Parallels Review

Welcome to our Parallels review. Today we’ll be looking at one of the best solutions for bringing native Windows apps to your Mac devices. Parallels Desktop for Mac is an extensive virtual machine simulation of a Windows OS environment. It’s ideal for all those that want to show off their fancy Macbook Pro while benefiting from Windows-only apps such as Autohotkey or Paint. It can even support gaming, though we wouldn’t really recommend it, as MacOS still has limited OpenGL and DirectX support.

Key features:

  • Stellar performance
  • Easy installation procedure
  • Flexible file management tools
  • Free Trial

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Excellent feature set
  • Works with Boot Camp partitions
  • Can install virtual machines directly from the recovery partition
  • Fast performance
  • The default interface is cluttered
  • A few impractical Mac-integration features

Overview

At its core, Parallels 15 is a virtualization software that allows Mac users to gain access to their favorite Windows apps. This is done through the creation of a virtual machine with a Windows operating system on it. But according to Parallels reviews, it’s much more than that. For starters, you can run other operating systems on it. There is also a veritable mountain of additional goodies, from the handy Toolbox to features aimed at file sharing and synchronization.

Main Features

Getting Started

Parallels makes it easy for you to create your Windows environment on Mac. After downloading and installing the app, you can either use a Windows (or another OS) image or be directed to a Windows installer (if you have a licence) or a page where you can simply buy a copy directly from Microsoft.

Alternatively, you can let Parallels for Mac review the contents of your Windows installation by installing a system export utility on your Windows PC. This allows you to export the data directly to your Parallels app or put it on an external drive. You can also pull your Windows installation from a Boot Camp partition if you made one earlier.

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Device Connectivity

Any portable devices, such as external hard drives, USB-powered sound cards, and keyboards can be connected through USB, USB-C, Thunderbolt, or FireWire ports, and Parallels software will show it on both your Mac and Windows desktops. It’s even possible to connect Bluetooth devices such as the Xbox Elite controller, which work on both operating systems.

View Modes

Once Parallels for Mac reviews and sets up your Windows virtual desktop, you have four ways of interacting with it.

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Window mode shows the open apps in a resizable window. Mac apps can be run alongside those of your virtual operating system. It also operates in full screen mode.

PiP mode is useful for lowkey monitoring of ongoing Windows processes. It minimizes the virtual OS window but still keeps it active, so you can check what’s going on while working on other things.

The final and most impressive view in our Parallels Desktop review is called Coherence. Your virtual taskbar completely disappears, and Windows apps can mingle freely with their Mac counterparts. You can enable this mode either from the Parallels menu or the added blue button in the window’s title bar. You can also set it up to automatically boot your virtual device in this mode.

So, what else is Parallels offering? Well, you may remember that the latest version of MacOS dubbed Catalina added in a very useful feature called Sidecar. It allows Mac users who have an iPad to use the tablet as a secondary screen and is an excellent productivity boosting tool. While there is no Parallels for iPad (the hardware can run Parallels Access but not the desktop virtualization tool), you can use Sidecar to make your iPad a portable monitor for your virtual Windows desktop.

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Quick Access

All your open Windows applications appear in your Mac Dock alongside your native Mac apps. In our review of Parallels, we found that this isn’t limited to just minimizing or bringing up inactive windows. You can actually access and run your Windows apps directly from the dock as you would in a native Windows or MacOS environment.

If you find this cumbersome and don’t want to clutter your Mac Dock, you can always set it up so that the icons show up only in Coherence view mode.

Snapshots

This is another useful feature. Snapshots are saved states of a virtual machine that you’re running through Parallels. These work just like System Restore points in Windows. They can be created manually or automatically and used to restore your virtual machine on Mac to a previous state at any time.

File Sharing

Parallels Desktop reviews often gloss over another excellent feature found on this virtualization software. In addition to being able to run parallel desktops on your Mac device, the software also has excellent file sharing and synchronization features.

Shared Folders Tool

This handy feature allows you to share files and folders between Parallels virtual machines and your Mac device. In addition to being able to access virtual machine files and folders from your Mac OS, you can also access your Mac data from your virtual PC desktop.

Shared Profile Tool

For a more traditional file sync, you can enable the Shared Profile Tool. It will allow you to both share and review through parallels any of your Mac OS pictures, documents, downloads, music, and videos. The desktop of your virtual OS will display the icons that are present on the Mac OS desktop and the My Documents folders will also be synchronized. Just keep in mind that deleting files from your virtual Windows desktop in this manner will permanently remove them from your Mac device.

