Today Parallels released Parallels Desktop 4.0 (US $80 Upgrade US $40), a major new version of the virtualization software for Mac OS X. The company said the new version increases performance by 50 percent while using less of the Mac’s hardware resources. Parallels said that version 4.0 also adds 50 new features, including remote control from an iPhone, built-in speech recognition for Windows, and the ability to run Leopard Server in a virtual machine. The update comes on the heels of VMware’s September release of Fusion 2.0, a major upgrade of the main competing virtualization package for Intel-powered Macs.
Under the virtual hood
Parallels Desktop 4.0 has improved 3D graphics, now supporting DirectX 9, DirectX Pixel Shader 2.0 and OpenGL 2.0. It also supports 256 MB of graphics RAM, twice that of VMware Fusion and Sun’s free VirtualBox.
You can now assign up to 8 MB or memory to each virtual machine. Parallels Desktop 4.0 supports up to 16 GB of physical memory. A Parallels spokesperson said that the new architecture uses a feature called memory over commit, in which the Parallels hypervisor running under the virtual machines can set up more memory than is physically in the Mac. This makes it possible to run six virtual machines with 1 GB memory set for each in a 4GB Mac.
You can also now assign more than one processor core to a virtual machine for process-heavy tasks. For instance, you could assign all 8 processor cores in the Mac Pro to a single virtual machine
At the same time that Parallels is promising increased performance and memory usage, it is also saying that Desktop 4.0 uses 15-30 percent of the Mac’s processors and will add 20 percent to the battery life of a MacBook/MacBook Pro when running Windows.
New user features
There’s also better integration between Windows and Mac OS X. Windows notification icons can be displayed in the Mac menu bar. A feature called SmartMount shares storage devices to both a virtual machine and Mac OS X, mounting it in both.
You can now remotely access a Windows virtual machine from an iPhone, turning on and shutting down Windows or monitoring what’s going on.
A new feature called Safe Mode echos a feature in the old Microsoft Virtual PC. When you shut down a virtual machine started in Safe Mode, Parallels Desktop will ask you if want to discard the changes, as Virtual PC was able to.
Parallels Transport can now migrate Fusion and VirtualBox to Parallels Desktop, as well as old Virtual PC virtual machnines. When you create a virtual machine from scratch, Parallels recognizes what OS is on the inserted DVD.
Snapshotsa recording of the state of the virtual machinecan be scheduled to be taken automatically at regular intervals, a feature that VMware Fusion 2.0 has. You can set how many backups to do, and Parallels will tell you if you have enough hard disk space. Parallels calls this feature SmartGuard. A new window called Snapshot Manager presents saved snapshots in a tree format, so you can see how they relate to each other chronologically.
Speech recognition is built into Parallels Desktop 4.0, enabling you to control the Windows environment through voice commands.
Parallels Desktop 4.0 is also bundled with 1 year’s worth of Windows Internet security software by Kaspersky. It also includes Acronis True Image Home, a backup and disk repair utility.
If you’ve tried Parallels Desktop 4.0