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Summary:

For 90 percent of my daily toil, OS X is the best platform for me. I use it during my day job, freelance writing, school, graphic design, and the usual goofing off everyone does. However, there is one glaring desire missing: I play Massively Multiplayer Online Games […]

For 90 percent of my daily toil, OS X is the best platform for me. I use it during my day job, freelance writing, school, graphic design, and the usual goofing off everyone does. However, there is one glaring desire missing: I play Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOs), and the Mac-native offerings are slim. I’ve had to result to running games in emulators, virtual disks, and Boot Camp partitions, and after running some numbers I thought I’d share my findings with you.

The Games

I play the following MMOs: World of Warcraft, EverQuest 1 and 2, Warhammer Online, Lord of the Rings Online, and Dungeons and Dragons Online. Of these, only WoW and Warhammer have native clients. Which means I’m forced to use some sort of emulation to play them. A commenter  on Liam’s Windows 7 piece said, “You bought an Apple computer so use the Apple software. If you want it so bad go buy a PC.” For me, Apple and OS X are fantastic for my productivity needs, but when it comes to gaming, sadly, it’s still a Windows world.

The Emulators

Fortunately, all is not lost. Once Apple went to Intel chips, running Windows in some sort of emulation became possible. For a gamer like myself, it became a saving grace that let me enjoy OS X for my daily usage, but lets me have my games and play them, too. For the purposes of testing, I played games in the following programs:

  • CrossOver Games 8.1.3. CrossOver is a Wine-based emulator, so you’re not actually running any Windows code; it’s all handled via the app.
  • Parallels Desktop 4 version 4.0.3848 with a Windows 7 virtual,
  • Windows 7 running in Boot Camp on OS 10.6.2. Unfortunately, Parallels can only access a Boot Camp partition officially supported by Apple, so I was unable to test Parallels directly accessing Boot Camp.

These were all tested on a 2.26 GHz 13″ MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and at native 1280×800 resolution.

The Results

Costs
For Boot Camp, Windows 7 Home Professional is $199.99. CrossOver Games is $39.99.  Parallels is easily the most expensive. Windows 7 Home Professional is $199.99 and Parallels is $79.99.

Setting Things Up

Boot Camp: This is the easy one. Since Boot Coomp runs Windows natively, installing all the games tested was very easy — albeit time consuming since they each had to be downloaded off the net.

Parallels: Again, very straight forward. The process takes a little longer since it’s running in a virtual environment, and Parallels needs to install the Parallels Tools after the setup. I had no issues installing the games. Really, for all intents and purposes Parallels is just like running Windows.

CrossOver: Well, the install is quick — you just install CrossOver like any OS X program. Getting the games to run…well, that’s a different story. While there’s a decent compatibility listing on Codeweaver’s site, since CrossOver is a Wine emulator results are very mixed. If an app has a Gold rating from Codeweaver, it’ll install and run well. Unfortunately, none of the games I tested received Gold ratings so installation was challenging. With DDO and Lord of the Rings, the actual installer won’t work; you’ll have to download the full client off a third-party site. After that, a program called Pylotro is required to launch the game — it’s a custom front end someone wrote to handle the launcher duties. There’s no guarantee an installed game will keep working, either; a previously working EQ2 broke in a patch of CrossOver.

Load Times

Frankly, the load times were the biggest source of agony during my tests. Not because of the load times, but because the results were hard to sort out because of a lot of variables. Every game is an online-based game, so, to get my character in the game I had to pass an authentication server, several load screens and a character select. Therefore, Internet latency and a whole host of issues come to play.

Here’s how I got the numbers. I loaded all the games and timed from when I started and stopped when I was able to control my character in-world. With Parallels and Boot Camp I also added the boot times of the required OS to the chart. I did this three times and averaged the results.

