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Parallels Desktop 6 review

Verdict

For regular switchers it's a slick way to run Windows on the Mac, with a few distinctive tricks

Review Date: 12 Oct 2010

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £55 (£65 inc VAT)

Overall Rating
5 stars out of 6

Features & Design
6 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Ease of Use
6 stars out of 6

PCPRO Recommended

If you need to run Windows software on a Mac, the simplest option is to dual-boot with Apple's Boot Camp utility. But for everyday use, it's more practical to install an OS X virtualisation host such as Parallels Desktop (or its rival, VMware Fusion) to run multiple operating systems concurrently. Both let you hide the Windows desktop and run Mac and Windows applications side by side.

Parallels Desktop 6 brings a few new features that VMware can't match. The big one is a mobile application for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, allowing you to connect to virtual machines over the internet. We tested it on an iPad, and had no problem accessing our Windows installation through a firewall. Once we got the hang of touch controls the OS was responsive and usable, and you can even remotely power-on virtual machines via the mobile app - so long as the host Mac is turned on, of course. It's just a shame you can't access OS X the same way.

Parallels Desktop 6

There are a few other additions too, including Spotlight support for Windows files and 5.1 surround sound for anyone watching movies or playing games on a virtual PC (although be warned that there's only support for DirectX 9). OS X parental controls are automatically applied to Windows applications, and keyboard shortcuts can be synchronised between operating systems to reduce confusion as you switch between platforms.

The real selling point for version 6, though, is speed. Performance is always an issue with virtualisation, thanks to the overheads of running two operating systems at once, but Parallels claims to give the smoothest Windows-on-OS X experience available.

To put this to the test, we tried it out using mid-range hardware: a 20in iMac with 2GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo T7300 processor. Running Windows 7 natively in Boot Camp, this hardware achieved an overall score of 0.93 in our benchmarks.

We were pleased to see that Parallels was able to load Windows from our existing Boot Camp partition, although you can also install to a virtual disk file. If you're switching from a PC you can even use the supplied Windows tool to dump the OS and applications to a virtual disk file with a few clicks, and painlessly migrate it into Parallels: we tried a fairly clean Windows 7 installation occupying 30GB on disk, and found it took about an hour.

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User comments

How about free

How do these compare with Oracle's Virtual Box which of course is free ?

By Jaberwocky on 13 Oct 2010

it mentions virtual box on the second page.

By TimoGunt on 13 Oct 2010

ooops !

By Jaberwocky on 13 Oct 2010

VMWare Fusion has a rather hidden embedded VNC Server in it, so providing you are prepared to get your hands dirty you can do the control-your-VMs-remotely trick with that too. The way that VMWare's VM file format is the same for Fusion as it is for VMWare Player (on the PC) and some of the other hypervisors in the range, is a crucial advantage.

By Steve_Cassidy on 13 Oct 2010

This review is correct, but...

Installed PD 6 on several machines here and our results agree with yours. PD 6 is very nice for running Win7, and is faster then VMWare 3.1, but... support is lacking for this product. We have one iMac where it just won't install, and getting help is like pulling teeth. The PD KB site is outdated, and has no helpful information for PD6, but tons of problem info for older versions. The support forum is moderated from the initial post, and takes days to even get a community question posted. On the other hand, VMWare support is near instant, and the folks there are very good at troubleshooting. So the choice is better performance, or problem support. Heck of a choice!

By herojig on 14 Oct 2010

VirtualBox not quite so bad?

The manual suggest that VirtualBox can boot directly from a physical partition. See section 9.7.1.2. I don’t have a Mac, so can only go by what’s in that section. I have successfully used direct disc access with a Linux host, although it’s very user-unfriendly to set up.

You say that there’s no equivalent to Coherence or Unity, but doesn’t VirtualBox’s seamless mode provide the same basic functionality? Looking at the article’s gallery pictures, seamless mode isn’t as sophisticated. It doesn’t merge menu and task bars from the host and guest, but it does break the guest windows out from being trapped in a window on the host. If you want the host to see user files on the guest, you can place them somewhere the host can see them and make them accessible to the guest using shared folders. Again, this isn’t as elegant, but it does work.

I’m sure the criticisms are generally valid, though. VirtualBox didn’t start off on OS X, and, going by the change log, has always been playing catchup. Plus, the product isn’t specifically focused on single-user desktop use.

By pacid on 18 Oct 2010

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