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Parallels 16 and 16.5 are definitely faster than ever due to a huge re-engineering effort for Big Sur. With the death of Boot Camp and the switch to ARM M1 processors in the latest Macs, Parallels remains on the cutting edge of virtualization and is the best way to run Windows on both Intel and M1 Macs.
Pros
Re-engineered for macOS Big Sur
Much faster than previous versions
Allows access to shared printers
Runs Windows ARM on M1 Macs
Cons
Requires a subscription
Home & Student VM installation limited to 8GB virtual RAM
90

For as long as we can remember, Parallels has always been the best way to run Windows on a Mac and in this Parallels review, we take a look at why.

The latest versions of Parallels 16 and the M1 Mac compatible Parallels 16.5 makes it faster and easier than ever to run Windows and macOS at the same time.

They’re also the first versions of Parallels to offer a 50% discount to students and teachers making it an excellent deal for those in education.

What Is Parallels?

Parallels is a virtual environment that allows you to conveniently run all those Windows only applications and games that don’t run on Mac.

In fact, it can run over 200,000 Windows only apps on a Mac according to Parallels.

Not only this but you can run just about any other operating system in it such as Linux and Android on it which allows you to play games such as Among Us which aren’t available for Mac.

We think it’s by far the most convenient way to get Windows on your Mac because it’s incredibly easy to setup, launches Windows apps or games quickly and allows you to switch between macOS and Windows instantly.

The last version of Parallels 15 was a big step up from previous versions of Parallels because it finally supported DirectX 11 and Apple Metal API which allowed Mac users to play Windows only games such as FIFA, Age of Empires and Fallout.

It also allowed Mac users to use seriously graphic intensive apps such as Windows only CAD applications for the first time.

The latest version of Parallels 16.5 is arguably an even bigger step up from Parallels 15 because it’s been re-engineered for some fundamental changes in macOS 11 Big Sur and beyond into Apple Silicon.

The updated version of Parallels 16.5 is the only way to run Windows on M1 Macs and the only virtualization software to officially support Apple Silicon ARM M1 chip Macs.

Is Parallels Bad For Your Mac?

Parallels runs in a virtual environment that doesn’t affect your Mac in the same way as the macOS operating system installed on your Mac.

This means that Parallels can’t actually harm your Mac in any way. Everything in Parallels is done in a sealed environment from macOS.

However, even in a virtual environment version of Windows, you could get a virus although it would be isolated to your virtual environment and Windows installation – it would not touch your Mac’s hard drive.

If a virus damaged Windows in Parallels, you could quite simply reinstall the copy of Windows and your Mac would be unscathed.

Parallels is therefore perfectly safe to use and will never be able to damage your Mac’s hard drive.

Does Parallels Slow Down a Mac?

Parallels will not slow down macOS in anyway,

Parallels runs Windows and other operating systems simultaneously to macOS so any lag will be isolated to the virtual environment.

Unless you have less than 4GB of RAM, your Mac is more than equipped to handle running two operating systems at the same time although we recommend using at least 8GB of RAM for best results.

If you are experiencing any lag in Parallels itself, you can also allocate more of your Mac’s memory to it in the Hardware > Graphics settings.

With this in mind, here we take a closer look at the latest version of Parallels for Mac to see what’s new and how it performs.

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Parallels Review: Overview

Before we begin, here’s what’s new in Parallels 16 and Parallels 16.5.

  • The biggest improvement we’ve noticed with Parallels 16 is speed. With each release Parallels gets a little bit faster and Parallels 16 launches Windows noticeably faster due to a re-engineering effort because of fundamental changes in macOS Big Sur. While using Windows, it also feels a bit snappier than before with less lag when using big apps or games. Parallels claims there’s a 20% increase in the headlining of DirectX which improves the speed and responsiveness of Windows games on a Mac.
  • Parallels 16 takes up less space on your hard drive than previous versions. It now takes up to around 16GB which is mainly for Windows 10.
  • Parallels 16 is optimized for macOS Catalina and macOS 11 Big Sur. Parallels usually release a new version with every new version of macOS and it’s guaranteed to work with Catalina and the forthcoming Big Sur.
  • There’s a new energy saving Travel Mode for when you’re on the move and using your Mac’s battery. This gives an energy saving of 10% compared to the previous version of Parallels.
  • You can automatically reclaim cached disk space taken by Parallels when it puts the virtual machine to sleep.
  • You can now zoom and rotate in Windows apps with your Mac Trackpad as well as enhanced Touch Bar support to control Windows applications.
  • A new Do No Disturb Mode when you’re using Windows to prevent distractions from notifications while you’re working.
  • Far more print options from Windows including different paper sizes from A0 to envelopes and support for remote printing on networks.
  • Support for OpenGL 3.2 which means Parallels now allows Mac users to run tools like DiaLux for lightening design and Samson for molecular modelling.
  • Apple Pencil and Sidecar support in Windows using Parallels so that you can now use your drawing tablet connected to your Mac within Windows apps too.
  • The updated version of Parallels 16.5 now supports M1 chip Macs making it the only and best way to run Windows on M1 Macs.

