Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac Review

What's New in Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac

Courtesy of Parallels

Ever since Apple released OS X Lion, we have been waiting for the companies that provide virtualization applications to catch up with its new features. First out of the gate is Parallels, the leading supplier of virtualization products for the Mac.

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac not only integrates with many of the new features in Lion, such as Launchpad and full-screen apps, the folks at Parallels have also been tweaking the code to provide higher performance, both in the basic virtualization application and in graphics performance. The result is an easy-to-use virtualization app that is also fast and reliable.

Parallel Desktop 7 For Mac - Minimum Requirements

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac has the usual set of minimum requirements, but also some interesting caveats, depending on how you're using the application.

Minimum Requirements

  • Intel Core 2 Duo or better.
  • 2 GB of RAM or better.
  • 700 MB hard drive space for the basic application, plus additional space for each guest OS you plan to run.
  • Mac OS X 10.5.8 (Leopard) or better.

Parallels Desktop 7 drops support for the original Intel Macs that shipped with Intel Core Solo and Core Duo processors. If you have one of the early Intel Macs, you'll need to stay with an earlier version of Parallels.

Parallels Desktop 7 adds support for running OS X Lion and OS X Lion Server as a guest OS. In order to use this feature, however, you must be running OS X Lion as the host OS for Parallels. You won't be able use Parallels Desktop 7 to try out Lion if you're running Leopard or Snow Leopard. That's a pity, although it isn't the fault of Parallels. Apple's Lion licensing agreement imposes the restriction by specifically stating that it's permissible to virtualize Lion or Lion Server, but only on a Mac that's running Lion as the host OS.

Parallel Desktop 7 For Mac - New Features

Parallels Desktop 7 is Lion friendly; in fact, you can say they are best buds. Parallels isn't just compatible with OS X Lion; it also takes advantage of many of Lion's new features, including full-screen support and using Launchpad to not only start up Parallels, but also to access all of the Windows apps you have installed on your Windows guest OS.

Parallels Desktop 7 is fully integrated with Mission Control. You can assign Parallels to individual desktops, as well as quickly switch between all of your open application windows. Parallels also supports multi-touch capabilities in Macs that have them.

But Lion friendliness is only part of what's new in Parallels Desktop 7. It also has a built-in store for purchasing a Windows license if you need one, dramatically improved battery life for Mac portable users, up to 1 GB of video memory, and perhaps best of all, an overall improvement in performance over Parallels Desktop 6, which, by the way, was our overall winner in last year's virtualization benchmark performance test.

Getting your game on with Parallels has never been better. Parallels Desktop 7 supports 3D graphics using DirectX9.0c/9Ex and Shader Model 3; it also supports 7.1 surround sound.

If you're new to Parallels Desktop, the latest version offers improved wizards for installing Windows, Linux, OS X Lion, and Lion Server as guest OSes.

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac - Installation and Viewing Options

I received my copy of Parallels Desktop 7 the day it was released and quickly went about installing it. The installation process was painless, although if you currently use Parallels, it's important to note that Parallels Desktop 7 will remove the previous version of the application during the installation process. Also, you will need to update any existing guest OS you have to run with Parallels Desktop 7. This primarily means installing a new version of Parallels Tools in each guest OS. Once you move to Parallels 7, there's no easy way to revert to the previous version.

Before you become concerned about the upgrade process preventing you from going back, I have to say that I haven't found any reason whatsoever to return to the previous version. Parallels Desktop 7 is a sound upgrade that has yet to reveal any serious issues. In fact, I find its new features enjoyable and easy to use. That is saying a lot for me; I tend to slowly appreciate changes, but Parallels 7 is a change I like.

I fired up Parallels Desktop 7 with Windows 7 as the guest OS. Parallels retains the classic windowed system where each guest OS runs within its own window. This is my preferred way of running virtual machines, but for those of you who like a bit more integration, Parallels retains the Coherence view that allows the Windows desktop to become invisible, and each Windows application to operate in its own window on your Mac's desktop. The Coherence viewing method provides the illusion of Windows applications running directly on your Mac. The other standard view, Modality, retains the Windows desktop but makes it transparent and smaller. It's a great way to monitor ongoing Windows applications while working on your Mac.

The newest view is Full Screen. Full Screen view has actually been around for a while, but with Lion, Parallels can actually use a true full screen, where the Windows desktop completely takes over the display, leaving no hint at all that OS X is running. Parallels is the first app I have run where full-screen usage actually makes some sense.

