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Parallels 11 Benchmarks vs. Parallels 10 and Boot Camp

Parallels this week continued the yearly upgrade cycle for its popular OS X virtualization software with the release of Parallels Desktop 11 [1] (hereafter referred to simply as “Parallels 11”). For those unfamiliar with the virtualization software category, Parallels (and competitors such as VMware Fusion [2] and VirtualBox [3]) allows users to run Windows and other x86-based operating systems directly from within OS X, without the need to reboot using a tool like Apple Boot Camp [4]. This type of software gives users the benefits of accessing applications that are not available for OS X while still maintaining easy, simultaneous access to Apple’s desktop operating system.

With the product category now quite mature — in addition to the 11th version of Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion is currently at version 7, and VirtualBox is at a regularly-updated version 5 — the focus of Parallels and its competitors has primarily been new features. We’ll take a brief look at the new Parallels 11 features later on, but we, like many users, are also interested in performance. Once relatively sluggish, each new round of virtualization software updates has inched the performance meter forward, to the point where some tasks are now nearing native speed. It’s this latter metric that we’ll be looking at today, as a continuation of our yearly VM performance benchmark analysis [5].

A new version of VMware Fusion is expected to be released shortly, and we’ll be sure to pit Parallels 11 benchmarks against Fusion 8 when the time comes. Until then, however, we’ll take a close look at what Parallels 11 brings to the table compared to its year-old predecessor, Parallels 10, and see how both compare to native performance via Boot Camp.

Regular readers will recall that Parallels 10, released in August 2014, didn’t offer much [6] in terms of performance improvements over Parallels 9. While certain graphics tests and VM management functions fared slightly better in Parallels 10, the 2014 release was primarily a feature-focused one, with Parallels 10 offering deeper integration between Windows and OS X services, along with easier setup and configuration options. As you’ll see next, Parallels 11 arrives with its own share of new features centered around the new technologies in Windows 10 and the upcoming update for OS X, 10.11 El Capitan. Our goal was to determine if this focus on new features meant another year of negligible performance improvements, or if Parallels would return to its old form and deliver new heights in performance. Read on to learn what we found.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 [48]

Key New Features in Parallels Desktop 11

As we mentioned previously, this article will be focused primarily on Parallels 11 benchmarks, but we wanted to take a moment to briefly highlight some of the new features in this year’s update. We’ll look at taking a deeper dive on Parallels 11 features in a future article.

Support for the Latest Operating Systems: This should come as no surprise to existing users of Parallels; the new version includes full support for the latest and upcoming versions of OS X and Windows, specifically OS X El Capitan and Windows 10. That doesn’t mean that users of older versions of Parallels won’t be able to install or run Windows 10 — we ran Windows 10 in Parallels 10 without issue — it just means that Parallels isn’t committing to providing comprehensive support for the operating system, and that features like Coherence or updated graphics drivers won’t be available.

parallels 11 windows 10 el capitan [49]

In what is perhaps a not-so-surprising turn of events, Parallels’ frequent updates to support the near-yearly releases of OS X and Windows have effectively forced a subscription model upon consumers, very similar to the transitions faced by users of Microsoft Office (Office 365) and Adobe Creative Suite (Creative Cloud). Users who are content to stick with older versions of Windows, such as the still-popular Windows 7, will be fine skipping the upgrade, but the reality is that, like many other software products, users will have to pay each year to receive the latest features and updates.

Access Cortana from OS X: Well, we never thought we’d see this happen, but the first company to bring a voice-activated personal assistant to OS X isn’t Apple, it’s Microsoft (and Parallels). While Mac fans have waited years to see Siri on the desktop, Parallels 11 introduces “always on” Cortana support, letting users access Microsoft’s digital assistant service, which was recently introduced as part of Windows 10, directly from the OS X interface.

parallels 11 cortana os x [50]

This feat is accomplished via a specialized Coherence mode, so your Windows 10 VM must be running on your Mac, but it doesn’t need to be the active application, meaning that you can access Cortana while your Windows 10 VM stays minimized in the background. Cortana’s usefulness is significantly limited if you’re not heavily using Microsoft’s online services, so this feature won’t appeal to die-hard Apple fans who only run Windows reluctantly for work or testing, but in our brief experience it worked surprisingly well. The onus is now on Apple to finally bring Siri to OS X which, considering her absence from the El Capitan feature set [51], is a development that is at least a year away.

