Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac

When Parallels first came on to the scene in 2006, there was huge interest in virtualising Windows on the new Intelified Macs from Apple. Three years on and Parallels has matured its virtualisation efforts to version 5 with full DirectX 9.0c support, you now get the full hardware-accelerated desktop experience from Windows Vista and Windows 7.

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I tested Parallels Desktop 5 with my MacBook Pro running on a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM and a 5400RPM hard drive. For testing, I defined the RAM allocation for Windows to be 2GB, giving it plenty of breathing space thanks to the lower memory consumption found in Windows 7.

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One of the bonus features in Parallels is that you can boot your existing Boot Camp partition without having to go through the full installation process, thus saving you time and hard drive space. Setting this feature up can take up to an hour depending on the size of the partition, but it does leave your existing installation intact so you can continue to boot into Windows via Boot Camp. That’s a pure stroke of genius and an invaluable feature for users who will want to flick between the two without having to maintain two installations of Windows on a Mac.

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With Parallels, you can opt for the traditional Windows in-a-window view, or you can choose from one of the other four modes that go as far as blending your Windows applications within OS X. Crystal mode does just that and what you end up with is this seamless integration of your Windows apps right within OS X and removing any visibility of the Windows desktop.

Blurring the lines between Windows and OS X, Parallels integrates multi-touch trackpad functionality to your Windows applications. This includes swipe and pinch gestures to your favourite Windows apps. For the hardcore Mac-faithful, Parallels has a new ‘skinning’ option which replaces most of the interface elements within Windows to that found on the Mac. I was surprised at the level of customisation that Parallels had gone to essentially make Windows look like OS X, including the moving of the close, maximise and minimise buttons to the opposite side to match OS X.

Further evidence of the deep integration of Parallels and OS X is the ability to use OS X’s Core Graphics functionality including Expose and Spaces. In Crystal mode, activating Expose reveals all of my windows, including those loaded from Windows.

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Whilst on the whole, Parallalels is a solid and compatible virtualisation tool, there is a harsh reality that comes with it. If you do intend on running multiple applications alongside your OS X environment, you will need a machine with at least 4GB of RAM as a minimum. Stock notebook drives tend to be of the 5400RPM variety which proved to be painfully slow when loading applications with my MacBook Pro hard drive struggling to keep up. Microsoft Word 2007 took nearly five minutes to load before it was ready for use. However, once it was ready for use, performance was on par with the native Windows experience.

Parallels Desktop 5 offers virtualisation to the masses and if you’ve yet to give it a try, now is the time as to give it a go. Better hardware acceleration, flexible integration with OS X and the seemingly transparent operation between OS’s makes it a powerful and useful tool.

2009-12-14 Onwah Tsang

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