If you look at our Parallels vs. Fusion benchmark results simply by the numbers, then Fusion 8 is the clear winner, taking 11 out of 18 tests and pushing on three more. But the reason we try to test so many different areas (and divide them up individually for easy access via the Table of Contents), is because everyone’s needs are different. Some users are looking for a virtualization app to play Windows-only games, or crunch data in a Windows-only CPU-intensive app. Those folks should probably go with Fusion 8 this year.
Others may want the absolute best battery life for lightweight workloads, need to transfer lots of small files out of their VM, or appreciate a VM that boots before they can even get their first sip of coffee down. In that case, Parallels 11 is probably your best bet.
Still others only need a Windows VM to run that one old productivity app that their job requires, and in that case VirtualBox can likely suffice without having to buy anything other than a Windows license.
That’s why it’s often difficult to answer in any universal way when we’re frequently asked “should I buy Parallels or Fusion?” And compounding that question further is the fact that the scenarios we just outlined above are only valid today. Both the Parallels and VMware engineers are working hard to one-up each other every year, introducing new features (like Windows Quick Look support in Parallels) or making huge performance leaps (like the big improvement in Fusion 8’s graphics engine). While both apps have occasionally maintained one type of performance advantage in consecutive years, it’s a safe bet that at least one significant performance crown will change hands each fall.
That said, it’s clear that Fusion 8 made much larger and more impressive performance gains this year, both compared to its predecessor and in a direct comparison with Parallels. On the other side, however, Parallels 11 brings a few new features that we think Mac users will really love, like the aforementioned Quick Look support.
Therefore, our advice for those new to virtualization software, or for existing users thinking about upgrading or crossgrading, is to start small and cheap. Check out the free VirtualBox first to see if it meets your performance and capability needs. If not, grab the free trials of both Fusion 8 and Parallels 11 and give them a shot (Parallels offers a 14-day trial period, while you can use Fusion for up to 30 days free). You may find that you need less power or fewer capabilities than you thought, or you may prefer the particular features of one app over another. Either way, we hope these benchmarks can give you an idea of what to expect, and where to start on your own OS X virtualization journey.
If there is a benchmark or scenario that you’d like us to test that isn’t covered here, let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to accommodate your requests.
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