Related to Cortana, Parallels 11 also lets a user access Windows 10’s new Action Center which, when activated via a menu bar icon, will occupy roughly the same space on the right side of your display as OS X’s Notification Center. Like Cortana, this is an optional feature, but heavy Windows 10 users will appreciate the convenient access to recent notifications and system settings.

Quick Look for Windows: Quick Look is one of our favorite features in OS X, and one of the things that we miss the most when using other operating systems. While a Quick Look-like feature isn’t coming natively to Windows any time soon, Parallels 11 has found a way to add the feature to Windows VMs, and it works flawlessly.

parallels 11 quick look windows [52]

We’re so accustomed when using a Mac to tapping the space bar, or giving our files a quick three-finger tap on the trackpad, that accessing Quick Look from our Windows 10 VM was a seamless experience. It’s also interesting how Parallels is handling this feature. When you access Quick Look inside a Windows VM, the window that appears is the standard OS X preview. Parallels is simply using its existing file sharing capabilities to pass the file to OS X, where the native Quick Look action takes over. As long as you’re dealing with a supported file type — Excel, PDF, MP3, etc. — you’ll be able to preview it just as if the file had originally resided in OS X itself. We would have anticipated that this behind-the-scenes handover would introduce some delay or lag, and there may indeed be some measurable delay compared to native files, but it’s virtually undetectable, if it exists at all.

There’s only one small caveat when it comes to Quick Look: because Parallels 11 is passing the file from the Windows VM to your Mac’s native Quick Look service, Parallels needs access to the Windows file system. This makes sense, and can be easily accomplished by enabling “Access Windows folders from Mac” in Parallels > Preferences > Options > Sharing, but it also means that users who prefer to run isolated VMs for security or privacy purposes won’t be able to use this feature.

Power-Saving Travel Mode: Battery life has long been a key area of focus for developers of virtualization software. Even though modern MacBooks achieve relatively good running times [53], the process of virtualizing an entire second (or third) operating system on top of OS X can quickly drain even the most robust laptop batteries. Parallels 11 continues this focus on power efficiency and battery life with a new “Travel Mode,” which automatically adjusts Windows settings and services to reduce power consumption while running on the battery.

parallels 11 travel mode battery life [54]

As we’ll go over again later on, the Parallels 11 benchmarks on the following pages don’t cover battery life. This is certainly an important area, but it will take days to properly conduct multiple runs of battery life tests, and we didn’t want to delay getting these performance benchmarks into your hands. While battery life tests for Parallels 11 and other upcoming virtualization apps are forthcoming, our lack of time to properly test this category means that we can’t truly evaluate Travel Mode’s efficacy at this time, but Parallels for its part advertises an improvement of “up to 25 percent.”

New “Pro” and “Business” Editions: In addition to the new features in the consumer version of the software, Parallels is also introducing two new editions: Parallels Desktop 11 for Mac Pro Edition [1] and Parallels Desktop for Mac Business Edition [55]. Both versions differ from the standard version of Parallels Desktop 11 in that they’re available via a yearly subscription, which Parallels feels is a more appropriate pricing model for the businesses and professionals at which these products are targeted.

As a subscription-based product, the “Pro” version includes a license for Parallels Access, the company’s remote access service which typically runs $20 per year (the standard version includes a 3-month trial of Parallels Access). It also includes a number of developer tools, such as built-in integration with Visual Studio and Docker, a network condition simulator, advanced DNS settings, SSH support, and more. Users can also assign up to 16 virtual CPUs and 64GB of RAM to a single virtual machine, compared to just 4 virtual CPUs and 8GB of RAM on the standard version of Parallels 11.

The “Business” version of Parallels deals less with developers and power users and more with IT administrators. It’s targeted at large business and enterprise customers, and includes a number of tools to ease the management of large VM deployments, such as system-wide policies for USB devices and file sharing, and a central portal for licensing. In exchange for these IT features, the Business edition drops the complimentary Parallels Access service.

