Parallels Desktop 8.0 full review

VMWare may have pipped them to the post by releasing Fusion 5 a few days earlier, but Parallels have arguably done a more thorough job with Parallels Desktop 8.

A key theme for both programs has been compatibility and support for Mountain Lion. Version 7.0 of Parallels Desktop had problems with Mountain Lion and required an update in order to run properly. So, as you’d expect, version 8 is now fully compatible with Mountain Lion and can also take advantage of some of the new features found in Mountain Lion.

Like Fusion 5, Parallels Desktop 8 works with Launchpad so that you can quickly launch the Windows programs that you need. It also uses the Notification Centre to provide status updates for your virtual machines, and provides high-res graphics for the Retina display on the new MacBook Pro. However, Parallels Desktop does go a little further than Fusion in supporting Mountain Lion and integrating the Mac and Windows environments even more tightly.

You can now use Mountain Lion’s Dictation feature with Windows applications, and although Dictation still seems like a bit of a gimmick rather than a genuine productivity aid it’s impressive that the Parallels team have put in the time and effort required to make this work with Windows.

You can also use Apple trackpad gestures, such as pinch-to-zoom, within Windows programs too. That attention to detail makes the Windows side of things feel more Mac-like, and when you take into account existing features such as the MacLook option – which tweaks the interface of Windows programs to make them look more like native Mac apps – then Parallels does a slicker job of merging the Mac and Windows environments together.

Parallels also gets brownie points for its Parallels Mobile app, which not only allows you to remotely control your virtual machines but also lets you control your Mac too. Our only complaint here is that you have to pay extra for the app – at the moment it’s on sale for £2.99 but the standard price is likely to be around £15. Parallels Desktop is already £25 more expensive than Fusion 5, so people who only need to use Windows software occasionally may feel that Fusion is a better deal.

Performance is also something of a mixed bag. When running the PCMark benchmarking software – which tests general performance for routine tasks such as web browsing and running MS Office – Parallels produced a score of 2200, compared to 3000 for Fusion 5. To be fair, though, we had no complaints about the performance of Parallels Desktop and it didn’t really feel as though it were noticeably slower than Fusion 5 during our review period.

The tables are also turned in one key area – that of 3D graphics and games. We tested a number of Windows games, including the recent Skyrim and the more elderly Far Cry 2, on an iMac with an i5 processor running at 2.66GHz, and Parallels Desktop 8 consistently produced frame rates that were about 15-20% higher than Fusion. If you want to play the latest high-speed action games for Windows then BootCamp is still the best option, but Parallels is now tantalizingly close to the point where it will allow you to play your favourite Windows games right on the Mac desktop.

At the other end of the spectrum, Parallels also now offers an Enterprise Edition that allows it to compete with Fusion Professional in the business market. The Enterprise Edition wasn’t available as we wrote this review – and neither were the pricing details – although business users can make an email request for more information via the Parallels web site. 

Switching to Mac

Mac sales have been increasing rapidly in recent years, with quite a few PC users switching over to a Mac for the first time. So, in addition to the standard and Enterprise editions, there’s also a third version of Parallels Desktop called the Switch To Mac Edition.

Priced at £69.99, the Switch To Mac Edition includes a set of video tutorials that help to introduce the Mac itself, and to explain how you can use Parallels Desktop to run your existing Windows software on the Mac. There’s also an extra piece of software called the Parallels Wizard that you can install on your PC in order to help transfer all your important files onto your Mac. This transfer can take place over a network, or by using an external hard disk, but Parallels also includes a special USB cable in the box that will allow you to connect your Mac and PC directly together in order to transfer your files.

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