Parallels Desktop beats VMware Fusion in MacTech Labs' virtualization contest

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.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

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.

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