Mac virtualization face-off: VMware Fusion 4 vs. Parallels Desktop 7

Neither offer major improvements for Windows users, but they add welcome support for Mac OS X Lion virtual machines

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They're also close in their performance, though Parallels Desktop 7 outscores Fusion 4.01 in the PassMark suite of Windows benchmarks, running 9.5 percent faster overall. (I tested both on an early-2011 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM and a 2.0GHz Intel Core i7 running Mac OS X 10.7.1 Lion with the VMs on a FireWire 800-connected 500GB external drive.) When it gets down to specific performance aspects, they differ strongly. Parallels Desktop is much faster (63.3 percent) for CPU operations than Fusion, but Fusion sigificantly outperforms Parallels Desktop in all the other categories: 2D graphics (by 32.5 percent), 3D graphics (by 53.3 percent), memory (by 17.9 percent), and disk (by 7.7 percent), as the table below shows.

VMware Fusion 4 vs. Parallels Desktop 7: Windows performance tests

PassMark TestVMware Fusion 4VMware Fusion 3Parallels Desktop 7Parallels Desktop 6
Overall896.3843.1981.1899.5
CPU1162.31100.81898.11835.4
2D graphics535.9512.4404.4374.3
3D graphics500.8364.2326.7227.1
Memory619.0647.2525.2557.6
Disk1675.01656.41555.11322.9

The bottom line is that gamers and simulation users will get a bigger bang from Fusion, whereas number crunchers will do better by Parallels Desktop.

Both programs offer similar presentation views and configuration options, and both support Lion's new Mission Control multi-application-window display. Fusion adds the ability to encrypt the VMs for more secure storage. On top of that, you get a virtual Bluetooth driver for use with the Mac's Bluetooth for file transfer and device connections, as well as audio support to Mac OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard Server VMs. These are all nice enhancements that may or may not be worth the $50 upgrade price if you're using the $90 Fusion to run just Windows or Linux. However, I appreciate that VMware is charging $50 to upgrade a two-year-old product, whereas the $80 Parallels is charging the same $50 to upgrade a version released only a year ago.

One area where Parallels has a meaningful advantage is in its $20 iOS app, which lets you run VMs wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone, as well as run the host Mac OS X itself through a VNC connection. There's no such add-on for Fusion, though you can control both the Mac OS X host and its VMs with standard VNC client apps on iOS; this Parallels advantage is not that great. (To control Fusion VMs with a VNC client, you need to enable such control in Fusion's preferences.)

But one area where Fusion outdoes Parallels Desktop is its support for Windows 8. Although you can install the developer preview edition of Windows 8 in both applications' VMs, Parallels' drivers and related tools cause the Win8 screen to remain black except while restarting or shutting down, rendering it unusable. Fusion's drivers and related tools work just fine in Windows 8. I'm not suggesting that either program should be required to support an unreleased OS, but it's a happy surprise that Fusion does.

The bottom line is that Fusion, like Parallels Desktop, is not a necessary upgrade for most users. But if you want to run Mac and Windows 8 VMs, it's a reasonable investment.

This story, "Mac virtualization face-off: VMware Fusion 4 vs. Parallels Desktop 7," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in Mac OS X, Windows, and virtualization at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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