Pitting Parallels Desktop 8 Against VMware Fusion 5

For many users, virtualization is an important capability on their Macs that allows them to run other OSes, for example, Windows or Linux, right along side OS X. The two leaders are Parallels Desktop and VMware's Fusion. MacTech Magazine has extensively benchmarked the two over the years and has consistently found a winner. Here some details on their latest report.

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MacTech Magazine has just released an extensive report, a continuation of a series launched several years ago, to pit these two major virtualization products against each other in a variety of tests that include:

  • Top level results
  • Launch and CPU tests
  • Footprint and battery tests
  • File and Network I/O
  • Games
  • Retina Support

The most recent report, for January 2013, has just been published, and it's a tour de force analysis. The scale of the project is described in the section that explains why some other virtualization products were not included.

This benchmark project is already huge with thousands of collected data points crossing four guest OSes (Windows 7, Windows 8, OS X Lion, and OS X Mountain Lion), five models of computers with mechanical hard drives and SSDs, and over 60 tests each run 3-5 times for most of the environments. There were several thousand tests to be completed, many with a stopwatch."

Top Level Results

Those users who have specific needs will want to look through report to see which product is best for them, but the 30,000 ft view from MacTech is that, once again, Parallels Desktop was the clear winner, especially in 3D graphics. The report states: "If you look at all the tests, including the 3DMark06 detailed tests, Parallels won over 68% by 5% or more, 56.9% of the tests by 10% or more, and 31.7% by 25% or more.

VMware Fusion won 7% of these tests by 5% or more, 3.7% by 10% or more, and 0.2% by 25% or more. In 24% of the tests, the two products were within 5% of each other (i.e., they tied)."

Here it is in a pie chart format.

Source: MacTech Magazine (with permission)

There is much more in the report, so I will just quote from the conclusion.

In the vast majority of our overall tests, Parallels Desktop 8 won. Again, if you count up the general tests (including the top 3D graphics scores), Parallels won 56% of the tests by 10% or more. If you include all the tests where Parallels was at least 5% faster, as well as the balance of the 3DMark06 graphics tests, Parallels increased the lead further."

If you are a traveler, Parallels Desktop has power management features that stretch your battery life. On the MacBook Pro, we saw about 40% more battery time on an idling virtual machine (a couple of hours of additional use in Windows 7) than we did on VMware Fusion in the same test."

TMO's Own Tests

In September of 2012, TMO's Jim Tanous conducted his own extensive benchmark analysis of these two products. Shown there were extensive comparison charts of performance in various tests, and Parallels Desktop 8 consistently outperformed VMware Fusion 5.

Mr. Tanous wrote: "From a purely performance-based perspective, Parallels has won this year’s competition of virtualization software on OS X. The good news for consumers, however, is that Fusion is not far behind in most categories and, while Parallels is indeed faster, Fusion is often fast enough for common tasks."

From TMO, September 4, 2012.

From my experience, virtualization is a very important technology for many Mac users, whether for personal or business use. If Apple were to contemplate, at some point, switching to the ARM architecture for Macs to take advantage of ARM's low-power capabilities, that will likely mean a modification of the ARM hardware architecture to support virtualization and a major rewrite in store for these two front runners. Time will tell.