Parallels Desktop 13 review: Juggling operating systems and virtual machines has never been this painless

The Pitch

In the past, Parallels have prided themselves on their ability to bring the best new features for Windows to Mac users. However, with Parallels Desktop 13, they’re playing up the potential for the opposite as well. This comes both in the form of Windows 10-compatibility for the Macbook Touch Bar and the new Windows People

These additions, combined with a suite of performance improvements, promise to make it the best software available for juggling virtual machines using a Mac. Parallels Desktop 13 brings with it new support for MacOS’ Picture-in-Picture mode and promises to leverage the Retina Display found in modern Macbooks to deliver a sharper looking UI within Windows environment.

Parallels also claim it offers up to double the speed found in its predecessor when it comes to handling external Thunderbolt SSD drives and 47% faster speeds when it comes to working with Windows files on a Mac.

Parallels are offering Pro and Business editions of the package, which both come bundled with their the company’s Toolbox app suite. The former is more developer-focused, allowing for developers to create super-powerful virtual machines (of up to 32 cores and 128GB) as well as easily juggle between multiple OS’ with greater ease. Meanwhile, the Business edition comes designed for easy deployment and user management.

As neatly summarized by Parallels’ president Jack Zubarev, “[Parallels 13] delivers our best-ever Windows on Mac performance, plus innovative and useful new features and tools to help users get more done quickly and efficiently.”

The Reality

Parallels say they worked closely with Microsoft in order to make setting up a Windows-based virtual machine on a Mac as easy-as-possible. After spending even a little bit of time with Parallels 13, we believe them.  Installation, setup and configuration have all been simplified into what feels like no more than a half dozen clicks.

You simply launch Parallels, select what operating system you want your virtual machine to run on, and where the software is pulling that from. If you’re setting up a Windows 10 instance, Parallels will pull down a copy of the operating system right then-and-there from Microsoft directly. As someone who messed around with virtual machines in high-school, the whole process was pleasantly streamlined. It really is genuinely difficult to imagine it being much simpler.

As for the reported performance improvements, your mileage here might vary a little depending on what you’re doing using your virtual machine for. Nevertheless, in our time with Parallels 13, there wasn’t a whole lot to complain about. Inevitably, there are still going to be some things that a dedicated Windows PC will be inarguably better suited for (such as gaming). However, when a full launch of Parallels and your VM of choice takes less than 30 seconds, the scope of what you can realistically do on a Mac running Parallels 13 increases pretty dramatically.

There’s definitely room for Parallels 14 to improve on speed and boot-time but when it comes to reliability, there’s a lot to like about this year’s package - and that’s before we’ve even touched on the new features in it.

The biggest addition that Parallels 13 makes to the usual list of iterative feature points comes in the form of the Macbook’s Touch Bar - which is now able to be outside of Apple’s own ecosystem of compatible applications.

In order to help users get the most out of the feature Parallels have built-in support for all the major native Microsoft applications (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook) as well as most major web browsers. They’ve also brought in the ability to customize the Touch Bar on an application-by-application basis. At least, to a degree. Users can fit their own application-specific layouts, but only from a Parallels-curated set of ingredients.

In practice, this is pretty intuitive - even if is still subject to the broader limitations of the Touch Bar itself. It remains kind of feature that’s easy to see the long-term groundbreaking potential of, even if there’s not a lot of super exciting things happening with it at the moment.

Then, there’s the People Bar. Given that the Spring Creators Update has still yet to deliver this feature to Windows 10 users outside of the Insider Program, it’s all the more impressive that Parallels have managed to support it here. When running a Windows 10 Insider VM, Parallels 13 supports this feature with (arguably) more scalability and integration than Microsoft themselves have. It arrives with support

Parallel’s People Bar supports Spotlight and Dock-integration, larger profile photos and doesn’t limit the number of visible contacts. Like the Touch Bar, it’s still a little constrained by the nature of the feature itself but you can’t fault the execution here.

The Bottom Line

It’s safe to say that running a virtual machine on your Mac still has its fair share of strengths and limitations. However, Parallels 13 does a great job of making it as painless as possible. There’s a healthy mix of new-features and under-the-hood improvements at work here - making it feel like a no-brainer for customers both new and old.

Parallels Desktop 13 for Mac is available from today at a recommended retail price (RRP) of $99.95 AUD.

Upgrades for existing Parallels Desktop 11 and 12 for Mac perpetual license customers are priced at $64.95 AUD. Parallels Desktop for Mac Pro Edition and Business Edition are also available for a flat fee of $124.95 AUD per year.

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Fergus Halliday

Fergus Halliday

PC World
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