Parallels Desktop for Mac version 6 allows you to run Mac, Windows and Linux applications side by side without re-booting and switch information between the two easily and efficiently. The latest version reviewed adds several significant performance enhancements and also makes it possible to use your Windows virtual machines – and their applications – wirelessly with an Apple iPad.
Parallels 6 is snappy. While we’re not able to confirm the precision of the company’s figures (because any improvements will depend on your configuration and what you’re doing) running Office-style applications on XP and Windows 7 on a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook with 4GB of memory feels significantly faster, particularly starting up and shutting down.
The claimed 80 percent increase in 3D performance sounds extravagant, but we’d testify that fetching and carrying from the disk has improved by an order of magnitude: certainly we wouldn’t quibble with Parallels’ figure of 35 percent faster, compared with the previous version. And although Windows 7 has always run OK on our Mac, the upgrade handles the fancier graphical interface more smoothly for a more satisfying experience. Hmm, sounds like a good cigar.
Behind the scenes Parallels now utilises a proper 64-bit engine and virtual machine encryption, and along with improved graphics performance, gamers and movie goers will appreciate support for 5.1 surround sound. There have been miscellaneous interface improvements too.
We prefer the way that Parallels 6 has only three main views: Full screen/Window, Coherence (where Windows and its programs are integrated into the Mac desktop) and Modality where you can run Windows in a small window, perhaps to keep an eye on a large download, video capture or any process that takes time. Integration is also improved. Niftily, you can now use OS X keyboard shortcuts in Windows programs, as well as the other way around. In addition, Spotlight now also finds your Windows programs and you can take your Parental Control settings on the Mac and apply them to your Windows set-up.
Intriguingly, version 6 also allows you to run the free Parallels Mobile app on an iPad so you can control your Windows virtual machines via the Parallels web site and your own Internet connection. It’s still a little clunky (the iPad version inherits the native resolution, loses the connection if the Mac is asleep and can be slooow) but it already works well enough to be useful for simple tasks, like accessing an important file that’s been accidentally left on your main machine.
The upgrade from 5 to 6 was smooth enough for XP but Windows 7 coughed a bit when installing Parallels Tools, the utilities that make it easier to use Windows and OS X side by side. This turned out to be an issue with our security suite, so that’s worth bearing in mind if you experience similar issues. Otherwise, Parallels’ progress continues impressively.
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