Can Parallels Run Windows 11 on a Mac?

At the moment, Parallels does not support running Windows 11 on a Mac. The main reason for this is that Windows 11 requires a TPM module in the motherboard which Macs don’t have.

Parallels Pro however can emulate the TPM module and so it’s likely that Parallels will introduce this to the Standard version in order to make it compatible with Windows 11.

It will also however have to add Direct X 12 support to Parallels as Windows 11 requires Direct X 12 to work.

However, if you’ve got an M1 Mac, you can currently test out Windows 11 in Parallels on an M1 Mac as part of the Windows Insider Program.

You can watch a copy of Windows 11 PE (Pre-installation Environment) build 22000 running in Parallels on a Mac below.

Setting Up Parallels

The setup process for Parallels has become progressively easier over the years and its by far the most painless way to install Windows on a Mac.

Note that if you’re doing this on an M1 Mac, the setup process is slightly different as it used a different version of Windows called Windows 10 for ARM which is compatible with the new Apple Silicon M1 chip.

Check here to see how to setup Windows on an M1 Mac using Parallels.

The setup Wizard makes it easy to install any kind of operating system on a Mac especially Windows and Linux distros.

To install Windows, you simply select “Get Windows 10 from Microsoft” which automatically downloads it for the installation.

You can use Windows 10 for free without activating it as you only need to get an activation code from Microsoft if you want to customize it.

Alternatively if you’ve already installed Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp, Parallels can cleverly import Windows from that installation.

parallels desktop installation wizard

We also like how Parallels optimizes your Windows installation based on how you plan to use it. For example, the setup can be customized for gaming, productivity, software development, software testing or design.

parallels installation assistant

How Parallels Works

Once you’ve installed Windows, Parallels makes it incredibly seamless to switch between Windows and macOS.

You can use Windows and macOS side by side with no restart or reboot required (unlike with Boot Camp where you must choose to boot in either macOS or Windows when you start your machine).

parallels windows 10 on mac

Parallels is able to run even the most graphic intensive applications within Windows on your Mac including Adobe Photoshop, Visual Studio and powerful CAD software such as SketchUp and AutoCAD.

You can of course run Microsoft Office applications too including Windows only apps such as Microsoft Publisher and Microsoft Visio.

parallels windows microsoft office

You can choose how Windows appears on your Mac too. For example Coherence Mode allows you to simply launch applications from the Dock as if they were installed on your Mac.

Or if you prefer more seperation between your macOS and Windows install, you can run Windows in windowed mode which runs Windows and its apps inside a separate window.

parallels coherence mode

Parallels 16 Improvements

Parallels had to significantly re-engineer Parallels 16 because Apple is ditching what are known as “kexts” in Big Sur.

Kexts are basically traditional kernel extensions which allow apps like Parallels to run other operating systems within macOS.

Apple is ditching them in the newest generation of Macs built from late 2020 onwards however on security grounds. Moving to an Apple only internal hardware system also gives Apple much more control over the performance of Macs and macOS.

As a result, it’s noticeably the fastest Parallels ever with Windows apps launching extremely quickly. It’s also much quicker to wake a virtual machine from sleep when you’re not using it.

Shared printing from Windows is now available for the first time meaning if your Mac is connected to an office network, you can print to any printer.

Parallels 16 is also far more efficient at reclaiming disk space used by Parallels when it puts a virtual machine to sleep.

parallels reclaim disk space

Parallels M1 Mac Support

One of the biggest innovations in Parallels in recent years was the addition of support for installing Windows on M1 Macs.

