Review – Parallels Desktop 13

Review – Parallels Desktop 13

Back in January, I took a look at putting Windows 10 Insider Builds on a Mac and, after a dalliance with Bootcamp, concluded that Parallels Desktop 12 was by far and away the easiest and most reliable way of running Windows 10 applications under OSX. Since then, little has changed in the Bootcamp world (which remains about as unpleasant an experience as root canal surgery) but Parallels has continued to update Desktop, its virtualisation package.

Getting Started

Little has changed in set up from version 12, and Parallels Desktop remains ludicrously simple to configure once installed. However, there have been some subtle changes – where before a user had to track down a Windows ISO or disk image, Parallels Desktop will now download an image from Microsoft thus saving a bit of faffing. Of course, a user will still need a valid licence key for Windows 10 to do much in the way of useful work.

The Pro edition extends this simplicity, with images of most of the popular Linux distributions, an Android 7 image for the brave, and developer-friendly test environments including such pleasures as Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7 for those targeting corporates that just can’t move on. Windows test environments will run for a 90-day trial, which should be more than enough time to accomplish most regression testing.

For the purposes of this review, I used a Windows 10 virtual machine (VM), running the latest insider build.

Claiming Resources

Parallels Desktop continues to feature a simple and easy to use interface to allocate hardware resources to the virtual machines, with the Pro edition now permitting up to 32 vCPU cores and 128GB of vRAM for a lucky VM (assuming you have mortgaged a kidney or two in order to acquire the necessary Apple hardware.)

Other resources, such as USB and Bluetooth devices and DVD drives may also be passed through to the VM and I experienced no problems in my testing with an array of external storage, webcams and keyboard/mouse combinations. Parallels makes some impressive claims for upticks in disk performance in Desktop 13, with a near 100% improvement for external Thunderbolt SSD drives and between 40 – 50% improvement in other file operations (such as creating snapshots or shifting files between Windows and Mac environments) but I have to confess I did not really notice much difference in day to day use on my 2012 SSD-equipped Mac Mini, which has always felt very rapid when running a Windows 10 virtual machine through Parallels Desktop.

The amount of disk space assigned to each VM can easily be adjusted and sandbox configured to control how much access to Windows virtual machine has to the OSX disk and clipboard and vice versa.

Display settings can also be adjusted with OpenGL 3 support new in version 13. Also new is the ability to switch resolution from the view menu rather than having to use a dialog, although this is very much a cosmetic nicety.

The last sharing element of interest is that the My People feature, which will debut in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, can be passed through to the Mac Dock. I am dubious as to how much use that truly is, and it will be interesting to see how that support continues while Microsoft tweak and update the feature.

In Use

The party trick of Parallels Desktop is to really make you feel that your shiny Apple Mac is no different to an ordinary Windows 10 PC (just with an annoying keyboard and a bit of a stubborn design for a mouse.) In the 9 months I have been using Parallels Desktop 12, I have encountered no compatibility issues running applications, games or Windows Insider builds. And the subtle tweaks and improvements in version 13 have done nothing to change the good news. Selecting a virtual machine from the Parallels Control Center (see below) boots up Windows rapidly and, if running in full-screen, there is no discernible difference to my subjective eye to running Windows natively. Admittedly, my Mac Mini does not really have the horsepower for the very latest games but otherwise the experience is slick.

Parallels Desktop 13 can run in full-screen mode, as a window on the OSX desktop or in Coherence mode, which removes all trace of Windows 10 and runs Windows executables as though they are native OSX applications, replete with menu and dock support. In the screen-shot below you can see Microsoft Edge, an application that is unlikely to ever grace Apple’s app store, running like a fully paid up member of the OSX ecosystem. Other well-behaved Windows applications function just as well, although the sandboxed nature of the VM means that standard Windows file and print dialogs will only be able to access whatever the VM has been set to use.

Support for Retina displays keeps the text in Windows 10 virtual machines looking clear and crisp and a new Picture-In-Picture mode ensures windows of virtual machines stay visible for monitoring purposes.

Reach out and Touch Word

Something I wasn’t able to test was support for the Touch Bar found on the current crop of MacBook Pros. Parallels has added Touch Bar support for much of the current Office suite as well as several popular browsers and pinned Windows 10 Taskbar elements, and it is possible to customise this to support pretty much any other well-behaved Windows application.

Command and Control

With Apple Mac devices finally creeping into the enterprise world, harassed IT administrators will be delighted to learn that it is possible to deploy virtual machines in Application mode and have those Windows applications appear in the OSX dock. This removes the concern that users may find themselves thrown into a Windows 10 desktop to access that particular corporate application for which there is no Mac equivalent.

New Toys in the Toolbox

I took a looked at version 1.5 of the Parallels Toolbox here, and I am very pleased to report that Parallels has kept its promise to keep enhancing this offering. The collection of tools remains something that a user could build through free utilities available on the web or by learning some of OSX’s more esoteric key combinations, but this is offset by the sheer convenience of having the tools in one place, with a consistent user interface.

New toys in the version currently shipping with Parallels Desktop 13 include a tool to free up disk space, download audio when provided with a link to an audio stream, create GIF’s from video, find duplicated files to free up space and put OSX into a presentation mode by hiding all notifications and pop-ups. Most users will find at least some of these tools become essential in day to day Mac usage.

Conclusion

If you have a need to run Windows 10 applications on a Mac, then Parallels Desktop 13 is the product for you. At £69 for the basic edition and £79 for the Pro edition it is good value for money, earning its keep through compatibility and sheer convenience. The handy set of tools is just a bonus. However, if you are currently running Parallels Desktop 12, then the decision to buy is less clear. Unless you are shovelling large amounts of data around, you are unlikely to see much benefit from the file improvements and the Retina and Touch Bar enhancements may not really justify the upgrade cost. The ability to add ludicrous amounts of vRAM or vCPU in the Pro edition might be just enough to tip the scales.

A trial version of Parallels Desktop 13 can be downloaded at https://www.parallels.com/uk/

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