Shared App Tools

App sharing is split between the Shared Applications and Shared Internet Applications tools. In our Parallels review, we found that these tools allow you to specify which apps are evoked when.

Performance

When using a virtual machine, the quality of the performance plays a crucial role in the overall experience. After all, you are running two operating systems side by side, which can put a strain on your Mac’s resources depending on how old the machine is and what you are trying to do with your virtual desktop.

In the Parallels vs VMWare Fusion clash, it’s obvious that the former has a faster initial boot up. Initial actions take just over a minute on Fusion vs Parallels, which boots up in less than 40 seconds.

In terms of standard performance, the gap is much smaller. This is because the BIOS emulation in Parallels supports Fast Boot in Windows, which significantly cuts initial loading times. Once everything is loaded, the performance of the different virtualization tools is pretty much uniform, with Parallels Desktop 15 being only ever so slightly faster than the competition.

Speaking of Parallels 15, our review has to note that the latest version of the software introduced a very handy Resource Monitor tool. Running in a separate window, it can keep tabs on both your Mac OS and the virtual machine, letting you know exactly what’s gulping up your resources and whether you need to tone down activities on your virtual PC desktop.

User Experience

When it comes to user experience, our overall impressions were largely positive. However, there are a few caveats we need to mention. Our Parallels Desktop for Mac review mentioned that while some complementary pieces of software can be installed on other non-Mac devices, the core functionality is providing virtualization tools which bring other operating systems to your Mac.

Obviously, if you just use Apple devices, this won’t be an issue. You can even work with Apple’s Boot Camp, and Parallels will recognize its file and folder structure. It’s a shame though that other systems cannot make use of Parallels virtual machines, and it’s not easy porting data from guest operating systems made in the program to other similar software.

Most Parallels Desktop reviews rightfully praise the software for its class-leading performance. But we also agree with those saying that the software’s default user interface could use some improvements. While it’s possible to tailor the experience, the number of options is overwhelming.

For example, any file on your Mac desktop will also be ported to the virtual machine’s desktop, even though some won’t even work. Similarly, when preparing our Mac for this Parallels review we didn’t anticipate that the software would dump a whole folder full of apps from the virtual OS right onto our Mac desktop. Realistically, these are minor nitpicks, and the software does allow you to turn these features off. But we still feel it could have been handled better.

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Related Products

There is more to Parallels for Mac than its virtualization tool. It also has business-related software such as Remote Application Server and Mac Management for Microsoft SCCM. In addition, there’s the corporate version of their virtualization software called Parallels Desktop Business Edition. The two other major pieces of software are Parallels Toolbox and Parallels Access.

Parallels Toolbox

While we won’t be doing a separate Parallels Toolbox review, there are a couple of key features that are worth mentioning.

Toolbox is a bit like an extension of your typical Mac or Windows system utilities and a lot of its features are already available. But there are some handy tools for freeing up system resources, recording windows, or downloading images and videos from social networks. There are also productivity tools, such as a stopwatch, as well as tools for accessing or hiding certain files or folders and limiting access to your device’s webcam.

Many Parallels 15 reviews point out that most of these are pretty handy. However, the majority perform tasks that both MacOS and Windows systems already have alternatives for.

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Parallels Access

Access is essentially a remote desktop tool which grants you access to your computer on an iPad, mobile, or other device. Whether you use the app for Android or iOS systems or log in securely through the Parallels website on another device, Parallels Access grants you quick access to your computer from any place with a Wi-Fi connection.

With Parallels Access, you can review your apps as if they were made for mobile devices, launching them with a single tap or using mobile OS specific commands such as Android text controls. It’s a truly useful piece of software that goes beyond simple remote desktop access.

Customer Support

Even the best website isn’t good if the customer support is failing. For the purposes of our Parallels review, we tested out the live chat option, but those on a subscription license also get access to 24/7 phone and email support. Standard edition users without an ongoing subscription will get 30 days of Parallels support through phone and live chat as well as two years of email support.

Parallels customer support agents are very knowledgeable and respond quickly. They can also point you to excellent articles on the site’s very extensive knowledge base. Although it’s an exceptional service, we wish the support options for non-subscribers weren’t limited to email and the knowledge base.

Pricing

Having sold you on the overall usefulness of the software, it’s time to talk about a slightly less popular topic. Is Parallels worth it considering the widespread availability of free tools such as Boot Camp?

The company offers three pricing packages with different licensing models. The basic one is Standard and comes with a one-time payment of $79.99. It offers basic functionalities that we’ve been discussing in this review but is limited to 8 GB of RAM and a max of four virtual CPUs for each virtual machine.