I did notice an odd thing in Parallels: if I rebooted my Mac, the load times for both the OS and the game were significantly longer. However, after further testing I noticed that if I loaded Parallels/Windows 7 and immediately launched a game, the load results were almost double the value above. If I let the OS “sit” for a few, the load times were normal. Rather than report those numbers, I’ll just say this: a watched OS never loads — go get your beverage and snacks while Parallels loads and by the time you’re done the game will load faster.

In-Game Performance

Boot Camp: Unsurprisingly, the performance here was the best. At high I was getting around 40 FPS, and the game just flew. No issues.

Parallels: I’m actually amazed gaming performance under Parallels was decent. With graphics settings on High (but shadows turned off) I was getting around 20 FPS average. Turning down options like view distances got the FPS closer to 30. I noticed no major issues outside of a slight stutter when loading a crowded area. Both windowed mode and full-screen worked fine. As an added bonus, you can set Parallels to share your OS X and Windows home directories, so any screenshots I took went right into my OS X Documents folder for easy viewing.

CrossOver: The performance was about half-way between Parallels and Boot Camp. I was getting just over 30 FPS in the games. There were, however, some significant trade-offs. Neither DDO or LotRO handle windowed mode well — once the window loses focus, you can’t click inside the window when you get back to it. Also, there’s a big issue with LotRO where the screen will go black forcing a reboot. I was able to get around both issues by forcing the virtual to run in a window. The game would think it’s full screen, but the OS treated it as a window. This way I could have access to Skype and if LotRO crashed it didn’t take the entire OS down with it. As I mentioned earlier, a previously working EverQuest 2 install broke with a recent patch release of CrossOver.

Conclusions

I used to be a huge fan of CrossOver due to its overall speed and low footprint. However, I’ve had enough and will be deleting the files. The final straw was EverQuest 2 breaking. While it’s cheap, getting a lot of games running is a gigantic hassle and there’s no guarantee they’ll keep working. As an aside, the community on the official forums is very helpful, and just about every issue someone’s had is at least addressed, even if there’s no solution.

For now, I’m running my games in Parallels. While the performance isn’t as great as in Boot Camp, the convenience of not needing to reboot is a big bonus for me. Often, I’ll game when taking a break from a project and I’d like to not have to reboot. As an added bonus, it’s very easy to resize the virtual disk in Parallels. It took less than 5 minutes to add another 32GB to the virtual disk (in Boot Camp, I’d have to repartition and reformat). I’m really surprised at how well these games ran in Parallels. Version 5 claims to add better support for Shader Model 3, so I’m planning on upgrading.

I’m not deleting the Boot Camp partition, though. Once Apple releases official support for Windows 7, I plan on re-paritioning it to a 100GB partition and have Parallels access that directly. That’ll cover me for the best of both worlds: for every day gaming, I can load Parallels, but if I need it, I can reboot and use the same install files in Boot Camp.

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  1. Was VMware Fusion left off this comparison for any particular reason? Wondering how it stacks up…?

    1. I didn’t have a license and my trial had expired.

    2. Also, I’m going to be upgrading to Parallels 5 soon, and if I can get the trial to reload, or if they’re still doing “Switch from Parallels to Fusion” I might do a head to head comparison then.

  2. Thanks for this article: I found it very interesting. I’m on a mid-07 MacBook Pro (2.4GHz C2D, 256MB 8600M GT, 2GB 667Mhz DDR2) and play EQ2 in boot camp on XP, getting around 30fps normally and 10-20fps raiding. I have to say, I am uber impressed that a 13″ MBP plays it! Is that the 9400M graphics you’re on?

    Can you confirm your fps for EQ2 in boot camp and Parallels (amazed Parallels runs it as well — I tried once in VMWare but lots of graphics screwed up in places)?

    1. Bleh sorry for the stupidity, I see them now. Still amazed the 13″ on 9400M gets that … I may have to think about upgrading my MBP to the new 15″ as I’ll likely get a decent boost on the 9600M.

