Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac lets you seamlessly run Windows and Mac applications side-by-sid

10 ways to improve Windows running

on your Mac, Part 2

By John Rizzo

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6. Use an SSD or Fusion drive

Keeping your virtual machines or Boot Camp partition on a solid state drive (SSD) (also called "flash storage") or Apple's Fusion drive can significantly speed performance over a standard hard drive.

An SSD is faster than a Fusion drive, but has a smaller capacity due to the expense of the technology. For example, the SSDs offered in the MacBook Air are 128 GB, 256 GB, and 512 GB. Fusion drives come in 1 TB and 3TB capacities.

Boot Camp users can create the Boot Camp partition on an SSD or Fusion Drive using Boot Camp Assistant. But if you want to use the 3TB Fusion drive, make sure your Mac is running OS X 10.8.3 (Mountain Lion) or later. Boot Camp assistant with OS X versions 10.8.2 and earlier don't support the 3TB configuration.

Apple's Fusion drives only come with certain Macs, though you can also replace an internal hard drive with a third-party "hybrid" drive that is similar in concept. You can also buy a third-party internal SSD to replace a hard drive, and at larger capacities than Apple offers.

7. Install VM on external drive when space is tight

A 128 flash drive in a MacBook Air is pretty tight for a Windows virtual machine that is many tens of gigabytes in size. If you are using Parallels Desktop, You can create a virtual machine on a sufficiently fast external drive, or move an existing one from your internal hard drive. (VMware Fusion does not support running a virtual machine on an external hard drive.) Keep Parallels Desktop on the internal drive.

During the normal virtual machine creation process, simply specify the external drive when you are asked for a location for the virtual machine.

To move an existing virtual machine from your internal drive, make sure it is shut down first then quit Parallels. Copy the virtual machine file (which ends in .pvm) from the Parallels folder (inside your Documents folder) to the new drive. Delete the old file. Then start up Parallels Desktop and click the virtual machine from the Virtual Machine Library. A dialog box may ask you to locate the file.

Thunderbolt is the fastest connection, but USB 3.0, and FireWire 800 are fast enough for a Windows virtual machine. FireWire 400 is a bit too slow, and USB 2 crawls at a snails pace.

8. Keep a Golden Master copy of Windows

One advantage virtualization is that you can create and save a "golden master" copy of your Windows setup that you can easily reinstall should something go wrong, or if you want install the same configuration on multiple Macs. Your golden master should be a fresh installation of Windows and fresh installations of your Windows applications, with your settings in place.

Once you get your golden master setup, take a snapshot of it. You can then revert to it if you need it.

Next, make a copy of the golden master to safely store someone else, such as a large USB flash key or an external hard drive. You do this by selecting the virtual machine in the virtual machine list and making a clone of it. In Parallels Desktop 9, go to the File menu and choose Clone.

With VMware Fusion 6, you can clone right from the Virtual Machine Library and select Create Full Clone at left. Fusion 6 also has another handy feature that lets you create a clone of a singe snapshot. This is good in the event that you have created snapshots after the golden master Ð cloning just golden master snapshot will save some disk space. To do this, go to click Snapshots in the Virtual Machine Library, select your golden master snapshot, and right-click. Select either Create Linked Clone.

For the best security, keep your Windows data files outside the virtual machine in a folder shared with OS X.

9. Don't use Time Machine to back up virtual machines

Although Time Machine can backup your virtual machines, there are reasons not to. It can take a long time and use a lot of disk space. Additionally, Parallels warns that if your virtual machine is running while Time Machine does a backup, the backup can corrupt. And when restoring, you can't browse through Time Machine to restore a single file. You have to restore the entire virtual machines, typically tens of gigabytes.

A better strategy is to keep your golden master in a safe place. Then, make it a practice to not store your Windows documents in a Windows folder Ð instead, keep them on a folder in the OS X that is shared with the virtual machine. This folder, along with your Windows documents, will then be backed up by Time Machine along with the rest of your Mac files. Another option is to back up your Windows data files from within Windows to a cloud-based service such as DropBox, Microsoft SkyDrive, or Google Drive. Either way, you can restore a single file, or use your golden master first to get a fresh copy of Windows and your apps.

You prevent Time Machine from backing up your virtual machines by going to Time Machine Preferences>Options. Use the Add (+) button to add your virtual machine folders to the Exclude. These folders are located in Documents. For Parallels, the folder is called Parallels. For VMware, it's called Virtual Machines.

10. Run Windows apps without Windows

If you only need to run one or two Windows apps, you can save the expense of buying Windows by using CrossOver from CodeWeavers. CrossOver enables certain Windows applications and games to run directly in OS X, without Windows. The overhead in terms of RAM and CPU utilization is much less than with virtualization because you're only running one operating system. And unlike Boot Camp, you can access your Mac and Windows apps at the same time without rebooting.

The tradeoff for the low cost and low hardware overhead is that CrossOver doesn't support all Windows applications. Most business applications (including Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, and Quicken) are supported, as are many game. You can check the CodeWeavers web site to see if your Windows app is supported.

For more on CrossOver versus virtualization and Boot Camp, see How to Run Windows on Macs.

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