Comparison of VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop

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Represented by their respective products, VMware and Parallels are the two major commercial competitors in the Mac consumer virtualization market. Both products are based on hypervisor technology and allow users to run an additional 32- or 64-bit x86 operating system in a virtual machine alongside Mac OS X on an Intel-powered Mac. The similarity in features and functionality between VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop for Mac has given occasion for much comparison.



Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion are competing commercial desktop virtualization solutions that run ontop of the Mac OS X operating system. The virtualization approach used by both software vendors is referred to as a type 2 Hypervisor running ontop the Mac OS X host environment. The goal of hypervisor software on the Mac is to allow the end user to simultaneously run multiple operating systems and their applications including Microsoft Windows & Linux variants.

VMWare Fusion was first officially released on August 06, 2007 [1],version 2.0 was released on September 16, 2008.[2] and VMware Fusion 3 was released on October 27, 2009.

Parallels Desktop is currently a fifth generation product. It was first officially released as version 2.5 on February 27, 2007, while version 3.0 was released June 7, 2007[3], version 4.0 was released November 11, 2008[4] and version 5.0 was released November 4, 2009 [5]

In December 2009, MacTech tested VMware Fusion 3.0.1 vs. 2.0.6 to see how the update compared. See [6] the article describing whether the update is worth it.

Similarly, MacTech tested Parallels Desktop 5 vs. 4 to see how the update compared. See [7]the article describing whether the update is worth it.


