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Some thoughts about Parallels Desktop

Virtualization isn't the same thing as working on a bare metal physical machine... I think everyone agrees with that.  The performance is never exactly the same, what with CPU overhead, splitting up the RAM between host and guest, and the biggest drawback to me right now, the fact that a virtual machine is limited with its video.  However, for day to day operations, especially when talking about using a Mac and then needing to run some PC application, I think the problems of virtualization tend to be lessened a great deal.  One of the comments made in the below article is that Boot Camp is still preferred for day to day work, at least to the author and his machine.  I would contend that it really makes a difference as to what your day to day work entails.  If it is running a PC CAD program on your Mac, I would agree.  But if you are running applications that are less of a resource hog or don't have strict video requirements, I believe day to day operations would be better served clicking on a virtual machine rather than rebooting your machine back and forth from one operating system to another.  Again, that is just my opinion.  What do you think?  Are you using Parallels for Mac?  Chime in if you like. 

Quoting Paul Thurrott's Internet Nexus

I've read a lot about the wonders of Parallels Desktop, the new virtualization software for Apple's Intel-based Macs. I even tried it once, briefly, on a woefully underpowered Mac mini. But now that I've got a more reasonable Mac to try it on, a MacBook with 1 GB of RAM, I decided to give it another whirl. My conclusion? Cautious optimism.

First, I need to address a very basic issue. Most of the people now falling over themselves to praise Parallels have only used Microsoft's anemic Virtual PC solution, which ran horribly slowly on PowerPC-based Macs. I've been using virtualization software for the PC for several years, and I've got VMWare Workstation, Virtual PC, and Virtual Server 2005 R2 installed on various machines here in my cluttered office. None of these solutions are perfect, and all come with various performance issues. Thus, I was curious to see whether Parallels lives up to the speed claims I'd read online.

The truth is, it doesn't. Parallels is still virtual machine technology, and that means it runs more slowly than a real PC. It also exhibits the tell-tale signs of virtualization that betray what's really going on under the hood, even when running in full-screen mode: The mouse cursor tends to lag behind your actual movements somewhat, resulting in a vaguely disconcerting pointing experience that is suspiciously similar to that of a badly-tuned Tablet PC stylus. (Update: The mouse vagueness is partially removed by installing the bundled Parallels Tools. It's still horrible when you drag and drop anything.)

That said, Parallels does perform very well for what it is, about on par with what I experience on the PC with VMWare or Virtual Server. That this is a 1.0 product is astonishing. VMWare and Microsoft/Connectix have had years to refine their offerings. For those who just need occasional Windows application compatibility, Parallels is an excellent solution, no doubt about it. But if you want to run Windows regularly, Boot Camp is absolutely the way to go. The experiences are night and day: With Boot Camp, you're running Windows XP just like you would on a real PC. With Parallels, it's clearly a virtual machine.

Obviously, there are better Parallels machines than mine. More RAM would help (the MacBook supports another gigabyte beyond my configuration, and the 588 MB of RAM I've allotted to XP could be bumped up accordingly). A MacBook Pro or other Mac with a dedicated video card might speed desktop rendering, though to be fair the display is virtualization in software anyway, so it's unclear how much that would help.

Overall, Parallels is surprisingly nice and it's certainly inexpensive. It can't replace Boot Camp for day-to-day work, at least not on my system. So once again, reality gets in the way of hype. But don't be discouraged: Parallels is still the best virtualization solution on the Mac by far, and it's about on par with more mature Windows-based solutions. That, certainly, is worthy of praise.

The original article can be found, here.

Published Wednesday, June 21, 2006 6:50 AM by David Marshall
Comments
Mark - June 21, 2006 6:10 PM
Just downloaded Parallels on an iMac and installed XP Pro. The XP runs just as well as it does on my corporate laptop (not exactly state of the art but it doesn't suck). My only issue is that the MAC OS now runs a little slow. It might have to do with the fact that I am running on 512MB of RAM (which I am fixing tomorrow) As for Boot Camp vs. Parallels, all I can say is that i appreciate the ability to basically hit CTL+ALT to move from XP back to MAC as opposed to rebooting
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