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Anyone who runs PC software on a Mac craves a faster emulator, and the completely rewritten Virtual PC 4, from Connectix, is up to three times as fast as previous versions. Although still not as speedy as a new PC, it's the emulator's most significant and innovative upgrade ever.
The most striking new feature of Virtual PC 4 is its ability to simultaneously run multiple copies of Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, and 2000 and Red Hat Linux. When you launch Virtual PC, a window displays the operating systems you have installed and tells you whether they're running; you can change the settings for each OS, launch them, or switch to them.
Virtual PC's new memory model quadruples the 128MB RAM limit for Windows or Linux to 512MB per OS. You now set RAM amounts for each OS in its Settings menu rather than in the Get Info box. Virtual PC is unlike most Mac applications in that the maximum RAM allocation grows and shrinks as needed. We ran into trouble with this feature in a 128MB Mac when Windows Media Player asked for too much RAM: Virtual PC took all the available RAM and froze.
Drive images can also be larger than in other emulators-as large as 127GB. And because the C-drive image file takes only as much space as it needs, a 10GB disk image containing 1GB of data takes up only 1GB on your hard drive.
We used Ziff-Davis Media's WinBench 99 1.2 to test Virtual PC 4 running Windows 98 SE on a 350MHz Power Mac G4 with 384MB of RAM and an AGP slot. Although Virtual PC 4 was slower in a few of the tests than version 3, it was 20 percent to 50 percent faster in most of the tests. It was more than twice as fast as its predecessor in many tests, and more than three times as fast in others. Oddly, Virtual PC 4 ran slightly slower when we increased Windows' RAM allocation from 64MB to 128MB.
Virtual PC 4's compatibility with Windows business software also seems improved; in our tests, it ran some PC software incompatible with Virtual PC 3. It also ran more of the WinBench tests than version 3. But fewer DOS games run under version 4 than under version 3, because Virtual PC no longer supports hardware-accelerated 3-D video.Keep Your Systems in Order: You can use Virtual PC 4's new List window to manage multiple copies of Windows and Linux.