One of the biggest questions raised in response to the 27″ iMac was “how good is it for gaming.” The response, at least in terms of native Mac games is very positive. And a reboot into Windows 7 offers pretty stellar performance in a variety of new Windows-only titles, even performing admirably at the native resolution. But rebooting to play games is a pain in the behind, and the death throes of PC gaming, combined with the typically slated as “dumbed down” console-friendly modern titles means that the best games are a good few years old, and don’t require the full grunt of the Core i7 iMac to play smoothly.
I’m talking, for the most part, about PC RPGs and RTSes, two categories of games which have historically worked well with the good old mouse and keyboard. But there are plenty more PC classics worth playing. These games are now largely playable in Parallels Desktop 5, a consumer-friendly virtualisation application with the ability to run Windows 7, and a large number of games, old and new, right on your Mac OSX desktop.
Parallels Desktop 5 represents a significant step forward in 3d acceleration performance, indeed I have successfully played Heroes of Neweth within Parallels Desktop 5 at full detail and full resolution, with the loss only of the anti-aliasing which the native OSX version can cope with. I’ve also tried Battlefield 2142, an old favourite, along with many other classic titles.
One particular point of interest is the speed and responsiveness of the browser based game Quake Live within Windows 7 on Parallels Desktop 5. I found this to yield less latency and a generally better gameplay experience, although I still got my behind kicked almost as frequently.
I have a loft full of classic games, which I keep around because they’re great titles to dig up and experience again and again. These are perfect Parallels 5 fodder but, on a Core i7 iMac, don’t tax the system at all.
Parallels 5 is not all about play, it’s an absolutely essential application which provides various applications necessary for my day to day work. I came from Parallels 4 in which I ran a variety of Windows XP and Linux based virtual machines for everything from browser testing to running multiple virtual servers for testing distributed code. Migrating from 4 to 5 was surprisingly simple. Unlike the migration from 3 to 4, which involved a change of virtual disk format, there was no lengthy conversion process. If you’re coming from version 3, however, you’ll encounter this process and may find it somewhat of a nuisance. My own experiences from 3 to 4 were fairly straightforward, although Parallels tools re-installation hung. From 4 to 5 was a significantly smoother transition, however the Parallels tools installations on linux were a little fiddley and the Windows XP counterpart hung for quite a long time.
Windows 7 was installed straight into Parallels 5, so there was no conversion process to worry about. I also installed Windows 7 directly into BootCamp before it was officially supported with bootcamp drivers, the result of booting this partition in Parallels 5 was less than stellar, and I later had to completely reinstall Windows 7 to rescue it from driver chaos caused by self-repair attempts within Parallels. I haven’t summed up the courage to boot from my BootCamp partition since, but I believe that with official BootCamp drivers and the latest version of Parallels 5 it’ll be a smooth and simple experience. I still stand by keeping separate installations, which is permitted under the Windows licensing conditions I believe, as the BootCamp installation tends to fill with games whilst the virtual disk installation is more work orientated.
From a work standpoint I typically use Visual Studio 2007 from within Parallels for any DotNet development I need to do. I am in an unusual situation at the moment. As a web developer who uses a Mac both at home and at work and no desire to turn on the one ageing desktop PC in my possession Parallels lets me bridge the gap between both worlds, enabling DotNet development and IE6/7/8 testing alongside PHP/Apache/MySQL in both Mac OSX and virtualised Linux servers. All I could want for is a faster MacBook Pro to run all of this on, or at least more RAM. Parallels likes RAM, with 1GB being around the optimum for me in Windows XP. However this is a sizeable chunk of the now fairly limtied 4GB that I have available, and if there’s anything that likes RAM more than Parallels/Windows XP it’s Mac OSX running my usual plethora of work-related applications.
As for the competition, well, MacTech’s exhaustive tests have shown Parallels 5 to be the current top dog. At the moment I don’t personally have access to VMWare Fusion, or have the time, or inclination to stack it up against Parallels 5 but from my own experiences in only the latter I can testify that performance is admirable and has been more than acceptable in most of the tasks I’ve thrown at it- right up to trying to play modern games.
You might think that the announcement that Steam will be coming to the Mac will invalidate the need for Parallels 5 in crossover gaming. But the fact remains that some of the best PC games are the classics which will never find their way onto the Steam system in Mac incarnations. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, Parallels 5 remains the best way to get a classic gaming fix, and fill in those gaps left by Steam with non-steam games, and perhaps even Steam games that don’t get a port!
What’s more, even for Mac compatible games such as Baldur’s Gate II and Diablo 2 Parallels 5 is handy, these titles have high-resolution hacks that are only available for Windows and, as a result, are far more pleasant to play under Parallels 5 which also has the bonus effect of tidily forcing them into a window that plays nicely with spaces.