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

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

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

How do VMware Fusion 3 and Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac compare?

By Neil Ticktin, Editor-in-Chief/Publisher

Start | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

On the 3DMark06 Performance chart, you'll see a variety of places where there is no data. This was specifically where VMware Fusion, running Windows 7, was unable to run part of the tests, and therefore there's no data at that point on the chart. VMware Fusion ran the tests fine, however, on Windows XP. Parallels was able to run all the tests on both XP and Windows 7 without a problem.

Here were the results:

  • 3DMark06 Overall Score

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 74.7% faster

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 74.9% faster

  • SM2.0 Score

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 136.5% faster

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 178.9% faster

  • HDR/SM3.0 Score

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 18.2% faster

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 8.4% faster

  • CPU Score

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 5.9% faster

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 10.6% faster

Figure 15: 3DMark06 Performance


One of the most frequent questions that we were asked after our last virtualization benchmarks was "What about games?" The 3DMark06 testing did give us good insight and excellent data, but we also wanted to try some games and see how they worked. (Ok, maybe it was just a good excuse ... you got me. <g>)

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars is a first-person shooter video game, and is the follow-up to Quake 4. As such, we were excited to play (I mean, er, test) it. There are a variety of versions, including one for the Mac. See

Figure 16: Enemy Territory: Quake Wars on Parallels Desktop runs well

On the MacBook, both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop struggled. We believe that this is primarily due to the hardware limitations. VMware was not smooth on any of the machines, and some of them were not fully rendered. VMware Fusion was completely unable to run this game under Windows 7.

While this game ran well under Parallels Desktop 5, because of VMware's problems with the game, we removed it from the benchmarking comparisons.

Devil May Cry 4

Devil May Cry 4 is the fourth in the Devil May Cry series of action games by CAPCOM. In the game, you fight enemies in close combat using firearms, swords, and other weapons. High speed, high action. See

We looked at Devil May Cry 4 (from DVD, not Steam) in part because it has some very nicely reproducible frames per second (FPS) tests built in. But ultimately, we dropped this game from the benchmark results. While each of the virtualization environments performed better in terms of FPS at times (e.g., sometimes Parallels Desktop was faster, and sometimes VMware Fusion was faster), FPS really didn't matter here because the displayed result was nowhere near comparable.

While I'd like to see smoother graphics (e.g., faster FPS), Parallels Desktop was quite playable, and the game worked well.

Under VMware Fusion however, Devil May Cry 4, at best, was a struggle to run. The VMware Fusion machine was often unresponsive, loading time for the game was very, very long (several times longer than Parallels Desktop), and even quitting the application under VMware Fusion took several minutes. Most importantly, VMware Fusion did not render many things properly (see the startup screen capture below as an example) which in our mind made the FPS test irrelevant.

Figure 17: Devil May Cry 4 Startup Screen, Running on VMware Fusion

Figure 18: Devil May Cry 4 Startup Screen, Running on Parallels Desktop

Civilization IV: Colonization

While this game has been recently released on the Mac natively, we've tested with it before, and wanted to see how well it worked. This game is 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 19: 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. In addition, it was with the full quality graphics.

By contrast, however, VMware Fusion had issues running it Civilization IV: Colonization on either the MacBook or MacBook Pro under Windows 7. It would launch, but not make it past the splash screen.

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.


Portal is an incredibly enticing "action/puzzle" game developed by Valve Software ( 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 20: Portal

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