Feature Product
File:Vmware fusion.png
VMware Fusion 3
Parallels Desktop 5
Installing Windows on Mac
Easy Install with Automatic Windows Setup Yes Yes
Run off existing Boot Camp partition Windows XP (32-bit), Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit) Windows XP (32-bit), Windows Vista (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit)
Import Physical Windows PC to VM Yes Yes
Import Boot Camp partition to VM Yes Yes
Full Support for Windows 7 Yes Yes
Import Third Party VMs (Parallels, VMware, VirtualPC for Mac) Yes Yes
Migrate Windows 2000 PC to Mac Yes Yes
Migrate Windows XP to Mac Yes Yes
Migrate Windows 7 to Mac Yes Yes
Migrate Linux to Mac No Yes
Migrate PC over wireless network Yes Yes
Migrate PC over Ethernet Yes Yes
Migrate PC over FireWire Yes Yes
Migrate PC over USB No Yes
Comes with Video Tutorials to help Windows Switchers on Mac No Switch to Mac Edition
Running Windows Apps on Mac
Run Windows apps like Mac apps (Unity/Coherence) Yes Yes
Exclude Dock in Unity/Coherence Yes Yes
Windows application folder in Dock No Yes
Windows Start Menu in Dock No Yes
Windows application folder in menu bar Yes No
Windows Start Menu in menu Yes Yes
Always On Application Menu available to launch Windows apps at any time Yes Yes
Quit Individual Window applications Yes Yes
Use Command ` to switch between open windows in a Windows app Yes No
Assign Windows applications to a Mac OS X Space Yes Doesn't keep windows from app together
Shared Folders to access Mac files/folders from Windows Yes Yes
Access Windows tray icons in Unity Yes Yes
Active screen corners No Yes
Launch Windows or Mac internet applications from hyperlinks Yes Yes
Enable Apple Gestures to work with Windows applications No Yes
Enable Apple Magic Mouse Gesture support with Windows applications No Yes
Enable Apple Remote to work with Windows applications No Yes
Launch Mac applications from any Windows file (Shared Applications/SmartSelect) Yes Yes
Automatically mount storage and network devices to guest OS No Yes
Suspend/Resume To Where You Last Left Off Yes Yes
Pause VM if no application running to reduce Mac OS load. No Yes
Mirrored/Remapped Desktop, Music, Documents, and Pictures Folders Yes Yes
Contextual menu items "Run on Mac" and "Show in Finder" for Shared Folders No Yes
Remapping Windows Keyboard Shortcuts to Mac Shortcuts Yes, completely customizable Yes, completely customizable
Virtual Links - aliases to Mac OS files from Windows virtual machines No Yes
Copy/Paste Text between Windows / Mac Yes, Plain and Rich (RTF) Text up to 4MB Yes, Plain and Rich (RTF) Text
Drag and Drop Text between Windows / Mac Yes, Plain and Rich (RTF) Text up to 4MB No
Drag and Drop Files Between Windows / Mac Yes Yes
Copy/Paste Graphics between Windows / Mac Yes Yes
Passthrough "Driverless" Printing to Mac Printers Yes Yes
Making Windows Safer on Mac
Single Snapshot support Yes Yes
Multiple Snapshot support Yes Yes
AutoProtect Automatic Snapshots Yes Yes
Automatically revert VM to start state upon termination No Yes
Windows AntiVirus & AntiSpyware Included 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus. User Prompted to Install 12-month subscription to Parallels Internet Security by Kapersky
Lock down application and virtual machine settings to prevent changes No Yes
Isolated Virtual Machines No Yes
Designed for Mac (Fit and Finish)
Optimized for Snow Leopard Runs on 64-bit kernel, 64-bit VMM, 64-bit helper application, 32-bit GUI Runs on 64-bit kernel, 64-bit VMM, 32-bit helper application, 32-bit GUI
UI Built from Ground Up for Mac Cocoa UI frameworks Nokia Qt library with Carbon and Cocoa frameworks.
Welcome Screen to Simplify Initial Setup Yes Yes
Mac-like Settings and Preferences Windows Yes Yes
Apply different colors to virtual machines to find them in Finder or in the virtual machines list No Yes
Customizable Toolbars Yes Yes
Default virtual machine to launch on application startup Yes Yes
Virtual Machine Library Yes Yes
Live View of Running Virtual Machines in Library/Settings Yes Yes
Live View of Running Virtual Machine in Dock No Yes
Startup in Last View Format Yes Yes
Reduce the virtual hard disk size as its unused space grows Yes Yes
Apple Help (Searchable with Mac Design) Yes Yes
Single File Virtual Machine Packages Yes Yes
QuickLook/Cover Flow Integration Yes Yes
Mount Running Virtual Machines in Finder No Yes
Mount Stopped Virtual Machines in Finder Yes Yes
Advanced Platform
32-bit Guest Operating Systems Yes Yes
64-bit Guest Operating Systems Yes Yes
Multi-CPU virtual machines Up to 4 processors per VM & Multi Core Up to 8 processors per VM & Multi Core
Maximum RAM per virtual machine 8 GB 8 GB
Windows Aero (WDDM for Windows Vista and Windows 7) Yes Yes
DirectX 3D Graphics Support DirectX 9.0c with Shader Model 3 DirectX 9.0Ex with Shader Model 3
OpenGL 3D Graphics Support for Windows Vista & Windows 7 guest OS OpenGL 1.4 OpenGL 2.1
OpenGL 3D Graphics Support for Windows XP guest OS OpenGL 2.1 OpenGL 2.1
OpenGL 3d Graphics Support for Linux guest OS No Open GL 2.1
Multiple monitor/display support Up to 10, each display is separate unique display to Windows Up to 10, each display is separate unique display to Windows
Hardware Assisted Video/Movie Playback Yes Yes
Maximum video RAM per VM 128MB 256MB
USB 2.0 passthrough support Yes Yes
64-bit Native Engine 64-bit VMM, 64-bit kernel extentions, 64-bit helper application, 32 GUI 64-bit VMM, 64-bit kernel extentions, 32-bit helper application, 32 GUI
Power Management/Battery Passthrough Yes Yes
Bluetooth support (as USB device) Yes Yes
Firewire passthrough support No No
Virtual IDE Controller Yes Yes
Virtual SCSI Controller Yes Yes
Virtual SAS Controller Yes Yes, using software emulation in guest OS
Shared Smart Card Yes Yes
Advanced Tools
Virtual Disk Management Yes, Integrated in Settings Editor Yes, Standalone tool
Resize Virtual Disks Yes Yes
Advanced Network Management Requires modifying networking scripts Yes
Control VMs with Scripting option Yes Yes
Supports Intel VT-x hardware virtualization engine Yes Yes
Network (PXE) Boot Yes Yes
Run More Operating Systems on Mac
Run Multiple Operating Systems at One Time Yes, run up to 20 with available memory Yes
Supported x86 Operating Systems Over 140 operating systems Over 60 operating systems
Run Linux virtual machines Yes Yes
Linux Easy Install with Automatic Setup Yes Yes
Linux virtual machine support Window resize, time sync, shared folders, drag and drop Window resize, time sync, shared folders
Run Linux apps like Mac apps with Unity Yes (Ubuntu and Red Hat with Gnome) No
Run Mac OS X Server virtual machines Yes Yes
Import VHD Test Drives Yes Yes
Run Virtual Appliances Over 1200 available Less than 100 available

