Creating a virtual machine within your Mac has become easier in the past two decades! As a result, we have also seen the rise of various virtual machine software. While many of these tools are made for industrial purposes, they help users run Windows on Mac or try alternative operating systems. But Parallels Desktop for Mac, one of the popular virtualization software for Mac, makes things simpler and better.
Therefore, it is no surprise that many Mac users consider Parallels Desktop when they want to run a Windows virtual PC on their Mac. Since its release, Parallels has done a great job bringing many requested features. In this comprehensive Parallels Desktop review, we wanted to share our experience with the latest version 18 while using it to run Windows and other Operating Systems on Mac.
About Parallels Desktop for Mac
Parallels Desktop for Mac is a virtual machine software that allows you to create, run, and manage Windows and other virtual machines on your Mac. However, unlike competitors like VMWare Fusion and VirtualBox, Parallels Desktop is optimized to run Windows on Mac. As a result, it offers several features you can’t expect from most competitors.
It comes from Parallels, a developer that has been in the virtualization industry for decades. The first version of Parallels Desktop for Mac was released in June 2006, but the tool became more popular after 2015. You should keep in mind that Parallels Desktop is available for other platforms like ChromeOS, in addition to the various other apps from the developer.
Now that you know the basics about Parallels Desktop for Mac, shall we see how it performs in real life?
Getting Started with Parallels Desktop
As we said, Parallels Desktop for Mac is optimized for entry-level users. So, even if you have zero experience dealing with virtual machines, you can set up and run a Windows/Linux virtual machine on your Mac. In our testing period, we understood these claims are valid. Furthermore, the entire process, including installing Parallels Desktop on your Mac and running the VM, took only a few minutes.
We are sure the same would have taken 2-3x more time if we used other VM software like VirtualBox. Here are some takeaways from our experience getting started with Parallels Desktop for Mac.
- When you open Parallels Desktop, it gives you a couple of options to set up your first VM. You would find shortcuts to install popular operating systems like Windows, Ubuntu, and a few other distros. It also allows you to upload an ISO file that you already have on your Mac.
- Parallels Desktop for Mac takes unattended installation to the next level. It means you do not have to press a single key. Instead, the Parallels system will complete the installation, and you can log into your virtual Windows machine in a few minutes.
- You can also use the Parallels Toolbox while managing your virtual machine. This toolbox has many utilities you may need while running Windows apps on Mac. There are helpful tools like backup and file converters as well.
However, we felt the coolest part of Parallels Desktop for Mac is how it creates a wonderful experience when using Windows within macOS. We will talk about that in the next section. However, if you ask us how easy it is to get started with this virtualization app, we’d say it is as easy as possible.
Now, let’s look at some of the core features of Parallels Desktop for Mac and how it compares to the other virtualization software we have tried before.
Coherence Mode for Windows
Coherence Mode for Windows is perhaps the unique selling point of Parallels Desktop. This mode creates a blend of macOS and Windows and lets you launch Windows apps and other features without running a VM in the foreground.
When you enable Coherence Mode, the Windows virtual machine will run in the background, but all the resources will be available.
We really loved this feature because it makes our workflow effortless. You do not have to open the VM when you want to launch an app—say Microsoft Edge or MS Paint—on your Mac. We also felt the feature is time-saving for most professionals.
Insane Compatibility with Apps
Parallels Desktop for Mac claims to help you run more than 200,000 Windows apps on a Mac. Although we could not verify this number, the Windows virtual machine handled everything we threw at it. The list of our apps included Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and a few medium-sized apps.
Because the entire system is based on a fully-fledged virtual machine, there are some compatibility benefits. For one, if you use an app that you can install on a Windows PC, Parallels Desktop VMs will handle it.
Therefore, added compatibility is one reason we think you should check out this virtualization software. The app does an incredible job compared to other methods to run Windows apps on a Mac, including the ones like CrossOver.
Nobody likes waiting for minutes for the Virtual Machine to load, right? Well, if you have a newer Mac, you do not have to worry about this aspect. More importantly, Parallels Desktop for Mac has native support for M-series chips from Apple.
So, during our testing on an M1 Mac mini and M2 MacBook Air, the app did not hold back in performance. It was a great experience to shift between macOS and Windows as though the Windows system was another screen on the Mac.
Therefore, we find it easier to say that Parallels Desktop for Mac checks all the boxes in terms of performance and other features. We often questioned our decision to purchase a separate PC because the performance from this VM was incredibly top-notch.
Another great thing about Parallels Desktop for Mac is that it focuses on tiny yet important things. So, you will love the many features in the package, such as:
- Parallels Toolbox, which packs more than 40 powerful utilities
- Remote Access option through Parallels Access
- Full support for Apple’s Retina Displays
- Incredible support via multiple channels
- Many OS-specific features for Linux distros
Altogether, the features section of Parallels Desktop has what it takes to be your one-and-only virtualization software for Mac.
