TweetFollow Us on Twitter

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

Why Virtualization?

A few years back, Apple switched the Mac platform from PowerPC to Intel processors. This introduced some interesting opportunities for the Mac, including the ability to run operating systems other than Mac OS X on a Mac. This includes not only your everyday Windows XP, but also other Windows OSes, including 64-bit versions, and a wide variety of Linux and other OSes.

You may already understand your options for running Windows on a Mac, but in case you don't, your first choice is to decide between Apple's Boot Camp, and a virtualization product like VMware Fusion, or Parallels Desktop for Mac. With Apple's Boot Camp, you can run Windows natively, but you have to reboot every time you want to switch between Mac OS and Windows. In addition, you can only use one OS at a time. That's not particularly convenient. For that reason, MacTech recommends a virtualization product for most users.

Virtualization gives "switchers" (those switching from Windows to Mac) comfort because they can use their old applications, more easily get to old data, and in many cases, it allows them to use some critical piece of software not available on the Mac. For example, your job may require you to run Internet Explorer, or Outlook, if that's all that your corporate systems support. Of course, you may simply want to play a Windows game not available on the Mac.

With virtualization, like you'll see in Parallels Desktop for Mac or in VMware Fusion, you can run Windows alongside the Mac OS, getting the best of both worlds. For many, this may mean running Windows in a "window" on your Mac. Both VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop also have the ability to run Windows applications even more transparently, but we'll leave that for another discussion.

The Big Question

So which virtualization product do you go with? Which solution is faster? Should you run Windows XP or 7? 32-bit or 64-bit? One virtual processor or more? In short, there are different answers for different people: it all depends on your needs.

To tackle this problem, MacTech undertook a huge benchmarking project starting a couple months ago. This is similar to the virtualization benchmarking project that MacTech undertook in the past. In both cases, as with other MacTech benchmarks, we tested performance of the types of things that everyday users typically do. In this case, it was not just testing the Windows OS performance, but also commonly used Windows applications. This time, we paid even more attention to 3D graphics and gaming.

The goal was to see how VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop performed, covering both Windows XP and Windows 7. Furthermore, we wanted to see some of the differences with different Mac models, multiple processors and 64-bit versions of Windows.

Sounds simple enough, right? But when you start to realize that there were four different models of Macs, two virtualized environments, XP and Windows 7, some of which were 64-bit and multiprocessor while most were 32-bit and single virtual CPU, along with a whole slew of tests, each needing to be run several times, there were thousands of tests to be completed ... many with a stopwatch.

In fact, the testing took long enough that during the course of preparing these tests, both Parallels and VMware released minor updates, and those are the versions that we tested with.

To be clear, this article is not a product review; it's a benchmarking analysis (although we were morally obligated to comment on some of the 3D graphics and games <g>). The article's purpose is to assess performance (including issues we found if something didn't work right), and not product features, user interface, etc... You should use feature and support information in conjunction with the below benchmarking results to make your product choice.

Before you ask why other solutions and products were not included, let's answer that. In short, my response is "give me a break." This benchmark project is already huge with several thousand collected data points crossing two guest OSes (Windows XP and 7), four models of computers, and over 50 tests each run 3-5 times for most of the environments. And that's before a single word of this article is written!  To add even one more product would increase this huge test matrix by 50%.  As a result, we focused on the two leading commercial virtualization products.  These two products also have free trial versions that you can compare against other solutions ... so you can try them for yourself and compare alongside any other solution you want at any time including before you buy.

One thing to note, however, is that the open source and other products may not be for everyone, especially non-technical users. For many, these offerings can be difficult to understand and install, and they do not have technical or product support behind them. Obviously, users can reach out in forums and the community, but if you don't understand something, you won't be able to pick up the phone and call support the way you can with a commercial product.  If that works for you, great.  If not, as is the case for most users, then a commercial product is likely your solution.

The Test Bench

When we were choosing computer models, we set out to choose the current models of Macs giving a good representation of what most people may have. Certainly, the faster models of these computers will perform even faster.

We chose four Mac models to compare alongside each other: the "White" MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac, and Mac Pro.

