Both Parallels Desktop 8 and VMWare Fusion 5 have just been released, with each offering similar approaches to running Windows and other operating systems within OS X.
Since their release, I have used both of these virtualization packages, and in my personal experiences they work quite well to run Windows and integrate its services and programs into OS X. Both support some of the latest features of Mountain Lion such as full-screen modes, seamless presentation of Windows applications within OS X, and easy access to your OS X files from within Windows. In my experiences with running Windows XP and Windows 7, there have been no significant drawbacks from either Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. Both programs launch and resume the guest operating systems quickly and make access to Windows programs very easy.
Despite this overall qualitative assessment and the advancements that each offers, there are still the details of the pure speed at which each can perform the same tasks, and recently The Mac Observer tackled a few of these using a relatively new and fast 3.4GHz iMac system with a maximum supported 16GB RAM and running the latest OS X 10.8.1 version of OS X. The guest operating systems used were Windows 7 and the upcoming Windows 8.
To benchmark this setup, The Mac Observer used PCMark 7, Cinebench 11.5, 3DMark06, and Geekbench 2.3.4, along with an assessment of OS boot times and gaming performance with the popular and graphically intensive Crysis game title.
PCMark 7 is an overall benchmarking suite that attempts to assess productivity tasks along with entertainment capabilities, and with this suite Parallels takes the lead, sometimes significantly such as with productivity and lightweight computational tasks.
For tasks geared more toward creative professionals, such as image loading and transformation, Cinebench was used and in this suite Parallels shows about a 20 percent faster frame rate with GPU-accelerated functions, though both environments were under 40 frames per second rendering speeds. With CPU-only rendering, both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion show very comparable results.
To test gaming performance, the 3DMark06 suite was used, and Parallels again shows a slight edge at around 8 percent to 10 percent faster speeds.
The last of the benchmarking suites used was Geekbench, which specializes at CPU and memory performance assessment and will tackle specific computations like integer and floating point calculations. This benchmark would help determine if the performance advantages in Parallels seen so far were from CPU-related differences or with the graphics rendering capabilities. And as with prior suites, this one also showed Parallels getting about a 5 percent to 7 percent advantage over VMWare Fusion.
Even though benchmark suites show Parallels Desktop getting the slight edge, you also have to look at real-world performance. While doing so would require multiple programs to be benchmarked, The Mac Observer's use of the Crysis game helps shed some light on how each might perform despite the results of the benchmarking suites. In this assessment, VMWare Fusion does gain some ground and performs on-par with or even at times exceeds the comparable OS setup in Parallels Desktop. Parallels does run faster specifically when using DX9 in Windows 7 under high-quality graphics settings for the game, but in all other situations VMWare performs similarly and even exceeds Parallels Desktop.
Overall, this benchmark assessment of the two packages is a great look at how the latest versions of each compare in terms of raw performance, and while Parallels Desktop does have the slight edge, VMWare Fusion is not far behind and for all practical purposes should show the end user a very similar experience when running a virtual machine. Even though Parallels Desktop is slightly faster in these tests, do keep in mind that these benchmarks may change when running under different hardware, and also under different software environments such as Lion versus Mountain Lion in the tested setup, and also as new updates to Mountain Lion are released, which may tweak hardware drivers and other aspects of OS X that could influence how each of these programs run.
To see the details of these latest benchmarks and how each virtualization package compares, head on over to The Mac Observer's full analysis of the two programs.