Running Windows in Parallel on Your
Zisman (c) 2006 First
published in Low
April 20 2006, Mac2Windows
Apple's Boot Camp got the most attention recently as a
run Windows on the new Intel-powered Macs. But at almost the same
time, little-known Virginia-based Parallels,
Inc. announced a version
of its virtualization software, Parallels
Workstation for the Intel Macs.
This software solution for running other PC operating
more flexible than Apple's Boot Camp, and for many users, it may
prove to be a better solution.
Boot Camp Pros and Cons
A bit of background: Apple's Boot Camp, like an
hacker-built solution, lets users partition their Intel-Mac's hard
drive in order to install another operating system (in Boot Camp's
case, Windows XP only) and allow the user to choose to boot into
either Mac OS X or the other operating system.
Only one operating system runs at a time, but it gets
of all the computer's hardware resources.
Emulation Pros and Cons
But many Mac owners have long been making use of
another way to
run multiple operating systems. PC emulation software has long been
available for the Mac, with programs like Virtual PC, SoftPC, and
GuestPC letting Mac owners install and run a wide range of PC
operating systems within a window on their Mac. The Mac operating
system is still running allowing the Mac owner to treat the PC
operating system and its applications as just another program,
switching from one to the other without needing to restart the
The downside: performance. Emulation requires
software instructions meant for one CPU into instructions designed
for another, and - like translating from Chinese to English - it's
inevitably slower than just working in a single language. Because
they are designed at a low level specifically for the PowerPC CPU
used on pre-2006 Macs, emulators like Virtual PC and Guest PC don't
run on the new Intel-powered Macs.
But because these new Macs use the same Intel CPUs as
there's no longer any need for those sorts of translations. Instead
of emulation, software can make use of virtualization - letting the
Intel CPU set up a virtual Intel-powered computer running in a
portion of the computer's memory.
Without needing to translate instructions from one CPU
another, performance can be much better - much closer to full
Virtualization software has become increasingly
popular in some
IT circles as a way, for instance, for programmers running Linux to
write code for Windows systems, for help desks to support users
running multiple Windows versions, or for network servers to serve
applications designed for a range of operating systems. Perhaps the
best-known product in this category is VMware,
with products for Windows and
Linux, including the free VMware Player.
Microsoft has also been active in this area with the
version of Virtual PC.
None of these PC virtualization products let users
OS X as a "guest" operating system, and neither VMware nor
Virtual PC have software that will run on the Intel Macs.
Parallels Workstation is not as well known as the
but the company has virtualization products available for both
Windows and Linux. And now it's first off the mark with a version
for Mac OS X on Intel.
As I write, it's available only as a free prerelease
trial version (registration required to get an evaluation key
code). When the product is released (expected relatively soon),
pricing will be US$49; the Mac version is currently available for
preorder for US$39.
I tested the prerelease version on an Intel-powered iMac
(1.83 GHz CPU)
loaned me by Apple Canada.
My loaner iMac had 1.5 GB of RAM, increased from the
MB. As with any emulation or virtualization setup, more RAM is
always better, as your system is trying to run the guest operating
systems (with their RAM requirements) at the same time as the host
operating system (with its RAM requirement).
Setting up Parallels Workstation is not much different
setting up one of the older PC emulation programs; first, you
create a new virtual PC, specifying the target operating system,
setting a size for the virtual hard drive, and a default memory
amount. (Parallels Workstation defaults to 256 MB for Windows XP
and Linux installations; I upped that to 512 MB in each case).
Where Virtual PC was available with a range of Windows operating
systems as (expensive) preinstalled drive images, Parallels
Workstation requires that you manually install the guest operating
system(s) from scratch. In my testing, this worked smoothly; run
the wizard to create the new virtual system, insert the operating
system install CD, and click the Run button. The virtualized PC
starts up with the install CD, and away we go!
I installed Windows XP Professional, SuSE Linux 10, and Ubuntu
Linux 5.10; each installed reasonably quickly and without problem.
(SuSE is listed as a supported operating system. I installed Ubuntu
using generic "Other Linux" settings. I could not get either to
completely shut down their virtualized PCs). Each installation took
roughly 45 minutes.
- An aside: If you want your virtual sessions to
right-mouse button support for Apple's Mighty Mouse, make sure
you've got support for that feature enabled on your Mac!
