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Aside – Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac OS X

Posted by Preston on 2009-11-13

I’ve been using Parallels Desktop for the Mac for several years now – in fact, when I originally started using it, VMware were only talking about doing a desktop virtualisation product for the Mac.

That’s partly why I stay loyal to Parallels – they supported the platform sooner. The other reason is that after years of hearing tripe from VMware employees about why you couldn’t mix windows from both operating systems, Parallels went ahead and did it with Coherence. (Yes, VMware Fusion’s Unity functionality went there too, around the same time, but the amount of times I heard it wasn’t a feature they were interested in within Workstation, as an example, drove me nuts.)

So when Parallels Desktop v5 for the Mac came out, I jumped on the upgrade bandwagon. It’s given me one major positive – I can now run Solaris 10 AMD 64-bit on my Mac Pro; that was the one remaining OS I absolutely need to periodically run that I was being blocked from doing previously. After about 3 days of installing, reinstalling, downloading more recent versions of Solaris 10 AMD, I even finally managed to get networking operational within the VM too, which meant it was useful.

Other than that, Parallels v5 has been a bit of a disappointment. You see, currently for me, Coherence mode only works if I’ve got a single monitor attached to my machine. The only time that happens is when I’m using my laptop away from my desk, or when I’m traveling – and those are times I’m less likely to run VMs. Since Coherence doesn’t work for me 99% of the time, that means I can’t really try out the Crystal mode – though I’ll admit, I’m unlikely to use it heavily; I dislike the “shared apps” approach offered by Parallels, and the new Crystal view mode seems to rely heavily on this.

It does continue to annoy me that I don’t have the option of virtually turning the monitor off – why can’t I close the console for a running VM? Surely that’s not so huge a thing that it can only be limited to enterprise class virtualisation – aka ESX, VMware Server or Parallels Server. When you have 10+ VMs running at once, even minimised all those consoles start to get annoying.

While overall I’m pretty happy with Parallels performance in terms of memory and CPU, recent support cases have highlighted to me that when it comes to translated IO, Parallels struggles – it seems to peak at about 20MB/s per VM, regardless of the throughput capabilities of the attached device. I first noticed that under v4, and was unhappy to see no change in v5.

If you’re currently a Parallels Desktop for Mac user, and you haven’t yet upgraded, I’d suggest holding off until the next build of v5, rather than jumping into the initial build released. Hopefully by then they’ll at least have Coherence reliably working again.

[Edit, 2009-11-14]

I’d like to take back my comments about Parallels 5 still having mediocre IO performance. I just realised, a short while ago, that one of the VMs I’d been testing with had failed in its VMware Tools update. Now, with both VMs in this particular test config updated to Parallels Tools v5, instead of getting 14-17MB/s transfer speed between them as I’d been getting under Paralles v4, I’m now getting 45-57MB/s. Now that’s a performance improvement.

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