Both the “Pro” and “Business” editions are available via subscription for $99.99 per year, which is a $20 premium over the $79.99 fee for a perpetually-licensed copy of the standard Parallels Desktop 11. Our only major gripe here is that the introduction of these new versions has artificially limited the performance capabilities of the standard version, which last year [56] was able to support VMs with up to 16 vCPUs and 64GB of RAM. Now, the standard version of Parallels 11 is limited, as mentioned, to 4 vCPUs and 8GB of RAM, while the more robust configurations are reserved for the higher tiers. This lower limit will still realistically cover the needs of most users, but we hate to see performance potential taken away in the name of arbitrary product differentiation.

This is just an overview of some of the key new features in Parallels 11. For a complete look at all features, which will be especially helpful for those new to the product or users who have skipped a few versions, check out of the Parallels Desktop 11 website [1].

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview

3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 macbook pro [58]

Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology

Our tests this year were performed on a Mid-2014 15-inch MacBook Pro, sporting an Intel Core i7-4870HQ CPU at 2.5GHz, 16GB of RAM, a 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M GPU, and a 512GB PCIe flash storage drive. As mentioned, Parallels 11 advertises support for OS X El Capitan, but we were reluctant to perform tests on beta software, so our host operating system for the Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 VMs was OS X Yosemite 10.10.5. When El Capitan launches to the public later this year, we’ll conduct some additional tests to see if there’s a performance difference, and we’ll update this article if we find one.

While Parallels 11 supports a wide range of operating systems, most users will likely use the software to run Windows. Considering the relatively positive reception to Windows 10, not to mention Parallels 11’s advertised support for the new OS, we decided to base our tests on Microsoft’s latest and potentially greatest version of Windows, specifically Windows 10 Pro 64-bit.

We wanted to test Parallels 11’s performance not only as it compared to its direct predecessor, but also as it compared to native performance. We therefore configured a Windows 10 partition via Boot Camp, and ran all tests on each implementation of the operating system: Boot Camp, Parallels 10, and Parallels 11.

Regarding our choice to use the 64-bit version of Windows, it’s true that the 32-bit version can be easier to virtualize and therefore may offer slightly better performance in certain circumstances. Unfortunately, the latest version of Boot Camp requires the use of a 64-bit version of Windows, so we elected to use the 64-bit version in our virtual machines as well for the sake of consistency.

Each of our Windows 10 virtual machines was configured for maximum performance, with 8 assigned virtual CPUs, 12GB of RAM (the maximum recommended amount in order to ensure that enough is reserved for OS X), and 1GB of graphics memory configured for Parallels’ DirectX 10 support. While we touched on the new Parallels 11 features earlier, all features that could possibly impact performance were disabled, and the VM was configured for maximum performance in the Parallels settings.

All operating systems and testing software were updated to their most recent versions as of the date of this article. More information about each benchmark application or test can be found on its respective results page.

As is standard practice here at TekRevue, all tests, unless otherwise noted in the results, were performed three times for each Windows installation, and the results were averaged. Our normal procedure in the event of a discrepancy greater than 5 percent is to re-run the tests until the issue can be identified. That was not necessary for these tests, however, as all results from each iteration were within the acceptable range of deviation.

You can browse the results of each test in order by clicking the “Next” or “Previous” buttons, below, or you can jump directly to a specific test by selecting it from the Table of Contents. We had to pack a lot of information into the results charts on the following pages, and they may be difficult to read when viewed on small screens. If you have trouble reading the data, you can access a full size version of any chart by clicking or tapping on it.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 benchmarks geekbench [59]

Geekbench

We’ll start our Parallels 11 benchmarks off with the popular cross-platform benchmarking tool, Geekbench [60]. Available for virtually every modern computing platform — Windows, OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS — Geekbench aims to provide universally comparable scores of relative performance across multiple device types. It’s important to note, however, that Geekbench tests only a device’s CPU and memory performance, and doesn’t look at other important areas such as graphics or storage.