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac - Windows, Linux, and Lion

Parallels 7 supports a wide range of guest OSes, including Windows, various versions of Linux and UNIX, OS X Snow Leopard Server (but not Snow Leopard), Lion, and Lion Server. I was especially interested in running Lion and Lion Server within Parallels Desktop 7, but more on that in a moment.

One of the questions that Parallels seems to get quite often is, "I just bought Parallels; where is Windows stored?" In essence, customers assumed Parallels included a copy of Windows. Well, now, in a roundabout sort of way, it does, although not for free. Parallels embraced the idea of a built-in store, and now sells various versions of Windows directly to Parallels users. If you don't have a copy of Windows, you can purchase it through the Parallels application. Download the OS and Parallels will quickly configure and install it for you, all at the push of a button.

Parallels also lets you download and install the free versions of Google Chrome, Fedora, and Ubuntu, directly from within the Parallels application.

One of the newest features of Parallels is the ability to run OS X Lion and Lion Server as guest OSes. Parallels takes advantage of the Lion Recovery HD that is installed by default when you install Lion on your Mac. With just a click, Parallels uses the Recovery HD to install OS X Lion as a guest OS, letting you run a virtual version of Lion on your Mac. Virtualization of Lion is very handy for application developers, letting them test their apps without worrying about their Mac or its configuration. But it can also be helpful for anyone who likes to download tons of apps and try them out. With virtualization, you can test apps and then install only the ones you like directly on your Mac.

Published: 9/10/2011

Updated: 1/12/2015

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac - Performance

One of the areas where we always want to see improvements in any new version of a virtualization app is performance. From version to version, we want to see improvements in both processor performance and graphics performance.

I took a quick look both processor and graphics performance, using Geekbench and CINEBENCH to get an idea of the overall performance. I'm happy to say that Parallels Desktop 7, at least on this cursory look at performance, delivers improvements over Parallels Desktop 6.

That's no mean feat. Parallels Desktop 6 was already the fastest virtualization app that we have tested, so when Parallels said they were going to squeeze out additional performance, it was gratifying to see that they weren't just talking about a few points here or there, but an overall improvement across the board.

I limited my quick performance test to Parallels Desktop 7 running Windows 7 as the guest OS. It was configured with 2 CPUs and 2 GB of RAM.

Geekbench 2.2 results (Parallels 7/Parallels 6):

Parallels 7 Parallels 6
Overall 7005 6000
Integer 5320 5575
Floating Point 9381 6311
Memory 6372 6169
Stream 5862 5560
Geekbench 2.2 Results
Parallels 7 Parallels 6
Rendering 2.37 2.37
OpenGL 39.28 fps 4.08 fps
CineBench R11.5

As you can see, Parallels Desktop 7 showed an improvement in just about every category, which led me to try a few PC games. In all cases, I found them quite playable, but I will need to do more testing, just to be sure. After all, you can't be too thorough.

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac - Conclusion

Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac is without a doubt the best release of Parallels I have seen. It provides plenty of new features and performance improvements to warrant upgrading, and although I haven't yet tested Parallels Desktop 7 head-to-head against other popular virtualization applications, it seems that Parallels will once again come out on top.

If you're looking for a virtualization app for your Mac, Parallels easily deserves consideration.

Now you'll have to excuse me; it's time to get back to testing the graphics with some of the PC games we've got hanging around.

Parallels Desktop 7 For Mac - Pros and Cons


  • Supports Apple's multi-touch gestures within the Windows OS.
  • Works with Expose, Spaces, and Mission Control.
  • Works with Lion's full screen capabilities.
  • Offers improved graphics performance.
  • Gives you the choice of running it in a windowed environment or integrated as part of your Mac desktop.
  • Guest OSes are easy to set up with the built-in wizards.
  • Improved battery life when running on portables.
  • Can virtualize OS X Lion and Lion Server.
  • Can run multiple guest OSes (Windows, Linux, OS X) simultaneously.


  • Installation process removes earlier versions of Parallels Desktop.
  • Guest OSes must be updated to work properly.
  • Features are dependent on the host OS you are using (Leopard, Snow Leopard, Lion).
  • No support for DirectX 10.

Published: 9/10/2011

Updated: 1/12/2015