Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 – the best of both worlds (review)

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Designed to get the most out of Apple’s powerful new M1 processor, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 ensures Mac users always have Windows at their fingertips without getting their hands dirty.

As dedicated to Apple as you are, there are still times when it comes in handy to have access to Windows or Linux. That’s where Parallels comes in, making it easy to run multiple operating systems on your Mac at the same time.

Parallels virtualization software mimics hardware. This allows you to trick Windows, Linux, or even some other copy of macOS into thinking it’s running on a standalone computer. In fact, it runs as an app on your Mac. Keep in mind that Parallels is just a hardware emulator. You should always provide your own copy of other operating systems.

Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 supports the upcoming macOS Monterey, allowing you to both run Parallels on Monterey and run Monterey on Parallels. It’s also ready to make the most of an M1 powerhouse under the hood of a new Mac.

Review: Parallels Desktop for Mac 17

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Price $ 109.95 RRP Standard Edition
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First impressions

Apple’s move away from Intel chips in favor of Apple Silicon M1 chips, as in the latest Apple MacBook Air (M1 2020), means newer Macs will no longer support Boot Camp. The advantage of Boot Camp is the ability to boot an Intel Mac into Windows. This runs Windows on the actual hardware rather than an emulator. With the demise of Boot Camp for M1-powered machines, which use the ARM architecture, Mac users who need access to Windows will rely more than ever on Parallels.

Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 works on both Mac M1 and Intel. It’s a universal binary download, so the single installer works on both types of Macs. Despite this, they offer slightly different functionality.

The most notable difference is that, when run on an M1 processor, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 only supports operating systems designed for ARM processors. This limits you to the ARM versions of Windows 10 and Windows 11. With a few versions of Linux: Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and Kail.

Fortunately, you can access ARM versions of Windows for free by signing up for Microsoft’s Insider Preview program. You can run 32-bit and 64-bit Intel applications on these versions of Windows, not just Windows ARM applications.

If you need to run an older Intel-only version of Windows in Parallels, you should also keep an older Intel Mac handy.

The people at Parallels say it might be possible to rearrange things in the future, so Parallels can run older Intel versions of Windows on M1 Macs. They haven’t made a final decision, but say it doesn’t seem likely, given that support for Windows 10 and 11 will meet the needs of the vast majority of Parallels users.

Parallels Desktop for Mac Features 17

To check performance on Apple Silicon, we tested Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 on the Apple MacBook Air (M1 2020). The installation is very easy. It explains the issues with the ARM-based M1 processor and how to get a compatible copy of Windows.

Although you will need to download Windows separately from Microsoft, there is also the built-in option to automatically download and install the latest ARM versions of Linux.

You can run these Windows / Linux operating systems in a window on your Mac. You can do them full screen – perhaps on a separate desktop to help keep things on track. It makes your life easier if you regularly switch between operating systems. There is also a picture mode image, which keeps the virtual machine in a floating window on your Mac desktop.

Having said that, one of the most useful features of Parallels is the Coherence Mode, which is a bit mind-blowing. It completely blurs the lines between macOS and Windows, hiding the Windows desktop and just showing you Windows apps.

In Coherence mode, Windows apps appear to be running on macOS, giving you the best of both worlds. You can invoke the Windows Start menu from the macOS dock and even create launch icons for Windows apps in the dock.

The latest version of Coherence brings some integration improvements, such as the ability to drag and drop text and graphics between Windows and macOS apps. This includes support for Monterey’s new Quick Note feature. Unfortunately for Linux users, Parallels discontinued Linux support for Coherence a few releases ago.

Other than that, there aren’t any really awesome new features. These are mostly incremental improvements, such as adding support for USB 3.1. Really, it’s the performance improvement that catches your eye.

Performance

To ensure the best performance, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 sizes your Mac hardware. It automatically allocates the optimal resources for your virtual machines. If you’re not happy with that, the new Resource Manager gives you a lot of granular control. This includes the number of processor cores and the amount of RAM allocated to each virtual machine, as well as the resources that they can access on your Mac.

When it comes to running ARM versions of Windows 10 and 11, Parallels promises up to 33% faster boot times and 20% faster disk performance. Meanwhile, a new Windows display driver supports more apps and games. It offers 500% faster OpenGL graphics performance and 28% faster DirectX 11 graphics performance.

As with previous versions of Parallels, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 can take advantage of Travel Mode to automatically pause Windows or Linux when not in use. This saves both system resources and battery life.

Trial

Put to the test, the boot times of the ARM version of Windows 11 are blazingly fast. After clicking on the Parallel Windows desktop icon in macOS, you only have 15 seconds left before looking at the Windows 11 desktop.

Of course, in Coherence mode, you don’t see Windows starting up in the background. Click on a Windows app icon in the macOS dock, like Microsoft Word, and it will launch directly as if it were a macOS app.

To save time, you can configure Parallels to automatically run Windows in the background when you start your Mac. This way, Windows applications come to life instantly.

Of course, virtualization tends to be resource-intensive, so you might not like the idea of ​​constantly running Windows behind the scenes. Fortunately, its impact on macOS performance is minimal on a new Mac M1.

Without Windows running in Parallels, our test Mac uses 2% CPU and 4GB of its 8GB RAM when idle. Launching Windows in Parallels drops to just 12% CPU and 6GB RAM. This of course depends on how much RAM Parallels has allocated to Windows.

Because Parallels is so good at sharing system resources, it has less than 2% impact on macOS performance according to our Geekbench benchmarks. Better yet, when you’re not using Windows, Travel Mode returns most of those resources to macOS, which has even less of an impact. Unless you absolutely push macOS and virtual machines to the limit, you probably won’t even feel the impact of virtualization magic.

GadgetGuy’s point of view

For Mac users who need to keep other operating systems handy, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 is a no-brainer. Especially when you compare it to the expense of buying a separate physical machine just to run Windows and / or Linux.

The performance on a Mac M1 is exceptional. The record of virtualization on macOS is almost invisible. No need to hesitate to wonder if it’s worth running a virtual machine. With Coherence Mode, when you need a Windows app, you can quickly get to work without having to struggle with Windows itself.

Tight integration between macOS and Windows is the icing on the cake, ensuring you maintain a very Mac-esque user experience from within Windows apps when you’re forced to straddle the two worlds.

Would I buy it?

Yes, if I were a Mac user who needed regular access to other operating systems.

Parallels Desktop for Mac 17

Seamlessly integrating macOS and Windows, with excellent performance on new Apple Silicon M1 chips, Parallels Desktop for Mac 17 makes life easier for those who need the best of both worlds.

Good points

Works on Mac M1 and Intel

Seamless integration between macOS and Windows

Minimal impact on performance

Negative

Cannot run Intel-based versions of Windows on M1 Macs

No Consistency mode for Linux


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