[Review] Virtual PC (Win 98), The Best Of Both Worlds
Virtual PC 3.0
Contact And Other Information
|Product Home Page:
||Virtual PC 3
2955 Campus Drive, Ste. 100
San Mateo, CA 94403
||US$179 at Connectix Store
Mac OS 8 or later (9 for USB)
Minimum 320 MB of disk space
64 MB RAM (minimum)
|System Used For Testing:
||Dual processor G4 (450 MHz)
256 MB RAM
Mac OS 9.0.4
Virtual PC 3.0 With Windows 98
by Michael Munger
Everybody knows Virtual PC. It is the software alternative to PC hardware for those who want to run Windows on their Macs. There are many benefits to this and one of them is to have two platforms on one machine.
In the box, you will find the Virtual PC installation CD, a manual, the Microsoft Windows 98 SE CD and the Windows user manual.
There are different ways to install this product. You can go for the easy install and take the default components or select the custom install to choose the disk size... or to refuse copying a C Drive disk image to create your own.
We did the latter to choose its size and decided to install Windows 98 SE (Second Edition) by ourselves to customize it to the fullest and because from our experience, Windows 98 is faster after a full setup rather than a typical pre-installed setup.
This took around 40 minutes - the time is subject to change depending on how fast your machine is - from installing the Virtual PC application to finalizing the Windows system settings. We started by creating a 1 GB C Drive image and booted the PC with the floppy disk image installed by Virtual PC. The rest of the process took us to the full Windows setup, which lets you choose which components you want. Then, Windows 98 detected our hardware to install the proper drivers to take full advantage of all the technology available.
To ensure stability and top notch performance, we allocated 100 MB of RAM to the Virtual PC application, which resulted in 83 MB available to the PC itself.
Then, we installed the additions that make the Windows environment integrated the Mac OS environment for drag and drop capabilities, folder sharing, Internet connection, etc.
This setup is definitely for a high-end machine such as a fast G3 or a G4 with enough RAM and disk space to afford such allocations.
Connectix ships a full printed manual with the product. It features:
- Instructions to use the application
- Help with Windows 95 and 98
- Installation of different operating systems
- Much much more
The other part of the documentation is the Windows user guide, which is always great to have since Mac users are not necessarily all Windows pundits.
A first impression
At first, Windows can scare the user. After a little while, it does not feel like the Mac OS but is more usable than expected. Like the Mac OS, it comes with its system tools, its system CD (not bootable), its variety of small applications and its own hierarchy.
What amazed us was the lack of opportunity to customize the desktop and Start menu. Deleting the Online Services folder and the MSN setup icon as well as another alias made the Windows registry freak out and crash the computer repeatedly. After that, Windows behaved itself and an automated repair process restored the deleted files to keep clogging the desktop with the unnecessary and unused icons. Other than that, Windows behaved.
We do not think that the high requirements (G3 processor and 64 MB RAM) are too high since it takes resources to run Windows 98 and even more to run it under emulation.
During the tests, Virtual PC proved quite stable as an application and Windows 98 surprised us with rare crashes. Other applications proved to be better to bring Virtual PC down (the Mac OS lacking protected memory) than Windows itself. This has to be a good thing. A few illegal operations occurred but restarts seemed to solve the problem whenever needed.
The first aspect of performance is how the system behaves by itself. We made sure to draw menus and windows frequently, opening applications and closing them to see its responsiveness. Then, we went to a store to see how a PC (an HP Pavillion equipped with a 667 MHz Celeron processor) performed the same tasks. Obviously, we found that the HP unit was much faster, without any delay to draw interface elements and shorter application launch times.
If you stack up the two, though, the difference is less than expected on the generous memory setup that we made.
The second part of the performance test was with real-time applications. We installed QuickTime to play movies and Photoshop 5.5 for image editing.
- QuickTime: This was too much for a Windows emulator. All it could do was to display a frame every once in a while and keep up with the audio track of the movie. The quality of the images was fine, but obviously, the abuse of using a disk image for hard drive activity and then virtual memory were too much for such a multimedia experience.
- Photoshop: Imagine our surprise to see Windows do well under Virtual PC with Photoshop. Performing a few filters on desktop pictures showed that the speed hit of emulation was not bad at all, allowing to do simple filters without problems. It was another thing for the most demanding of them, but it had to be expected from a system under emulation mode.
The third aspect is the actual display. As we have enough video memory to handle it, we allocated 4 MB to Virtual PC and turned off the option to adjust the Mac's video memory. We adjusted the PC screen to the 1152x864 resolution at full (32-bit) color. Whether we used the full screen mode - which filled the 19" monitor perfectly - or limiting Windows to an application window, we did not feel any speed hit or video update on the Mac side, even when performing other tasks.
We updated the software to version 3.0.3 since the changes included Velocity Engine support. Connectix claims that the change ensures faster video updates when using a G4 processor, and this is true. Too bad that it does not support multiprocessing yet.
Connecting to the Internet
The beauty of this is that the PC shares the same IP that your Mac has. We used it without further setup and browsed the We, having a few long sessions to see how it would behave. To our surprise, the PC did well! Although caching pages took more time than on our RAM disk on the Mac side, the browsing performance was nice and took advantage of our cable modem setup.
We suspect that it would not be the same on at 56K modem speed or slower, though. When comparing to previous Internet experiences with Virtual PC 2.1, we noted an improvement in the IP setup and the sheer performance. We did not have to turn off the Mac connection to use the one in Windows, which simplified alternating between the Finder and the Virtual PC application.
Virtual PC's functionality includes integration between the Mac OS and Windows. We used the drag and drop capabilities to exchange files between the two systems, and it worked flawlessly. It worked like a file copy in the Finder, just slower.
As you can read above, we connected to the Net by sharing the IP address and Windows did not have problems recognizing the Ethernet card.
Windows intercepted all device activity, including that of the USB SuperDisk external floppy drive we have. It did the same to do DVD-ROM drive and the internal Zip drive - the latter with appropriate drivers - to read and write to the disks.
The bi-directional use of the clipboard was very time-saving and the use of Disk Copy images (by dragging them to the emulator's "Eject Floppy" button) proved to be useful.
We believe our experience with Virtual PC 3.0 (Windows 98 SE version) to be satisfying and we strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to use Windows on the Mac. To anybody who needs the real performance of PC hardware, we would recommend buying PC hardware, but to anybody who wants an inexpensive way to use Windows as a second platform, Virtual PC is a solid choice.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
Optimized for G4
Great Finder integration
Surprising Internet connection
||High requirements for top speed
Freaky Windows registry