Head to Head: Parallels Desktop 6 vs VMware Fusion 3

We pit the two leading Mac virtualisation programs against each other to see which is best for running Windows on your shiny Apple computer.

PERFORMANCE

Windows on a VM will never be as fast as when it's running directly on the hardware via Boot Camp. For the fastest possible Windows applications performance, you'll always have to reboot and use Boot Camp. We expected that Parallels and Fusion would perform similarly in our Windows benchmarks, but there was a noticeable difference in a couple of our tests.

We tested both virtualisation programs with 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate running a 13in MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM, a Core 2 Duo P8600 processor, a 750GB 5,400rpm hard disk and an Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics chip. The VMs in both Parallels and Fusion were assigned two processor cores, 2GB of RAM and 256MB of video memory.

As a reference, the same MacBook Pro, but with just 2GB of RAM installed to match the VM configurations, managed the following benchmark scores:

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Image editing100 points

Video encoding66 points

Multiple applications67 points

Overall score72 points

3D graphics test12 frames per second.

Both virtualisation programs can save a VM's state instead of shutting it down. Resuming from a saved state is quicker than booting, so we tested how quickly each program could resume from a saved state. Our MacBook Pro resumed from hibernation, the closest equivalent to resuming from a saved state, in 26 seconds.

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Parallels

Parallels Desktop 6 managed the following benchmark scores:

Image editing71 points

Video encoding59 points

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Multiple applications43 points

Overall score56 points

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3D graphics test5 frames per second

Resume46 seconds

VMWare

VMWare Fusion 3 managed the following benchmark scores:

Image editing63 points

Video encoding53 points

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Multiple applications41 points

Overall score51 points

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3D graphics test3.4 frames per second

Resume25 seconds

Winner: Parallels, but only just. Parallels was faster than Fusion in our image editing and 3D graphics tests, while Fusion was much faster at resuming from a saved state. The two were otherwise evenly matched.

Parallels has options allowing you to tweak the VM for faster MacOS or Windows performance, as well as for either faster performance or longer battery life which MacBook owners will appreciate. It would take trial and error to find the right balance with these extra settings, but they're still useful options that Fusion lacks, especially since both programs can feel sluggish on a MacBook when running off battery power.

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