In the last couple weeks, we have seen Mac OS X Snow Leopard and Windows 7 launch. With major OS updates, comes updates to virtualization software. Both, Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion have been updated with Snow Leopard support and Windows 7 integration. For the past year, I have been a VMware Fusion 2 user and have been very happy. Instead of just paying the upgrade fee and moving up the the newest version, I decided to download the free fully functional trials of both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion to compare them. The results were pretty surprising.
I ran my test with Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion on my Macbook Pro 15″ with Windows 7 Ultimate as the OS of choice inside both virtual machines. All Windows 7 settings were the same for both test. I used 2GB of RAM and 1 core of a dual core Intel processor.
Windows 7 Integration
Both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion claim to have full Windows 7 support. Both claim to support Windows 7′s advanced visual features known as “Aero”. I can confirm that both systems support them, but I have found that enabling Aero in Windows 7 signifficantly hurts the performance of both Parallels and VMware. In VMware, I had to disable it because I couldn’t do anything with Aero enabled, it was just very laggy and slow. Parallels was a little bit better, but performance was still effected heavily when Aero was enabled. I found it was best to just disable these advanced visual features on both Parallels and VMware. Other than that, Windows 7 support seems to be great, I have not discovered any other bugs or concerns in regards to Windows 7.
Speed and Performance
While both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion have improved upon performance and speed from previous versions, I find Parallels to be significantly faster than VMware. One of the best new features on Windows 7 is the short start up and shut down times, which I can confirm first hand are much faster than any other version of Windows. I ran 5 different start up and shut down test on both Parallels and VMware, and the results were surprisingly different. VMware Fusion 3.0 had an average start up time of 1 minute and 27 seconds and an average shut down time of 27 seconds. Parallels Desktop had an average start up time of 1 minute and 4 seconds and a average shut down time of 17 seconds. I was very surprised to find that Parallels won both test (20+ seconds on start up and 10 seconds on shut down.) While a few seconds to some might not seems like much, I found the additional time with VMware to be noticeable.
Both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion offer a wide range of views which allow you to view Windows 7 as a whole in full screen mode or integrate it heavily with Snow Leopard and the dock. I personally prefer to run Windows 7 full screen in my #2 space on my 4 space setup, but I did explore all the different views for the purpose of this write up. VMware offers a windowed, unity, and full screen view. All of which work well. Parallels offers quite a few more options. Parallels full screen and windowed views are the same as VMware Fusion, but they offer a couple of other options allowing you to choose how much of the windows experience you wish to have. The new Crystal mode allows you to work in Windows, but have the look and feel of a Mac. Coherence view allows you to run Windows and Mac applications side by side as if both OS’ are one. Modality takes all your Windows 7 windows and runs them as transparent windows in Mac OS X.
The pictures below are all of Parallels new Crystal View. The last one has an added option to make the windows look like mac windows. This option if known as “Mac Look” in the config panel.
For me, the configuration options are were Parallels Desktop puts the final nail in the coffin for VMware Fusion. Parallels offers a ton of options and configurations that are not found in VMware. I found that simple tasks like setting up a printer or network are much easier to do with the Parallels config panel. After being with the VMware Fusion option panel for a year, I found the parallels options panel to be a change for the better. Parallels allows you to customize views and integration settings in ways VMware doesn’t even come close to. One other thing I very much liked was how Parallels offers recommended settings based on which OS you have running inside the virtual machine. One option I liked in particular, is the expandable drive offered by Parallels. With VMware, you choose the size of your drive, say 40 gigs, and that is it, you have 40 gigs taken up for your virtual machine regardless of if you are using it in the virtual machine. Parallels on the other hand allows you to set the virtual machine drive size, but it doesn’t automatically occupy the full 40 gigs, it only fills what it uses and will expand as you go up to 40 gigs if it needs to. ( I was mistaken, both VMware and Parallels do this, VMware just hides it a bit.)
Parallels Desktop for Mac is defiantly the winner over VMware Fusion. For me, it is 2 major things that made me switch from VMware Fusion to Parallels Desktop. First, is overall performance and speed, increases. As discussed earlier, I found Parallels to be much quicker with starting up and shutting down. I also noticed better performance on the Mac side with Parallels. VMware for me just seemed to cause applications for freeze up on the Mac side. The second thing, is the options menu as I discussed earlier. The more advanced settings and options that Parallels Desktop offers really allows me to get my Virtual PC setup so both my OS X and Windows 7 applications run smoothly and perform as they should. More control with an application is always a big plus in my eyes.
Parallels Desktop for Mac is available in many brick and mortar and online retailers. You can purchase it online from Parallels.com for $79.99. If you are a pervious Parallels or VMware Fusion owner, you can upgrade to Parallels Desktop 5 for $49.99. Yes, you heard it right, even VMware Fusion people can receive upgrade pricing from Parallels.com. The details on the offer can be found here at the bottom right side of the page.