~Which is the better Windows emulator? Well that depends . . .

A common question “switchers” have these days is whether to use Parallels, VMware Fusion, or Boot Camp on their Mac for Windows emulation? The answer seems to depend on what you want to do with Windows, and what version you intend to run.

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For a comparison, and some insights into the differences, read the Parallels vs. VMware Fusion shootout at Apple Insider. While I would encourage you to read the entire article and benchmarks, the most important details of the study’s conclusions are quoted from the underlying MacTech article here.

If you don’t want Mac integration, and just want to run Windows, go with Boot Camp. It’s faster than a PC anyway.

If you want a virtualization product (that allows you to run Windows alongside Mac OS X), and you want the best performance for the types of things that we tested, then clearly you need to run XP and not Vista. Furthermore, in our tests, both VMware Fusion and Parallels performed well, and were a good user experience. That said, Parallels was somewhat faster in general than VMware Fusion for XP.

If you want the best virtualization performance for Vista, then VMware Fusion is your choice. And, if you want to keep your Mac OS X and Windows environments completely separate, VMware Fusion’s design may be your better choice. (And, although we didn’t test it, we would expect VMware Fusion to have better multi-processor support if you really have an application that is designed to take advantage of it.) If your goal is tight integration between one or more Windows applications and Mac OS X, Parallels is the clear winner when running either XP or Vista. And, as we said before, if you want the best XP performance with the types of applications tested here, Parallels is not only faster than VMware Fusion, but it’s faster than Boot Camp on average for the applications that we tested. (emphasis added)

You of course need an Intel-based Mac, and a full copy of Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista (Business or Ultimate), in order to run Windows on a Mac using any of these solutions. The copy that came with your PC or an upgrade will not work. I recommend Windows XP over Vista if you want to use OS X as your main operating system and just want to use Windows to run applications that require it. Windows XP Home Edition SP2B for System Builders was available on Amazon for $89 as of the date of this post. They actually recommend this purchase with Parallels, though you don’t have to purchase the two together. This is a very good price for Windows XP SP2, and is what I used for my latest Windows install on my new iMac.

I have personally used both Boot Camp and Parallels, and currently have Parallels v3 running on a 2.33 ghz MacBook Pro with 3gb ram, and a new 2.4ghz iMac with 4gb ram. To be honest, I cannot discern any difference in speed between my original implementation of Boot Camp and later Parallels install, however, not having to reboot into each OS, and the ease with which files can be shared between OS’s are major advantages that Parallels has over Boot Camp. You can read about my experiences with the MBP Leopard Install with Parallels 3 in an earlier post by the same name.

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