We ran the 64-bit benchmark test three times on each Windows installation using Geekbench 3.3.2, the latest version [61] as of the date of publication. Geekbench reports two sets of results: one for single-core performance and one for multi-core performance. We’ll start with single-core results, below:

parallels 11 benchmarks geekbench single core [62]

Right off the bat, we see that Parallels 11 offers small, but measurable performance gains over Parallels 10, to the tune of about 5 percent in all tests. More interesting, however, is how close Parallels 11 is to native performance, with an even smaller delta of just over 4 percent.

parallels 11 benchmarks geekbench multi core [63]

Switching to the multi-core tests, we see the same basic pattern, although Parallels 11 actually increases its average improvement over its predecessor by up to 17 percent, indicating that the Parallels engineering teams have continued to refine multi-core efficiency and utilization. Parallels 11 still falls short of native performance, but only by about 7 percent.

Of note, multi-core memory performance is quite good for both Parallels 10 and Parallels 11, with the latter less than 2 percent slower than native speed.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark header [64]

3DMark (2013)

Futuremark’s 3DMark [65] is the latest in a long line of industry-standard gaming benchmark suites. It offers a range of tests that can evaluate the performance of everything from a low-power tablet to a $15,000 quad-SLI gaming PC, and looks at a CPU’s ability to handle gaming-related physics calculations in addition to pure GPU performance.

Both Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 offer DirectX graphics support, but only up to the older DirectX 10 standard. This limited the tests that were available to us as part of the 3DMark suite, but we ran every compatible test, which included, in order of increasing complexity, Ice Storm, Ice Storm Extreme, and Cloud Gate.

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark ice storm [66]

Starting first with the entry-level Ice Storm, we see that Parallels 11 doesn’t do much to close the graphics gap this year. In fact, despite repeated tests to verify, Parallels 11 actually came in slightly behind Parallels 10 in terms of graphics performance. The CPU-bound Physics tests are much closer, however, and lend support to the relatively small difference in performance revealed in the preceding Geekbench tests.

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark ice storm extreme [67]

The Ice Storm Extreme test is the same basic script as the standard Ice Storm test, but it increases the resolution to 1080p and utilizes higher quality textures and lighting effects, and is therefore harder on the GPU and system. With that in mind, we once again see the huge performance gap between the Parallels VMs and native performance, and also again see the odd trend of Parallels 11 performing slightly behind Parallels 10.

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark cloud gate [68]Our final test is Cloud Gate, which is a more complex benchmark that takes full advantage of DirectX 10. While this is a relatively old test for modern PC gaming hardware, it represents the most demanding workload that we can throw at our Parallels virtual machines and their limited graphics capabilities.

The Cloud Gate results shouldn’t be surprising based on the first two tests. Native performance enjoys a huge lead, while Parallels 11 still somehow falls behind Parallels 10 in every category. This doesn’t mean that users looking for the best gaming performance should necessarily stick with Parallels 10, but it’s an interesting result that’s more than just a simple anomaly, as illustrated in the aging 3DMark06 test, which is next.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013)
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark06 header [69]

3DMark06

3DMark06 is an old benchmark. No, seriously, it’s so old that creator Futuremark recommends [70] that you don’t even use it anymore because it wasn’t designed to handle today’s latest and greatest graphics technologies. So why is it in our Parallels 11 benchmarks suite? Well, it may still have some value for comparative purposes between the different versions of Parallels, but it’s really here as preparation for the next VM Benchmark Showdown [5] when VMware Fusion 8 is released. That’s because the current version of Fusion, Fusion 7, only supports DirectX 9, and we’re not sure if DirectX 10 support will be included in the next update.

Update: We want to clarify that last statement, because we didn’t word it correctly. The current “Technology Preview [71]” builds of VMware Fusion do list support for DirectX 10 and OpenGL 3.3. We haven’t tested the latest release, which was made available in late July, but as of the prior Technology Preview build, we couldn’t get games and benchmarks to recognize the DirectX 10 support. While we also assume that the current Technology Preview track will form the basis of the final “Fusion 8” release, we can’t be sure if all features will be included, or if DirectX 10 will work as advertised. Therefore, until we have the final verison of Fusion 8 in our hands, we need to prepare for a scenario in which accurate DirectX 10 comparisons won’t be possible.

Therefore, as a DirectX 9 benchmark, 3DMark06 is one of the few tools that we can use to compare GPU performance between Parallels and Fusion, although some may argue that Parallels wins automatically based on the fact that it supports DirectX 10 at all.

