For those who virtualize Windows and other operating systems on OS X, VMware has updated its Fusion VM solution to version 3.1. This update is advertised as being 35 percent faster than version 3.0, and offers up to 5x faster 3D performance for games and features such as Windows 7's Aero environment.
In the last bout of VM updates, Parallels took the lead with Parallels Desktop 5, showing marked speed advantages to other VM software packages including Fusion and VirtualBox. It seems VMWare has taken the initiative to close the performance gap and vastly improve the capabilities of Fusion. Only time and user report feedback will tell exactly how well the two packages match up, but so far the update does seem to be notably faster when running on my 17-inch MacBook Pro (2.66GHz, 4GB RAM, OS X 10.6.3), with far less lag when moving windows and doing things like drag-selecting groups of icons (a simple task that in the previous version caused slowdowns for me when 3D support was enabled for the VM).
I personally like Fusion's VM management interface better than that for Parallels Desktop; however, I have been using Parallels recently because of the performance difference. The performance improvements I see so far are promising, but I will be trying out Fusion 3.1 more thoroughly in the following days and hope it offers decent competition to Parallels Desktop.
Version 3.1 is a free upgrade for all Fusion 3.0 users (though it is a $39.99 upgrade for people upgrading from earlier versions of Fusion, and $79.99 for a full retail license), and in addition to faster graphics offers a more seamless experience between your Mac and the Windows VM. In all, the key improvements are:
- Faster graphics with OpenGL 2.1 support
- Unity optimizations with Expose
- More convenient USB device management between OS X and the VM
- Up to eight CPU support with up to 2TB hard disks
- Faster disk performance for virtualized Boot Camp installations
- Enhanced PC migration
- More guest OS support for SUSE and Ubuntu Linux
- Implementation of VMWare's vSphere VM pooling technology
One thing to note is the update is optimized for the latest version of OS X, so though it will run on an OS X 10.5.8 and 10.6.x installation, you will need OS X 10.6.3 for the best graphics performance.
The update was just released this evening, and should be available through Fusion's autoupdate, though can also be downloaded from VMware's Fusion download center. So far no major problems with the update have surfaced; however, do take the precaution to back up your VMs before upgrading, since some people who use VMs may not have them backed up regularly with Time Machine because of their size. The update will also install new versions of the VMware tools, so be prepared for the driver installation in your guest operating systems after upgrading the program in OS X.