leaks, bokeh, edges,... | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: August 25-29, 2014
Shiny Happy App Reviews   | Read more »
Qube Kingdom – Tips, Tricks, Strategies,...
Qube Kingdom is a tower defense game from DeNA. You rally your troops – magicians, archers, knights, barbarians, and others – and fight against an evil menace looking to dominate your kingdom of tiny squares. Planning a war isn’t easy, so here are a... | Read more »
Qube Kingdom Review
Qube Kingdom Review By Nadia Oxford on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: KIND OF A SQUARE KINGDOMUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Qube Kingdom has cute visuals, but it’s a pretty basic tower defense game at heart.   | Read more »
Fire in the Hole Review
Fire in the Hole Review By Rob Thomas on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: WALK THE PLANKUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Seafoam’s Fire in the Hole looks like a bright, 8-bit throwback, but there’s not enough booty to... | Read more »
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwi...
Alien Creeps TD is Now Available Worldwide Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Dodo Master Review
Dodo Master Review By Jordan Minor on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: NEST EGGiPad Only App - Designed for the iPad Dodo Master is tough but fair, and that’s what makes it a joy to play.   | Read more »
Motorsport Manager Review
Motorsport Manager Review By Lee Hamlet on August 29th, 2014 Our Rating: :: MARVELOUS MANAGEMENTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Despite its depth and sense of tactical freedom, Motorsport Manager is one of the most... | Read more »
Motorsport Manager – Beginner Tips, Tric...
The world of Motorsport management can be an unforgiving and merciless one, so to help with some of the stress that comes with running a successful race team, here are a few hints and tips to leave your opponents in the dust. | Read more »
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Add...
CalPal Update Brings the App to 2.0, Adds Lots of New Stuff Posted by Ellis Spice on August 29th, 2014 [ permalink ] | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Apple now offering refurbished 21-inch 1.4GHz...
The Apple Store is now offering Apple Certified Refurbished 21″ 1.4GHz iMacs for $929 including free shipping plus Apple’s standard one-year warranty. Their price is $170 off the cost of new models,... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, on sale for...
B&H Photo has the 2.5GHz Mac mini on sale for $549.99 including free shipping. That’s $50 off MSRP, and B&H will also include a free copy of Parallels Desktop software. NY sales tax only. Read more
Save up to $300 on an iMac with Apple refurbi...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished iMacs available for up to $300 off the cost of new models. Apple’s one-year warranty is standard, and shipping is free. These are the best prices on... Read more
The Rise of Phablets
Carlisle & Gallagher Consulting Group, a businesses and technology consulting firm focused solely on the financial services industry, has released an infographic depicting the convergence of... Read more
Bad Driver Database App Allows Good Drivers t...
Bad Driver Database 1.4 by Facile Group is a new iOS and Android app that lets users instantly input and see how many times a careless, reckless or just plain stupid driver has been added to the... Read more
Eddy – Cloud Music Player for iPhone/iPad Fre...
Ukraine based CapableBits announces the release of Eddy, its tiny, but smart and powerful cloud music player for iPhone and iPad that allows users to stream or download music directly from cloud... Read more
A&D Medical Launches Its WellnessConnecte...
For consumers and the healthcare providers and loved ones who care for them, A&D Medical, a leader in connected health and biometric measurement devices and services, has launched its... Read more
Anand Lal Shimpi Retires From AnandTech
Anand Lal Shimpi, whose AnandTech Website is famous for its meticulously detailed and thoroughgoing reviews and analysis, is packing it in. Lal Shimpi, who founded the tech site at age 14 in 1997,... Read more
2.5GHz Mac mini, Apple refurbished, in stock...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 2.5GHz Mac minis available for $509, $90 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included, and shipping is free. Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999.99 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP. Read more

Jobs Board

*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.