Minimum system requirements

Requirement Product
VMware Fusion 3 Parallels Desktop 5.0
Host OS Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later; Mac OS X 10.6 or later Mac OS X 10.4.11 or later
RAM 1 GB (2 GB Recommended) 1 GB (2 GB Recommended)
Disk space for product 700 MB 450 MB

2007 Benchmark tests

On August 16, 2007, CNET published the results of several benchmarks[8] in which Fusion demonstrated better performance than Parallels Desktop for Mac in SMP-aware applications, which Fusion supports while Parallels does not. It should also be noted that Boot Camp is a tool for natively booting Windows XP on Intel Macintosh and is not a virtualization product. This comparison is of limited value today, as both products have had 2 major upgrades since then.

File:Fusion chart01.png File:Fusion chart02.png

This comparison was tested on an eight-core, 2.66GHz MacPro running Mac OS X 10.4.10, Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac (build 4560) and VMware Fusion 1.0 (build 51348). Fusion and Parallels were both set to 1,024 MB of system memory and a 32 GB hard disk. Fusion was set to 128 MB of graphics memory, and Parallels Desktop for Mac was set to 64 MB of graphics memory (the maximum for each at that time)[8].

2008 Benchmark tests

In Volume 24, Issue 02 of MacTech, the editors published the results of one-step and task tests between VMware Fusion 1.0, Parallels Desktop 3.0 and Boot Camp and used a PC running Windows XP as a baseline comparison in a native PC environment.[9]

  • One-step Test: After clicking the mouse or pressing a key, this test requires no further human action.
  • Task Test: This tests the interaction between Mac OS X and the virtual environment and requires multiple tests throughout the process.

MacTech found that the faster the physical host computer, the more similarly Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion performed. MacTech did not test multiple processor performance. The following graphs displays the results in seconds. Shorter bars indicate faster performance.

File:Mactech---cross-platform.png File:Mactech---network---file-io.png

Each test was run on a MacBook (2 GB RAM; 1.83 GHz Core Duo processor), a MacBook Pro (4GB RAM; 2.16 GHz Core 2 Duo processor) and a Mac Pro (4GB RAM; Quad Core configuration with two 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors). MacTech tested Parallels Desktop 3.0 for Mac Build 5160 and VMware Fusion 1.0 Build 51348. All tests were done on clean host systems with new installations of Mac OS X 10.4.10 and Office installations and included all of the most up-to-date patches. No third party software was installed other than Mac OS X, VMware Fusion, Parallels Desktop, Windows XP, Windows Vista, Adobe Reader and Microsoft Office.

