Ever since I got my Mac, I’ve been looking into virtualization solutions. I have gotten more and more used to running VMs over the past few years and once you get used to it, it’s hard to go back. The option of restarting my computer into a new OS seems so ancient and weird to me now that I sometimes forget I was doing it quite regularly only about two years ago.

There are two main contenders for this job: Parallels and VMWare fusion with a runner-up in the form of Virtual Box (which has the great advantage of being free and open-source). I won’t go into some complex review here with charts and stuff, I just want to share a bit of my experience to help others make a similar decision.

Don’t ignore Virtual Box just because it’s not as heavily marketed as the other solutions. It was made by Sun and it’s a pretty strong contender. I actually hear it has some features that the other two don’t have. What I didn’t like about it was that it doesn’t integrate with the native OS as nicely as the other two and that immediately eliminated it for me, since that’s one of the things I was looking for. If you’re interested in running stand-alone isolated VMs, this may be all you need. Definitely give it a try first, since it’s free there’s nothing to lose.

Now back to the two big guys. I’ll tell you from the start that I picked Parallels over VMWare and here’s why (by the way, don’t take my word for it, feel free to install trials of both and play with them; Parallels had no problems converting the image created by VMWare and I’m guessing the reverse may be true as well). I feel that Parallels integrates just a bit more smoothly and is easier to use, but it may really just come down to personal preference. Here’s what the two breaking points were for me though:

– When I was running VMWare, I had several problems with my computer. I tweaked the settings a bit here and there, but either the host was sluggish or the guest was sluggish or both. Mind you, I have a MB Pro and 8GB of RAM! It’s not exactly an under-powered machine so this was annoying to say the least. It may have something to do with Lion, but VMWare said they’re supporting it so that’s not much of a valid excuse. I had no such problems with Parallels.

– I guess I could’ve ran some benchmarks and some crazy tests to work out performance, but I decided to do something much simpler instead: I tried running Skyrim ūüôā It ran on both, but it was unusable on VMWare: extremely laggy and within a few minutes it crashed. On Parallels it runs great, I was actually able to play through a few hours of it (there is a mouse problem, but I think it may have to do more with the game than the VM since I saw many complains about that online).

Before I wrap this up, I just want to make a very important note. You cannot ignore versions and OS’s when looking at these or any other reviews.

– Version numbers:

I played around with the latest versions of both apps that are available for trial (at the time, this was Parallels 7 and VMWare Fusion 4). This is important because the two are very close “rivals” and they are constantly improving so if you do find a benchmark that’s interesting for you, make sure you look at the version numbers, otherwise it may be totally irelevant. That’s also why you will find some that show Parallels as a winner and some that show VMWare fusion.

– Host OS:

I’m running Mac OS Lion. This is fairly recent so it may be that future¬†optimisations¬†for this OS will change things or perhaps that they exhibit different behaviours on older versions of Mac OS.

– Guest OS:

I did all the above with Windows 7 x64. I haven’t yet made any other VMs to be able to evaluate how things would go with something else. It’s very possible that optimizations made for Windows do not translate to Linux or that 32bit and 64bit will behave differently. You know what you need so keep all this in mind.

 

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention price. Parallels is more expensive than VMWare fusion (£64 vs ~£32 last I checked) but look out for numerous offers out there that may get you a significant discount (I got Parallels for about £20, but you have to look around a bit).