What We Loved
All those amazing features apart, here is what we loved about Parallels Desktop for Mac.
First, we love easy it is to create and manage multiple VMs using this performance-friendly app. Of course, some of its features are available only for Windows virtual machines. However, even when we tried a Linux distro (Ubuntu), things were impressive. So, in many ways, Parallels Desktop makes virtualization easy for all people. You do not need to be a network/virtualization engineer to set up a system within your Mac.
Second, regular updates from the developer offer a seamless experience with almost every VM you set up using Parallels Desktop. Even easy-to-ignore bugs are fixed on a continual basis so that you can use all VMs as though they are dedicated devices. We also tried customer support from Parallels, which you can get via different channels, including Knowledge Base and Live Chat.
Third, despite how simple Parallels Desktop seems, it does not curtail options for customization. If you want to set up a VM manually, there is an option. Similarly, you can change different aspects of the virtual machine with ease. For instance, you can set up network settings and storage options as you wish. Parallels Desktop did not have trouble loading virtual machines from a portable SSD, either.
Fourth, we already talked about compatibility, but Parallels Desktop does an incredible job with gameplay on Windows and Linux. These options work great if you have an Apple Silicon Mac instead of an Intel one. So, if you plan to convert your MacBook, iMac, or Mac mini into an occasional gaming machine, this app will help you.
In terms of stability and performance, it is better than all options we have tried, including Boot Camp, extra compatibility layers, etc.
What Could Be Better
While Parallels Desktop for Mac does bring a balance to many things, we cannot ignore some quirks that we encountered. These are not flaws or dealbreakers but simply some areas where Parallels can improve.
- We noticed that many features, like Coherence Mode, are not available on non-Windows VMs. So, if you are a Linux geek, you should keep your expectations lower.
- Parallels Desktop for Mac is not free and can become more expensive depending on the features you need. This could be a bottleneck for some users, especially students.
Some users have also reported heating and resource consumption issues, but we were fine with this point. For one, we did have an amazing experience with multitasking in general. We could easily use the Windows virtual machine even when dozens of Chrome tabs and apps were running in the background. So, we would leave this aspect to the user.
Availability and Pricing
As the name says, Parallels Desktop for Mac is available for Mac devices only. Your Mac should be running the latest version of macOS for the best features. As we said earlier, Parallels Desktop offers native support for both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs.
When it comes to pricing, Parallels Desktop offers three options: Standard, Pro, and Business. While you can get the Standard Edition for a one-time payment, Pro and Business editions are available via subscriptions only.
We believe the Standard edition is sufficient for most people because you can create a VM with up to 8GB of vRAM and four vCPUs. You also get all the integration-oriented features. This plan would set you back at $99.99, but you can avail of discounts for students, non-profits, defense, and governments.
On the other hand, the Pro and Business editions are priced at $119.99/year and $149.99/year, respectively. These plans offer features like increased resources, Docker/Packer integration, central administration, extra developer-oriented options, etc.
So, if you are worried about value proposition, you should consider the Standard Edition, which is a better alternative to buying a PC. For instance, if you use Windows only for a specific app, it makes sense to get the standard Parallels Desktop instead of buying a new PC.
There is a 14-day free trial period of Parallels Desktop that you can use for testing, though.
Parallels Desktop Vs. Alternatives
We will quickly look at how Parallels Desktop for Mac compares to alternatives.
If you want to run virtual machines on your Mac, you have quite a few options, including VirtualBox, VMWare Fusion, and QTM. Depending on your specific requirements, some industry-level options may also be suitable in the long run. However, the biggest problem with all these apps is the difficulty of setup and the notable lack of performance. For instance, you cannot expect the seamless experience that Parallels Desktop for Mac offers on a regular day. Similarly, there are restrictions in terms of viewing modes and resource allocation.
However, if you are looking for ways to run Windows apps on Mac, you can consider compatibility layers as well. CrossOver is one of the names you may come across. While it is inexpensive, CrossOver does not bring ultimate compatibility. Even if the program manages to run some apps, the list of unsupported apps is way larger than you expect. Therefore, it may not be a great option if you want to try games or industry-rated apps on your Mac.
Overall, despite the extra money you have to invest, Parallels Desktop for Mac offers more value than most alternatives.
In the end, we will always recommend Parallels Desktop for beginner and advanced users. If you simply want to run Windows apps on Mac, you can follow the easy option. On the other hand, if you want to customize everything, there are options as well.
In either case, getting a license for Parallels Desktop is almost always better than purchasing an entirely new Windows PC. While we would like to see some improvements in how Parallels Desktop for Mac handles non-Windows virtual machines, the core features work fine!