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Saturday
Sep172011

Fusion 4 vs Parallels 7 - Which is Better?

I recently wrote an article about the new "Lion Ready" versions of VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop. On paper both of these platforms offer a very similar set of features and both claim to be the easiest and fastest way to run Windows on the Mac.

The aim of this article is to dive deeper into these claims, hopefully discovering whether VMware Fusion 4 or Parallels Desktop 7 is the king of client virtualisation.

The Test Platform:

I downloaded the latest versions of VMware Fusion 4 (4.0.1 - 474597) and Parallels Desktop 7 (7.0 14922) and both applications were installed on an 11" MacBook Air, with the following specification:

  • MacBookAir3,1 (Late 2010)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz (3MB L2 Cache)
  • 4GB DDR3 1066MHz Memory
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M 256MB
  • Apple SSD TS128C 128GB

The Mac was running a fully updated version of Mac OS X Lion 10.7.1 (11B26).

Both Fusion and Parallels had a clean install of Windows 7 Ultimate SP1 x64 installed (downloaded from Microsoft TechNet) with the following identical virtual configuration:

  • 1 Processor
  • 2048MB Memory
  • 40GB Storage (Not Split)
  • Virtual Machine Tools Installed

All other virtual machine settings were left default.

Installing the Virtual Machine:

Fusion and Parallels both offer "Easy Install" features (as shown in the image below for Fusion). This allows for a simplified, automated installation process, which sets up your account details, product key and the installation of the virtual machine tools (required for optimal performance).

I ran the easy install option for both Fusion and Parallels, which I'm pleased to report completed successfully and was simple and painless for both products. As the first reference point I timed how long it took for the installation to complete (from first starting the virtual machine to the moment the virtual machine tools were finished installing). The results can be seen below:

  • VMware Fusion 4 = 17mins 20seconds
  • Parallels Desktop 7 = 16mins 50seconds

As you can see, from an install timing perspective Parallels beat Fusion by approximately 30 seconds. However as both platforms provide a fully automated installation process I feel that both Fusion and Parallels provide an acceptable experience. The only time this could have an impact is if you were installing a large number of virtual machines regularly (possibly for testing purposes).

Performance:

Now it's time for the main event, as stated in my previous article I have used both platforms in the past and found it very difficult to identify any real world performance differences. If forced I would probably state that Parallels felt slightly smoother when running Windows 7 Aero effects, but this would be purely conjecture. As a result I have run a number of popular benchmarks on each platform, in an attempt to give us some numbers to quantify. The results can be seen below:

Windows Experience Index

The Windows Experience Index has been built into Windows since Vista. It includes a number of simple benchmarks to help users understand their system performance. It then takes the lowest individual score as the base result.

As you can see from the above results, round one goes to Fusion (but not by much). It produced a higher Processor and Graphics score, although fell short of Parallels on Gaming Graphics. The Memory and Primary Hard Disk scores were the same for both platforms. Interestingly, even though I felt Parallels was slightly smoother when using Windows Aero effects, it actually produced a lower score, showing how difficult it is to separate these two platforms in real world usage.

Super Pi

Super Pi is a computer program that calculates pi to a specified number of digits after the decimal point-up to a maximum of 32 million. It is used by many overclockers to test the performance and stability of their computers.

Round two proves to be even tighter then round one, with Parallels edging out Fusion by the narrowest of margins. In fact this benchmark is so tight (less then a second in favor of Parallels) that I am certain that this would not result in any real world difference between the two platforms.

Futuremark PCMark 7

PCMark 7 includes 7 PC tests for Windows 7, combining more than 25 individual workloads covering storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming. It has been specifically designed to cover the full range of PC hardware from netbooks and tablets to notebooks and desktops.

As you can see the PCMark 7 scores are also incredibly tight. From the detailed scores (found here) you can see that every result (Video Playback, DirectX, Web Browsing, etc) is almost identical, with Fusion just fractionally ahead of Parallels, which resulted in the slightly better overall score.

Conclusion:

I have always come to the conclusion that there was very little between Fusion and Parallels in terms of performance, usability and reliability, and it would appear, based on the benchmark results, that this trend continues with the latest versions of each product.

Overall the benchmarks have shown in favor of Fusion, however it was by such a small margin that I don't believe any real world differences could be identified. As a result I would have no concerns recommending either product. In fact, as there is so little between them, I think the logical approach would be to make your choice based on price, which at the moment falls in favor of Fusion which is available for £32.85, compared to Parallels £64.99.

