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Virtualizing Windows: VMWare Fusion 7 vs. Parallels Desktop 10

Transitioning from a Windows PC to a Mac can be challenging, especially if you use applications or workflows that are dependent on Windows. Sometimes equivalent software isn't available — and even if it is, files aren't fully compatible with those Mac versions — and sometimes employer IT departments are reluctant to support the Mac. If that's the case for you, installing Windows 10 on your Mac could be your best solution. There are two prominent commercial packages to help you with that: VMWare Fusion and Parallels Desktop.

Parallels Desktop 10 and VMWare Fusion 7 are virtualization software: They're different from Boot Camp, Apple's method for running Windows on the Mac, because they're virtual machine environments. Using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, you can run Windows and Windows apps at the same time as OS X, rather than having to reboot into Windows, as you do with Boot Camp.

First of all, let me say that I think either Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion are excellent choices for virtualizing Windows. What's more, both vendors make trial versions available for download, so I heartily encourage anyone interested in giving them a try to do so. You have nothing to lose.

Bear in mind that you will need a valid Windows 10 license to install any instance of Windows on your Mac; same goes for any Windows apps you want to use. So this isn't an end-run around the cost of getting Windows or Windows software.

If your budget is tight, there's another option too — virtualBox, from Oracle. It's free. Frankly it's not nearly as polished or optimized for speed as either Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, but free is good, and it's good enough to get by in a pinch.

Both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion make it very easy for you to set up a new virtual machine and configure it to run Windows and Windows apps optimally. Both offer advanced integration with the Mac environment. That makes it easy to open apps and documents and launch Windows without creating a lot of disruption (or even a lot of open extra windows) on your Mac.

So in many ways, Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion play an arm-wrestling game with each other. They're always battling for dominance in the Mac virtualization software market.

Having said that, I've found that Parallels Desktop 10 works faster on my Mac (a 2013 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro) than VMWare Fusion 7 does. Boot times are less and 3D graphics run faster. 3D graphics run more slowly than Boot Camp due to virtualization — after all, when your Mac is booted into a Windows Boot Camp partition, it is, for all intents and purposes, a Windows PC. Parallels also offers remote access service called Access (it's subscription-based and optional), which makes it easy to access your virtual machine from anywhere.

The downside is that if you're on a laptop battery, Parallels can drain it pretty quickly. But, if you need a great virtualization option, it's my current pick.

11 Comments
  • Yes, Parallels, on Windows at least, outperforms VMware Fusion in most areas, power consumption being it's biggest drawback. But that's just Windows though. For my (albeit non GPU-intensive) ricing with FreeBSD, OpenBSD and various Linux distros, the differences between the aren't as pronounced as they are on Windows, with Fusion often giving slightly better performance while still maintaining it's battery advantage. With multiple VMs running (plus encrypted /home and all that fusion-jazz), it's no contest - Fusion hands down, and I'm talking the older Fusion 6 vs current Parallels 10 here. My main issues with Fusion is that Fusion GUI (in version 6) does not allow the selection of partitions for its virtual disks. Not something the good ol' command line and some editing of .vmx file can't fix, but still a bit of an inconvenience. Some other minor issues, but I can't really explain those without posting mandatory dmesg pr0n.
  • I've been running SolidWorks (3D CAD) under Parallels for over two years, and am really happy with the performance. I have a late 2012 Mac Mini (quad core i7, 256Gb SSD, 16 Gb Crutial self-installed RAM. From a cold boot, I can start SolidWorks inside 40 seconds, and that includes typing in passwords for both OSX and Windows 7.
    The system runs great, with only a noticeable slow-down in large assembly mode, probably due to the MM's 16 Gb RAM limitation. Parallels allows configuration of my 3D mouse, and really operates well transparently, as it should. I have yet to upgrade to version 10 of Parallels, because, if it's not broke, why fix it? I'm happy.
  • Very interesting. I just got a early 2015 13" rMBP. and was curious to have parallels running on it for using AutoCAD, and Inventor. I migiht have to give it a go now.
  • Did you notice any differences in the VM size between Parallels and VMware? VMware seems to be far more efficient and Parallels is practically double or triple the size of a VMware disk.
  • Virtual Box, baby. Even on my ancient (circa 2009) MBP, Windows 7 on VB runs acceptably well. And it's hard to beat free.
  • Weird. I'm running an Oracle DB Appliance on my 2014 Mac Mini and it kills the CPU, which is why I'm looking at moving to Parallels or VMWare.
  • I've been playing with Windows 10 using VirtualBox on my retina MacBook. Yes, that MacBook that everyone says is underpowered. Windows 10 runs great. I can't see spending the money on Parallels or VMWare unless you have a specific need out of them that VirtualBox doesn't provide.
  • I am a Parallels user and have been very happy with it. However, for some licensing may be a challenge as Parallels requires a license for each machine. Fusion allows installation on up-to 3 machines for a single user, which for someone with laptop and desktop machines will save some dough...
  • I've been running windows 7 ultimate for my non Mac native programs for a few years now with excellent success on parallels with no dramas & would gladly recommend it☺️ Sent from the iMore App
  • I like both products, Parallels since v1 has more features and implements them earlier, but also has left me and customers with un-bootable Windows VM's many times over the years after a version update. That's why I personally use VMWare since v3 it's solid and has never left me in the lurch.
  • All in one is available now on cloudly-based remote desktop. You can choose any apps from the list and using them on all your devices. Check it out https://www.apponfly.com/en/?KAI . What do you think about it?