Kitchens Sync

Virtualization Shootout: VMWare Fusion 2 vs. Parallels Desktop 4

- 2008.11.20 - Tip Jar

Parallels, the company behind the first ever virtualization program for the Intel Mac, has recently updated its software to its fourth version. I decided to pit it against VMware's recently released second version of its Mac virtualization product, Fusion.

For those searching for buying advice, there was a clear winner.

Installation Results

I obtained and installed 30-day trial copies of the two packages in question. Both installed easily and accepted the trial key I gave them. For my tests I used a 20 GB pre-allocated virtual drive with each program. Each virtual machine was set to give the performance advantage to my copy of Windows XP, and each machine was configured with 512 MB of RAM, host only networking, 3D graphics acceleration, and 2 virtual processors.

All tests were conducted on my iMac, a Early 2008 20"/2.4 Ghz Core2 Duo Penryn model, stock except for the upgrade to 2 GB of RAM. To test the 3D functionality, I ran the tests in DirectX's diagnostics, keeping an eye on CPU utilization.

Fusion Installation

I started my tests with VMware Fusion. I created a new virtual machine and set its options to match the test configuration. I opted to manually install Windows and started up the machine. It immediately detected my Windows source disc and began booting. Installation from that point forward was uneventful.

One perk I did notice was that the mouse automatically transitioned at the virtual screen's edge during installation without the tools being present. Also, during the most strenuous parts of the installation, Fusion stayed between 100% and 110% utilization (total possible utilization is 200% when both cores of my Mac's CPU are fully loaded). I was able to continue work and listen to music in iTunes without any detectable sluggishness.

I will cover my experience with the machine post-installation below.

Parallels Installation

My tests with Parallels Desktop did not go as well. In fact, my attempts to install Windows XP did not go at all.

When I attempted to install Windows, Parallels shot my CPU load to full, the program itself took greater than 190% of the total load. My computer was so taxed that even after I managed to quit all other running programs, the clock froze. This effect was most evident due to the fact that my clock is set to display the time with seconds. At a certain point, the seconds simply stopped incrementing.

However, the installation process continued to progress; everything inside the installer window worked normally, but everything else, including input, did not function. After 10 minutes, the installation failed, citing a cryptic error message, and I regained limited control over my computer. The clock started moving forward again, and I regained jerky mouse control.

I managed to halt the frozen machine, but I had to manually use Activity Monitor to kill every Parallel's process, which were still locking up my machine even after I had quit the program.

Thinking I had a corrupt Parallels installation, I ran the uninstaller, restarted, and tried again. After my fifth attempt at trying to make it work, I gave up. I was only able to get a working virtual machine after importing my pristine VMware Fusion file.

Trial Results

Using Fusion

In my testing, VMware Fusion continued to perform quite admirably. Even during 3D tasks, the processor load never exceeded 120%. Everything worked as advertised. Each of my printers was given its own instance in Windows, and printing worked wonderfully; each job also carried its job title over to the Mac, helping to sort and identify the jobs.

I tested Unity, and though there were some graphics glitches, everything worked well; as soon as I switched modes, my running apps were given individual icons in the Dock.

Using Parallels

On the other hand, Parallels Desktop displayed more of its shortcomings.

After the half-hour process of importing the VMware file, I began tests. During 3D engagements, the CPU strain reached 150%. During startup alone, the CPU usage shot to full and Parallels' consumed greater than 190% of the total - so high that the same mouse and time glitches seen during installation appeared. Thankfully the load dropped down to hover around 100% after startup had completed.

Parallels' Coherence mode worked almost identically to Fusion's Unity, even showing similar graphics glitches. However, much to my chagrin, Parallels sorted the running programs by placing the Windows taskbar right above the Dock. This cluttered the display and did not help the whole concept of "coherence" with the Mac's apps and interface.

When I went to test printers I found that a random color HP laser printer driver had been installed. I discovered that I had to manually switch which printer I wanted to print to in Parallels' interface, an inconvenience. Also, every job simply displayed an identical generic name, which in no way helped me to tell which job was which.

Will the Missing Software Please Raise Your Disk Image?

I am recommending VMware as the best commercial virtualization app. Notice that I said commercial. Also notice that I left out another virtualization solution: the open-source VirtualBox. Next time, I am going to review and compare it to VMware to see which app reigns supreme for running Windows on your Mac. LEM

Purchase Links

  • VMware Fusion 2, currently $62.99 shipped from Amazon.com
  • Parallels Desktop 4 for Mac, $79.99 download direct from Parallels, also CD version $79.99 shipped from Amazon.com, plus $20 mail-in rebate

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