Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Mac + Vista + Parallels + Bootcamp + Virtual Machine ... Just don't do it

I'm in week 2 or 3 of my new "Mac" life now, and definitely appreciating some of the finer points of owning a Mac.

However, I do need some windows apps on a fairly regular basis, so I decided to load Windows on as well. There are a few options available to those who want to run windows on a Mac:
  1. Use Max "Leopard's" built in "Boot-camp" feature that lets you boot into Windows. This feature is fairly solid, as it gives you a reliable version of windows that uses the full power of your Mac's hardware. The obvious downfall is that you don't have access to your Mac applications unless you reboot into the Mac OS. ALSO, you can't install Windows XP if it's only service pack 1. Bummer, because that's what I had a disk for.
  2. Use a program like parallels or fusion to create a "virtual PC" and run windows. While running your Mac. This is great because you can run everything at once. The downside is that your computer takes a bit of a performance hit, particularly since you have to "allocate" a certain portion of your RAM and video ram to the windows partition. So if you're running Vista, unless you have at least 2 GB of RAM, you're going to feel the pain. You can also run ANY version of windows, even windows 95 or DOS if you feel particularly nostalgic. Also, unlike boot-camp, you don't have to repartition a portion of your hard drive and allocate it to windows.
  3. Parallels has a feature where you can use Boot-camp AND a virtual machine, so that you can run a version of windows while running your mac, OR if you want to go full speed, then you can ALSO run the same image of windows in Boot-camp. Presumably, this would give you the best of both worlds.
I was ambitious and opted for running boot-camp & a virtual machine, with Vista. I thought it would be great.

I was wrong.

The reality is, you lose a lot of the benefits of a virtual machine when you do it off of a boot-camp image, such as being able to "pause" the VM, take "snapshots" of the VM (easy backup), being able to "hard reboot" windows and sharing the same files on the desktop and "My documents folders".

So, when Vista would crash or freeze or slow down or run out of video memory (which would be fairly frequently), it would bring the Mac down with it, and I could reboot my mac. ARG! All the benefits of windows, but all it's problems too! This is accentuated by the fact that VISTA is a memory hog, so to try and get it to run better, you have to give it more RAM, which in turn makes your Mac run slower.

Another problem is that if Windows crashes in VM mode, then you can't reboot it in boot-camp mode, and vice versa. You have to reboot it in the mode that it crashed, then turn it off again and reboot to go into the mode you wanted.

My final solution: I'm going to keep running vista, because it's kind of nifty and apparently it's the "future", but only in boot camp mode. If I come across any processor hungry apps (games maybe?) that require windows, then I'll boot into Boot-camp Vista.

I will run my copy of windows XP in VM mode only. It's less of a memory hog so I shouldn't see too much of a hit on my system performance, and I'll be able to run all of my windows apps while in my Mac.

My biggest problem with this solution is that I'm going to have to install all my applications twice. This will be a problem for any apps that have single computer validated license keys (such as business versions of MS Office).

I'll let you know how it goes.

An interesting note: I started installing XP when I started writing this article, and it just finished now. That took about a quarter of the time it normally takes to install XP on a PC!


jules@jules.ca said...

Oh I wish I'd read your article earlier ;-) I too just became the proud parent of a new macbook pro.
I installed parallels last weekend, and XP. It's sort of smooth, but every once in a while, the whole mac freezes when I least expect it. Even if I'm not running parallels. I curse windows and do a hard reboot.


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