VirtualBox 2.1.4 review

Just after we reviewed VirtualBox 2.0.6, Sun released version 2.1 which added two major new features along with the usual assortment of bug fixes. Since the release of 2.1, there have been four minor releases, bringing VirtualBox up to version 2.1.4.

VirtualBox now supports Intel’s VT-x hardware virtualisation on the Mac. This means you can now run 64-bit versions of various operating systems, and you should see better stability as less virtualisation code needs to be run. Sun also added support for the improved VT-x features in Intel’s latest CPUs – the Nehalem line – so users with new Mac Pros should see an added performance boost.

The other big news is experimental support for OpenGL acceleration in Windows virtual machines. (There’s still no DirectX acceleration in VirtualBox, but the user manual states it will be added in a future release.) While testing the OpenGL acceleration, we had a hard crash, so the experimental label is merited.

To test the OpenGL acceleration, we ran the OpenGL portion of the Cinebench test suite on a 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro. We ran the test in Windows XP Pro in VirtualBox 2.1.4 with OpenGL acceleration disabled, and then with acceleration enabled. We also ran the same test in Windows XP Pro in Parallels Desktop 4, in XP Pro natively via Boot Camp, as well as in OS X itself, to see how things compared.

Without OpenGL acceleration, VirtualBox took 300 seconds to complete the OpenGL animation test. With OpenGL acceleration enabled, the time dropped to about 45 seconds, a tremendous improvement. Parallels Desktop rendered the scene in about 26 seconds. So in terms of OpenGL speed, VirtualBox is well behind Parallels Desktop, though miles better than it was without acceleration. As expected, the best performances were found when running natively – the OpenGL test took around 14 seconds in XP Pro via Boot Camp, and just 11 seconds in OS X.

OUR VERDICT

With the addition of hardware virtualisation, support for 64-bit operating systems, and OpenGL support VirtualBox has become an even better free solution. You’re still limited to one CPU per virtual machine, but if your needs aren’t CPU-intensive, this shouldn’t impact your workflow too badly, and OpenGL speed is fast enough for simple OpenGL needs. Overall, we were impressed with how well VirtualBox works for most typical projects.

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