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Going head-to-head with VMware Fusion 5 is Parallels Desktop 8. This latest version of Parallels boasts speed improvements and other enhancements such as support for 32GB of RAM. But as with Fusion 5, there aren’t many headline improvements over the previous versions.
Getting started with virtualization can be a confusing minefield of operating system jargon and instructions. Here, Parallels scores very highly on our ease-of-use scale. Even if you haven’t downloaded the software, Parallels will go and fetch the right thing, making the whole process simple. Within seconds, you can be on your way to installing Ubuntu or Android — you can even get OS X from your rescue partition — and naturally, a host of Windows options. Once you’ve chosen which operating system you’d like Parallels to run, the installation times are impressive, too. We had the developer preview of Windows 8 installed and running in about 25 minutes.
One of Parallels’ best features is the ease with which you can install just about any OS.
For Mac users who want to play Windows games on their Macs, virtualization software offers the perfect workaround, and Parallels is good in this area, too. There’s no denying that graphics suffer in comparison to a dedicated gaming rig, but gameplay is at least smooth. Naturally, the latest and most processor- and graphics-intensive games are going to push your Mac a bit hard, but plenty of titles will work just fine.
Parallels 8 has some handy features that integrate well with Mountain Lion. Notification Center and the dictation feature are supported, for example, and Safari gets a new button to open the current page in Internet Explorer. You can run Windows apps full-screen, and they each get their own desktop in the Mac’s Mission Control.
Parallels is speedy enough, though we have to admit that it seemed to be a bit more processor-hungry than Fusion 5 in everyday use. The software certainly seemed to slow down Mac OS X operations more often, but in fairness, waiting five seconds longer than normal for an app to open is hardly the end of the world.
The bottom line. In many ways, being just as good as Fusion is a bit of a problem for Parallels, given that it’s more expensive. At $79.99, Parallels doesn’t give a host of extra features or a huge increase in performance over the $49.99 that Fusion costs. You may find the way that Parallels works and looks appealing, but again you have to really want that to put up the extra cash. That being said, Parallels is a really great product, it works well, and given the complexity of what it’s performing, operates at impressive speeds.
Parallels Desktop 8 for Mac
Intel Core 2 Duo or later, Mac OS 10.6.8 or later, 2GB RAM (4GB recommended), 700MB hard disk space, 15GB per virtual machine
Great installation and setup process. Well-designed interface. Runs just about any OS on your Mac with ease.
More expensive than Fusion 5.