June 24, 2006

How not to run Windows XP on your Mac!

Have a new Intel-based Mac computer? Want to run Windows XP alongside Mac OSX? Can't wait for Microsoft to get it together with Virtual PC? Then Parallels Desktop from Parallels, Inc. promises to deliver. At least for the moment, it's a broken promise.

[N.B. See the notes at the end of this entry for important updates to my original post.]

On the surface, Parallels Desktop is an awesome product. The installation is simple and quick, configuration is a breeze, and the user interface is clean—far cleaner than Microsoft's Virtual PC. Moreover, it apparently runs Windows XP at native processor speed. Video and audio tracked normally. Quite impressive. The good selection of window sizes and the fullscreen option all ran without a hitch—in fullscreen mode the underlying Mac OSX widows got resized to half screen, but there is a configuration option that prevents this. Except for the lack of a disk image conversion utility for moving Virtual PC disks to Parallel's HDD format, the product appears rather complete.

Alas, this is the real world, and you know the old adage: if it's too good to be true ...

The first sign of trouble appeared when I shut down Windows XP and closed the Parallels application. Lo and behold, I lost my network connectivity. Only a reboot solved the problem. This was the first of many reboots. Afterward, the system experienced many panics—the rather rare OSX equivalent of the Windows blue screen of death. But the most insideous problem was that my notebook ran hot enough to be uncomfortable on my lap, through my clothing, even after quitting Parallels Desktop. I suspect that one of the kernel extensions installed with the product—which, by the way, got installed without any adminstrator password prompt!—might be responsible for the high temperature. Due to the potential for disaster, I wiped the hard drive and reinstalled Mac OSX cleanly.

Since removing Parallels Desktop, my network connectivity has been reliable, the computer runs at a comfortably cool temperature, and there have been no more system panics. Heat kills computers, so unless you want to see yours in the repair shop, I recommend that you don't install Parallels Desktop until these major bugs are addressed.

Update (19-Jul-2006): I struck up a conversation with another customer at the local Apple store last week, and found out he had identical problems with Parallels. After removing Parallels from his MacBook Pro, the problems disappeared.

Update! (04-Apr-2007): Parallels has done a great job of not only fixing their bugs but providing plenty of new and exciting features at no extra cost! I'm now running build 3188 (March 2007) and have none of the issues I reported earlier. I recommend downloading their latest software build.

Posted by pscott at June 24, 2006 05:28 PM