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Parallels vs VMware Fusion: Which Is Best For Running Windows on a Mac?

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If you’re new to Macs then you might have heard about Virtual Machines also known as virtualization machines, virtual environments, hypervisors or simply VMs.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at two of the most popular virtual machines for Mac Parallels vs VMware to see how they compare head-to-head.

What is a Virtual Machine?

Simply put, a virtual machine is an application that allows you to run another operating system within macOS.

Most commonly, virtual machines are used to run Windows on a Mac but they can also be used to run Linux and older versions of macOS too.

This might be to run a Windows only app that isn’t available for Macs or play Windows only games on a Mac.

Virtual machines are also popular with programmers and developers that need to test software in a certain operating system.

The main reason for this is that one of the major advantages of a virtual machine is that any viruses, bugs, or problems are isolated to the virtual machine itself due to the way they “sandbox” the operating system on your Mac.

So if your copy of Windows running in a virtual machine becomes corrupted or damaged in some way, you can simply reinstall it in the virtual machine with no effect on your Mac.

Virtual machines are one the easiest ways for most users to do all this because you can simply switch to Windows in macOS like you would with any other application on your Mac.

Advantages of using a Virtual Machine

There are many advantages of installing a virtual machine on your Mac including some of the following:

  • Saves money: You don’t have to buy an additional Windows laptop or PC just to use Windows applications. As long as you have plenty of storage on your Mac you can install a virtual machine on it or you can even install one on an external drive.
  • Security: In the case of malware and viruses, most can’t even run properly in a virtual environment meaning its safer than using a Windows PC. If your Windows installation does get corrupted or infected, at the very worst you will simply have to reinstall Windows with no damage done to your Mac.
  • Flexibility: Virtual machines give you freedom by providing a real installation of Windows that you can do pretty much anything you like with. This is compared to other methods such as accessing Windows in the Cloud which imposes far more restrictions on what you can do.
  • Backwards Compatibility: Virtual machines can be used to run older or incompatible software on newer hardware, making it possible to maintain legacy systems and applications. So for example, if an app you were using on your Mac no longer works with the latest version of macOS, you can install an older version of macOS in a virtual machine and run it in there.

Disadvantages of using a Virtual Machine

It’s not all good though. There are some drawbacks to using virtual machines such as:

  • Performance lag: Because they require a lot of RAM and processing power, VMs can run slow and even slow down your Mac although this is now less of a problem with the latest Apple Silicon M-series chip Macs.
  • Anti-cheat software incompatibility: If you want to use a virtual machine to play PC only games, games that use anti-cheat software such as Vanguard and Denuvo won’t work in virtual environments.
  • DirectX 12 incompatibility: Although they support DirectX 11, Virtual machines cannot run the latest DirectX 12 which is required by many games and applications.
  • Poor Frame Rates: While Virtual Machines allow you to run Windows only games, they often run at low frame rates – often less than 60 fps – because they can’t dedicate all of your Mac’s resources to running them.
  • Steep learning curve: Although they’re generally easy to use, configuring a virtual machine to work optimally on your Mac can take time to get right. Some applications also require specific settings and tweaks to run well in them.
  • Windows 11 ARM: Currently, virtual machines can only run Windows 11 ARM on Apple Silicon Macs. This is because the Intel version of Windows that most of us use only works with the Intel chip, not the M1, M2 and M3 chips. Although Windows ARM can run most apps thanks to something called “x86 emulation”, it doesn’t always perform well or even work with all apps.

Parallels vs VMware Fusion

There are various virtual machines for Mac on the market today but by far the most popular and widely used are Parallels and VMware Fusion.

Here we take a closer look at how these two virtual giants compare.



Parallels is easily the most popular and well known virtual environment on the market, mainly thanks to its ease of use and reliability in running Windows apps on a Mac.

According to Parallels, it can now run over 200,000 Windows only apps on a Mac.

Parallels 19 is the latest versions with a cleaner user interface, even faster “two-click” installation of Windows 11 and closer integration than ever with macOS.

An example of exactly how seamless the integration is between macOS and Windows using Parallels is that you can copy and paste files between them instantly with no configuration required.

