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Parallels, VMware Fusion, Boot Camp battle in real-world tests

A fresh review of Windows virtualization products for Mac OS X machines reports that Parallels was faster in accomplishing a wide number of common business and user tasks with Windows XP, as VMware Fusion moved ahead with Windows Vista.

Parallels, VMware Fusion, Boot Camp battle in real-world tests
A fresh review of Windows virtualization products for Mac OS X machines reports that Parallels was faster in accomplishing a wide number of common business and user tasks with Windows XP, as VMware Fusion moved ahead with Windows Vista.

The review was performed by MacTech Labs for an upcoming issue of MacTech magazine. The testing compared an Intel Core Duo-based PC notebook running Windows XP (Fujitsu Lifebook A6025) with a MacBook, a MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro running either Boot Camp, Parallels and VMware Fusion. It's very interesting reading.

The testing was mostly about real-world use of the computers including one-step tasks such as launching apps and scrolling in documents; and sets of tasks where the user would open documents in one OS and use them in another. The team ran benchmarks but decided that the results were all wrong and focused on the real-world performance.

The applications tested included most of the Microsoft Office suite and Outlook, which the testers noted was an applications that has no real equivalent on the Mac.

Entourage is of course available, but it is not a "Mac version of Outlook". As a result, many people are tied to Outlook use for corporate environments or because it has some specific feature set they need. Virtualization provides the perfect solution for this type of environment.

Check out a related story: Uncovering the missing Mac OS X applications.

The winner for each category of tests depended on the specific tasks involved and the flavor of Windows running in virtualization, XP or Vista. And the result was influenced by the architectural decisions made in engineering each product.

For example, Fusion seeks to segregate the virtualized OS and apps from the host system, while Parallels wants to merge the two. Each approach is valid.

For the task tests, Parallels is the clear winner over VMware Fusion - averaging over 6x faster than its competitor on XP, and 5.2x faster on Vista. To be clear, however, this is not because of poor virtualization performance per se, but the way each product is designed. Parallels is designed to have the virtual machine interact transparently with the host OS (Mac OS X). VMware Fusion, on the other hand, is designed on purpose to keep the environments separate. As a result, there are many extra steps you have to do sometimes if you are going back and forth between the host OS (Mac OS X) and the virtual machine (Windows).

Towards the end of the story is a comparison of XP and Vista. It's fun reading.

For example, when running Boot Camp, the Macs were faster Windows machines than the PC. But Vista levied a serious performance hit when compared with XP, ranging between 17 and 30 percent, the review said. However, we should note that this performance gap is something that is expected to be addressed with the upcoming SP1 version of Vista.

Which virtualization solution do you prefer?