Bootcamp? Parallels? Fusion Vmware?

Just inherited my brother’s old MacBook Pro. I’d like to run a couple of PC programs on it, but wanted recommendations on the most efficient way to do this. My nephew also wants to be able to play a few PC games on the machine.

So, what’s our best option?

Only just started researching this. Figured more than a few people around here would know about this.

Thanks in advance!

Bootcamp is free, but it requires you to reboot to switch OSs, which is a giant pain.
I use Parallels, and it works very well for me.

If you don’t want to spend any money, you can try VirtualBox, which is not nearly as polished as Parallels or Fusion, but works OK.

It depends a lot on the video requirements of the games. If they need anything past about DirectX 8, you’ll need to use Bootcamp.

One thing to keep in mind is that unlike the others, Bootcamp is not a virtual machine. You’ll be running Windows directly on the hardware, with access to all your physical memory. With some games it can mean the difference between working well and working poorly (or not at all).

Also some people seem to be surprised that whichever way to go you need a (preferably legal, which is not free) copy of Windows.

There’s also CrossOver, which works with specific games using the WINE compatibility layer. The benefit is that it’s a lot easier to use and doesn’t require Windows. Downside is that it works with fewer games (check their list).

Good point about the need to get Windows. I had that figured out, but it’s something that’s not clearly mentioned when you read comparisons of the products.

We looked at Crossover, but the list of games wasn’t long enough for my nephew. He’s got some specific games on Steam that he’s interested in and almost none of them are available using Wine/Crossover.

Hadn’t thought about the difference between the virtual and physical machine. I’ll send him off to research video requirements. I don’t think rebooting will be a big deal to him; he’ll be playing long enough that it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I’d welcome any other advice.

Thanks to those of you who have responded so far.

I’m a happy VirtualBox user.

I used Parallels for several years, and it does have a little bit more polish than VirtualBox, but the latter runs quite nicely and has a better price (free).

I gave up on Parallels because they were incrementing their major versions a bit to frequently for my taste. With each major version there were New and Amazing Features that you need to upgrade to get. Basically, I felt that it was sometimes just a money grab. In addition, they were spamming me with marketing emails even though I went through the “unsubscribe” process dozens of times. Two strikes.

I decided to look at VirtualBox, expecting it to be some clumsy command line implementation with difficult configuration; after all, Parallels is expensive and VB is free. I was pleasantly surprised that VB is almost as good as Parallels, at least as far as the light computing I do in Windows VMs (Office apps, Photoshop, videos, but no gaming).

I run an XP VM and a Win7 VM, with the occasional Ubuntu VM when I’m testing some Unix stuff.

Note that the comments regarding Bootcamp running on the hardware vs. VMs running on virtual hardware might make one think anything but Bootcamp would have terrible performance: I originally thought that tools like Parallels were interpreting instructions and thus would be clunky and slow; this is not the case. Parallels and its brethren use hardware level virtualization features that allow the machine instructions to run directly on the CPU. In a multi-core machine you can designate how many cores run your VM. These VM products are pretty darned fast.

I’ve used both Parallels and Fusion and have been satisfied with both, but I haven’t used them for anything too demanding, like games. (Mainly, I need to run some applications at work that run only on Windows.)

One thing, though, if you go this route: Make sure you have as much memory in the machine as possible. Running both OS X and Windows simultaneously can slow both way down otherwise. I would say that this approach is only usable with at least 8GB of RAM.

Thanks for the helpful information. I’m starting to think we might try Bootcamp first and see what happens.

Any tips on good sites or videos or other references for setting up Windows with Bootcamp?

Oh, another thing about Bootcamp:

If you decide to try Parallels, you can set up a virtual machine that uses your Bootcamp partition.

For a start, neither it nor any of the other options discussed here come with Windows itself - you need to buy that yourself. I’d recommend Win7 64bit.

That aside, a default Windows installation will be fine. You want at least 2gb probably 4gb of memory for Win7 itself.

IIRC, Apple provides Windows drivers for all its hardware, to use in Windows in Bootcamp.

I have VMWare Fusion. VMWare provides drivers for their virtual hardware as part of a package called “VMWare Tools”, which also supports things like having Windows applications open on the OS X desktop, and having the Windows desktop open in an OS X window, and being able to drag files from one to the other.

I installed Bootcamp and Windows 7 last week on my MacBook Pro. It’s quite easy. In the Utilities folder start the Bootcamp Assistant. It shows 3 options. The first is to create a bootable USB Windows installation from an ISO file, the next is to download the Apple-specific (Bootcamp) drivers to a USB drive, the last is to create the partition for Windows of a size you choose. Reboot then you install Windows as usual. Once Windows is installed, run the install file on the Bootcamp drivers USB drive to install the machine-specific drivers. Done!

Some notes: I’d already created a bootable Windows install USB drive prior to this process so I skipped the first option above. The Assistant will format the USB drive before downloading the Bootcamp drivers. Before the machine reboots after creating the Windows partition, be sure your Windows install USB is plugged in. To boot from it, hold the Option key while the machine boots then choose the Windows install USB. Windows will install as on any PC-compatible machine.

I use VirtualBox on Linux, and always find it fine.

However one must also download the latest VB extension pack from the Oracle site — then you just click it to add it — and each guest system needs it’s own Guest Additions added: they come with the VB package.
For linux it’s best to ignore those in the distro’s repositories and just add the official Oracle repository.