Moving to the benchmark, 3DMark06, like its successors, attempts to test both raw graphics power in addition to combined graphics and CPU capabilities. In the chart below, “Overall” is the combined score best used for comparative purposes, while “SM2.0” indicates the graphics-heavy Shader Model 2.0 tests, and HDR/SM3.0 is a combined graphics and CPU test.

parallels 11 benchmarks 3dmark06 [72]

As we teased in the previous section, Parallels 11 doesn’t provide any results worthy of writing home about, with numbers virtually equalling Parallels 10 and falling far short of native performance in all but the CPU-related tests.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

parallels 11 benchmarks cinebench header [73]

Cinebench R15

Based on the powerful Cinema 4D [74] animation software, Cinebench [75] is a cross-platform benchmark that tests a computer’s 3D rendering capabilities. Three primary tests comprise Cinebench: a CPU-based rendering test that evaluates both multi-core and single-core performance, and an OpenGL 3D test that measures a system’s GPU performance. The CPU scores in the chart below are based on comparative Cinebench “points” (with a higher number equalling better performance) and the OpenGL test is measured in frames per second (fps).

parallels 11 benchmarks cinebench r15 [76]

The results reveal that Parallels 11 doesn’t offer any additional performance when compared to Parallels 10, with the two versions effectively equal in all tests. While native performance is quite a bit better in the multi-core test, both Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 perform quite well in single-core rendering, falling shy of native performance by only about 6 percent.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

PCMark 8 [77]

 

PCMark 8

Whereas the 3DMark benchmarks are focused on gaming, Futuremark’s PCMark [78] benchmark aims to measure overall system performance in a variety of categories. The test automates tasks such as Web browsing, video chatting, creating complex spreadsheets in Excel, and editing images in Photoshop. We conducted three of PCMark’s tests: the Home test, the Microsoft Office test, and the Adobe Creative Cloud test, hoping to give us a look at a workflow that’s more representative of a “real world” scenario. The results are reported in arbitrary “points,” with a larger number of points equaling better performance.

Of note, PCMark by default runs each test three times per benchmark cycle, so each test was only manually initiated once for each Windows installation.

parallels 11 benchmarks pcmark 8 [79]

After a series of lackluster results, here we finally see Parallels 11 once again jump ahead of its predecessor. While native performance still easily wins the race, Parallels 11 offers significant performance gains over Parallels 10 by between 7 and 18 percent. This test may also be among the most meaningful, as it represents real-world situations that are likely to be performed by those interested in virtualization software.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0

Similar to PCMark, Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [80] is another benchmark that aims to take an overall look at system performance. It measures CPU, 2D, 3D, and memory performance to calculate an overall Passmark rating, which forms the basis of the Passmark benchmark database [81]. Results are reported both as an overall score and as individual scores within each testing category. A higher score equals better performance.

It should be noted that Passmark PerformanceTest also includes a disk test, but we have excluded it from these charts due to a bug that incorrectly deflates disk performance in Boot Camp. For those interested in disk performance, check out our dedicated File Transfer testing [45] on page 12.

parallels 11 benchmarks passmark performance test [82]

Continuing the trend, Parallels 11 enjoys a small lead in the CPU-based tests, but is roughly equivalent in performance to Parallels 10 for the remaining tests.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

big buck bunny [83]

x264 Encoding

Although there are many apps available for OS X that can perform video encoding using the x264 codec, and therefore little reason to use a Windows-based encoder via a virtual machine, the x264 encoding process is extremely CPU-heavy, and serves as a good benchmark for measuring performance between VMs and native Windows installations.

Our x264 test is based on the popular Handbrake [84] app and encodes a roughly 10-minute clip of the animated short Big Buck Bunny [85] using the default “Apple TV 3” preset. The results are the average frames per second achieved during the encoding process, as reported by the Handbrake log file, with a higher number equalling faster performance.

parallels 11 benchmarks handbrake x264 [86]

There appears to be almost no disadvantage to using a virtual machine for single-pass x264 encoding with Handbrake, as Parallels 11 nearly matches native performance, clocking in at less than a single frame per second behind. Even Parallels 10 performs well, falling less than 5 frames per second behind Boot Camp.

