- Re-engineered for macOS Big Sur
- Much faster than previous versions
- Allows access to shared printers
- Requires a subscription
- Not clear if it will support Apple Silicon
- Home & Student VM installation limited to 8GB virtual RAM
For as long as we can remember, Parallels has always been the best way to run Windows on a Mac and the latest version of Parallels makes it faster and easier than ever to run Windows and macOS at the same time.
Parallels 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 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 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.
So here we’ve taken a closer look at the latest version of Parallels for Mac to see what’s new and how it performs.
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Before we begin, here’s what’s new in Parallels 16.
- 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.
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.
The setup Wizard makes it easy to install any kind of operating system especially Windows, Linux and even the forthcoming Big Sur for macOS.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
It’s clear that Parallels has no problems working with Big Sur but what’s not so clear is whether it will work with Apple Silicon.
Apple Silicon is the name given to Apple’s new internal chipset and ARM processors that will power Macs instead of Intel from late 2020 onwards.
This will fundamentally change the hardware that Parallels has to be compatible with and as yet, Parallels cannot confirm whether it will work on new Macs build from late 2020 onwards.
However, at the Apple WWDC 2020, Parallels demonstrated Linux running in Parallels on a Mac with Apple Silicon so it seems hopeful that the same will also be possible with Windows.
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.
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.
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 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
- A Mac computer with an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, Intel Core M or Xeon processor
- 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
- macOS Big Sur 11.0 (when released)
- 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.