VMware Fusion vs Boot Camp | Unibody MacBook | Windows Experience Index

Yesterday I decided to give VMware Fusion a try on my 13″ Unibody MacBook.  Running Windows, however painful, is still important for me because I’m a software developer mainly for Microsoft technologies – I’d like to be able to be able to program in .NET 3.5 and Silverlight using Visual Studio 2008…

I didn’t want to hassle with trying to reinstall Windows since I just went through this exercise about two weeks ago when I set up Boot Camp.  Luckily, VMware lets you run your Windows installation right off the Boot Camp drive.  This is great for two reasons: 1) You don’t have to reinstall Windows if you’ve already set up Boot Camp, and 2) You can run Windows natively (using Boot Camp) whenever you need to.

WEI through VMware

WEI through VMware

The first thing I was interested in was the performance of Windows running on a Virtual Machine.  Once I got everything set I started by updating the Windows Experience Index (seen on the left).

Unibody Macbook Scores

WEI through Boot Camp

Okay, you’re going to have to ignore the blatant difference in the overall experience score. The Windows Experience Index determines the overall score based on the lowest sub-score, so this number isn’t everything. Looking closely we can see that the scores are only drastically different in the graphics department. Looks like you’re not going to be able to play any games through VMware – darn. Besides the graphics scores, the performance is arguably similar.  While the degradation in performance is noticeable, I still find it similar enough to justify running VMware given the fact that I don’t have to restart my machine every time I want to switch operating systems, and I don’t have to give up the great pieces of the Mac OS (basically the whole thing).  For running Visual Studio or any other non-graphical business application these numbers are fine – and you get the best of both worlds.

Another great feature about VMware Fusion is the Unity feature.  Pressing the Unity button will integrate the Windows environment into the Mac OS in a near seamless fashion.  Check out the video below.

Once in unity mode, you lose the Windows desktop and the start button, and the programs appear to run “natively” inside the Mac OS. As you can see from the video they’ve actually done a really good job integrating the different open windows into the dock. In order to run new applications from Windows all you have to do is click on VMware Fusion in the dock, and then select Applications from the menu at the top of the screen. This is your entry point to run Windows applications.

Running Windows applications from VMware Fusion

Running Windows applications from VMware Fusion

Overall my experience with VMware Fusion has been a positive one. The slight decrease in performance is justifiable for my purpose. I can run Visual Studio 2008 while still keeping myself feeling right at home in the Mac OS.

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  1. Posted December 4, 2008 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Hi Devin,

    Thanks very much for posting this; If you have a second for a question or two, I’d be much obliged. I run xp under parallels 3 on a black macbook (core 2 duo/2GB memory, of which 500MB for XP), and it’s not very zippy.

    I am looking into setting myself up almost exactly the same way, with: a new machine, fusion, Visual Studio 2008 and XP. Games don’t matter to me; I won’t be editing photos or video, but I’ll be running XP and VS.NET 100% of the time.

    1. Do you wish you had more firepower, like the dedicated GPU, faster bus/hard drive on the macbook pro, or are you comfortable with the macbook?

    2. How much HD space/memory are you allocating to Fusion?



  2. Posted December 4, 2008 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Hi Jamie,

    My machines:

    17″ MacBoook Pro, 4GB RAM, 2.6Ghz Core 2 Duo, 256 MB dedicated Nvidia card.

    13″ Unibody MacBook, 4GB RAM, 2.4 Ghz Core 2 Duo, Nvidia integrated graphics

    I compared them here: http://devinsblog.com/2008/11/13/unibody-macbook-vs-macbook-pro-windows-experience-index/

    I find that the MacBook is great for me – easily portable and very speedy. The graphics card really pulls its weight as well. I’d say that Apple’s rating of the graphics card being 80% as powerful as the MacBook Pro is fairly accurate. If you’re not playing games on your MacBook you’ll be more than fine with the GPU they provided (I’ve played call of duty on it and been fairly impressed).

    I think that you would be satisfied running Fusion, XP and Visual Studio on a MacBook. Here are my cautions though: It IS going to be noticeably slower than running Windows through Boot Camp, especially during loading processes (loading Windows, loading Visual Studio). However, I doubt that it would be noticeably slower than running Fusion on the MacBook Pro. Compiling applications, debugging them, etc, has been a very positive experience on the MacBook and there aren’t any noticeable performance drops there.

    The biggest issue for me with the MacBook is that when I’m not at work or home where I can plug into an external monitor, the 13″ screen is just not very conducive to development. I’m a software developer and I run VS2008 100% of the time on my MacBook Pro (through Boot Camp), and moving my development environment to a 13″ screen is madness.

    I’m running Fusion off of my Boot Camp partition with 80Gb HD space and 1Gb of RAM. Also note that I have been running Vista, which is much more of a resource hog than XP. You would likely see a noticeable performance increase compared to my setup. Running Fusion all day long has not been a problem either. It hasn’t affected my Mac OS performance at all.

    My personal preference – IF you have an external screen, buy the MacBook, you won’t have any regrets on the performance for software development.

  3. Posted December 4, 2008 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi Devin,

    Thanks very much for your prompt, expert assistance. You’ve helped me immensely.

    Got a tip jar/wishlist?



  4. Posted December 4, 2008 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    You are very welcome. I’m glad I could be of some help! I don’t have a tip jar or anything – consider it on the house.

  5. Sally Lam
    Posted March 12, 2009 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    This is great info. I just bought the 13″ macbook and was struggling with the decision of using Bootcamp vs Fusion/Parallels. I’m also a developer using VS2008 and heard about the performance hit. Now I just need to get that 24″ cinema display! 🙂

One Trackback

  1. By VMware 2.0 vs. Parallels 4 | devinsblog on December 3, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    […] an update to my earlier post about VMware vs. Boot Camp, I’m now adding Parallels to the mix.  I used the same Boot Camp […]

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