  • 2GB MacBook, Intel Core 2 Duo processor ("White MacBook")
    Specifically: MacBook 2.26GHz 2GB/250GB White/ NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (late-2009)

  • 4GB MacBook Pro, Intel Core 2 Duo processor ("Unibody MacBook Pro")
    Specifically: MacBook Pro 15in 2.66GHz 4GB/320GB/ NVIDIA 9400M + 9600M GT

  • 4GB iMac, Intel Core 2 Duo processor
    Specifically: iMac 21.5in 3.06GHz 4GB/500GB/ NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (late-2009)

  • 3GB Mac Pro, Quad-Core Intel Xeon processors
    Specifically: Mac Pro Quad-Core 2.66GHz 3GB/640GB/ NVIDIA GeForce GT120

Memory for virtual machines can be configured with a wide array of settings. As a general rule, VMware Fusion's default memory for each configuration (of physical RAM and "guest" OS) was the same or lower than Parallels Desktop (although sometimes it was higher). As a result, we let VMware's default guide the way, and set Parallels Desktop to the same as whatever VMware Fusion defaulted to. In most cases, this was 512MB for Windows XP, and 1GB for Windows 7.

Similarly, for disk allocation, we defaulted to the sizes set up by VMware Fusion (40GB) and allowed for expanding disks. We took special care to make sure that the disk location of the virtual hard drive was in a similar physical location as that can make a significant difference in and of itself in disk performance.

The tests compared VMware Fusion 3.0.1, with Parallels Desktop for Mac 5.0 (build 9308), running Mac OS X 10.6.2. All required Windows updates were installed for each version of XP and Windows 7.

Test Types

There are a variety of often referred to, and utilized benchmarking suites in the computer industry including SPEC tests, PCMark, Unixbench and others. Each of these tests uses a series of tests that measure in a consistent way to assess specific types of performances. The key to each of these tests is appropriateness, repeatability, and accuracy.

When testing virtual machines, however, using outside utilities within a virtualized environment often provides strange and incorrect results. For example, there are many issues with internal timers not displaying measurements accurately, and some suites don't work at all in a virtual machine environment. Instead, as we have in the past, MacTech chose to create a suite of tests that would mimic what many users would do in normal use, but stick to those actions that were repeatable, and measurable with a stopwatch. After all, if you couldn't perceive a difference with a stopwatch, the user is not likely to perceive it at all.

There are two exceptions to this: graphics/gaming and CPU utilization. In these two cases, we found that testing utilities not only work well, but also are necessary to give the most repeatable and concrete results.

To that end, there are several kinds of tests that we ran: Virtual Machine Launch/Suspend, CPU tests, File and Network IO, CPU Usage Footprint, Application Performance, and 3D and HD Graphics.

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

 
AAPL
$95.60
Apple Inc.
-2.55
MSFT
$43.16
Microsoft Corpora
-0.42
GOOG
$571.60
Google Inc.
-15.82

