Virtual Machines Work Great On The New MacBook Air



I recently reviewed the 13-inch MacBook Air and I noted that many of you were curious to know how well the new MacBook Air would work emulating other operating systems running Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac or VMWare Fusion.

I’m happy to report to you that I spent some time with both of these applications and I have some good news — they not only work, but in my opinion they work pretty damn good if you ask me.

I’ll go into details about the results of my tests with the two Virtual Machine applications below, but first I need to make a confession.

I originally purchased the base model 13-inch MacBook Air last Saturday and returned it for a refund after I found out that the bottom casing was warped during manufacturing. It made some pretty dreadful creaking sounds as a result of that defect. I did some soul-searching, because I decided I really needed 4GByte of RAM and so I went home empty-handed to think.

I thought about it some more and decided to go ahead and purchase the high-end 13-inch model with 2.13Ghz processor, 4GByte of RAM, and 256GByte SSD drive. I have no regrets about making that decision. This model absolutely screams and the base model wasn’t bad either. However, after getting a taste of the new MacBook Air I decided to go all the way and I haven’t regretted that decision yet.

The bottom line was that occasionally I might need to run a virtual machine or two and so the extra disk space, etc. will come in handy. I still plan on moving data to the cloud as much as possible keeping the clutter on the SSD drive to a minimum.

VMWare Fusion 3 for Mac

I tested Fusion with the following virtual machines: Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server 10.6.4, Microsoft Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit, and Windows XP.

I’m happy to report that each of the virtual machines tested ran without a major problems. I initially had some problems with one of them, but this was due to a bad file copy. Odd circumstances, but replacing the file solved the problem.

Overall the speed and responsiveness of the virtual machines was acceptable. Snow Leopard Server ran software update a lot faster than I would have expected it too. I’m happy with the performance.

The remaining Windows virtual machines ran fairly well also. My only concern right now is whether or not the Windows drivers supplied with Fusion will need to be updated or not. So far I don’t see any thing that indicates this is the case.

The only annoying thing was this — Fusion initially asked me about the CD/DVD drive that I don’t have. I asked it to ignore it, but it continued to stop the virtual machine start-up with a pop-up that I had to click-through. I might be missing something and need to take a close look at this. I think I can get rid of it permanently.

Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac

I tested Parallels with the following virtual machines: Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server 10.6.4, Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit, and Windows XP.

I’m happy to report that each of the virtual machines tested ran without any major problems. I did not encounter any problems with Parallels during my testing.

The problem I encountered in Fusion about the missing CD/DVD drive wasn’t evident or Parallels didn’t seem to care about it. Instead Parallels booted each virtual machine without bothering to tell me about the missing hardware on the host computer. It was one less bothersome pop-up to deal with.

Overall the speed and responsiveness of the virtual machines was just as acceptable as they were with Fusion. Snow Leopard Server on Parallels also ran software update a lot faster than I would have expected it too. I’m just as happy with the performance of Parallels as I am with Fusion.

One interesting thing did happen however when I tested Windows XP. Windows told me that my “hardware” had changed significantly and I had to re-activate Windows. It reactivated without a hitch, but seeing that when I didn’t see it in Fusion was interesting.

I converted my Windows 7 64-bit virtual machine from Fusion file format to Parallels. It worked like a champ and it was quickly converted by Parallels and ready to run in less time than I would have expected.


These are my initial test results late on a Friday night after a long week. So if I’ve missed something or you have something to contribute please leave a comment with your feedback.

I did not clock or use a stop watch while testing these applications and I’m basing my comments on my perception. I’ve used both of these applications for a long time and I’ve had a lot of experience using VMWare’s products in Windows client and server environments.

I had one other problem more related to the MacBook Air’s USB ports than the virtual machines. A number of these virtual machine files had a rather large file size foot print. Therefore, I opted to copy them to a USB drive from my iMac or MacBook Pro and then to the MacBook Air. I ran into a problem with the bus powered HDD enclosure, Other World Computing’s OWC Mercury On-the-Go Pro, I was using with a small 80GByte drive.

It flat-out would not work and the computer would never recognize it. I know this isn’t the case with other drives, since my editor Leander told me a drive he tried,  iOmega eGo drive, worked just fine. I’m going to call Applecare  and Other World Computing to find out what might have caused this problem. I’ll report back with the results of that query in a separate post.

[Update 10/30/2010 07:34 AM PDT: Contacted OWC tech support performed drive reset and PRAM reset on MacBook Air. The external drive will now mount on either USB port without an external A/C adapter.]

Overall it looks like the MacBook Air is going to be an all around better machine than I thought it would me. I’m glad now that I upgraded from the base-model 13-in MacBook Air to the one with a faster CPU, more memory, and significantly more disk space. As far as the Macbook Air goes I have to say thumbs up Apple you got this one right. I can do a lot more with it than I ever thought of doing with previous models.