Parallels Desktop 6 review

£65
Price when reviewed

For our tests, though, we used our existing Windows installation, and accepted the default 768MB of RAM. In full-screen virtual mode, the overall benchmark score fell to 0.68.

It’s worth noting that the slowdown was by no means uniform across our tests. Our CPU-based audio encoding test was only 7% slower under Parallels, but tests that opened and closed lots of windows were hit by Parallels’ slower graphics performance: the Office test was 20% slower, and Photoshop slowed down by a full 30%, although these applications still felt responsive enough for everyday use.

The worst result was in our 3D rendering test, which was slashed by 47% in Parallels: a brief investigation revealed that, by default, only one core of the Core 2 Duo CPU had been made available to the guest OS, halving the processing power available to multi-threaded applications. Setting Parallels to use both cores restored performance to the expected levels, but left OS X crawling along while 3ds Max hogged the entire CPU.

We then repeated the test in Coherence mode, which hides the Windows screen and presents application windows directly on the OS X desktop. This reduced performance in the more graphical tests by a further 10%, but left us with a still-usable overall benchmark score of 0.64.

Although that’s significantly slower than native performance, it’s better than VMware Fusion. Its benchmark score in the same test was just 0.61 in full-screen mode. Switching to Unity mode – the VMware equivalent to Parallels’ Coherence view – knocked that down to 0.58. The gap isn’t huge, but Parallels is clearly ahead.

And if you’re tempted to save money with the free, open source VirtualBox package, you’ll find a much bigger trade off, in both convenience and performance. VirtualBox won’t boot from a real Windows partition, so you can’t easily switch between native and virtual Windows as you can with the paid-for packages. Nor is there any equivalent to Coherence or Unity, so running Windows applications means moving back and forth between environments. With a final benchmark score of 0.47, VirtualBox was significantly slower than either of the commercial offerings too.

So for anything more than occasional tinkering it’s worth investing in a commercial virtualisation host. And although Parallels is slightly more expensive than VMware Fusion (which comes in at £46 exc VAT), its stronger performance, coupled with niceties such as the mobile application and keyboard harmonisation, give it a small edge. For regular commuters between operating systems, it’s worth the money.

Details

Software subcategory System tools

Requirements

Processor requirement 1.66GHz Intel processor

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? no
Operating system Windows XP supported? no
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? yes
Other operating system support none

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