Both VMWare Fusion 5 and Parallels Desktop 8 offer much of the same features, however, certain aspects place Parallels Desktop 8 in another league from VMWare Fusion 5, which may not be that surprising given that it costs US$30 more. However, the cheaper price and more flexible licensing schemes of VMWare may make it more attractive to users who do not require all the features of Parallels Desktop.
Covered in this report
Cheap pricing of only US$49.99
One license can be run on unlimited number of Macs
Best for: Those who are on a budget and those looking to run it on multiple computers
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Upgrade option may make it cheaper than VMWare in the long-run
Better support for Retina-equipped Macs and for Windows 8
Best for: Those looking for a more full-featured virtualisation solution
Ever since Apple's OS X transitioned to the x86 platform some eight years ago, running either Windows or Linux on your Mac became a reality rather than a far-fetched dream. While there is Boot Camp for users who wish to boot into an exclusive Windows environment, for those who want to remain in their OS X environment while having the flexibility to run certain Windows programs, you would want to look at virtualisation solutions instead.
In this Consumer Guide, we will examine two of the most popular virutalisation solutions today. The first is VMWare's Fusion 5 solution, and the other is Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac.
VWWare Fusion 5
Parallels Desktop 8
Given the many similarities between the two competing solutions, one may be hard-pressed to decide which one to choose. Therefore, in this Consumer Guide, we will compare and contrast certain important aspects that may differ between the two.
In this aspect, VMWare trumps Parallels, with a VMWare Fusion 5 license costing only $49.99 while a similar Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac license costs $79.99.
Furthermore, VMWare offers more flexible licensing terms than Parallels. You can install a purchased copy of Fusion 5 on any number of OS X computers that you own or control, whereas for Parallels Desktop 8, you are entitled to install it on only ONE computer.
However, while VMWare doesn't offer upgrading discounts for its Fusion software, an upgrade copy of Parallels costs only $39.99. Therefore, while the upfront cost of VMWare Fusion is cheaper, in the long-run, this would be negated by the cheaper upgrade pricing of Parallels, provided you are installing it on only one Mac.
Bottomline: VMWare wins on its more flexible licensing terms and cheaper upfront cost.
Though not an issue for most, OpenGL support on Parallels Desktop is way ahead than that in VMWare Fusion. OpenGL 2.1 support was only recently added to VMWare Fusion, and even then, it is not a complete implementation. In this comparison from Ars Technica, in a 3D rendering benchmark, VMWare Fusion 5 ended up five times slower than Parallels Desktop 8. Basic 3D acceleration of the Linux desktop environment may also be an issue with Fusion 5.
Bottomline: If you're hoping to run Linux with all the bells and whistles, Parallels Desktop is your best choice.
Retina Display Support
If you are running a Mac with Retina Display, this may be of concern to you. At present, both Fusion 5 and Parallels Desktop 8 support Retina-equipped Macs. However, where they differ is in their implementation of pixel doubling, which is supported on Windows 7 and 8 virtual machines.
Parallels Desktop 8 does 'native' re-rendering of Windows 7/8, which means that basically, all text and icons are set at twice the resolution to yield a crisper display for the end-user. In comparison, what VMWare Fusion 5 does is simply scale up the output video by 200%, resulting in blur and pixelated text and icons. The effect you get in Fusion 5 is basically the same as opening an image and zooming in by 200%—there is no increase in 'effective' resolution and pixels are simply doubled.
Bottomline: At present, only Parallels Desktop 8 offers true support for Retina Display; Fusion 5 merely enlarges everything by twice without increasing the effective resolution.
Windows 8 Support
Windows 8 brings the 'Metro' user-interface from Windows Phone to the desktop, which means the introduction of full-screen apps. Both Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion handle these full-screen apps differently.
In Parallels Desktop, you can only run one Metro application at a time. If you already have a full-screen 'Metro' app running and attempt to run another, it will replace the current 'Metro' app in the same window. In comparison, Parallels gives each full-screen 'Metro' app its own Mission Control desktop, which would mean that running multiple 'Metro' apps are possible.
Windows 8 also brings about the 'hot corners' feature, where certain options, such as the Charms Bar, appear when you hover your mouse across these corners. The issue is that OS X also has similar gestures, so in a virtual environment, you may encounter troubles getting 'hot corners' to work. Parallels Desktop 8 works around this issue by slowing down mouse movement as you approach these hot corners.
Bottomline: Parallels Desktop wins for its elegant implementation of 'Metro' apps and for its consideration of the 'hot corners' feature in Windows 8.
One of the limitations of the OS X platform is its limited support for games. This isn't that surprising given the ubiquity of the Windows platform. Therefore, one might compare virutalisation solutions by virtue of their gaming performance.
Parallel Desktops has the advantage in this regard, with experimental DirectX 10 support, while VMWare Fusion supports only the rather antiquated DirectX 9.0c. For the uninformed, the latest version of DirectX is already 11.1. In this review on MacWorld, a demo of ARMA 2 ran at 40 fps on Parallels, while it ran much more sluggishly on Fusion, managing only a measly 11 fps in comparison. The Ars Technica comparison yields a rather similar result, with Parallels Desktop experiencing much lesser problems than VMWare Fusion.
Bottomline: Parallels Desktop is the undisputed winner here.
Above all, Parallels Desktop 8 also offers a few more extra features over VMWare, such as an 'Open in Internet Explorer' button in the Safari browser by virtue of a browser extension, which would undoubtedly be very useful for web developers. If you are running OS X Mountain Lion, the newly-added Siri-like dictation feature will also work in a virtualised Windows environment in Parallels Desktop 8, while it won't work at all in VMWare Fusion. Lastly, Parallels Desktop 8 also allows you to use your virtualised OS X and Windows apps remotely from any iPhone or iPad.
In comparison, VMWare offers a 12-month subscription to McAfee VirusScan Plus and supports dragging and dropping text between Windows and OS X environments. In addition, it supports over 200+ guest operating systems, more than twice than of Parallels Desktop 8.
Bottomline: Unless you are trying to run some obscure operating system, Parallels Desktop 8 really has much more going for it in this regard.
From what we have compared above, it is rather clear that Parallels Desktop 8 is the superior solution. However, the pricing and licensing advantages of VMWare Fusion is difficult to ignore. If you intend to run these programs on three Macs, for example, you would spend $240 for Parallels Desktop 8 in comparison to only $49.99 for VMWare Fusion 5.
However, if you're running it on only one or two Macs (Parallels has a two-pack license for only $99.99), then the price may perhaps be easier to swallow. For $30-$50 more, you stand to gain much more, especially if you are a gamer and/or if you are using a Mac with a Retina display. The attractive upgrade pricing of Parallels Desktop 8 may also make it cheaper than VMWare Fusion in the long run, too.