By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2006-05-01 Print this article Print

Parallels Parallels Workstation 2.1 is a desktop virtualization product that stands out for its low cost and broad operating system platform support.

During tests of Parallels Workstation 2.1, which began shipping in March, eWEEK Labs found that the product does a good job replicating the core functionality of VMwares VMware Workstation, for about a quarter of the cost: Parallels Workstation costs $50 per machine, compared with about $200 per machine for VMware Workstation.
However, Parallels Workstation 2.1 lacks some of the features that have earned VMware Workstation our Analysts Choice designation.

Click here to read more about the cost of virtualization products. At this point, Parallels Workstation could serve well as a means for Windows, Linux or, soon, Apples Mac OS X-on-Intel users to access applications that arent available on their primary platform. The product also would be well-suited for developers or IT administrators who need to test multiple operating system and software configurations from their primary workstations.

Parallels Workstation 2.1 runs on x86 or, in 32-bit mode, x86-64 processors. Parallels officials suggest at least a 400MHz Pentium II for running the product, and youll need enough RAM for both your host machine and any guests you intend to run. As always with products of this sort, the more RAM, the better.

Click here to read a review of VMware Workstation 5.5. The product offers no support for exposing multiple processors to guest instances or for running 64-bit operating systems, although both features are slated for a future release, according to Parallels officials. VMware does offer these capabilities in VMware Workstation, but Parallel Workstations lack of them shouldnt be a deal breaker unless you specifically need to test 64-bit operating systems and dual processors in your virtual machines.

Performance with Parallels Workstation 2.1 was good in our tests—about what weve come to expect from virtualization products, including those from VMware and Microsoft. The product takes advantage of Intels VT (Virtualization Technology) processor extensions, which speed virtualization operations via hardware support. We could enable or disable VT extensions with a switch in the Parallels Workstation interface.

We tested the impact of VT on a Hewlett-Packard HP Compaq nc6320 notebook with an Intel Core Duo dual-core processor, one of the Intel chips that currently sports VT. We ran the BAPCO Internet Content Creation test (from BAPCOs Sysmark 2004 benchmark test suite) on a VM running Windows with 256MB of RAM, both with and without VT enabled. In the tests with VT enabled, the overall score was between 4 and 5 percent higher than without VT.

Broad Support

We were particularly impressed with the range of platform support in Parallels Workstation, the graphical interface of which is built from the cross-platform-friendly Qt framework from Trolltech.

In fact, Parallels Workstation 2.1 offers some of the broadest explicit Linux distribution support of any product weve tested: Parallels Workstation 2.1 is offered up in RPM (Red Hat Package Manager) for Red Hat, SUSE and other RPM-based distributions, as well as in DEB for Debian-based distributions and the eBuild format for the Gentoo Foundations Gentoo Linux. Parallels Workstation is also offered in a tarball format, so it should work for any Linux machine.

Read more here about the VMware-led alliance promotes virtual desktops. We installed Parallels Workstation on Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 systems, as well as on machines running Fedora Core Linux 5 and Ubuntu Dapper Drake. We also tested a beta version of Parallels Workstation 2.1 that runs on Apples Intel-powered Macintosh machines.

In comparison, Microsofts Virtual Server runs only on Windows, and VMware supports Windows and Linux.

To install Parallels on Fedora Core 5, we had to append "--nodeps" to our RPM command because the software called for a version of an x server library thats not included with Fedora Core 5. (We found this workaround on Parallels support forum.)

Creating VMs in Parallels Workstation 2.1 is very similar to creating them in VMware Workstation—theres a wizard-type series of dialogs through which we chose a guest operating system type and then assigned RAM, disks and peripherals to our guest.

The product let us suspend, shut off or restart our VMs and offered the option of pausing our guest instance, something that VMware Workstation does not do. Unlike suspending an instance, which takes a bit of time as the application copies the VM state to disk, the pause option took effect immediately, and resuming from the paused state was immediate as well.

Probably the feature most conspicuously absent from Parallels Workstation 2.1 is support for snapshots, which is very handy for testing.

We could create clones of our guest instances, but that process is much more time- consuming than snapshotting, which allows users to nimbly jump back and forth among VM states. We hope to see this capability built into a future Parallels Workstation release.

Next page: Evaluation Shortlist: Related Products.

As Editor in Chief of eWEEK Labs, Jason Brooks manages the Labs team and is responsible for eWEEK's print edition. Brooks joined eWEEK in 1999, and has covered wireless networking, office productivity suites, mobile devices, Windows, virtualization, and desktops and notebooks. JasonÔÇÖs coverage is currently focused on Linux and Unix operating systems, open-source software and licensing, cloud computing and Software as a Service. Follow Jason on Twitter at jasonbrooks, or reach him by email at jbrooks@eweek.com.

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