2009 Benchmark tests

In March, 2009, Volume 25, Issue 04, MacTech [10] published the results of a new series of benchmark tests that compared the performance between VMware Fusion 2.0.1 and Parallels Desktop 4.0 for Mac (build 3540), both running Mac OS X 10.5.5.

In most of MacTech’s tests, Parallels Desktop performed 14-20% faster than Fusion; however, Fusion ran 10% faster than Parallels Desktop when running Windows XP 32-bit on 2 virtual processors.[11]

OS/Environment Result
Windows XP, 32-bit, 1 Processor Parallels Desktop runs 14% faster
Windows Vista, 32-bit, 1 Processor Parallels Desktop runs 14% faster
Windows XP, 32-bit, 2 Processors VMware Fusion runs 10% faster
Windows Vista, 32-bit, 2 Processors Parallels Desktop runs 20% faster
Windows XP, 64-bit, 2 Processors Parallels Desktop runs 15% faster

The tests were performed on the White MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac and MacPro. Both Fusion and Parallels Desktop were optimized for virtual machine performance. MacTech’s test included launch and CPU tests, File and Network IO, Footprint, Application Launch, Application Performance and 3D and HD Graphics. In many cases, tests were performed after both Adam and Successful launches and were timed using a stopwatch.

Test Suite Performance Winner
Windows Launch Performance Parallels Desktop for Mac
CPU Parallels Desktop for Mac, except for 2 of the 14 tests
Footprint on Mac Parallels Desktop for Mac
Application Launch VMware Fusion
Application Performance Both products did well, except for IE where Parallels Desktop is 80-91% faster[12]
3D and HD Performance Dependent on game1, video and Windows environment.

1 3D Games tested were Civilization IV: Colonization and Portal. In Civiliation, Parallels Desktop has faster FPS (Frames Per Second) and performed better on slower machines while Fusion has better, more detailed graphics. Fusion has difficulty showing the startup video, but Parallels Desktop's graphics are not as rich. When running Portal, Fusion is faster but its graphics are visibly lighter, while Parallels Desktop has better graphics and visual details. [13]

Cross-platform task tests

MacTech’s cross platform tests timed how long it took users to perform multi-step tasks that moved data between Mac OS X and Windows. VMware Fusion, which is designed for increased isolation from the host, requires more manual steps to move data between the host and the virtual environment. Parallels Desktop, which is designed to run transparently with the Mac OS X host, requires fewer steps to perform the same tasks. Therefore, Parallels Desktop was faster.

Networking and file I/O tests

Parallels Desktop occasionally displayed lag anomalies while VMware Fusion's virtual drive performance was very close to that of a physical drive. VMware Fusion preferred a bridged connection for reliable performance, and Parallels Desktop was consistent regardless of the type of virtual network adaptor used.

Simultaneous use of VM and host OS

Parallel Desktop 5 always uses wired memory for hosted OS (possibly due to a bug in "Optimise performance for..." option), while VmWare Fusion 3.0 uses active memory that can be swapped. Giving better performance to hosted VM, this leaves less memory to host OS programs and causes more swapping if you use VM and host OS programs at the same time.

See also


  1. "WWDC: VMware brings virtual machines to Mac OS X". Macworld. 2006-08-06. 
  3. Breaking Down the Walls Between Mac OS X and Windows - New York Times
  5. [Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac arrives]
  6. [the article describing whether the update is worth it.]
  7. [the article describing whether the update is worth it.]
  8. 8.0 8.1 Begun, Daniel (2007-08-17). "Inside CNET Labs: Windows virtual machine performance on the Mac". CNET. Retrieved 2007-10-04. 
  9. Ticktin, Neil. "Virtualization Benchmarking How do Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, and VMware Fusion stack up?". MacTech. Retrieved February 2008. 
  10. Ticktin, Neil. "Head-to-Head: Parallels Desktop for Mac vs. VMware Fusion". MacTech. Retrieved March 2009. 
it:Confronto tra VMWare e Parallels Desktop
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