Parallels Desktop full review: including new features in Parallels Desktop 19

Table of Contents

Macworld

At a Glance

Expert’s Rating

Pros

Yearly update cycle.Can choose a perpetual license or subscription. Version 18 made it easy to install the ARM version of Windows 11. Touch ID integration.

Cons

Higher price than it used to be.Virtual machines require a lot of memory and processor power.

Our Verdict

The price is higher than it once was, but, thanks to the simplification of the process for running Windows on ARM, Parallels Desktop is the best option for Mac users who need to run Windows software on their Mac.

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For many Mac users, running Windows applications is a necessity. Perhaps your employer uses software that’s available only for Windows, or requires the use of a website that relies on some Windows-only technology. Or perhaps you want to play Windows games on your Mac. Or maybe you need to test applications and services on alternative operating systems – the only way you can install macOS alongside Windows is on a Mac, because Apple won’t allow macOS to be installed on anything else. 

When Apple moved to Intel CPUs back in 2006 running Windows on a Mac became easier with the introduction of Apple’s own Boot Camp, which made it simple to run both Windows and macOS natively on a Mac. But times have changed and Apple has now transitioned from Intel to its own M-series chips and left Boot Camp in the past as it is not an option for M-series Macs. (Macs that still use Intel processors will still be able to use Apple’s Boot Camp to dual-boot, and switch between Windows and the macOS). 

The move to the ARM-based M-series of chips also means that modern Macs cannot run a non-ARM version of Windows. There is an ARM version of Windows, but getting hold of that can be a challenge.

Luckily there are other options for those wanting to run Windows and other guest operating systems on a Mac and one of the best is Parallels Desktop. Thanks to a regular cycle of annual updates – that generally coincide with updates to macOS itself – Parallels Desktop has ruled the roost in the Mac virtualization market in recent years.

What is Parallels Desktop 

Parallels Desktop is virtualisation software that allows you to create a virtual machine – or VM – that runs Windows, and other operating systems, on your Mac as though they were another Mac app. Unlike Apple’s Boot Camp – which had to shut down the Mac side of things completely and then reboot your Mac into Windows – Parallels lets you run Mac and Windows apps side-by-side at the same time. 

This means you can view the Windows desktop within its own window floating on the Mac desktop, expand Windows to full-screen size so that it hides the Mac desktop altogether, or even shrink Windows down to a small preview that sits in a corner on the Mac desktop so that you can keep an eye on the Windows side of things while working in other Mac apps. 

Over the years Parallels Desktop has gained a wealth of features that take advantage of the fact that multiple operating systems can run side by side. The latest update to Parallels Desktop is version 19, which arrived in August 2023. We’ll discuss what’s new in this version below before running through some of the best features in Parallels Desktop that have been introduced over the years. 

What’s new in Parallels Desktop 19?

Parallels for Mac has a new icon.

Parallels

Parallels continues its cycle of annual updates, which always tend to arrive around the same time as each new version of the macOS itself. So, with macOS Sonoma due to arrive in October 2023, the company has just launched the new Parallels Desktop 19. It’s quite a big upgrade too, although some of its new features are technical updates that are hidden below the surface and may not be immediately obvious to users of previous versions. There are also a number of new features that are only available in the Pro and Business editions of Parallels Desktop, including several features that are specifically aimed at developers.

One new feature that will stand out straight away, though, is the redesigned interface, with windows and dialogue boxes in Parallels Desktop 19 now adopting the curved lines and candy colors that Apple has been using in the macOS in recent years. The app even gets a new desktop icon.

More serious eye candy also arrives with support for 3D graphics in Windows using OpenGL 4.1, which provides improved compatibility and performance for a number of important graphics and design tools, such as ArcGIS Pro, VectorWorks and VariCAD.

But, as mentioned, there are several under-the-bonnet features that may not be quite so eye-catching. Apple has changed the printing system used in Sonoma, so Parallels Desktop 19 introduces a new Internet Printing Protocol (IPP) that will continue to allow you to print documents from a virtual machine using your normal printer (and Parallels says that this actually provides improved compatibility for features such as two-sided printing on some printers).

