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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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Both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac are excellent products, and both allow you to run Windows XP and Vista quite well. In the end, your decision as to which product you should take into account what's most important to you: speed, footprint, graphics capabilities, features, user interface, OS you want to run, and more all come into play.

While the Vista "penalty" that we saw in prior tests is now mostly gone (presumably because both Vista SP1 made improvements as well as both of these virtualization products), we would advise that you stick with Windows XP given how much better it runs overall (not to mention how much less annoying it is).

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, it's not worth it; just stick with Windows XP on a single virtual processor.

Many people have the feeling of "more is better," but clearly 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, 1GB of virtual machine RAM will work best. Use more than that only if you really know you need it.

And, here's how things look in general terms for each of the test suites that we ran:

Figure 19: Chart: Performance Winner in Each Test Suite

In the majority of overall averages of our tests, Parallels Desktop is the clear winner running 14-20% faster than VMware Fusion. The one exception is for those that need to run Windows XP, 32-bit on 2 virtual processors, VMware Fusion runs about 10% faster than Parallels Desktop.

And, while both products these days have very little CPU footprint, Parallels Desktop had a surprisingly small RAM footprint, which was actually typically lower than the amount of RAM configured for the virtual machine. Presumably, once Windows actually needed more of the allocated RAM, the actual footprint on the Mac would increase.

Finally, for gamers, experiences will differ with each game. In our tests, MacBook users will have a better experience with Parallels Desktop, presumably because of the lower end graphics capabilities of the hardware. Beyond that, you should look at each game and what the feedback from users from both the Parallels and VMware communities.

One thing is clear, given the track record, expect Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion to both keep getting better and better.

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Appendix A: Benchmarking Methodology


The purpose of this appendix is to outline the basic parameters for how MacTech Magazine performed benchmarking tests on VMware Fusion, and Parallels Desktop for the purpose of evaluating the performance of virtual machines running Windows XP and Vista.


Since the tests involve both multiple machines and multiple pieces of software, the focus was on creating as much consistency across the tests as possible. MacTech accomplished this in several ways.

First, each set of tests were performed by a single MacTech staff member so as to eliminate any of the natural inconsistencies that often occur across individuals.

All of the tests were performed on the same version of the Mac operating system across the different hardware. At the time of the tests, this was Mac OS X 10.5.5 and included the most up-to-date versions of Apple patches as prescribed through "Software Update" in Mac OS X.

All of the tests were done on "virgin" systems, i.e., freshly wiped hard disks, with fresh Mac OS X, Virtualization, Windows and Microsoft Office installations, with no third party software installed beyond the standard Mac OS X.

All of the tests were performed with the most up to date set of required patches for Microsoft Windows and Office as prescribed by Microsoft's automatic updates, including XP SP3 and Vista SP1.

Avoiding Interactions

While the tests covered a variety of applications, all tests (where appropriate) were performed with only that single application open. In other words, to the extent possible, no other applications will be running. (Obviously excluding background and OS tasks that are part of a standard install of either OSes or Microsoft Office.)

To avoid issues with a noisy network, the test machines were installed on what was considered a "quiet" network with minimal traffic. MacTech monitored the use of the network to make sure that the machine does have network access, but is not impacted by the network.

Measurements, Testing and Outliers

For timed tests with results under 60 seconds, tests were measured to within 1/100th of a second. For those over 60 seconds, tests were measured to within a second.

Most tests were performed at least three times per test and per machine configuration, and often 5+ times depending on the test. Outliers indicating a testing anomaly were retested as appropriate.

In most cases, the tester used successive tests, not "Adam" or "first" tests to better emulate typical daily use.

Those tests that could be impacted by the size of the window were tested with the same window size, and screen resolution under all scenarios.

Some tests were eliminated because the machines simply performed too fast to get an accurate measurement. For example, sending or sorting emails always performed faster on the machine than the tester could measure.

Appendix B: Testing Results

In keeping the results fully open, MacTech is making available the test data in the form of an Excel spreadsheet. In these results, all data is normalized to compare with the baseline PC running Windows XP. The results are therefore best thought of in terms of percentages.

To download the spreadsheet of these results, they are available on the MacTech ftp site at

About the author...

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

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