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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

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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), 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 720p HD Video in Windows Media Player.

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 1/4 faster, it's not a significant difference to the user in real terms.

  • CPU use for sitting idle (in %)

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 12.8% less CPU use (0.4% less use, best: 2.95 CPU use)

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 8.6% less CPU use (0.3% less use, best: 2.79 CPU use)

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

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 2.9% less CPU use (0.1% less use, best: 4.19% CPU use)

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 22.6% less CPU use (1.2% less use, best: 4.02% CPU use)

  • CPU use for play 720p HD Video (in %)

    • XP: Parallels Desktop 14.8% less CPU use (3.8% less use, best: 21.73% CPU use)

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop 17.1% less CPU use (4.7% less use, best: 22.84% CPU use)

Figure 9: Virtual Machine CPU Usage

For the exhaust battery test, we ran an "endless loop" macro in Excel that generated random numbers. When approaching the end of battery, both virtualization products go into a hibernate mode saving off where things are at.

  • Exhaust Battery: Endless Macro in Excel (on MacBook)

    • XP: Parallels Desktop lasted 2% (3 minutes longer for 149 minutes total).

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop lasted 0.9% longer (2 minutes longer for 216 minutes total)

  • Exhaust Battery: Endless Macro in Excel (on MacBook Pro)

    • XP: Essentially equal. (For 130 minutes total).

    • Windows 7: Parallels Desktop lasted 3.7% longer (5 minutes longer for 135 minutes total)

Figure 10: Virtualized Machine Battery Performance


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