Why I switched from Parallels Desktop to VMWare Fusion… and back again!

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Despite being a long time Mac user (it’s the platform I’ve used the longest ever since I got my first computer which, for the record, was a ZX-81) I find that, on occasion, I need access to Windows.

The main reason for this is that I’m a developer. I need to make sure that web sites I create work on Windows. I also develop dedicated apps for mobiles and tablets so although I can do this exclusively on OS X there may come a time in the future when I need Windows for something app related.

There are two ways of running Windows on a Mac. One is to use Apple’s own BootCamp firmware that allows you to dual boot into either system. It means your Windows installation will run as quickly as possible because you’re effectively using a PC. Frightening thought, though that is.

The alternative route (and the one I’ve always gone for) is to run a virtual copy of Windows within OS X. That’s something that’s relatively painless to do since Mac’s have been Intel based and there are several options out there to choose from. One free option is Virtual Box, however most people go for one of the two paid software solutions out there – either VM Fusion or Parallels Desktop.

Parallels Desktop
Since it was first released, I’ve always used Parallels Desktop. I’ve found it to be, on the whole, a reliable piece of software and has enabled me to run Windows on my Mac for some years now. I’ve been on their beta program for a long time now and always give the latest version a go, feeding back my experiences to the dev team.

That’s where (this time) things started to go wrong!

I ran Parallels Desktop 11 beta and found it didn’t play at all happily with Windows 10. I reported multiple issues to Parallels including video driver problems, network drop outs and what is most likely some kind of kernel panic where the VM would die horribly for no apparent reason.

No fixes were supplied for these issues during the beta period and Parallels Desktop 11 launched without any of them being resolved so I switched back to Parallels Desktop 10 only to find that Windows 10 didn’t play well on that version either. I’ve since found that running SQL Server Management Studio 2012 appears to be the catalyst for some of these issues and so I’m sticking to 2008 for now.

VMWare Fusion
A rival to Parallels Desktop is VMWare Fusion. VMWare have some considerable experience in virtualisation technologies so I decided to give their software a go and downloaded a trial of the latest version.

I spent most of the trial period with VMWare trying to get Windows 10 activation to work. Understandably as I was running it under a new VM, Windows 10 thought I’d changed my computer so wanted to re-activate. However, what Microsoft don’t tell you is that this can’t be done. The only way is to go back to Windows 8.1, reactivate that and then convert to Windows 10 again. Problem was, I’d removed my Windows 8.1 backup from within Windows 10 to save space when I copied the VM across from Parallels to VMWare.

Ooooops.

So I had to re-install Windows 8 (I have a licence so no problems there) and then update to 8.1 and from there update to to version 10. Meanwhile my VMWare trial was about to run out so I bought a Fusion licence (with a helpful discount for being a Parallels customer).

I quickly realised, however, that long term use of Windows 10 under VMWare Fusion 8 was going to be even more problematic than my experiences under Parallels. OK, so the software actually ran without bombing out, however it was very slow in operation, mouse movement (despite being on maximum) was very slow indeed (I had to lift and replace the mouse several times to move across the display). Most annoying of all, the accuracy of the mouse pointer was terrible – I’d end up clicking on the wrong thing and had very real problems highlighting things.

Very VERY annoying!

Finding a solution
To be fair to VMWare, one of their operators connected to my machine via TeamViewer and tried his best to sort things out. For most of the 45 minutes he was connected he tried doing things that I’d already tried by following recommendations in their knowledge base. At least he was being thorough.

He eventually gave up and told me last Friday that he’d speak to some techies and ring me back on Monday.

It’s now Tuesday. (They called back on Wednesday – see my update at the bottom of this post)

Switching back to Parallels
So with VMWare Fusion increasing my stress levels, I decided to have another crack at Parallels Desktop. I thought I’d try going from a Windows 8.1 backup of my Parallels virtual machine and then install 10 and see what happened. That worked, and was OK for a day before I installed SQL Server Management Studio 2012 and discovered that that seems to be at the route of at least some of the problems.

So I’ve decided to stay on Parallels after all. I’ve wasted 30 quid on a VMWare licence I won’t use now, but hey ho.

VMWare isn’t as good – and that’s official!
One other thing to mention. When I was talking on the phone to the VMWare engineer, I pointed out that the display performance wasn’t very good and had been much faster under Parallels Desktop. He said that it is a known “feature” of OpenGL in VMWare that it’s graphical performance is not as good as Parallels Desktop. He actually said that.

