For Mac users on a quest for the holy grail of just-like-the-real-thing PC emulation, the search is coming to an end. Connectix’s Virtual PC 5.0 — now Carbonized to run in either Mac OS X or Mac OS 9 — performs flawlessly; hosts almost all PC operating systems past and present, including Linux variants; and provides some improvements that can make using these guest operating systems with Virtual PC preferable to running them on their native platform.
Virtual PC’s target market is Mac users who need to use Windows-only productivity programs or Web-based applications that don’t work with Mac browsers, and the program meets this group’s needs extremely well. However, Virtual PC lacks support for accelerated 3-D graphics and is therefore not suited to running many games.
The Virtual PC 5.0 base application’s price depends on the version of Microsoft Windows that’s included. You can buy Virtual PC along with Windows 98 Second Edition, ME, or 2000 (an XP version should be available by the time you read this). You can also buy Virtual PC with PC-DOS alone if you already hold a license for a version of Windows or another OS. With the PC-DOS version, or one bundled with a version of Windows, all you need to do is follow Connectix’s simple instructions for adding guest operating systems.
Only the Best Will Do
The typical Virtual PC user has a PC at work and a Mac at home, or uses a Mac exclusively but needs to do something only a PC can do. We found that Virtual PC’s performance was comparable to our IBM ThinkPad’s and well suited for the everyday use of Windows programs, networking and Web-based applications, and services that work only on a PC.
For our tests, we installed Virtual PC with Windows 98 and Windows 2000 Professional on an 867MHz Power Mac G4 with 896MB of RAM, and on a 550MHz Titanium PowerBook G4 with 256MB of RAM. To compare performance, we used an IBM ThinkPad 600X, with a 500MHz Pentium III processor and 192MB of RAM, running Windows 2000 Professional.
You can run a single installation of Virtual PC in both OS X and OS 9, but you need to install it first in OS X and then follow the provided instructions before launching it in OS 9. With virtual memory turned off in OS 9, as Connectix recommends, Virtual PC performed marginally better than it did in OS X. Unlike some Virtual PC 5.0 users, we did not experience any aberrant behavior in either environment, and the program’s performance was comparable to that of the IBM ThinkPad.
Virtual PC’s memory management has become quite sophisticated, so you no longer have to allocate a lot of RAM to the application in OS 9. Virtual PC requires between 64MB and 256MB of physical RAM (depending on the guest operating system) and does not sup-port processor upgrade cards; Connectix recommends CPUs with clock speeds greater than 400MHz when the program is used with OS X.
To run multiple guest operating systems concurrently (a feature new in version 5.0), you need to make sure you have enough free memory to accommodate them all. Given the current low cost of memory, we would encourage Virtual PC users to load up on it, especially if they plan to run Windows 2000 or XP.
It Looks Like a PC
We installed and used several PC-only applications, including Microsoft Visio 2000 Enterprise Edition, Austin-Hayne’s Employee Appraiser, and WildPackets EtherPeek — a group representative of the applications that a Mac user might run in Virtual PC. We were impressed with the program’s usability, and with its ability to perform some very complex tasks with Visio, a program that can humble even a well-equipped PC.
We also tried running browser-based applications, including IBM’s iNotes and the Citrix ICA client, because these applications do not work properly (or at all) on any browser available for Mac OS. These apps worked without a hitch in Virtual PC. Finally, we tested network connectivity to printers, Windows “shares,” and a remote office network using Microsoft’s virtual private network (VPN) client — all of which went smoothly.
In some ways, running Virtual PC is better than using a real PC, as long as you’re not trying to play games. For example, the program can save the “state” of a guest PC, significantly reducing the time that relaunching a Virtual PC session takes. Undoable drives, another new Virtual PC feature, allows you to reverse any changes made to a Virtual PC volume — even after you’ve rebooted the guest PC. This feature is great for testing unstable applications, since you can reset your PC to a known working configuration. You can also dynamically change a session’s screen resolution simply by resizing the application win-dow. Show these features to PC users and watch them swoon with envy.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
With Virtual PC 5.0, PC emulation on the Mac has truly come of age. If you have a Mac with a fast processor and you need to run PC applications other than games, Virtual PC is an inexpensive and incredibly useful alternative to buying a PC (for $1,000 or more). The elegance and usability enhancements that Connectix provides to Mac users make Virtual PC 5.0 a pleasure to use.