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Thursday, December 20, 2007, 04:40 pm PT (07:40 pm ET)

Parallels, VMware trade shots in MacTech virtualization shootout

A new study from MacTech reveals that both Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion have their strong points, but that software Mac users should choose depends heavily on Windows and the user's goals — and that a Mac may outpace a separate PC in a native environment.

The technology magazine notes in its benchmark tests that the older Windows XP operating system runs considerably faster than Vista regardless of the environment, but also that the relative speed of each OS inside a virtual machine can vary widely.

Using a MacBook, MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro tower as its comparison systems, MacTech finds that Parallels Desktop is generally faster than VMware Fusion in common networking and office tasks when using Windows XP. When switching to Vista, however, Fusion handles the performance hit more gracefully and drops by an average of 32 percent across the three systems versus a steeper 85 percent for Parallels.

Surprisingly, either can be slightly faster than running Windows through the native Boot Camp mode for some of these particular tasks, the publication says. Parallels earns additional recommendations for those who depend on a tight link between Mac OS X and Windows, though VMware's solution may be better for Windows software that depends on multiple cores.

Both have a good selection of virtual appliances and are easy enough to use that selecting a solution can be just a matter of opinion, according to the comparison.

Nonetheless, users who don't need the tie-in between the two operating systems are still better-served by running Windows in Boot Camp, MacTech tells readers. And when compared to a reference Fujitsu notebook running a 1.86GHz Core Duo, even the base MacBook was typically faster, making it more feasible to run Windows directly from the Mac itself.

"It's faster than a PC anyway," MacTech says.

Complete test results, comparison graphs, and further analysis are available at the MacTech site.