[Review] Run PC Software On Your Mac With Virtual PC 2000
Virtual PC 3.0 with Windows 2000
Contact And Other Information
|Product Home Page:
||Virtual PC 3.0 for Advanced Tasks Home Page
||Software PC Emulator
2955 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
||G3 or G4 Processor
350 MHz or Faster
Mac OS 8.6
Mac OS 9.0 for USB
1.1 GB Disk Space
128 MB RAM
|Apple Power Mac G4/450
Mac OS 9.0.4
512 MB RAM
Apple CD/DVD-ROM Drive
Virtual PC 3.0 with Windows 2000 Review
by John F. Braun
Thanks to the renewed popularity of the Mac, more software titles are available than ever. No matter what your application, chances are that there is a package to address it. Check Apple's own Product Guide and you'll see what we mean. Unfortunately, there are times when the application you need only exists on the PC. Sure, you can go out and buy a PC, but what self-respecting Mac user wants to do that?
Fortunately, due to the sheer processing power of the PowerPC chip, it is feasible for a Mac to look like a PC via software emulation. What this means is that the emulator software is made to look like one type of system, when it is actually being run on another. In this case, we are creating an Intel-based PC within the Mac OS. But trying to emulate hardware via software can have some drawbacks...
The package comes with a 146 page User Manual which covers all aspects of Virtual PC installation and use. Although not required reading for installation, you'll definitely want to refer to it when you start learning how to use Virtual PC. There is also an official Getting Started guide from Microsoft, which is a must read for those who aren't familiar with the little nuances of Windows. There's also a Quick Start guide from Microsoft, which you should keep if for no other reason than it has the Certificate of Authenticity and Product Key, which is required to install Windows 2000.
The installation couldn't have been easier. We inserted the CD-ROM, and double-clicked on the Virtual PC 3.0 Installer icon. We then selected an Easy Install, which installs the application, a 1 GB drive image with Windows 200 pre-installed and other assorted goodies. This part of the installation took a little over 5 minutes, no doubt due to having to decompress the 1 GB drive image.
We were then asked if we wanted to run the Virtual PC Setup Assistant. This is a welcome addition to Version 3.0, and you should run it unless you can think of a good reason not to. Similar to the Setup Assistant on new Macs, the Virtual PC Setup Assistant will then lead you through a series of dialogs, helping prepare Virtual PC for first time use. You will be asked about your preferred system RAM allocation (128 MB Max), video RAM allocation (1 - 4 MB), display mode (window or full screen), primary (C) drive size (2 GB Max) , secondary (D) drive size (2 GB Max) , and if you want to use a modem directly with Virtual PC.
A Summary of Our Setup Assistant Choices
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After making all of our choices, we selected Finish and waited a bit more. Most of the time, about 5 minutes total, was taken expanding the default 1 GB drive image to 2 GB. We were then asked if we wanted to run Virtual PC, and we said yes. This is where the friendly Mac environment ends, and you are thrust into the harsh reality of Windows 2000. Be sure to read Microsoft's Quick Start Guide and Getting Started manual if you are not familiar with Windows. This is because you may run into some unfamiliar terminology during the initial setup.
Going through every detail of the Windows 200 install process is beyond the scope of this review, but we can provide a few important things to remember. First, you'll need to assign an Administrator password. Don't forget it, since you'll need it to log in to Windows. Second, make sure that you have that annoying Product Key, an unwieldy series of 25 letters and numbers, on the enclosed Certificate of Authenticity. You'll need to type it in during the install, but fortunately you only have to go through this once.
Once you finish the Windows 2000 installation and actually start using Windows, things will operate pretty much as if you were using the real thing. About the only difference is that rather than hooking up actual peripherals such as a monitor, keyboard, mouse and the like, Virtual PC uses your existing Mac resources, with some limitations.