These are encouraging results for users who need to use specialized encoding software that may only be available on Windows. You’re still not getting quite native performance, but it’s darn close.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

x265 Encoding

The x264 codec tested on the previous page is solid, established, and reliable. But that’s not exciting, is it? The future is all about x265, the open source version of the relatively new H.265/HEVC codec. With x265, content creators and consumers can achieve quality levels equivalent to x264, but at a fraction of the bit rate and, thereby, file size. The x265 codec and its commercial counterparts are going to be key in future online delivery of 4K video content, and encoders like Handbrake are already offering basic support. The only problem? x265 encoding and decoding is extremely CPU-intensive, and can bring even the highest-performing CPUs to their knees.

Still, we wanted to see how Parallels 11 could handle such an intense workload, so we turned to the pre-configured x265 Benchmark [87]. Each encoding test runs five passes and, like the x264 benchmark, reports the average frames per second. You should expect the numbers to be much lower than with x264.

parallels 11 benchmarks x265 [88]

Sure enough, we see frame rates plummet to barely double-digits. Native Boot Camp still wins here, but both Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 offer surprisingly decent relative performance. That one- or two-frame-per-second difference will add up over time, so we don’t recommend running x265 encoding tasks in your virtual machines, but it’s good to know that both recent versions of Parallels can certainly keep up under demanding multi-threaded CPU loads.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

computer folders [89]

File Transfers

An important factor in the user experience of any virtual machine is file transfer performance. As we discovered last year [90], free virtualization software like VirtualBox really lags behind commercial options from Parallels and VMware when it comes to file management, and depending on your workflow, that could be a deal breaker.

This test (and the Virtual Machine Management test that follows) are a little different in that they don’t include Boot Camp performance. This is because we’ll be testing copying files between the VM and the host operating system, and that activity has no equivalent for a native Windows installation.

Our file tests are divided into two groups: a large file transfer (a 4GB Windows 10 installation ISO) and a small file transfer (4,096 4KB files). The numbers in the chart represent the time in seconds that it took for each transfer, with lower numbers equaling faster performance. Note that unlike our standard tests that rely on computer-generated results, these tests were measured manually with a stopwatch. As a result, we performed each test five times instead of the usual three iterations, in order to minimize the impact of human error. Also note that we performed a complete restart in between each test to avoid any operating system caching that could artificially improve the times.

parallels 11 benchmarks large file transfer [91]

For these file transfer tests, “Within VM” indicates a file transfer from one location of the virtual machine’s virtual drive to another (i.e., from the Windows 10 Downloads folder to the Windows 10 Desktop). Similarly, “To Host” is a file transfer in which a file is copied from the virtual machine to the OS X host, and “To VM” is, you guessed it, copying a file from the OS X host to the Windows 10 virtual machine.

Based on the chart above, we can see that while Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 are roughly equivalent in to/from host transfers, Parallels 11 is significantly better at transferring large files within itself. This is important for any users looking to manage video or audio files, software images, or any other large files from directly in their virtual machines.

parallels 11 benchmarks small file transfer [92]

Copying one large sequential file is one thing, but what about throwing thousands of tiny files at the system, each of which must be individually processed? Here, Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 trade blows, with Parallels 10 securing a victory by a second or so in two of the three tests. The important takeaway here, however, is that both Parallels 10 and Parallels 11 handled the task quite well, but it’s another knock against Parallels 11 on the performance front that it can’t beat its year-old predecessor.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers
13. Virtual Machine Management [46]
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

Virtual Machine Management

If you plan to use just a single virtual machine and leave it running most of the time, this section is probably not for you. However, for those users who frequently run or access lots of virtual machines, we wanted to see what improvement, if any, Parallels 11 brings when it comes to boot, suspend, resume, and shut down times.

As with the previous section for File Transfers, these tests were measured manually with a stop watch, and conducted five times each. The numbers in the chart below represent seconds, with a lower number equaling faster performance.

parallels 11 benchmarks vm management [93]

Do you remember when we mentioned earlier how Parallels wasn’t going to support Windows 10 on older versions of the software, and that while it would likely work, it wouldn’t work well? Yeah, this is probably a good example of that. Despite double- and triple-checking everything, there was some serious issue with booting our Windows 10 VM under Parallels 10, with the cold boot taking nearly four times as long as Parallels 11.