References (2)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
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    [...]LifeinTECH - Blog - Fusion 4 vs Parallels 7 - Which is Better?[...]
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    LifeinTECH - Blog - Fusion 4 vs Parallels 7 - Which is Better?

Reader Comments (17)

Thanks for the comparison. VERY helpful. I would disagree on one point, and it only applies in certain situations (and may be US only): Parallels can be had for $30 USD if you're a Fusion user. They have a discount for "switchers" that drops the price quite a bit. As a previous Fusion user, your tests have helped me make the decision that $30 for Parallels 7 is going to be the better route compared to Fusion 4's $50 price tag.

Again, thanks for a great review, and consider the above just a "tip" for those Fusion users who've come to this page. :)

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Hi Carl,

Thanks for the comment and good point with the Parallels price. I'm not sure if this same deal is available for UK customers, but if it is, then it might just tip the balance into Parallels favour. Either way, this is exactly why tough competition results in a win for the consumer. Great job from both the VMware and Parallels development teams!

Cheers,

Matt.

September 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatt (LifeinTECH)

Matt, you obviously did smth wrong during Windows Experience Index benchmarking - CPU and memory is running natively both in Parallels and Fusion, so whenever you see a score smaller then in another one this is a hint that smth was running in background (like disk indexing or other daemons/services or in MacOS itself) and this background activity influences your score.
My results from MacBookAir show that 2 products are exactly the same.

September 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAdam

Hi Adam,

Thanks for your comment. I ran the test three times for each virtual machine and confirmed that both Mac OS X and Windows did not have any unexpected background tasks running. Each time the result was the same in favour of Fusion.

It's possible that there is something I have missed, but I have also seen a number of other people’s results (tweeted) that show Fusion with a slightly higher score (specifically on processor and memory).

Either way, I honestly don't believe the score tells us much, as the other benchmarks help prove how close these two products are in terms of performance.

Cheers,

Matt.

September 19, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatt (LifeinTECH)

I don't know if my last comment made it through or not (perhaps waiting on moderation?) so here's a short recap, then some benchmarks to follow.

Adam, though your comments about being sure nothing's running in the background to mess with benchmarks tests is right on, you've got it wrong on the CPU/RAM comment. The very nature of virtualization means the virtual OS is not using the system resources "natively." It's all being passed through the virtual machine, so there will always be overhead. Matt's tests are accurately reflecting this, while yours could be considered "lucky." VMF and Parallels are both very much "in the way" when running Windows as a virtual OS under Lion.

---

The more testing I've done, the more Parallels looks to be the better option. VMWare is NOT handling Aero well, does not use Lion's fullscreen mode correctly (I have to manually create a space and then drag the virtual machine there), and has already locked up on me once. As both VMF and P are in x.0 phase, I think it's a sign that Parallels is going to take the cake this time around. Sad in one respect, because I've been a VMWare fan since 1.0, but in the end if I can get better stability at a lower price, I'm all for it.

---

3D benchmarks using 3DMark06 (still a solid test of DirectX 9 gaming:

Win 7, 64-bit, 6Gb RAM, 1280x1024, no AA
(Test: Native, P7, VMF4)
3DMark Score: 11122, 9429, 8181
SM2.0 Score: 4200, 4001, 3396
HDR/SM3.0 Score: 4764, 4410, 3596
CPU Score: 4268, 2380, 2402

FPS:
GT1 - Return To Proxycon: 29.73, 32.11, 24.6
GT2 - Firefly Forest: 40.27, 34.58, 32.0
CPU1 - Red Valley: 1.38, .77, .75
CPU2 - Red Valley: 2.12, 1.18, 1.23
HDR1 - Canyon Flight: 43.42, 42.48, 30.81
HDR2 - Deep Freeze: 51.87, 45.72, 41.1


2010 iMac 27" i5 2.67GHz w/ 12Gb RAM.
Virtual machines provided 2 cores and 6Gb RAM

As you can see, P7 is crushing VMF4 on 3D. Anywhere from 10-20% faster. Since 3D gaming is my primary reason for a VM, P7 wins this little shoot out. $30 paid. :)
(Matt, you can work these results into this or futyre reviews however you'd like)

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

@Carl,

Virtual machines are not really made for 3D gaming.

