VMWare vs. Parallels: We have a winner (for now)

Though Parallels and VMWare offer "up to" native speeds in Windows, there are many times when more-advanced features in modern operating system will cause major performance issues, so how do these programs actually stack up?

Topher Kessler MacFixIt Editor
Topher, an avid Mac user for the past 15 years, has been a contributing author to MacFixIt since the spring of 2008. One of his passions is troubleshooting Mac problems and making the best use of Macs and Apple hardware at home and in the workplace.
Topher Kessler
2 min read

There are several common implementations of virtualization available for OS X, which allow for you to run Windows and other operating systems on your Mac. These have been convenient, and though they offer "up to" native speeds, there are many times when more-advanced features in modern operating system will cause major performance issues, so how do these programs actually compare?

Needless to say, people will want to install a virtualization solution that runs virtual machines at optimal speeds, and though VMWare and Parallels have touted their improvements over their previous versions, there has not been much mentioned about the performance difference between the two platforms, at least not for the latest versions. Both have demonstrated improvements in running the latest versions of Windows, and have offered support for Microsoft's eye-candy; however, most users have found this to come at a performance hit.

So how do these two packages rate against each other? In terms of features they offer similar options, such as viewing Windows applications right next to your Mac applications, and having them fit right in the Dock as well; however, the game changes when you look at performance.

Recently MacTech did an extensive investigation on how VMWare Fusion 3 and Parallels Desktop 5 compare, looking at numerous activities in the realm of graphics, application performance, idle CPU usage, I/O performance, and Startup/Shutdown times.

The verdict? Parallels wins, and wins by a big margin. Overall, it beats VMWare by between 5 percent and a whopping 127 percent, depending on the task. For major operating systems, Parallels runs on average about 43 percent faster with Windows 7, and about 30 percent faster with Windows XP.

Check out the full results at MacTech's review.

I've been a long-time user of VMWare Fusion, and enjoyed it up until I tried the latest version with Windows 7. As it currently stands, my overall impression is that it's usable, but slow, and given the RAM requirements for Windows 7, there are times that the 4GB in my MacBook Pro just is not enough to run it along with other applications I use.

Check out VMWare and Parallels at CNET's Download.com:

UPDATE: While Parallels may be outperforming VMWare in the current versions, this is by no means a definitive notion as to which program is best. Readers have mentioned other factors, such as hardware integration and I/O support (rather than just performance), along with positive customer support are just a few reasons why they choose one over the other, with some preferring VMWare despite the performance gap. Additionally, perhaps the next version of Fusion will be faster than the solution from Parallels, so it should be fun to see what develops.

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