If you’re a PC user and Apple’s recent ads have persuaded you to switch, but you still pine for some of the PC applications you left behind, Connectix’s recently updated Virtual PC 6 might give you the best of both worlds. The new release improves integration with OS X (especially with the Dock) and lets you mount drive images on the desktop, and the company claims that this version’s performance is 25 percent faster than Virtual PC 5.0’s (Reviews, April 2002). But before you rush out and buy this product (or upgrade to it), realize that you’re not getting a PC for $250 (or less). What you’re buying is software that allows you to run PC operating systems and applications on your Mac.
More Will Make You Merrier
PC-emulation packages have always been a demanding lot, and Virtual PC 6 is no exception. It will run in OS 9 on any G3 or better Mac; however, we chose to focus on OS X. The program requires a 500MHz G3 or G4 with 192MB of RAM and 1GB to 2GB of free disk space, and Connectix recommends that you use OS X 10.2.3. Our test platforms were an 867MHz Quicksilver G4 with 1GB of RAM and a 550MHz PowerBook G4 with 512MB of RAM. To verify the advertised performance improvements, we ran identical tests using Windows 2000 Professional installations for both Virtual PC 5.04 and 6 in OS X 10.2.3 on our test platforms.
To determine the usability of Virtual PC, we ran a number of applications, including ACT, a contact- and sales-management tool from Interact Commerce; AvantGo (with Palm HotSync Manager), a conduit for replicating Web-based content on Palm OS handhelds; and Microsoft Visio Enterprise, a technical-illustration package.
Despite Connectix’s claims, which were based mainly on benchmarking-software results, our tests showed that Virtual PC 6 performed only 5 to 10 percent faster on average than version 5.04. The desktop system outperformed the PowerBook by nearly a 2:1 margin in many of the tests, indicating that the size and presence of Level 2 and 3 cache (found in the CPUs of newer PowerBooks and desktop G4s, but not in iMacs) plays a big role in Virtual PC’s usability.
More Than Performance
Windows users are accustomed to launching applications from the Start menu in the taskbar — but with past versions of Virtual PC, they couldn’t see the taskbar unless the program was running. Virtual PC 6 puts a Start icon in the Dock that you can click on to bring up the Windows Start menu. Backing up Virtual PC drives used to be a headache, as you had to back up the entire drive image. With this version, you can perform incremental backups with a program such as Dantz’s Retrospect. USB printing is still problematic, because you can’t use the printer from both Windows and Mac applications simultaneously.
Macworld’s Buying Advice
If you upgrade in the hopes that your Mac will finally run Windows applications as fast as a PC, or because you’re unhappy with Virtual PC’s current performance on your Mac, you’re apt to be disappointed. This release is no watershed. But the integration with the OS X Dock and the desktop mounting of disk images are nice additions. And as was the case with Virtual PC 5.0, we found that version 6’s performance was perfectly acceptable on our Quicksilver G4; we’d recommend either version for the daily use of applications similar to those we used.