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Benchmark: How do Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, and VMware Fusion stack up?

MacTech Labs has released an extensive benchmark study of Intel-based Mac virtualization solutions.

The benchmarks were designed to see how well Parallels and VMware Fusion stacked up to each other and against Apple's Boot Camp or to a PC.

Over 2500 tests were performed comparing a brand new Fujitsu Lifebook A6025, with an Intel Core Duo running at 1.86 GHz, 1GB RAM, running Windows XP SP2, a MacBook, a MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro.  The MacBook was a 2GB RAM machine, running a 1.83 GHz Core Duo processor. The MacBook Pro was a 4GB RAM machine, running a 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo processor. And, the Mac Pro was a 4GB RAM machine, running a Quad Core configuration with two 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors.

The big questions they want to answer is, which solution do you go with? Does virtualization work well? Which virtualization product is faster? Should I run XP or Vista? In short, there are different answers for different people. It all depends on what your needs are.  

Virtualization

Part of the reason many people own an Intel-based Mac is because of the possibility of running Windows. If you are like most, you are looking to understand the differences between Apple's Boot Camp, VMware Fusion, and Parallels Desktop.

Boot Camp, as you probably know, allows you to run Windows natively on your Intel Mac. Here, Mac OS X is nowhere to be seen, and if you want to switch back and forth, you have to reboot the machine. As we've seen from some of the recent reports, a Mac can run Windows faster than a native PC machine, and it's a nice solution. That said, you probably bought a Mac to run Mac OS X a good chunk of time, and that's where virtualization comes in.

Virtualization technology has been around since the 1960s. In general, it refers to the abstraction of computer resources. In our case, we're talking about the ability to run Windows on a Mac at the same time that you are running Mac OS X.

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Test Types

There are three kinds of tests that we ran: one step tasks, multi-step task tests, and quantitative benchmarks.

The first set of tests was focused on time to complete one step tasks in Microsoft Office 2007, Internet Explorer, and file/network i/o. These one step tasks mean that from the human point of view, once you clicked a mouse, or key, the test would run to completion without further human interaction. For example, launching applications, scrolling large documents, printing, etc.

The second set of tests were "task tests". These were primarily cross platform, and required multiple steps from beginning to end. These were focused on the interaction between Mac OS X and the virtualization environment. For example, if you were to receive a PDF enclosure in Outlook, and you wanted to open it up in Mac OS X Preview; or you wanted to click on an email link in Safari, and you wanted to use it to create a new email message in Outlook.

The third set of tests are quantitative benchmarks using a utility to test CPU, graphics, disk, etc... In our case, we experimented with Sandra 2007 benchmarks, but found the results to be erroneous and not usable for the virtualization environments. We threw out these results and focused on the first two sets.

For those interested in the benchmarking methodologies, see the more detailed testing information in Appendix A. For the detailed results of the tests used for the analysis, see Appendix B. Both appendices are available on the MacTech web site.

Overview

We won't keep you in suspense. In general, here are the conclusions.

When testing the one step tests described above, on average, Parallels is 17% faster than VMware Fusion when running Windows XP, and 1% faster than Boot Camp. For the same tests under Vista, VMware Fusion runs 46% slower than Boot Camp, and Parallels runs 44% slower than VMware Fusion (110% slower than Boot Camp). 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).

VMware Fusion has the capability of creating a virtual machine with two virtual processors. Parallels does not have that capability. For most tasks, two virtual processors had no significant impact, and sometimes ran even slower than the single processor configuration. And, even though we didn't test it here, we would expect those applications that can take advantage of multiple processors to run more quickly in a two virtual processor environment.

In virtually all cases, we found that the faster the machine, the less the difference between Parallels and VMware Fusion. Even more interesting is that both products could be faster than Boot Camp in certain activities. For example, Parallels was very fast at scrolling beating not only the PC, but also Boot Camp, time after time. Similarly, VMware Fusion appears to have some type of disk caching or acceleration in its virtual hard disk which makes it faster than both the PC and Boot Camp.

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Read the entire article from MacTech, here.

Published Thursday, December 20, 2007 6:02 AM by David Marshall
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