The M1 chip is based on Apple’s own Silicon technology and the same kind of chip you get in iOS devices such as iPads and iPhones.

Parallels has a very close relationship with Apple and even as far back as the Apple WWDC 2020, Parallels demonstrated Linux running in Parallels on a Mac with Apple Silicon.

In April 2021, Parallels 16.5 was released which allows you to install Windows on M1 Macs.

Parallels is the first virtual machine to do this and shows how committed they are to keeping up with not only the latest versions of macOS but the latest changes in Mac technology too.

Parallels does this by using an M1 chip compatible version of Windows known as Windows 10 for ARM which isn’t exactly the same as the normal version of Windows that’s installed on all PCs.

You can find full details and instructions here on how to install Windows on M1 MacBooks and Mac Minis using Parallels.

Downsides

On a performance level, Parallels will still only allocate 8GB of virtual RAM (vRAM) in the Standard Edition and 128GB of Virtual RAM in the Business and Pro edition to each VM installation.

Although the 128GB in the Business and Pro versions is enough for most needs, the Home and Student edition limit of 8GB becomes a problem if you’re running more than a few apps or a graphic intensive program.

On M1 Macs, Parallels can only install Windows 10 for ARM which isn’t compatible with all Windows software either but as Microsoft improves the x86 emulation in Windows 10 for ARM (which allows it to run 64 bit Intel only games and apps) this should become less of an issue.

Parallels Pricing

Parallels offers 3 different versions: Home & Student ($79.99), Desktop Pro ($99.99) and Desktop Business ($99.99).

The Home & Student version is the one that most general users need.

Parallels 16 is also offering a 50% discount to students and teachers as part of a new academic promotion.

The Business Version of Parallels is aimed at large enterprises that need to manage multiple licenses of Parallels in an office environment. The Pro version of Parallels is aimed at developers of apps and games that need debugging tools such as support for Microsoft Visual Studio.

For all versions, you can choose between a standalone version and a subscription version. Both cost ($79.99) but with the standalone version, you’ll eventually need to upgrade it which costs $49.99.

If you choose the $79.99 subscription model, all upgrades are included and since each new release of macOS requires Parallels to be updated, especially with Apple Silicon on the horizon (see more on this in downsides below), this makes much more sense.

If you buy direct from Parallels, there’s also a 30 day money back guarantee although this doesn’t apply if you buy it from another retailer.

There’s also a 50% Educational Discount for educators and students from the Standard Edition.

parallels versions compared

As an incentive to go for the subscription model, Parallels are also offering Parallels Toolbox and Parallels Access for free with new subscription purchases of Parallels 16.

Parallels Toolbox offers some useful utilities to smooth integration between Windows and macOS (such as file sharing, drag and dropping, printer sharing etc).

Parallels Access is a remote desktop solution which allows you to access a Windows installation on your Mac from your iOS and Android device.

You can also try a free 14 day trial of Parallels 16 to test it for yourself first.

Parallels 16 System Requirements

Hardware

  • A Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, Intel Core M , Xeon processor or M1 chip
  • Minimum 4 GB of memory, 16 GB is recommended
  • 500 MB for Parallels Desktop application installation
  • Additional disk space for the guest operating system (at least 16 GB is required for Windows 10)
  • SSD drive is recommended for better performance
  • Internet connection for product activation and select features

Software

  • macOS Big Sur 11.0
  • macOS Catalina 10.15
  • macOS Mojave 10.14
  • macOS High Sierra 10.13
  • DirectX 11 requires at least macOS Mojave 10.14, but works best on macOS 10.15.3 Catalina or newer.

 

About The Author

Author

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3 Responses

  1. John Turner

    I find the huge price increase to be unacceptable. It is a fine app but I do not feel the price ion the app is worth it. I have dumped my subscription as of today.

    Reply
    • MacHow2

      The subscription price of Parallels 14 Desktop Edition to both buy ($79.99) and upgrade ($49.99) is the same as the previous version Parallels 13. The perpetual license price is $99.99.

      Reply
  2. smayer97

    just a comment to be able to subscribe to this article, since there is no subscribe only button 😉

    Reply

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