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Parallels Desktop 5 vs. 4: Should you upgrade?

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 01
Column Tag: Virtualization

Parallels Desktop 5 vs. 4: Should you upgrade?

MacTech Labs puts the new Parallels Desktop to the test to answer this question.

by Neil Ticktin, Editor in Chief/Publisher

Welcome

One of the most frequent questions we've been getting recently is "Should I upgrade to Parallels Desktop 5?" We decided to put Parallels Desktop 5 to the test and compare it to Parallels Desktop 4, the previous version.

The test was done on the current model MacBook Pro. Specifically, the MacBook Pro 15 inch 2.66GHz, with 4GB of RAM, 320GB 5400RPM hard drive, and the dual graphics processor configuration (NVIDIA 9400M + 9600M GT). The test was performed on Mac OS X "Snow Leopard" 10.6.2 with all the current updates from Apple applied. Parallels Desktop 4 Build 4.0.3848, and Parallels Desktop 5 Build 5.0.9220.

Storage and Drive Space

One of the things that we were surprised by was how much less disk space the base installation of Windows XP Pro used on v5 vs. v4. v5 uses about 1/3 less actual drive space on your Mac. (As an aside, and having nothing to do with virtualization, the Windows 7 installations are a lot bigger than XP).


Windows XP Pro Installation Footprint

General Virtual Machine Performance

We wanted to see how the virtual machine performed in several areas. These included: launching the virtual machine with a full Windows boot, suspending the virtual machine, launching from suspend, compressing files, and File IO (in particular with the smaller drive footprint).

In all cases, except compressing files, Parallels Desktop 5 was noticeably faster than Parallels Desktop 4. Compression was nearly identical between the versions.

  • Launching the virtual machine with a full Windows boot, 8.2% faster
  • Suspending the virtual machine, 76.3% faster
  • Launching the virtual machine from suspend, 10% faster
  • Compressing files, no change
  • File I/O (in particular with the smaller drive footprint), 18.2% faster

3DMark06/Graphics Performance

If you've never heard of 3DMark, it's the most popular 3D game performance benchmark. Specifically, "3DMark06 is a PC benchmark suite designed to test the DirectX9 performance of your graphics card. A 3DMark score is an overall measure of your system's 3D gaming capabilities, based on comprehensive real-time 3D graphics and processor tests." Often, PC gamers will use 3DMark06 to tune their gaming platform. See http://www.futuremark.com/

The most important result is the "3DMark Score" which is an aggregate score that judges the overall 3D graphics performance. In short, Parallels Desktop 5 is more than 8x the speed of version 4. Some things that didn't run at all in version 4, now do well in version 5 with the additional feature support. See the table for more details.


Aside from the benchmarks shown, the difference in graphics performance between Parallels Desktop 4 and Parallels Desktop 5 is stunning. The first thought that came to everyone's mind when seeing the two versions perform side by side was "Wow ... simply wow."

Conclusion

In answer to the question "Should I upgrade to Parallels Desktop 5?" In short, the answer is a resounding yes. If for no other reason than the disk footprint, and amazing graphics differences, you should. That said, the improvements in the general virtual machine performance are a welcome addition.


The editors of MacTech Magazine are a jolly crew who spend their work time playing with their Macs and their spare time working with their Macs. You can reach them at editorial@mactech.com.

 
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