Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

Summary: In its semi-annual head-to-head Windows virtualization slugfest, MacTech Labs found that Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion performs better on most Mac benchmarks.

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In its semi-annual head-to-head Windows virtualization slugfest, MacTech Labs found that Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion performs better on most Mac benchmarks.

The benchmarking report covers both desktop and mobile Macs and a variety of common business applications and platforms, including Internet Explorer 9. The results are very interesting. Parallels Desktop's new power management architecture will be a hit with mobile pros and its greater speed with IE 9 will be important for folks running browser-based apps.

In the vast majority of overall our tests, Parallels Desktop 7 won. Again, if you count up the general tests (including the top 3D graphics scores), Parallels won 60% of the tests by 10% or more. And, if you include all the tests where Parallels was at least 5% faster, as well as the balance of the 3DMark06 graphics tests, Parallels increased the lead further. In other words, Parallels Desktop 7 beat VMware Fusion 4.0.2 in 74.9% of the general tests we ran, and Parallels was double the speed or more in almost a quarter of the top-level tests.

Here are a number of bits that I caught my eye:

In the past, there's been a concern about keeping the virtualized environment open and running while doing the rest of your Mac computing. However, current hardware can handle the load, helped by the targeting of this concern in the software.

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), which has an impact not only on usability but also, on laptops, how long the battery would last. CPU usage was measured using "top" (a command line tool that's part of UNIX with a minimum of 50 continuous samples averaged for the result). For all tests, we removed the high and low use outliers to give a more typical impact.

While Parallels did use substantially less CPU when you look at percentages, in reality, they both took so little of the CPU (except for VMware Fusion on a MacBook), that you can really let these apps sit idly and not worry about it bogging down your machine.

MacTech's report said not to bother with multiple virtual CPUs. "As for 64-bit, you should use it (especially in Windows 7) unless you have a driving reason not to."

Many people have the feeling of "more is better," but when it comes to RAM in the virtual machine, that is not necessarily the case. More RAM means longer virtual machine launch times, suspends and resumes. For most users, 1 GB of virtual machine RAM will work best for Windows 7. Use more than that only if you really know you need it. Gaming may do best with 1.25-1.5 GB of RAM if you can spare it.

There was an amusing section on how Microsoft Security Essentials in Office 2010 impacts the performance of Parallels Desktop.

If you have Office 2010 installed, and Windows Update configured to do updates, you'll notice Microsoft Security Essentials is now part of the Optional Updates. This is important to take note of as it will have an impact on basically anything that touches the disk (boot times, compress, network copies to disk, and more). In fact, in the current versions of PD7, it eliminates some of the speed margin we've seen in the past when compared to VF4. VF4 did not seem to be impacted, or at least as much.

As this last bit shows, the actual performance benefits of Parallels Desktop may not be so acute in your real-world workflow. The benchmarks for 3D performance (dare we say gaming) may not have anything to do with your own work, unless you're running CAD software.

Check out MacTech Labs' report. It's mandatory reading for any Mac manager.

Topics: Processors, Apple, Hardware, Virtualization, VMware

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5 comments
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  • RE: Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

    I generally use Parallels as my primary desktop VM host, but I find that VMware Fusion generally has better support for Linux and direct hardware access.

    The hardware access is the biggie. For example, some devices offer firmware upgrades or configuration tools that only run under Windows. I usually have a difficult time getting these to work under Parallels, if I can even get them working. I generally keep an XP VM handy in Fusion as I've never had a problem with hardware access.

    I've been able to upgrade non-Apple optical drive firmware, configure non-mac supported mouse settings on a Razer mouse, and revert an A500 tablet from HC 3.2 to 3.0 all from a Windows VM on Fusion. I had limited success with the mouse configuration, little to no success with optical drive firmware and no success at all with the tablet firmware downgrade under Parallels.

    Of course, you can always use Bootcamp, but I find it way more convenient to be able to do these things in a VM.
    tk_77
    • RE: Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

      @tk_77 <br>I'm not throwing the hardware curves you are at them, but I agree that VMWare is better for Linux (and BSD) guests. Parallels feels better for Windows and now there's testing.<br><br>Nova (Parallels) makes itself a nuisance with constant special deals and emails about its genealogy software (and I'd be interested, why?).<br><br>For both of them I've had experiences where registering my upgrade and navigating the web site turned into a head-scratching experience. If it weren't for Lion related changes, I probably would have passed on upgrades this year.<br><br>Also, for some reason the Vista guest in Parallels that I've been running and upgrading since 2007 on my MBP 15 seems to think it has snapshots when it comes time to do compression or making a portable image. So it will not execute the command, but Parallels shows no snapshots. I guess there's a code and I could look around on the website for the fix, but, oy vey, I didn't do anything out of the ordinary, why do I have this problem?
      DannyO_0x98
  • Awesome

    I cannot believe how fast the new Parallels VM's run on my Mini. I almost always have Windows 7 and some other VM (typically some Linux incantation so I can web browse without fear of somehow affecting my Mac). The new version is much faster in several areas: a) Coming back from a Suspend is nearly instantaneous for Win 7, a dramatic improvement over the old version b) Linux performance is so good that there is no reason to do much in a regular browser on the Mac, especially since I'm getting the protection of a VM that is write-protected.

    I have a Win 7 laptop that I lug around when I have to, but Parallels performance is comparable to that, even for heavy-duty database crunching.
    m0o0o0o0o
  • RE: Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

    I do need to use multiple virtual CPUs and lots of memory to run R. Parallels fails badly. I always get a blue screen if I use more than one CPU (I have 8 on my MacPro). And I have complained about this to Parallels for the past 3 versions, without getting a fix. Their response is "use 1 CPU and 4GB memory." They should stop advertising that they can handle more!!!<br><br>But VMware is no better, and they charge for support.
    jarome
  • RE: Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

    I've tried both and generally, Fusion is more flexible, or at least clearer. In Parallels, my printer didn't work properly, the USB drives I use are not to be found and I can't find how to use both cores of my MBP 15. I run Windows 7 Pro 64bit and although Parallels seems a bit faster, not being able to find my printer (networked) is a big game changer. I also run Linux and Solaris (I am a sys admin) but not all at the same time. The templates of Fusion are far better for non Windows. All-in-all, I had to deinstall Parallels and it mucks up Fusion. I had to reinstall Fusion and Fusion did not muck up Parallels. As far as support, I've never used it, the forums are usually good enough.
    ManoaHI