Parallels Boosts Mac Virtualization Performance

The latest version of the desktop software, which allows users to run Windows and Linux on their Macs, boosts performance 50% and battery life by 20% over previous versions.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

November 10, 2008

4 Min Read

Parallels plans on Tuesday to introduce a new version of its virtualization software to run Windows and Linux on Macs, with improvements designed to increase performance by 50% over the previous version, and boost battery life by 20%.

Parallels Desktop for Mac Version 4, the first new version of the software in about year, includes new manageability features in addition to the upgrades. The new features are designed to allow users to more easily manage external storage devices, and create snapshots and backups for data protection.

Parallels pioneered the Mac virtualization market for Mac OS X, but faces hot competition. After Parallels shipped two years ago, VMware introduced its similar Fusion product. Both Parallels and Focus require Windows users to run a licensed version of the operating system.

Another alternative, Crossover Mac, from CodeWeavers, is an implementation of the Wine open source Windows API. Because Crossover isn't actually Windows, it doesn't support all Windows apps, but it supports many of them; the company maintains a database of compatible apps, including the Microsoft Office suite, Lotus Notes, Quicken, and popular games like Half-Life. CodeWeavers also has a version that runs on Linux.

Parallels Desktop for Mac Version 4 includes an adaptive hypervisor, to automatically optimize performance based on the applications running on the Mac at any moment. Previous Parallels versions had a software switch for optimizing performance in the Mac environment or the guest operating systems. With the new version, Parallels automates that process on the fly, allocating resources to the environment running the most compute-intensive applications, either the native Mac environment or a virtual machine.

Parallels also adds support for up to four-way SMP computing, with experimental support for 8 way, up to 8 GB of memory, and 32- and 64-bit computing.

The software supports DirectX 9.0, and it also supports OpenGL, and up to 256 MB of video memory, for improved graphics performance.

In a user interface change, Parallels 4 displays icons from the Windows system tray in the Apple file menu.

Parallels 4 streamlines attaching devices to Macs. Previously, when attaching a device like a removable drive, thumb drive, or iPod to a Mac running Parallels, the Parallels software would prompt the user every time whether to attach the device to the guest operating system or Mac environment. Now, users can make a one-time setting whether to mount the device on the Mac, the guest operating system, or both.

Parallels 4 includes several data protection features. Users can schedule snapshots, to roll back to a previous state of operating system, apps, and data, at hourly intervals up to 48 hours. Users can start the virtual environment in "safe mode" -- after starting in safe mode, making changes to the environment, then closing, users will be prompted whether they want to save changes made while in safe mode, or disregard the changes and restore their virtual machine to the state it was in prior to the start of safe mode.

Users can run a full, scaled-down image of Windows in a small window on their desktop, useful if they want to run a process, like updating the operating system that only needs their attention every few minutes.

Parallels also includes Acronis True Image Home backup software, Acronis Disk Director Suite for optimizing disk drives and partitioning software, and a one-year subscription to Kaspersky Internet Security 6.

Parallels 4 supports Mac OS X speech recognition. And the company is developing an iPhone application that will allow users to shut down and start their virtual machines remotely, as well as see what's on the VM screen, although the iPhone application won't actually allow users to input or control the guest operating system.

The software is priced at $79.95, available today, with a free upgrade for users who bought Parallels after Sept. 1. The upgrade price to other users will be $39.99 through at least the end of November, and $49.99 afterwards.

Virtualization adds complexity to the enterprise environment, download InformationWeek's free report on the state of virtualization for insight from vendors and IT leaders.

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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