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Desktop 17 for Mac: In a Parallels universe with Windows 11 on M1 silicon
Could the fastest Windows on Arm PC be made by Apple?
Mac virtualization veteran Parallels has released an update to its flagship Desktop software, with support for the rounded bits of Windows 11 and Mac-in-a-Mac courtesy of the upcoming Monterey update.
Support for Windows 11 will cause more than a few eyebrows to raise. After all, Apple's M1 chip is most definitely not on Microsoft's infamous hardware compatibility list for its upcoming operating system but, judging by our test drive, Parallels has invested a considerable amount of effort in persuading the code to work, rounded corners and all.
At its core, Parallels Desktop 17 for Mac is the latest in a long line of platforms from the company aimed at allowing Windows apps to run on a Mac. Back in the Intel days, firing up Windows on a Mac was a relatively straightforward process (we have an elderly i7 Mac Mini on the desk which uses Bootcamp to run Windows 10), but M1 silicon has made things a little more complicated.
Handy, therefore, that Microsoft has an Arm version of Windows which Parallels started supporting for M1 hardware in a previous release. The new release, version 17, adds support for Windows 11 but also raises questions over what will happen when Windows 11 moves out of preview and into the wider world.
Microsoft requires a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) for Windows 11, which can be enabled in virtual fashion. However, the requirement for certain types of CPU could present more of a challenge for M1 users.
Parallels' take? "We need kind of more push from the users that they need it."
Who knows, perhaps Microsoft might listen (probably not).
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How fast now?
For now, The Reg took the software for a spin on an 8GB M1 Mac Mini to see how the Windows Insider Preview of Windows 11 on Arm ran.
The answer is very well, particularly considering the absence of Intel hardware.
Parallels will cheerfully trot out stats claiming the startup time of Windows 11 is 33 per cent up on Windows 10 on Arm with a 20 per cent disk performance boost.
Our experience was that, subjectively, it was all simply a lot snappier. Native Windows on Arm apps flew along and even Intel apps behaved well. To torture the hardware, emulation and virtualization, we fired up Sea of Thieves and were delighted to find it vaguely playable on the M1 Mac (Parallels recommends a 16GB Mac for gaming, we only had 8GB) even if the results of the experiment won't cause our dedicated gaming rig any sleepless nights.
Although some of the benchmarks we ran might cause some tossing and turning for users of Microsoft's flagship Arm-based kit. Performance of the relatively weedy 8GB M1 Mac Mini was nearly double that of the Surface Pro X in single core, and a good 1.5x faster for multi core.
Parallels was a little coy on the subject. On M1, Windows is running a lot faster than on Windows-specific hardware.
As for the target market, Parallels told us that a significant portion of customers use the software to play Windows games on their Macs, and the new release shouldn't disappoint. For the majority who need it for that one weird app (apparently Excel), improvements in Coherence mode (where an app runs seamlessly on the Mac desktop rather than in a VM window) and other tweaks around functionality (such as drag and drop) will similarly be handy.
Away from Windows, Linux continues to be supported and audio and video improvements will please Penguinistas (although as with Windows, the user is limited to a subset of distributions when running on M1 hardware) and macOS Monterey is supported as both a host and guest operating system.
There is, however, a price to be paid. A new subscription will set a user back £69.99 per year, or a perpetual licence can be picked up for £79.99. On top of that, one must factor in the cost of Windows itself.
Still, as Apple works to update its hardware to use its own silicon, Parallels Desktop 17 (combined with Microsoft's own efforts to make Windows on Arm usable) represents an avenue to get that one old Windows app working on your shiny new Mac. ®
Updated to add at 15:29 UTC on 11 August:
Reader and developer Tero Alhonen got in touch and noted that while Microsoft recommends that "all virtualized instances of the Windows 11 follow the same minimum hardware requirements as described in Section 1.2, Windows 11 does not apply the hardware-compliance check for virtualized instances either during setup or upgrade."