Map Your Mac Peripherals to the Virtual PC Environment
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You can define both a C (primary) and D (secondary) drive, which is actually a large file on your hard drive. Although we had many gigabytes of disk space on our test system, we were initially unable to expand the 1 GB Windows 2000 image much beyond 1 GB. After optimizing our drive, we were then able to expand the initial 1 GB Windows 2000 image to 2 GB. Your CD-ROM and floppy (if you have one) are also accessible. You can share one or more folders between the Virtual PC and Mac environment, so that you can easily move data between the two.
Virtual PC will emulate an S3 Trio32/64 PCI video card with either 1, 2 or 4 MB of video RAM (VRAM). For sound, it emulates a Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16, certainly not the fanciest card, but bound to be supported by just about any PC software. As for the mouse, you can define which key combination indicates a right mouse click, used frequently by the Windows crowd. As for communications, you can access serial peripherals by the COM1 and COM2 ports, mapping them to the equivalent Mac serial port or device, such as an internal modem, the infrared port, or a serial adapter.
Then there's the Networking section, which really shines compared to prior versions of Virtual PC. Rather than having to do a separate setup for each environment, Virtual PC can now share the same connection used by the Mac. This is great news for folks with full-time connections and/or AirPort, since you can instantly access a Windows network, rather than struggling to install the right drivers and services under Windows. Just be sure to choose the default network setup option during Windows 2000 installation, and you'll be able to utilize your Mac connection with no problem.
The only option that really disappointed us was the maximum amount of RAM one could allocate to the PC environment. Although the most recent G4 can support up to 1.5 GB of RAM, Virtual PC only allows you to make 128 MB or so available to the PC, no matter how much RAM you allocate to the application. In light of the other hefty requirements to run Windows 2000 at a decent speed (yes your author also uses a 800+ MHz Pentium III machine so can speak from experience) 128 MB just won't cut it for heavy-duty applications. But keep in mind that one has to make compromises when running under emulation. Just don't expect performance equal to an actual PC.
As we just hinted, one shouldn't expect Virtual PC 2000 to approach the performance of a real PC, partially due to the limitation in how much RAM Virtual PC can emulate. To quantify this, we decided to run ZD's WinBench® 99 Version 1.1, specifically the CPUmark 99 test. Under Virtual PC, we received results ranging from 10.6 to 10.9 on our 450 MHz G4 test system, depending on which combination of processor preferences were enabled or disabled. Compare this to CPUmark 99 results reported by Intel, with an 800 MHz Pentium III returning a 72.0, and you can get an idea of what sort of performance to expect.
To their credit, Connectix includes a file titled Optimizing Windows 2000, which suggests disabling some cosmetic user interface options to help performance. By default, Windows 2000 has menu fade effects enabled, where a menu slowly fades in when you select it, and fades out when you make a choice. It also has Show Window Contents when Dragging enabled. If you disable both of these options, user interface feedback is greatly improved.
On the bright side, Virtual PC 3.0 with Windows 2000 faithfully reproduces almost all aspects of a PC environment, the exception being the aforementioned limits on the size of an emulated hard drive and the amount of available RAM. The Virtual PC Setup Assistant is a welcome addition compared to prior versions, which required you to individually set up several Virtual PC preferences.
However, we found the performance of the emulated environment noticeably sluggish, as evidenced by hands-on use and benchmark results. Despite the PowerPC being able to trounce a Pentium processor of equal megahertz on equivalent tasks, there is only so much that can be done through software emulation. After all, you are trying to emulate a (relatively fast) complete hardware environment under a (relatively slow) software solution.
So if you want to run the latest and greatest Windows resource hogs, then Virtual PC may not be for you. But if you want to run Windows applications that can live comfortably in the 128 MB RAM and 2 GB disk limits, and such applications aren't processor or disk use intensive, Virtual PC is a viable solution. Plus, you'll reap the financial and time saving benefits of not having to buy a new set of peripherals or messing with switch boxes.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
||Faithful reproduction of a PC environment
Very easy setup with Wizard
Utilizes all existing Mac peripherals
Shared Mac/PC folder
Can share Mac network connection
128 MB RAM and 2 GB Disk size limits