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

Parallels is also always the first virtual machine to be updated to work with the latest versions of macOS and was the first to be able to run Windows on Apple Silicon Macs.

This also got it an endorsement from Microsoft as a recommended way to run Windows on M-series Macs.

Likewise, Parallels was also the first VM that could “emulate” the TPM 2.0 chip necessary to install Windows 11 on a Mac.

You can read our full review of Parallels here.

Pricing: Starting from $99.99.


  • Very easy to install Windows 11
  • Excellent for gaming
  • Supports Windows keyboard shortcuts
  • Works well on M-series Macs
  • Officially endorsed by Microsoft for running Windows


  • Updates aren’t free
  • Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on
  • Subscription pricing model

VMware Fusion

windows 11 installed on mac in VMware fusion

Although it has lagged behind Parallels for some years, VMware Fusion now makes it almost as easy as Parallels to install Windows on a Mac.

It doesn’t provide as seamless an experience using Windows and macOS together like Parallels does but the big advantage is that VMware Fusion Player is free for non-commercial use.

The latest version of VMware Fusion 13.5 also now automatically downloads and installs Windows 11 for you, just like Parallels does.

Previously, VMware Fusion couldn’t automatically download and install Windows 11 because it didn’t have a licensing agreement with Microsoft for Windows ARM but that now seems to have been resolved.

On top of this, VMWare Fusion has also now been fully updated to work on all the Apple Silicon Macs and on macOS Sonoma although it was a long way behind Parallels in doing this.

The biggest attraction of VMware Fusion is that it offers a free version for personal use and students called VMWare Fusion Player in comparison to Parallels which only offers a free-trial.

There is a commercial version called VMWare Fusion Pro which is designed for system admins that administer multiple installations of VMWare across a network of Macs.

Pricing: Free / Starting from $149.


  • Fusion Player is free for personal and student use
  • Supports Windows ARM on Apple Silicon Macs
  • Supports Windows 11 on a Mac


  • Major updates not free in Pro version
  • Integration between macOS and Windows not as close as Parallels
  • Not updated as quickly as Parallels

Performance running Windows 11

One of the big selling points of Parallels is that its always been very easy to setup and recent updates have made it even easier.

The latest version requires two simple steps.


  • Install Windows on your Mac by clicking on “Get Windows 11”.
  • Parallels will then download Windows 11 ARM on your Mac.

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 strongly recommend using at least 8GB of RAM.

Parallels recommends 16GB of RAM for best results especially of you’re going to play games, use graphic design software or other high-end CAD applications.

In our review of Parallels, we didn’t notice any significant lag in performance while using Windows in Parallels but as with most virtual machines, games play at lower frame rates.

VMware Fusion has finally caught up with Parallels regarding installation of Windows 11 and now does it automatically.

vmware fusion windows 11

VMware has also improved integration with Windows and macOS meaning its now easy to drag and drop files between the two operating systems.

Just like with Parallels, VMware Fusion only supports the ARM version of Windows and not the more common Intel version.

Gaming in Parallels vs VMware Fusion

For most Windows only games, we recommend Parallels as the best virtual machine to play Windows only games on a Mac and support for gaming has come a long way on it in recent releases.

However the latest version of VMware Fusion also has improved Metal-accelerated DirectX 11 3D graphics support for better performance when playing Windows games on a Mac, making it a fairly equal competitor.

vmware fusion 3d graphics acceleration

However, there are a few things to be aware of before using both Parallels or VMware Fusion for gaming.

  • For best performance, you need a Mac that’s got at least 16GB of RAM. Games will still work in both Parallels and VMware with 8GB of RAM but performance can be slow and laggy depending on how demanding the game is. You can check how much RAM your Mac has (known as “Unified Memory” in Apple Silicon Macs) by going to the Apple logo in the top left corner, selecting About This Mac… click on “More Info…” and the amount of RAM will be listed under Memory.
  • Parallels and VMware Fusion both support DirectX 11 but don’t support DirectX 12 so if the game you want to play requires DirectX 12, you’re out of luck.
  • Games that use anti-cheat software such as Vanguard, EasyAntiCheat and Denuvo won’t work in either VM. As the name suggest anti-cheat software is a type of DRM protection to prevent people cheating in games and games that are protected by it will not work in any virtual environment.