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

OneNote 15.2 - Free digital notebook fro...
OneNote is your very own digital notebook. With OneNote, you can capture that flash of genius, that moment of inspiration, or that list of errands that’s too important to forget. Whether you’re at... Read more
iStat Menus 4.22 - Monitor your system r...
iStat Menus lets you monitor your system right from the menubar. Included are 8 menu extras that let you monitor every aspect of your system. Some features: CPU -- Monitor cpu usage. 7 display... Read more
Ember 1.8 - Versatile digital scrapbook....
Ember (formerly LittleSnapper) is your digital scrapbook of things that inspire you: websites, photos, apps or other things. Just drag in images that you want to keep, organize them into relevant... Read more
OmniPlan 2.3.6 - Robust project manageme...
With OmniPlan, you can create logical, manageable project plans with Gantt charts, schedules, summaries, milestones, and critical paths. Break down the tasks needed to make your project a success,... Read more
Command-C 1.1.1 - Clipboard sharing tool...
Command-C is a revolutionary app which makes easy to share your clipboard between iOS and OS X using your local WiFi network, even if the app is not currently opened. Copy anything (text, pictures,... Read more
Knock 1.1.7 - Unlock your Mac by knockin...
Knock is a faster, safer way to sign in. You keep your iPhone with you all the time. Now you can use it as a password. You never have to open the app -- just knock on your phone twice, even when it's... Read more
Mellel 3.3.6 - Powerful word processor w...
Mellel is the leading word processor for OS X and has been widely considered the industry standard since its inception. Mellel focuses on writers and scholars for technical writing and multilingual... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.0.4 - 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
Freeway Pro 7.0 - Drag-and-drop Web desi...
Freeway Pro lets you build websites with speed and precision... without writing a line of code! With it's user-oriented drag-and-drop interface, Freeway Pro helps you piece together the website of... Read more
Drive Genius 3.2.4 - Powerful system uti...
Drive Genius is an OS X utility designed to provide unsurpassed storage management. Featuring an easy-to-use interface, Drive Genius is packed with powerful tools such as a drive optimizer, a... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Dawn of the Immortals Review
Dawn of the Immortals Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: RESPECTABLE EXPLORATIONUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dawn of the Immortals might not re-invent the wheel, but it does tweak it a little... | Read more »
80 Days Review
80 Days Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: EPIC ADVENTUREUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A fantastic and fascinating re-envisioning of the classic novel by Jules Verne, 80 Days is a delightful... | Read more »
Battleheart Legacy Guide
The world of Battleheart Legacy is fun and deep; full of wizards, warriors, and witches. Here are some tips and tactics to help you get the most enjoyment out of this great game. | Read more »
Puzzle Roo Review
Puzzle Roo Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: PUZZLE-BASED TWISTUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad A different take on the usual block dropping puzzle game, Puzzle Roo is quite pleasant.   | Read more »
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfi...
Super Crossfire Re-Release Super Crossfighter Coming Soon, Other Radiangames Titles Go 50% Off Posted by Ellis Spice on July 31st, 2014 [ | Read more »
Hexiled Review
Hexiled Review By Rob Thomas on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: HEX SELLSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad In space, no one can hear you… spell? Hexiled is a neat concept for a word scramble puzzle, but it doesn’t go too... | Read more »
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Milli...
Summoners War: Sky Arena Passes 10 Million Installs! Posted by Jessica Fisher on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Deep Loot Review
Deep Loot Review By Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: DIVE DEEPUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Dive deep in this fun explore-em-up that’s a little grind heavy but ultimately quite entertaining.   | Read more »
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year O...
Despicable Me: Minion Rush is One Year Old, Gets its Biggest Update Yet Posted by Jennifer Allen on July 31st, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Fish & Shark Review
Fish & Shark Review By Jordan Minor on July 31st, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAPPY FISHUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Fish & Shark’s beauty is only scale deep.   | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Save up to $130 on an iPad mini with Apple re...
The Apple Store has Certified Refurbished 2nd generation iPad minis with Retina Displays available for up to $130 off the cost of new models, starting at $339. Apple’s one-year warranty is included... Read more
iPad Cannibalization Threat “Overblown”
Seeking Alpha’s Kevin Greenhalgh observes that while many commentators think Apple’s forthcoming 5.5-inch panel iPhone 6 will cannibalize iPad sales, in his estimation, these concerns are being... Read more
Primate Labs Releases July 2014 MacBook Pro P...
Primate Labs’ John Poole has posted Geekbench 3 results for most of the new MacBook Pro models that Apple released on Tuesday. Poole observes that overall performance improvements for the new MacBook... Read more
Apple Re-Releases Bugfixed MacBook Air EFI Fi...
Apple has posted a bugfixed version EFI Firmware Update 2.9 a for MacBook Air (Mid 2011) models. The update addresses an issue where systems may take longer to wake from sleep than expected, and... Read more
Save $50 on the 2.5GHz Mac mini, plus free sh...
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 $140 on an iPad Air with Apple ref...
Apple is offering Certified Refurbished iPad Airs for up to $140 off MSRP. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Stock tends to come and go with some of these... Read more
$250 price drop on leftover 15-inch Retina Ma...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2013 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by $250 off original MSRP. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.3GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $2249, $250 off... Read more
More iPad Upgrade Musings – The ‘Book Mystiqu...
Much discussed recently, what with Apple reporting iPad sales shrinkage over two consecutive quarters, is that it had apparently been widely assumed that tablet users would follow a two-year hardware... Read more
13-inch 2.5GHz MacBook Pro on sale for $999,...
Best Buy has the 13″ 2.5GHz MacBook Pro available for $999.99 on their online store. Choose free shipping or free instant local store pickup (if available). Their price is $100 off MSRP. Price is... 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

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
Sr. Product Leader, *Apple* Store Apps - Ap...
**Job Summary** Imagine what you could do here. At Apple , great ideas have a way of becoming great products, services, and customer experiences very quickly. Bring Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
Sr Software Lead Engineer, *Apple* Online S...
Sr Software Lead Engineer, Apple Online Store Publishing Systems Keywords: Company: Apple Job Code: E3PCAK8MgYYkw Location (City or ZIP): Santa Clara Status: Full Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.