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterObamaPacman

Yes, very true, but I'm impressed how well P7 handles it. For heavy gaming, it's always best to "go
native," but these results are a good sign for casual gaming. Any CPU-intensive programs I use have OS X versions.

September 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Hi guys,

Thanks for the updates, especially Carl for your benchmark results (very interesting). I agree that Parallels is superior when it comes to 3D gaming and my perception (although not necessarily backed up by my benchmarks) was that it handled Windows 7 Aero effects better as well.

My only other comment would be to agree with ObamaPacman's statement. Because although the Parallels 3D gaming results are impressive (for a virtual machine), if I was going to be gaming on my Mac, then BootCamp (native) is the only real option.

Note: Carl, I only do light moderation on the site for comments and I didn't see your previous post submitted. I think the web form may have failed. Sorry about that.

September 20, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatt (LifeinTECH)

Has anyone run the same benchmarks on the same machine in Bootcamp?

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMark T

Mark: See my tests above your comment.

Matt: no worries on the moderation.

I'll point out a recent use for Parallels 7 and 3D Gaming: Sonic Generations. Thought I'd take a stroll down memory lane when it came out (and it delivers, by the way), and the PC version was $25 (compared to $37 for consoles). Bought it, installed it, and then ran into an issue where I couldn't get my wiimote to work over Bluetooth when booted into Win 7 64-bit (the game really needs a gamepad to play well). I decided to try Parallels since the wiimote worked fine in OS X. Lo and behold, Parallels passed the input from the wiimote on to Win7 just fine and I was able to game quite well in Parallels. Sonic Generations isn't a powerhouse, mind you, but Parallels 7 handled the 3D graphics incredibly well. An adapter I ordered so I could use a PS2 gamepad in Win 7 (natively) came in today and I ran Sonic Generations under a direct boot of Win 7. I could hardly tell a difference. In fact, the only difference wound up being disk access.

In short, for 3D games that allow for "5 minutes here, 10 minutes there," the ability to just fire up Parallels rather than a full reboot into Windows (and then back into OS X), is quite nice to have. Also good for MMO's (like the upcoming Star Wars: The Old Republic) where sometimes you want to log in just to see what's going on. It's never going to match a direct Windows boot, but its performance is such that it works quite well for casual gaming applications (SimCity 4, being another).

November 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

I just switched fro Fusion 4.1 to Parallels 7 and find Parallels is definitely superior.

November 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLes

I am just about to buy a MacBook Pro.

Having been a PC user since 1991, I thought I would do some investigation first.
The main reason being, I need to run a lot of my Windows based programmes on the Mac.
You may also wonder why?

Well, I am going to buy a new Laptop and I thought why not a Mac since I can run my Windows programmes and at the same time learn the Mac system.

So, I happened on to this forum and and it seems that no one can tell me which I should get?

Fusion or Parallels?!!!

Good article and many thanks to those who participated in the discussions.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRik

I'd say the comments above make it pretty clear that Parallels is the way to go.

December 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

Thanks very much Carl.
I feel the same and I went to buy the MacBook Pro today but, time beat me.
I had to get back to the car befor I got a parking ticket!
So, hopefully tomorrow, things will go better!

December 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRik

Got the MacBook Pro and Parallels.
Both work together very well.
Well, that's the opinion of a complete novice on Macs.

I have 20 years of using PCs. Building them and networking them but this is my first Mac.

Very different!
It's just like going back to 1991, when I got my first PC, but, with one big difference though.
I can still continue to use my Windows applications whilst I learn about the Mac world.

Thanks once again everyone.

December 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterRik

I was in doubt between the two, and still in doubt, because there is no significant difference ;-)
I just wanted to congratulate everyone for their precious intervention.
Thanks

January 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMuhammad

Parallel desktop 7.0 has been released with the addition of the best virtualization solution which can be well put into use for OS X. In order to make this newly released product run under lion, it has been designed with various unique features. With the modification in the end-user license agreement of the operating systems of desktop, the latest release has been given a new feature which enables to create virtual machines so that the client version of lion can run itself. The front end of parallels can be easily managed with the help lion compatibility. If you are interested in more about this topic can be found on this site http://www.vpswebserver.com/news/significance-of-parallels-desktop-7-0/

January 30, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersarah

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