Following on from my post regarding Steam Gaming on the 2015 Macbook Pro, there was a part of me jealous that I couldn’t play some of the older Windows games on Steam, that I had missed out on over the years. After a month of toying with Bootcamp options and even buying a cheap gaming Pc from Amazon. After weighing it all up I went for Parallels on Mac. http://www.parallels.com/
My reasons for this were quite simple, cost and space. Bootcamp would take up at least 80gb of my Mac HDD, that I could never get back. The cheapest gaming desktop PC I could find to perform at an adequate level was £400. I may have been aiming quite high but the ram in the Mac has got me so used to speed I cannot go back to anything less than 8gb. Running a virtual machine was the only choice left.
Luckily when I got my Mac last year I paid extra for the 16gb Ram. By Running Parallels, you are effectively creating a virtual machine inside your existing computer. I understood before I proceeded, that I wouldn’t be able to play the latest graphically taxing blockbuster, for me some simple strategy games were what was missing. In layman’s terms Parallels allows you to take your computer and virtually split it in half, allocating system resources to the virtual machine. In reality it allows me to have a semi decent 8gb Windows machine at my beck and call when needed.
To run this I would recommend having a Windows 10 licence and enough Ram that you are happy with being split in two. After this the process is surprisingly simple. You pay to take the trial version of Parallels desktop and it guides you through the rest. Obviously you can go into the nth degree with settings but a normal install has you up and running within the Windows ecosystem in less than 20 mins.
When you have the virtual machine working, the fun can truly begin. You see with Parallels the install size on my HD is 20gb. Bootcamp would have taken much more, rendering my machine useless for the Mac tasks it is needed for. With the Virtual machine I can increase and decrease the size of it on the fly in case I want to play a game that needs a larger install. I can also increase how much of the onboard GPU memory is used on the VM. If all this sounds as daunting to you as it did to me, you needn’t worry. There are many guides and FAQS on the software homepage. This is the 11th iteration of the software and it shows. There are a multitude of options and advice moving forward.
There were a few customisation issues for me. You are advised not to back up the machine using the Time Machine method within OSX. this can corrupt some windows settings, so luckily there is a simple checkbox to disable this. As an alternative you take a screenshot of the current state of the VM and can revert to this if you do something wrong. I optimised the VM for gaming, yet found that this made the mouse play up when on the Windows machine. It was erratic and over sensitive. It would scroll normally then bounce to the top or bottom of the screen, this in turn brought up the dock on the Mac or the menu at the top. Not ideal when you are being overrun by enemy forces. By unchecking the gaming optimization for the mouse, the problem was solved. This is the mantra by which the Parallels system works best. If something isn’t quite right, there seems to usually be a couple of options you can tweak to make it right.The default setting for the GPU is 512mb. I upped this to 1GB without any real effort and got a decent performance boost. As long as you leave enough graphical memory in the physical MAC, there should be no issues.
The game I used to test it was Dawn Of War 2. I had looked at this game for a while and been jealous that there was never a MAC version, despite excellent Mac Versions of Starcraft 2 and other more taxing games. When running it first the game auto-detected that I should be able to run it in max settings. Here is where I would issue a word of caution. Running a performance test on max settings meant the game had invisible characters. There must be something in the software that makes games think the virtual machine is stronger than it actually is. A small bit of tinkering, and playing with the in game settings and it runs like a dream. Just be careful what you expect this to do. There is little chance this is strong enough to run the latest console-quality games. This is for games that have a max graphics card need of 1gb and even then you will still need to check it supports the Intel Iris 6100.
Another benefit is the ability to use voice control. Until Apple build Siri into Macs, you can now minimize Windows and have Cortana running all the time. Other Windows apps work seamlessly as well. The XBOX companion app for Windows 10 loads quickly using the speed of the Mac and as there won’t be a native streaming Xbox app for OSX it is the only solution
So now with the outlay of £65 I have scratched the itch of missing out on some great strategy games like the Dawn Of War, Command and Conquer and the Supreme Commander series. I can also remote play my XBOX one using Parallels and Windows 10. It does have some issues and will not be for serious power gamers, but for people annoyed at no Mac versions of classic games, it is the most sensible option. As I get more used to the interface , I will update the article but for now Parallels 11 for OSX does everything it claims.