Other VM management tasks were much closer, with Parallels 11 winning two out of the remaining three tests (and barely losing the third), but that initial boot with Parallels 10 was painful in comparison to Parallels 11. Again, however, without getting too caught up in the details, these numbers (even that 38+ seconds for Parallels 10) only really matter if you’re frequently starting up and switching between multiple virtual machines throughout the day. If you’re the typical user who boots or resumes their Windows VM once in the morning and leaves it running until the end of the day, the main takeaway is that Parallels 10 is pretty fast in most management situations, and Parallels 11 is even faster.

Table of Contents

[one_half padding=”0 5px 20px 0″]
1. Introduction [57]
2. Parallels 11 Feature Overview [35]
3. Hardware, Software, and Testing Methodology [36]
4. Geekbench [37]
5. 3DMark (2013) [38]
6. 3DMark06 [39]
7. Cinebench R15 [40]
[/one_half]

[one_half_last padding=”0 0px 20px 5px”]
8. PCMark 8 [41]
9. Passmark PerformanceTest 8.0 [42]
10. x264 Encoding [43]
11. x265 Encoding [44]
12. File Transfers [45]
13. Virtual Machine Management
14. Conclusions [47]
[/one_half_last]

Conclusions

While this year’s Parallels update doesn’t “wow” us when it comes to performance, it’s still nice to see some noticeable performance improvements in certain categories, although we’re a bit disappointed to see graphics performance seemingly hit a wall. Parallels has led the graphics race for several generations, but the last few versions have offered little to no improvement, and there’s no sign that the Parallels engineers will be able to take us past DirectX 10 any time soon.

This may be all that we can reasonably expect, of course, and we were encouraged to see the several tests where Parallels 11 nearly matched native performance. Features aside, the average user experience with Parallels 11 for common tasks like Office, Web testing, or Windows-only productivity software is going to be very good, and the convenience of not having to reboot into Boot Camp will likely outweigh any performance delta between the VM and native Windows.

But it also seems that we’re entering a virtualization arms race based almost exclusively on features, and Parallels 11 doesn’t disappoint in that category. Easy access to Cortana (for those who want to use that feature), the ingenious application of Quick Look to Windows files, and the continued refinement of longtime features like Coherence and the ability to share online services between operating systems all make Parallels 11 an attractive upgrade for those who need to use the software every day.

A Word on Battery Life

As we mentioned near the beginning of this article, we haven’t covered battery life here, and it’s all due to time constraints. We conduct battery life testing thoroughly, performing multiple rounds for each test. Factor in the time it takes to drain the battery, the time it takes to charge it back up, the prep time in between, and the number of iterations, and you’re looking at days, if not weeks, to properly and accurately evaluate the impact of these products on your MacBook’s battery life.

Battery Life [94]

But that doesn’t mean such tests aren’t coming. We’re already planning our tests, and we’ll likely end up publishing battery life numbers for all virtualization products once Fusion 8 is released and we update our 2014 VM Benchmark Showdown [5]. So stay tuned!

Pricing and Availability

If you were convinced by these benchmarks that Parallels Desktop 11 is right for you, you can pick it up right now from the Parallels website [1]. New users can purchase the “standard” version of Parallels Desktop for a one-time $79.99 purchase, while the Pro and Business editions are each available for a yearly subscription fee of $99.99. Existing Parallels customers running version 9 or higher can upgrade to Parallels Desktop 11 for $49.99, or choose to upgrade to the Pro edition for the same $49.99, although it’s important to remember that the Pro pricing is a yearly subscription fee that will renew the following year at the regular $99.99 price.

Update: That last statement was incorrect on subscription pricing. Parallels has confirmed that if an existing user of Parallels 9 and up chooses to upgrade to the Pro version, they will be eligible for discounted pricing of $49.99 per year for the life of their membership. This makes the Pro version much more competitive for users who require the additional features it provides.

All versions of Parallels 11 are also available via a free 2-week trial [95], letting users evaluate the new version tiers to determine which edition is best for their needs.