MacBook Pro Performance running Parallels

Or VirtualBox, and probably VMWare too.

Its been some months now since I made the switch from PC to Mac, using OSX Snow Leopard. Initially I was really pleased with the performance of the MBP, it was considerably quicker on lesser hardware than Vista had ever been. But there was a niggling slowdown on occasions.

It’s fair to say that I am a pretty heavy power user, I run Eclipse for web development work, and Firefox with various plugins, along with the real power hungry VirtualBox (and lately Parallels) for checking websites in Internet Explorer. The MBP runs quite nicely until I fire up VirtualBox. Then it gets dragged down and just generally feels like syrup on a cold morning, which can be frustrating because if you’re running a bunch of programs and suddenly want to find o2 Mobile Phones via Google or just run an antivirus check, watching the machine tank is pretty irritating. The odd thing is, the CPU was definitely not the problem because it never ran below about 85% idle, unless I was doing something heavy in the virtual machine but then it didn’t really matter because you’d expect that. I thought that perhaps having the 5400RPM drive in the machine might have been a mistake.

It certainly seemed that it was generally disk based activity that was really grinding the machine down. Safari was an oddball in the mix. It would often SBBOD and occasionally I saw weird graphical artifacts, particularly when first opening a new tab. Checking the disk usage I could see that it was getting used quite heavily, but that was mostly because the machine had nearly 2Gigs of RAM swapped out. On a 4Gig machine that means that I’m effectively using nearly 6 Gigs of RAM, which seems unlikely. It is of course OSX not Vista, so it shouldn’t really use that much! I’ve set the virtual machine to use 1Gig of RAM so that leaves 5G for the rest. Eclipse can be a beast, but it’s not that big of a beast.

Then I went to the Energy Preferences panel of Snow Leopard and made a tweak. I changed the graphics settings from ‘Better Battery Life’ to ‘Higher Performance’, which basically boils down to switching out the on board 9400M for the more powerful 9600GT big brother.

I’d expect graphics intensive applications to respond better with the 9600GT in place – but I don’t use all that many (occasionally PhotoShop comes out to play, but not often). Eve Online of course responds significantly better on the 9600GT, I’d already tried that some months ago. But what I didn’t bank on was how much better the whole system responds when you’re running Parallels or VirtualBox. It seems that the 9600GT allows much better virtualisation for some reason.

But the whole other issue that is totally obscure, and I really don’t understand why – so if you have an idea please leave a comment below – is that now, with all the same apps open, I have 300Meg of swap used. Not the 2Gigs I previously had. Needless to say, since there’s nowhere near as much swapped out, the whole system is responding much better. By a very long way. It’s like I’ve turned the MBP into a desktop machine.

The only downer is that the battery doesn’t seem to last as long – but that’s expected too. Having said that if the machine is more useable for the time it is alive then you can probably be more productive and get just as much done 🙂

Author: Steve Brown

Steve is a paramedic in Victoria, Australia who is also an ex-IT Consultant and currently uses all manner of MacOS software in his everyday life. So he usually tends to write about his experiences with that. But sometimes he'll write about medical, political or other stuff that might (or might not!) be of interest

4 thoughts on “MacBook Pro Performance running Parallels”

  1. I had a similar problem with Parallels and Snow Leopard. I had 4GB RAM in the MBP, but things seemed to actually run slower with Parallels running. It turned out to be a memory allocation issue within Parallels.

  2. This is a problem that DTrace is tailored for solving. Read more about DTrace, you will find your problem quite fast. Several Firefox developers have recently switched OS to OpenSolaris to get DTrace. It is actually unique. Seriously, it is.

  3. i thought to download virtual parallels in my macbook pro and been hunting for some existing users review. your article gave me a better idea to choose the best one from the top 3 virtualization softwares.

    Thanks

    Robin.

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