Parallels Desktop for Mac 3.0
At a Glance
Parallels Desktop for Mac 3.0 virtualization software lets you run Windows XP and Vista on an Intel-based Mac, and includes several enhancements that deepen your ability to run the Mac and Windows operating systems side by side. Its big new feature, support for 3D graphics, allows you to play PC games on a Mac, too--but the number of titles it supports and the resolution at which you can play are limited right now.
We ran the $80 (as of 6/18/07) virtualization software on a 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook (see find.pcworld.com/57821) with 1GB of RAM; the minimum recommended is 512MB. After installing Parallels, we installed Windows XP Pro (which isn't included; you have to buy XP or Vista separately). Once the software is installed, you can run Windows in one of three modes: Full Screen, OS Window (where you see the Windows Desktop in a Mac Finder window), and Coherence (which puts a Windows application in a window directly on the Mac desktop).
The new support for 3D graphics means that you can now play PC games and run 3D graphics programs. However, since Parallels supports OpenGL and DirectX 8.1 but not DirectX 9 or 10, newer games are not guaranteed to play. Our experience running games in Windows XP SP2 on a 20-inch iMac equipped with a 2.16-GHz Core 2 Duo processor was mixed. Older titles such as Doom 3 and Far Cry worked well enough running in a smaller window at 800 by 600 resolution, but they still took a significant performance hit by running under virtualization.
Right off the bat, you lose half your video card's memory due to Parallels' configuration, so the 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 graphics cards you'll find on most older iMacs and MacBook Pros are immediately reduced to 64MB--not enough to run today's games well. Virtualizing eats up a chunk of your computer's main memory, too, dropping a 2GB system down to around 1.5GB. On a fully equipped Mac Pro with a high-end graphics board, or on one of the new MacBook Pros with plenty of RAM, that isn't a problem, but DirectX support limitations will still hold you back. For now, serious Mac-PC gamers should stick with Apple's Boot Camp, in part because of its better DirectX support.
A few added enhancements to Parallels improve your ability to share files between operating system environments. Coherence view now allows you to put Windows application icons in the Mac OS X Dock. The new SmartSelect feature lets you open Windows files in Mac OS X and vice versa. If you click on a file icon and choose the 'Open With...' command from the contextual menu, you'll get a choice of relevant Mac and PC applications. Choose one, and the file opens in the correct OS. You can drag and drop files between Mac and Windows folders. And with the new Parallels Explorer, you don't have to start your virtual machine to access a file on the Windows side of your drive; you can simply navigate to the file and drag it to the Mac desktop.
System-level enhancements include the new Snapshot feature, which lets you save and restore your Windows environment at a certain point. Parallels' Security Manager lets you control how much of your Windows installation is visible in the Mac OS. The software supports Boot Camp partitions in Windows Vista as well as Windows XP. Also, we found that USB device support worked much better than in the first version of Parallels that we reviewed.
Parallels 3.0's 3D graphics support gives the software a new level of functionality, but Boot Camp, which lets you run Windows and Mac OS X by dual-booting, is still a much better way to play PC games on a Mac. Parallels' real strength is its ability to share files between two simultaneously running OSs. Version 3.0's enhancements go a long way toward improving that functionality.
Eric Dahl and Narasu Rebbapragada