Parallels Desktop for Mac doesn't just let you run Windows on your Mac, it gives it the latest Mac features. By combining the key improvements of both operating systems, and then adding some special extra tools, you don't just get the best of both worlds, you get a seamless crossover that's better all round. You can also run earlier versions of Windows and macOS, your favourite Linux flavours, and try out the latest macOS Catalina, all without compromising your existing Mac setup.
Sidecar second screen
Parallels 15 incorporates the latest key features of the new macOS 10.15 (Catalina). Arguably one of the most useful features is Sidecar, which lets you use an iPad as a second screen and use Apple Pencil With Windows apps.
This means you can use your iPad as if it's a Surface Pro with Windows in tablet mode. And it works fine over Wi-Fi – no cable connection needed, if you have the right hardware.
Yes, you can now play Xbox games on your Mac
There's also support for Windows Bluetooth-based accessories, including support for Xbox controllers. Yes, you can now play Xbox games on your Mac.
Parallels has tested various Xbox games on the Mac using an Xbox controller, including top titles Halo Wars and The Turing Test. The Bluetooth support also extends to other Windows devices including Logitech Craft keyboard, IRISPen, Android phone and more.
This year also brings a significant performance boost, thanks to support for Apple's Metal graphics engine. Parallels worked with Apple to get Windows Direct X 11 support (also DirectX 9 and DirectX 10) via Metal, for an 80% boost in launch speed of windows apps such as Microsoft Office.
There's also up to 15% faster 3D graphics performance, so you can run heavyweight Windows apps and games including Autodesk 3ds Max 2020, Autodesk Revit 2020, Lumion, FIFA 19, Age of Empires (even the Definitive Edition), and Fallout 4, to name a few.
Note: You'll need macOS Catalina for best performance, and in some cases it may be required.
Parallels Toolbox now has 40 Mac tools
Parallels Toolbox has 40 Mac tools, including four new for Mac and three new for Windows. Toolbox, which is bundled with Parallels 15 and also available separately, collects together a bundle of time-saving utilities you won't want to be without.
Toolbox shortcuts make you an instant expert
Tools let you record screens, download files, make GIFs, delete duplicate files and much more. It can be a real timesaver for tasks you do frequently. You can do most of these things manually, if you know how and have the right tools, but the Toolbox shortcuts make you an instant expert. And it's this convenience that will keep you coming back to it, even when you're not actively running Parallels.
Little improvements to everyday tasks make all the difference long-term. For example, if you prefer to use the default Windows email app (Outlook or Windows Mail) you can do so directly from macOS using the ubiquitous Share Tool.
There's also Apple's new single sign-in (SSO) feature called Sign in with Apple, as one of several sign-in options, and you can drag and drop images directly to Windows apps directly from macOS screenshot previews, Safari and Photos.
Use your default Windows email app directly from macOS
If you want to keep Mac and Windows separately you can do so, or integrate them with Coherence Mode which combines them so seamlessly that you don't have to worry about which OS an app is using, it just runs.
Easy way to Windows
If you have Windows 7, a Wizard will help you upgrade to Windows 10 and you can also buy and install Windows 10 directly from within Parallels. Likewise with a wide variety of Linux distributions.
CHOICE tip: If you're not a Parallels expert, for best performance leave it configured at the default settings it sets up at installation and see how it goes. It picks the best RAM settings based on your hardware and balancing the needs of both Windows and Mac.
The big question always asked of a virtualisation is how fast is running Windows via Parallels compared to running Windows natively on Mac hardware (e.g. via Boot Camp)? The official Parallels answer is "measurable, but not noticeable". But if you want the best results you should be using an SSD (solid-state drive) – and plenty of RAM.
Each operating system under Parallels runs in a self-contained virtual machine (VM). The good news is that if you don't have a large enough SSD in your laptop, you can run all your VMs from an a portable SSD with USB connection. And with SSD prices falling, go for a decent size – say 1TB (terabytes) or even 2TB and you can fill it up with as many versions of macOS, Windows and Linux as you like.
How many VMs you can run at the same time is more dependent on your RAM, so if you can add more memory to your machine or you're looking to buy a new computer to run Parallels, go for 16GB (gigabytes) of RAM or more.
Keep Mac compatibility
Parallels can be a good idea even if you don't want to run Windows or Linux. If you're on the fence about moving to macOS Catalina because it no longer supports 32-bit applications, Parallels may be the answer. Catalina is full 64-bit all the way, which means older programs with 32-bit code simply won't work. This could include some of your long-time favourite programs. If the developers have not yet updated the program to 64-bit pure, they won't run under Apple's latest OS.
To get around this, install and run macOS 10.4 (Mojave) in a Parallels VM and you can access your old programs indefinitely. Alternatively, keep Mojave going and install Catalina in a Parallels VM and try it out till all your programs are 64-bit Catalina ready.
There are a couple of free options for running Windows on a Mac, such as using the Mac's built-in Boot Camp installer, or using the free Oracle Virtual Box. Otherwise you could use the standard or pro versions of VMware Fusion, now at version 11.5, for $119 or $238 respectively.
But for non-technical users, in particular, who simply want to use both Windows and Mac environments, Parallels shouldn't be overlooked. Whether running Windows in a separate window or screen on your Mac, or seamlessly integrated via Coherence mode, Parallels is a highly polished and super-convenient solution.