You can see an example of us gaming playing Stumble Guys in Windows on a Mac using VMware Fusion below.


Parallels 19 offers 3 different versions:

  • Home & Student ($99.99/£99.99 per year) or a one-off purchase for $129.99 but this doesn’t receive free updates.
  • Desktop Pro ($119.99/£119.99 per year)
  • Desktop Business ($149.99/£149.99 per year)

All subscription plans include free updates to the product as long as you maintain a subscription. Parallels also frequently offers promotions on its products throughout the year.

VMware offers two versions:

  • VMware Fusion Player which is free for non-commercial use or VMware Fusion Player for commercial use is $149/£127.99
  • VMware Fusion Pro for IT managers or System Admins is $199/£169.16.

System Requirements

The minimum system requirements for Parallels are below although you’ll get much better performance going with their recommended system requirements:

Operating system: macOS Mojave 10.14.6 or newer[1]

Processor: Any Apple silicon chip or Intel Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, Intel Core M or Xeon processor

Storage: 4 GB of RAM, 600 MB for Parallels Desktop application installation. Additional disk space for Windows (at least 16 GB is required for Windows OS)

Graphics: Intel, AMD Radeon, or NVIDIA graphics cards

The minimum system requirements for VMware Fusion Player are below:

Operating System: macOS 12 Monterey and macOS 13 Ventura

Processor: Any Apple silicon chip or Intel Core i5, Core i7, Core i9, Intel Core M or Xeon processor

Storage: 4 GB of RAM, 1.5GB for VMware Fusion application installation. Additional disk space for Windows (at least 16 GB is required for Windows OS)

Graphics: Intel, AMD Radeon, or NVIDIA graphics cards


In our experience, Parallels and VMware Fusion are both reliable virtual machines which are easy to use.

Parallels is a bit more straightforward in terms of simplicity and ease of use when both installing Windows and using it to run Windows apps.

With less lag while gaming using Parallels, it’s also a better choice for gamers that want to play Windows only games on a Mac.

The downside is the subscription pricing model compared to VMWare Fusion.

VMware Fusion has really been catching up with Parallels over the last year though and what it is lacking in performance and integration with macOS, it certainly makes up for in price as it is 100% free for personal, non commercial use.

What About Boot Camp?

Traditionally, Apple’s own Boot Camp tool has been one of the most popular ways to install Windows on a Mac but is gradually becoming more obsolete because of Apple’s decision to drop it from Apple Silicon Macs.

Boot Camp is a free tool on Intel Macs which allows you to install Windows on a partition on your Mac hard drive so you can choose whether to dual boot your Mac in either Windows or macOS.

If you still have an Intel Mac, Boot Camp provides an easy and free way to run Windows on a Mac.

Boot Camp is also still useful for those Intel Mac users that require a lot of RAM or processing power such as CAD software and graphic design apps as it doesn’t have the overhead of a virtual machine to run at the same time.

The disadvantage of installing Windows with Boot Camp is that you’re restricted to using either Windows or macOS at one time – you can’t switch between the two instantly like with virtualization software.

Alternatives to Virtual Machines

Virtual Environments are not the only way to run Windows or other operating systems on a Mac.

There are other ways to use Windows on a Mac although none of them give you quite as much freedom as a virtual machine does to do whatever you want with Windows.

There are Cloud based solutions such as Microsoft’s “Windows App” which runs Windows in the Cloud for you but doesn’t give you as much control as a virtual machine over what you can do with Windows.

There are also so called “translation layer” solutions such as Wine and Crossover which don’t actually run Windows but “translate” Windows apps and games on the fly to work on a Mac.

There’s also the option of remote desktop software to connect a Mac remotely to a Windows PC and access Windows that way.

For a closer look at these alternatives to using virtual machines on a Mac, check out our guide to the best ways to run Windows on a Mac.

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