The other two editions are not only more expensive but also include an annual subscription that’s renewed automatically if not cancelled. When comparing the standard version of Parallels Desktop vs the Pro and Business editions, we noticed that 24/7 customer support is active as long as you are a subscriber. With the Standard edition, you’ll only get round-the-clock customer service for the first month after your purchase.

More importantly, several advanced features are available only in the two subscription-based editions. Namely, Parallels Desktop Pro Edition adds support for business cloud services, integration with Chef/Ohai/Docker/Vagrant, a network conditioner for simulating and testing network speeds, a Visual Studio plugin and additional debugging, and virtual machine dumping options. This version of Parallels will cost you $99.99.

The corporate-focused Parallels Desktop Business Edition adds centralized administration and management as well as a unified volume license key for mass deployment on employee systems. The cost is $99.99 per year. Both of the subscription-based licenses also add support for up to 128 GB of RAM for virtual machines and up to 32 vCPUs.
Before making your pick, you can sign up for the 14-day fully featured Parallels trial. After all, reading Parallels Mac reviews is useful, but nothing beats the hands-on experience.

Alternatives

If you’re not entirely convinced that Parallels Desktop for Mac is the right choice, here are a few alternatives. For starters, Apple itself has had Boot Camp for over a decade now. The main advantage of course is that it’s completely free. It also spends far fewer resources than Parallels Desktop because it boots directly into the partition with the Windows installation.

When it comes to the Parallels vs BootCamp comparison, the former has an advantage in that you can switch operating systems without having to boot the whole computer. By utilizing a completely separate boot sequence, BC spends far less of your computer’s resources, but switching to your MacOS requires a full system reboot. And that’s without looking at all the other Parallels Desktop unique features that we covered.

A more traditional competitor can be found in VMware Fusion. Interestingly enough, the two are not undercutting each other at the moment, with both offering a basic plan for $79.99. VMware does offer some more generous terms (16 vCPUs, 64 GB RAM vs 4/8 for Parallels), as well as excellent third party integrations. But Parallels runs faster and has a better interface.

Our Parallels review should also mention that tech-savvy users have a whole bevy of other free open source options, such as VirtualBox, QEMU, and Valve’s Proton (for porting Steam games to Mac). There’s also CrossOver, a cheaper alternative, that runs Windows files in the MacOS file system and costs as little as $29.95 for the cheapest version. However, It’s quite limited when compared to Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion.

How Does Parallels Compare to Other Virtual Machine Application Solutions?

parallels logo - parallels review 2020
  • Stellar performance
  • Easy installation procedure
  • Flexible file management tools
  • Free Trial
Price $99
vmware fusion logo parallels review
  • Ability to connect to vSphere and Workstation servers,
  • Flexible pricing
  • Solid performance
  • Has a free option
virtual box logo parallels review
  • Open-source
  • Numerous customization options
  • OS cross-compatibility
  • Free for personal and educational purposes
Price $50

Conclusion

Parallels created a fantastic piece of software. With class-leading features and performance as well as a veritable array of bonus features, Parallels Desktop 15 for Mac is undoubtedly one of the best virtualization tools on the market. That said, the cost of parallels for Mac is high, especially if we take into account the number of completely free options on the market.

The program’s future is also in question, in light of recent Apple announcements about moving to ARM processors in the future. While it’s no secret that relatively simple Windows emulation on Macs has been possible mostly due to Apple computers sharing Intel processor infrastructure, it remains to be seen how the company will deal with this new challenge in the future. For now, though, if you want one of the best virtualization software solutions on the market, Parallels Desktop 15 is a fantastic choice.

Things we liked / disliked:

  • Excellent feature set
  • Works with Boot Camp partitions
  • Can install virtual machines directly from the recovery partition
  • Fast performance
  • The default interface is cluttered
  • A few impractical Mac-integration features

FAQ

Is Parallels for Mac good?

It’s an excellent virtualization tool. You can read our review above for more details.

How much does Parallels for Mac cost?

The starting price is $79.99. The Standard version doesn’t include a subscription, while the Pro and Business editions cost $99.99 per year.

How much RAM do I need to run parallels?

At least 1 GB, according to the developers. That said, you really want at least 8 GB if you plan on making the experience of emulating Windows 10 while running MacOS at the same time pleasant.

Does Parallels make Mac slower?

That depends on your usage. As we’ve mentioned in our Parallels review, running a virtual machine with a guest OS can be taxing on your system, depending on what you are doing with it. Running Windows by itself isn’t a huge resource drain, but bear in mind that you are running both operating systems at the same time, and if you also use power-hungry Windows apps, it will definitely slow your system down.

parallels logo - parallels review 2020
Price $99/year
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