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VMware Fusion 5

September 20th, 2012
Fusion 5 embraces Mountain Lion, Windows 8, Retina MacBooks

VMware has quickly updated its popular Fusion virtualization software to support OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and Microsoft's Windows 8 preview. Fusion 5 aims to merge the best features of both platforms, while continuing to improve performance over its predecessor. In our full review, we take a closer look at the new features and compare Fusion's performance with rival Parallels 8. VMware has quickly updated its popular Fusion virtualization software to support OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion and Microsoft\'s Windows 8 preview. Fusion 5 aims to merge the best features of both platforms, while continuing to improve performance over its predecessor. In our full review, we take a closer look at the new features and compare Fusion\'s performance with rival Parallels 8.

We encountered no difficulties upgrading from Fusion 4 to the latest build, which recognized our existing virtual machines for a smooth transition. Adding virtual machines is also straightforward, installing from discs or ISO files and keeping the initial configuration settings to a bare minimum. Approximately 20 minutes was required for Windows 8 installation on our 15-inch Late 2011 MacBook Pro, which we used for most of the tests.

VMware includes a USB key in the boxed package, eliminating any issues when attempting to install the software on the Retina-equipped MacBook or any other device that lacks an optical drive. The Fusion kit still includes a DVD, however, that provides the same installation files and a migration assistant for PC.

Fusion 5 brings a wealth of new features, including support for the new 15-inch MacBook Pro\'s Retina display and USB 3.0 ports. Boot Camp has yet to take advantage of the full 2880x1800 resolution, however the virtualization software provides several resolution options that avoid the fuzzy appearance of doubled pixels.

Aside from hardware support, the virtualization utility also ensures that many of Mountain Lion\'s software-based features are available in Windows. We successfully ran Windows 8 via AirPlay mirroring through an Apple TV on our home network, extending the desktop to an HDTV.

We expected Fusion 5 to support Mountain Lion\'s new Dictation capabilities in the Windows environment, however the function appears to be unsupported. There are other voice-based input utilities available for Windows, but we found Apple\'s OS X implementation to be suitable for either platform when used in Parallels 8.

Adding to the Mountain Lion optimizations, Fusion now enables applications to be launched from the OS X Launchpad. Users can also view Windows 8\'s Toast notifications in the OS X Notification bar, a sensible feature that helps maintain awareness of the virtual machine even when it is out of immediate sight.

We were impressed with the usability enhancements, but many potential buyers may be more concerned with performance. To compare Fusion 5 and Parallels 8, we ran several tests in Windows 8 with the basic settings (one CPU core and 2GB of RAM for the VM) and again with split resources (two CPU cores and 4GB of RAM for the VM). For reference, our MacBook Pro was equipped with a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512MB AMD Radeon 6750M graphics.

Fusion deserves praise for continuing to improve boot times, which started at just five seconds to resume a suspended session if the virtualization software was already open. To start Fusion from a dead start and resume a suspended session, the time jumps to 10 seconds. Excessive boot time has been one glaring drawback to previous editions of Parallels and Fusion, but the latest releases are snappy in this regard. Windows 7 boot time is also claimed to be reduced by more than 40 percent compared to Fusion 4.

Parallels 8 maintained a slight lead over Fusion in our benchmark tests, which used Futuremark\'s 3DMark06 utility. Fusion 5 in the basic configuration scored 6103, just slightly behind Parallels 8\'s 6499 score. The gap widened when allocating an additional CPU core and doubling the RAM, bringing Fusion 5\'s score up to 6875 and Parallels 8\'s score up to 7358.

Despite Parallels\' apparent edge in terms of benchmarked performance, we did not experience the same discernible difference in real-world tests. Both products handled web-based multimedia and games, such as Crysis, with acceptable frame rates and decent performance.

VMware further claims that its performance optimizations have not come at the cost of resource efficiency. To the contrary, Fusion 5 is said to be significantly more efficient than its predecessor, helping to boost battery life in notebooks. We were unable to objectively compare battery life between the two versions to test the claim of a 100-minute improvement, but the difference was noticeable enough without using a stopwatch.

Our tests were limited to the basic consumer functionality, however VMware also has improved the software for developers and enterprise deployments. Users can now run Mountain Lion in a virtual machine, or take advantage of accelerated 3D desktop features in Linux.

The Professional edition offers all of the features from the basic release, along with a number of tools that are geared specifically for businesses. IT departments can manage multiple virtual machines and configure virtual networks, with restrictions and encryption if necessary. The Pro version also supports the company\'s TeamViewer apps for iOS devices.

We found Fusion 5 to be a significant improvement over the previous release, finally combining enough performance and efficiency to make us mostly forget that we were using virtualization software.

Both Fusion 5 and Parallels 8 arrived on the market around the same time. After trying both products, we were unable to distinguish a clear winner. Parallels has a few extra features, such as Dictation support, and proved to be the top performer by a thin margin, however Fusion 5 still provides a wider range of features for enterprise users.

Fusion 5 is currently available for $50, a bargain compared to Parallels 8\'s $80 price tag, and anyone who bought Fusion 4 on or after July 25 can upgrade for free. Fusion 5 Professional brings the price up to $100, while Fusion 3 or 4 licenses can be upgraded to Fusion 5 Pro for $50.


-Retina MacBook support
-Windows 8
-Mountain Lion enhancements
-Performance improved
-Less battery drain

-No dictation
-Awkward interaction with Win. 8
-iOS apps limited to Pro edition