Which one should you go for? Goodness only knows, but if you’re like me and pushing lots of pixels around the screen (I have a 4K retina display) then Parallels is probably your best bet, but as always with these things YMMV.

UPDATE 16/9: VMWare phoned me back today. I have to say they’ve tried to be helpful and to be fair to them they say that they’ve had no other reports like this under Fusion 8. The engineer said they tried on a retina iMac, a MacBook Pro 15″ and a Mac Pro with a Dell monitor and all was fine on there. It’s clearly something to do with my set up but what that could be is baffling both them and me. I’ll stick to Parallels and try Fusion again once it’s had a few bug fix updates – you never know!

A Manager at VMWare wanted to speak to me to know the details (he’s not happy that they couldn’t fix the problem). He’s going to monitor and I’ve asked him to let me know when Fusion is updated so I can try again. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens. Watch this space!

6 thoughts on “Why I switched from Parallels Desktop to VMWare Fusion… and back again!

  1. Nigel Burrell

    Very interesting article Andy!

    I am thinking of purchasing Parallels Desktop 11 to install Windows 10 on my MacBook Pro Retina 13″ (Early 2015). The rMBP is connected to a new Dell 4K Monitor, and under OS X El Capitan the 4K resolution running at 60Hz looks amazing! However, I am wondering if Windows 10 will also show 4K resolution on my Dell 4K Monitor via Parallels Desktop 11?

    1. AJClayton Post author

      All good questions! Since writing my post, I’ve realised that Parallels Desktop 10 doesn’t play happily in retina mode, even when selecting the “retina” tick box in the Parallels preferences. Since turning that off, and reverting back to non-retina mode for Windows, my problems with the display not refreshing have disappeared. I’d *hope* that Parallels 11 would fix that problem however the beta seemed to have issues too. Having said that, there will have no doubt been updates to the software since I tried it out.

      I can only suggest that you download Parallels 11 30-day trial and then you’ll soon find out if it’ll work as you want it to. I wonder if your MacBook Pro will have the graphics power to drive an external monitor in 4K? The 15″ might, but I’m not so sure about the 13″ as it doesn’t have dedicated graphics. I have the 13″ myself, but it’s older than yours and I run Parallels on Mac Pro.

      Thanks for your comment. It would interesting to hear back how you get on.

      1. Nigel Burrell

        The rMBP 13″ Early 2015 does indeed power my Dell P2715Q 4K (3840×2160/60Hz) Monitor perfectly. So I’m wondering if the display refresh issue you’re experiencing when using retina mode in Parallels is a software limitation when driving a 4096×2160/60Hz resolution on your LG 31MU97 monitor? I’m assuming you’ve applied the recommended settings required to achieve retina display from the support pages on the Parallels website?

        I could download Parallels 11 30-day trial but I am more concerned about how difficult it might be if I decided to reactivate Windows 10 under bootcamp instead if the retina mode in Parallels 11 proved to be problematic. That is, based on the assumption that Windows 10 successfully displays 4K resolution under bootcamp too of course!

        For me, any issues with the 4K retina mode would be a deal breaker as this is the exact reason why I purchased a 4K monitor.

      2. Nigel Burrell

        Hi Andy. Just to let you know – I installed the trial version of Parallels Desktop 11 and Windows 10 on my rMBP 13″ (Early 2015) and couldn’t be any happier! It works flawlessly in glorious 4K resolution when connected to my Dell 4K monitor (with retina mode turned on) and even when using the laptop on it’s own.

        Based on this experience I’ve now gone ahead and purchased a license for Parallels 11.

      3. AJClayton Post author

        Very interesting to hear, Nigel. Thanks for the feedback. As I paid out for a VMWare licence I’m not using (Grrrr) I’m not entirely sure I want the additional expense of a Parallels 11 upgrade licence, however I’m pleased to hear that retina works. I may wait for Parallels 12 myself. Hmmmmm.

  2. Nigel Burrell

    Talking about monitors – I did a lot of research on 4K monitors before settling with the Dell P2715Q. I very nearly went with the LG 31MU97 instead but I decided the monitor was physically too wide to fit on my home office desk. And also the display on my rMBP at the time was limited to 3840×2160/60Hz resolution under OS X Yosemite – although it can now display 4096×2160/60Hz (17:9 aspect ratio) under OS X El Capitan.

    I’m kicking myself now, as the low-profile bezel monitor looks much nicer than the Dell, the larger width of the LG didn’t prove to be as much of an issue as first anticipated, and my rMBP is now capable to supporting the native 4096×2160/60Hz display.

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