Like both Virtual PC and Guest PC, Parallels
includes additional support for Windows operating system versions
that can be installed after the operating system itself. These
Parallels Tools include tools for sharing the clipboard between the
Mac and Windows operating system and for allowing the mouse to
smoothly transition from the Mac desktop to the Windows window. It
also includes enhanced network and video drivers. (Unlike Virtual
PC and Guest PC, you can't drag files between the Mac and Windows
For non-Windows operating systems, these tools are not
available; users may have to press Control + Option to get the
mouse cursor to reappear for other Mac use.
The software emulates an RTL8029 network adapter;
this may have to me manually installed with some operating systems.
(It worked automatically in the two Linux distributions I
The video display is set to a generic VESA VGA. In my
installations, it ran fine at 1024 x 768 mode, but it was limited
to 16-bit (64,000) colour.
Don't expect high-performance 3D video acceleration
the Parallels Tools video enhancements. This is not a solution for
Mac users wanting to play high-end Windows games.
Sound worked, but even the few seconds of Windows
had some breakup. Don't expect good multimedia performance.
Also lacking at this time is USB support. Some of
documentation claims the product provides a (virtual) pair of USB
1.1 ports; most of the documentation left out mention of USB
entirely. I was unable to get the virtualized Windows XP system to
see my USB printer. I'm hopeful that this will be improved in the
Network and Internet access was fine in all my
operating systems with the default "bridged ethernet" setting.
And given the video, sound, and USB limitations,
pretty fine, too. Both Windows XP and the pair of Linux systems
seeming plenty perky, comparable to running them on a modern "real"
PC. I tested Windows XP using both Boot Camp and the virtualized
Parallels Workstation version using the free SiSoft Sandra
benchmarks. To my surprise, the virtual installation gave higher
I've never been comfortable running Windows XP using
any of the
emulation software on any PowerPC Mac. No matter how much RAM I've
devoted to it, it's always been too slow for my tastes.
By contrast, XP runs quite nicely using Parallels
my test Intel iMac. If you're trying this, though, be sure that
you've got adequate RAM; I would strongly recommend having at least
1 GB of RAM, allowing you to give your virtualized PCs 512 MB while
still leaving the same amount for OS X.
Another nice feature: Rather than shutting down your
operating systems, you can choose to suspend them. Parallels
Workstation saves your session as a (large) file. Restarting opens
that file, quickly returning your virtual operating system to the
state it was at when suspended. This is much quicker than
If you need to run Windows on your Intel-based Mac,
now several ways to go about it. Apple's Boot Camp and Parallels
Workstation are easily setup by a moderately comfortable user and
have reasonably low geek factors. There are advantages and
disadvantages to each.
Boot Camp vs. Parallels Workstation
Boot Camp only supports Windows XP at present;
Workstation can be used with a wide range of PC operating systems,
both Windows and non-Windows.
Boot Camp requires rebooting your computer to switch
operating systems, and only one operating system can be running at
a time. If you're running Windows and you need to get a phone
number from your Mac's Address Book, you're out of luck.
Parallels Workstation allows you to run other PC
systems in windows from within the Mac OS; this lets you run
programs on your Mac and in the PC operating system at the same
And if you want to run any PC operating system other
Windows XP, Parallels Workstation makes it easy. It may prove
possible to hack Boot Camp to support other operating systems, but
you're on your own at that!
An advantage of booting to Windows, as Boot Camp
that with full control over the hardware, you've got full
performance. While the virtualized operating systems in Parallels
Workstation are fast, Boot Camp's Windows XP installation is
faster. And the RAM requirements of running either Mac OS X or
Windows XP on their own are lower than trying to run both operating
systems at the same time.
While neither Windows XP via Boot Camp nor any of the
operating systems via Parallels Workstation fully support all the
hardware on the Intel Macs at this time, Boot Camp offers better
video, sound, and USB support. If you want to play Windows 3D games
or print to a USB printer (at least for now), Boot Camp is the way
It's great that (Intel) Mac owners now have a variety
to run Windows and other PC operating systems. There may be more to
come; there are rumours that VMware may offer support for its
software on the Intel Macs. Other rumours suggest that Apple may
include virtualization support along with Boot Camp support in the
upcoming OS X 10.5 "Leopard" release.
Be warned: Whether via Boot Camp or any virtualization
running Windows on a Mac makes you just as vulnerable to all the
nasty stuff as running Windows on a generic PC. For more on that,
be sure to read Windows
Security for Mac