Version 19 also brings Touch ID to your Windows virtual machines (VMs). This provides an additional layer of protection, as it allows you to sign in to your Windows VM using both Touch ID and your personal Microsoft account. That will be particularly important for business users who may have sensitive data on their Windows VMs that they need to keep safe. Larger organizations that buy the Business edition of Parallels Desktop can also use their VMs with corporate management systems such as Hashicorp Packer and Microsoft’s InTune.

Developers get some attention too, with the Pro and Business Editions of Parallels Desktop 19. There’s an extension for using Visual Studio Code that makes it easier to organize and use multiple VMs, and improved support for creating VMs that use the macOS itself on new Macs that use Apple Silicon processors.

Parallels

Parallels Desktop price

At the time of the release of Parallels Desktop 18 in 2022, the price increased for the first time in quite a few years. The increase was around $20/£20 per product. Of course the price of a lot of things has increased in the past year or so, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.

Parallels Desktop is available in three different editions: standard, pro and business.

The standard edition costs $99.99/£89.99 per year – with discounts available for students and education users. That annual subscription fee includes any new versions and updates that may be released in the future. It was $79.99/£69.99 a year prior to version 18.

It’s also possible to buy the standard edition with a one-time perpetual license costing $129.99/£104.99 (although you’ll have to pay extra for future upgrades). This was previously $99.99/£79.99. It’s nice to see a perpetual license option, so often absent from software these days.

The Pro edition, which is mainly aimed at developers, is only available as a subscription, costing $119.99/£99.99 annually, while the Business edition for larger organizations costs $149.99/£119.99 and is only available on annual subscription.

There’s also a 14-day trial available so that you can see how Parallels Desktop works before buying the full version.

Buy from Parallels In the U.S.

Buy from Parallels In the U.K.

Running Windows

Since 2020 Apple has updated all Macs to run on its own Apple Silicon chips: the M1 series and M2 series of chips. Apple’s chips are based on ARM, and this means that only Arm versions of Windows will run on them. The X86 version of Windows will not run on the ARM architecture.

The Arm version of Windows isn’t normally licensed to individual users, which meant that owners of M1 and M2 Macs faced both technical and licensing problems if they wanted to run Windows on their Macs. 

Back in 2022, Parallels Desktop updated Parallels to coincide with the launch of the macOS Ventura, but the big news was compatibility with the Arm version of Windows 11 and a simplification of the process by which Mac users can get hold of Windows on Arm.

Parallels Desktop 18 included the ability to download and buy the ARM version of Windows 11 directly within Parallels itself. All you need to do is:

Press the button that says Get Windows 11 From Microsoft.

Parallels will download the relevant version of Windows 11 for your Mac (if your Mac has an ARM processor then it will download the ARM version of Windows 11).

You can then use the Microsoft Store app within your Windows VM to purchase a license or use an existing Windows 11 license if you have one.

Parallels confirmed that Microsoft doesn’t differentiate between Windows On Intel and Windows On Arm, so a Windows 11 license can be used for either version. More information on Parallels website here.

Parallels

Parallels also stated that Windows On ARM now allows you to run most older software and apps that were originally written for the Intel version of Windows, so you shouldn’t have any compatibility problems when running virtual machines that use Windows On ARM.

If you have an Intel Mac you’ll still be able to run most versions of Windows going right back to Windows XP. That’s not to say that there aren’t issues running Windows on older Macs. For example, Windows 11 requires a special security chip known as TPM 2.0 to run which Macs lack, but Parallels 17 found a way around this by adding a virtual TPM chip that can work with Windows 11 and its BitLocker data encryption features.

For more information read all you need to know about running Windows on a Mac. We also have a round-up of the  Best options for running Windows on a Mac.

Incidentally, you can run more than just Windows using Parallels. There are a number of supported operating systems, many of which are free to download and use, such as BSD Unix, Ubuntu, Debian and different versions of Linux. Over the years Parallels have improved support for these operating systems and made behind-the-scenes improvements that can help you to manage multiple virtual machines.

If you’ve ever wondered what Linux is all about, installing and using a version via Parallels is a relatively painless way to try it out. Download a version of Linux, set up a virtual machine, install the OS, and test it out. If you like it, keep it around. If you don’t like it, just throw away that virtual machine’s file from your hard drive, and it’s gone for good.

Running multiple versions of macOS 

It’s not only Windows, Linux and co that you can run in your VMs. It’s also possible to run a version of macOS as both the host – the primary operating system on your Mac – and as a guest virtual machine (VM). This means that you could run the newest version (or test the latest beta version) of macOS as a VM before deciding whether to fully install it onto your Mac.

