VMWare Fusion 5.0 review

Fusion isn’t quite as popular with Mac users as Parallels Desktop, perhaps because VMWare tends to focus more on the corporate and enterprise markets where Macs are still relatively rare.

That corporate emphasis is immediately noticeable with this upgrade as you now have the choice of buying either the standard Fusion 5 for £40 or Fusion 5 Professional for £68.69. The Professional edition also offers discounts on multi-user licenses for larger businesses and educational organizations.

Don’t let that corporate emphasis put you off, though, as the standard non-corporate edition of Fusion 5 is still a really good choice for ordinary home users and small businesses too. In fact, VMWare has gone out of its way to help non-technical users to get started with Fusion 5 by including a series of video tutorials that cover options such as installing Windows and running Windows programs directly on the Mac desktop.  And while Fusion 5 may lack the more polished interface of Parallels Desktop, it compensates by being quite a bit cheaper at just £39.99.

As with Parallels Desktop 8, many of the new features in Fusion 5 are simply designed to bring it up to date with Mountain Lion. You can use the new Search feature in Launchpad to quickly locate and launch individual Windows programs, while support for AirPlay allows you to view your Windows virtual machine running on an HDTV via the AppleTV – something that could come in handy for running presentations on a large screen.

You can receive status updates for your virtual machines via the Notification Centre in Mountain Lion, and there are high-res graphics updates for the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Fusion has also been updated to work with Windows 8, both within a self-contained virtual machine and when running from a Boot Camp partition on your Mac. 

The program’s interface has been tidied up too. The Library window still allows you to view icons of all your virtual machines, but also includes a new list view that has been designed for the smaller screens on laptop Macs. Your virtual machines are listed in a panel on the left-hand side of the Library window, while the rest of the window displays a larger preview of the selected virtual machine.

If you have multiple virtual machines on your Mac the list view also allows you to keep things tidy by organizing them into folders, and Fusion now allows you to allocate 8GB of memory to each virtual machine, up to a total of 60GB when running multiple virtual machines.

We tested the performance of a Windows 7 virtual machine running the PCMark benchtesting software, which tests general tasks such as web browsing or running business software. Fusion 5 produced an impressive score of 3000 – handily beating the 2200 scored by Parallels Desktop 8, and rivaling a number of i5-based PC laptops that we’ve seen recently. It’s not just hype when VMWare claims that Fusion 5 can run Windows software at ‘near native’ speeds.

The one exception to that claim, however, is when running 3D games and graphics. Parallels Desktop 8 comes out on top here, consistently producing frame rates that are 15-20% higher than Fusion 5 when running Windows games such as Skyrim and Far Cry 2. However, neither program is quite ready to replace Boot Camp as the best way of running Windows games on your Mac, so that’s probably not a deal-breaker for many people.

OUR VERDICT

Parallels Desktop 8 may have better 3D performance, and slicker interface options for merging Windows software into the Mac operating system. However, when it comes to the basic task of running Windows on a Mac then Fusion 5 still performs very well and is easy to use. And, at just £39.99, it’s also the more affordable option for people who only need to use Windows software every now and then.

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