Running Windows 8 on VMWare Fusion 5 - on OSX

Experiences of running Windows 8 on VMWare Fusion 5 - virtualised on OSX.

I recently blogged about running Windows 8 on Parallels 8, and I’ve had numerous questions/requests for a similar run through on VMWare Fusion 5. Interesting really as I didn’t think the article went in to any great detail it was very much a ‘first thoughts’.

Anyway, as I’m feeling amenable and have a couple of hours to kill I thought I’d do the run through. It’s interesting that Parallels and VMWare seem to be in some kind of virtualisations arms race isn’t it? Both very similar products, around the same price point, and offering very similar features and functions? All good for the consumers & users of course - competition is a key driver of innovation and all that.

I often get asked which I find better - Fusion or Parallels - and it’s not a particularly easy one to answer. I like them both, but I use them both for slightly different things. My desktop work - I.e Win7/8 for my day to day office environment - I prefer the Parallels integration way of working. Not massively so, but I just seem to find it slightly more integrated and easy to use.

For my
server based stuff, I always tend to use Fusion. Not only do I appear to be able to run more guests on my machines (2011 iMac, 2011 Macbook Pro, and a Mini), but they’re a doddle to transfer over to ESX. Means I can work on stuff away from our corporate clusters and transfer at a later date. I never really had much success trying to migrate Parallels guests, although this may have changed now.

Both Parallels & Fusion claim superior performance to each other - and of course, claim that theirs is the better environment for all things.

Let’s look at the Windows Experience Index for Windows 8 both in Parallels 8 and Fusion 5. This is for a VM with 8 cores assigned, and 4Gb of RAM.

Parallels 8

Fusion 5

Fusion 5 is showing ever so slightly higher with advantages in the Processor, RAM and disk transfer. I ran these benchmarks a few times by the way, and they all seemed to give Fusion an ever so slight advantage. Does it make any difference in the real world? Doubt it.

What about RAM footprint on your Mac? I mentioned that I’ve always appeared to be able to get more guests running with Fusion, and part of this seemed to be down to RAM consumption. Fusion used to appear more frugal with physical RAM consumption, and seemed to better support oversubscription. In fact if you read VMWare and Guests with RAM above 8Gb, you’ll explicitly see that over-subscription is supported to a point as I was able to allocate more RAM than my Mac had to a virtual machine.

Let’s look at the RAM footprint for the same virtual machine running in both environments, both after a clean reboot.


Well there’s a bit of a surprise. VMWare has 1.13Gb allocated, and Parallels only 485Mb. Firing up all the common apps in Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Visio, Project) in both machines results in this:


Interesting to see what happens if you up the Virtual Machines to 6Gb of RAM each too - see below after a straight boot:


Virtually the same at 1.16Gb for Fusion, and 505Mb for Parallels. Firing up all the Office apps results in:


So again a similar uplift. It would appear then that now Parallels has a less demanding memory footprint than Fusion. I may need to re-assess my server scaling work!

What about Coherence/UNITY? These modes allow you to integrate the Windows applications in to your normal OSX working environment, I.e. have your Windows apps overlaid in your OSX system as normal Windows apps. In Parallels, I run into issues in this mode when using full screen apps. If you look on this video from about 6 minutes 20 seconds you’ll see what I mean - it appears to get confused. No real feedback from Parallels as to when this may be fixed either. To be fair to them however they are usually excellent at issuing bug fixed.

In UNITY, it looks very similar to coherence - but the crucial thing is I don’t experience the issues with screen drawing and windows overlay that I get with Coherence mode on Parallels.

Which would I recommend to people? Personally, I think both products are excellent in their own right, and whichever you end up with you’ll have an excellent, fast, and reliable virtualisation platform. If you have a need to move stuff to VMWare ESX, this may steer you more toward Fusion, and if you spend your day in Windows desktop environments, this may steer you to Parallels. Either way, you’ll get a solid product.

They really are that close.

The video below shows a similar run through to
the one I did for Parallels 8, albeit a bit quicker and more concise.

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