There are, again, some limitations with M-series Macs in as much as they can’t run anything older than macOS Big Sur simply because that was the first version of macOS written for an ARM-based system.

On older Intel-powered Macs you can run old versions of macOS.

Parallels

Usability

Parallels attempts to make things as simple as possible for the user with its Coherence mode that lets Windows apps seamlessly coexist alongside native macOS apps in, rather than inside a separate VM window.

There are many ways in which Parallels makes Windows and macOS exist peacefully. For example, version 17 improved the ability to copy and paste text and graphics between Windows and Mac apps. You can also drag and drop images into Windows directly from Mac applications like Photos and Safari, too. 

Other new feature added in version 18 was support for Stage Manager (which arrived in macOS Ventura). This means that Windows apps can be tucked to the side of the screen alongside all Mac apps.

Over the years Parallels has also improved support for USB audio and video capture devices, and even game controllers for Windows games too. 

The Business Edition of Parallels Desktop 18 added new features to help large organisations quickly roll-out Parallels virtual machines to multiple users, while the Pro Edition for developers provides improved networking features and a command-line interface to speed up testing.

You can cut and paste between Mac and Windows applications.

Parallels

Performance 

Good performance is vital when running Windows or Linux in a VM on your Mac, so over the years Parallels has made improvements to memory allocation and graphics performance. 

Running two (or more) operating systems on your Mac at the same time means you need plenty of memory, disk space and – above all – processor power in order to run your virtual machines efficiently. Fortunately, modern multi-core processors can run routine apps such as the Windows versions of Microsoft Word or Excel using virtualisation with no trouble at all. You do need plenty of memory to run the macOS and Windows alongside each other though.

To get the most out of Parallels, you’ll want to give your Mac as much RAM as you can afford—1GB is a good starting point, as you’ll then have enough RAM to run Parallels alongside a few other applications. However, 2GB is much better, particularly if you’re going to run multiple OSes at the same time or run a lot of large applications within your virtual machines.

You can specify how many of your Mac’s processor cores and how much of its memory is allocated to each VM. However, that can be a little confusing for new users who aren’t familiar with virtualization technology, so Parallels 17 introduced an Automatic Resource Manager that can monitor your VMs in order to determine how much memory and processor power is required for the apps that you’re running, and then automatically allocate the required resources for you. Thanks to this feature you are not in the dark about which virtual machines are consuming precious system resources

Another helpful addition, which arrived with Parallels Desktop 14, is a Free Up Disk Space feature. While the software was already able to manually reclaim valuable storage space from individual virtual machines (VMs), this option allowed the consolidation of snapshots (which are saved states of your VMs) so that they take up less space, users can also resume/shut down tasks, and archive lesser-used VMs for even more savings.

On high-end Macs, such as the Mac Studio, you can configure your virtual machines to use up to 62GB of memory and 18 CPU cores, in order to provide improved performance. Unfortunately, Parallels informed us that the multiple GPU cores on the M1 and M2 chips are controlled solely by the macOS itself, so Parallels doesn’t allow you to also specify the number of GPU cores used by your virtual machines.

Verdict 

We’ll admit we were a bit worried when we heard that Parallels had been taken over by Corel at the end of 2018. After all, Corel hasn’t had a great record of supporting the Mac over the years – although the release of CorelDraw for the Mac after a gap of almost 20 years did at least suggest the company hadn’t forgotten about Mac users altogether.

Rather than simply submerging Parallels Desktop within the labyrinthine depths of Corel’s own website, Parallels continues to maintain its own identity, its own website at parallels.com, and progress has continued unabated. 

Whether buying Parallels Desktop for Mac for the first time, or taking the annual upgrade plunge, we wouldn’t hesitate to install the latest version. Parallels Desktop isn’t the only virtualization software available for Macs – its main rival, VMware Fusion, is also regularly updated – but Parallels’ is the most frequently updated and boasts the more impressive features.

Parallals’ status as the leader in this field was emphasized when Apple used Parallels Desktop to demonstrate a number of Windows apps and games running on prototype ARM Macs during its 2020 Worldwide Developer Conference and if Parallels has Apple’s backing then its future should be good. 

Mac, Personal Software

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