    2. The one thing I noticed (and forgot to mention) was in parallels, I had to set a pixel shader distance to -1 in game to get the water to show up in EQ2. But other than that I was very surprised how well EQ2 ran.

  3. Flowsion Shekar Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    I’m not sure how Crossover is the cheapest? You still need to install Windows, no?

    1. Nope. It uses the Wine Emulator as its back end.

  4. Interesting comment regarding Parallels 5:

    “I’m not deleting the Boot Camp partition, though. Once Apple releases official support for Windows 7, I plan on re-paritioning it to a 100GB partition and have Parallels access that directly.”

    It’s too bad that the current build of Parallels 5 cannot read Boot Camp partitions. This is the singular reason I’m using VMWare Fusion.

    http://forum.parallels.com/showthread.php?t=96134

  5. I’m still waiting for Parallels or VMWare to add VT-d support. Parallels showed it off at WWDC 09, but it didn’t make it into version 5.

    Basically it’s a hardware virtualization extension to allow the VM direct access to hardware. I’m not sure if both guest and host OS could share one GPU, but it could possibly mean Mac Pro owners can slap in 2 GPUs and have full acceleration in Windows when running as a VM, and possibly allow both the 9400 and 9600 in the MacBook Pros to be used.

  6. I am wondering why you didn’t try VirtualBox, an alternative to Parallels and VMware Fusion, freeware from Sun?

  7. I’m sorry, but this is just a big pet peeve of mine. Wine (and Crossover in turn) is NOT an emulator. That’s where its name even came from: [W]ine [I]s [N]ot an [E]mulator. See http://www.winehq.org/myths#slow

    Wine is a recreation of the core Windows libraries that talks to your real hardware, so any slowness vs running it in native Windows is due to certain wine libraries being incomplete or not optimized as their Microsoft version — whereas slowness in Parallels comes from having an extra layer of translation (virtual hardware talking to real hardware).

    In Crossover: Game -> Wine -> Real Hardware
    In Parallels: Game -> Windows -> Virtual Hardware -> Real Hardware

    See the difference?

  8. I’m sorry but this is just a big pet peeve of mine. Wine (and Crossover in turn) is NOT an emulator. That’s where its name even came from: [W]ine [I]s [N]ot an [E]mulator. See http://www.winehq.org/myths#slow

    Wine is a recreation of the core Windows libraries that talks to your real hardware, so any slowness vs running it in native Windows is due to certain wine libraries being incomplete or not optimized as their Microsoft version — whereas slowness in Parallels comes from having an extra layer of translation (virtual hardware talking to real hardware).

    In Crossover: Game -> Wine -> Real Hardware
    In Parallels: Game -> Windows -> Virtual Hardware -> Real Hardware

    See the difference?

  9. With crossover you should just use full screen mode, but window the x11 window. You can do this by going to Configure->Control Panel->winecfg->Graphics
    -check Allow DirectX apps to stop the mouse…
    -unckeck the middle two. This is more efficient use of screen space
    -check Emulate a virtual desktop and select the size. I use 1024×768, but you need to remove the window bar with the other setting for this to fit in a 1280×800 screen.

    You can manage the settings for each individual app, but this is a bit tricky, as you need to pick the correct executable.

    Different games have different problems, so using these settings can actually work out better or worse. Some games dont run in full screen, but do run in the emulated desktop. Im not sure why though…

    1. yeah, that’s what I’m doing. It probably wasn’t made clear.

  10. Mark, I am not sure if you still follow this blog post, but i want to play LORTO on my mac book, so i am debating weather to get parallels or use boot camp.
    Parallels seems more convenient especially since i am in school and need my OSX more often.

    Would you suggest one over the other?
    (i am not too worried about graphics or FPS since WOW runs fine on my 07 Macbook)

    Also i have heard that Wine no longer supports LOTRO, is this true? I am hesitant to use this software since i am pretty computer illiterate.

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