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Even the most fervent macOS users will probably run into a situation where they need to use an application or service that only runs on Windows. In the time since Apple began switching from Intel processors to Apple Silicon systems-on-a-chip, running Windows on a Mac has become more difficult. While this used to be officially supported via Boot Camp, a built-in tool that enabled dual booting macOS and Windows partitions on the same drive, this was removed on Apple Silicon Macs. Enter Parallels 19, a virtualization software that aims to run everything from Windows to Linux on your Mac in virtual machines.

Parallels is updated yearly, and each update is typically necessary to ensure compatibility with changes Apple makes to macOS. That's why each Parallels release lines up pretty close with a corresponding macOS release, like how Parallels 19 came out in August, when Apple's macOS Sonoma beta was well underway. Now that Apple has killed off Boot Camp in modern Macs, Parallels 19 has a lot to live up to. It doesn't have to just be a virtualization option for macOS, it has to be the best and only way to run Windows on Mac computers. Despite the high price point, Parallels 19 meets this standard. In many ways, it's better than Boot Camp ever was.

About this review: This review was written after testing Parallels 19 for Mac with a license provided by Parallels. The company did not have any input in this review and did not see its contents before publication.

Parallels Desktop
Best virtualization software for Mac

In many ways, it's better than Boot Camp ever was

9 / 10

Parallels Desktop 19 for Mac is a virtualization software that can create instances of macOS, Windows, and Linux. It does this all within your original macOS operating system, and is the only recognized way to get Windows on Apple Silicon machines. Parallels 19 brings key upgrades like a design overhaul and Touch ID support.

  • Can run macOS, Windows, and Linux virtual machines
  • Coherence mode can run Mac & Windows apps simultaneously
  • Added support for Touch ID and Mac input devices
  • Perpetual license and yearly subscription model is expensive
  • Virtual machines can be taxing for hardware

Pricing and availability

Alludo, the software company that has operated Parallels since 2018, released Parallels Desktop 19 on August 22, 2023. There are a few different ways to purchase a Parallels license, and it's fair to say the process could be simpler. The Standard Edition of Parallels 19 can be purchased for $130 for a perpetual license or a $100 per year subscription, and this edition is designed for casual users. There's also the Pro Edition, which is designed for power users and professional, and this version is only available as a $120 yearly subscription. There's also a Business Edition for enterprise application, and discounts for students, educators, military service members, government employees, and nonprofit deployments.

Standard Edition vs Pro Edition

Do you really need all that power?

A chart showing the feature breakdown between the Standard and Pro Editions of Parallels 19.
Source: Alludo

There are a few differences between the Standard and Pro editions, but the biggest ones are related to the way you can create and customize your virtual machines. With the Standard Edition, you're limited to just one virtual machine at a time. You can allocate up to 8GB of unified memory and up to four CPU cores to that virtual machine, but no more than that. That means the Standard Edition is likely the way to go for people who have low-end Apple Silicon Macs, like a MacBook Air, an M1 MacBook Pro, or an M1 or M2 Mac mini. Those systems don't have many more cores or additional unified memory to allocate to virtual machines, so you wouldn't be missing out by choosing the Standard Edition.

However, if you do have one of the best Apple Silicon Macs, you might get more by springing for the Pro Edition subscription. This would include the mid-tier M2 Pro Mac mini, high-end MacBook Pro, Mac Studio, and Apple Silicon Mac Pro. With the Pro Edition, you can take advantage of the extra power in these devices to allocate up to 128GB of memory and up to 32 CPU cores per virtual machines. This could come in handy, because the Pro Edition also allows you to run multiple virtual machines at once. For most people, the Standard Edition of Parallels 19 should be more than enough. People who need the advanced features of the Pro Edition should know immediately after looking over these differences.

Virtualization options

The Parallels website opened in Edge for Windows in macOS Sonoma.

Since Apple removed Boot Camp for use with Apple Silicon Macs, Parallels has become the default solution for bringing Windows to Mac computers in recent years. However, the software is much more robust than that, and can run virtual machines of macOS, Windows, and Linux. Some practical uses for this include running a macOS beta as a virtual machine instead of on your main disk volume. This version of Parallels also includes support for Rosetta 2, so ARM-based Linux distros can run x86 applications through Apple's transition layer.

In fact, one of my favorite things about Parallels is that it can run older versions of Mac OS X as a virtual machine. This is key when trying to use certain applications, opening files, or formatting drives. That's because Apple switched file systems, from Mac OS X Extended to the Apple File System (APFS), with the release of macOS Sierra. Some files and drives don't work properly between file systems, and the ability to run a VM of an older macOS version can be crucial if you're working with older files. However, it's important to note that Apple Silicon Macs can't run macOS versions that debuted pre-2020, so you'll need a Mac with an Intel processor to use this feature.

Windows 11

Coherence makes running Windows and macOS apps together seamless

The Windows 11 start menu overtop the macOS desktop.

The most common use case for Parallels 19 will be for running Windows 11 apps, and you'll be happy to know that it excels at this functionality. In fact, I'd say that using Windows apps with Parallels is a better experience than Boot Camp ever was on Intel Macs. I partitioned my 2019 MacBook Pro's drive years ago, creating both macOS and Windows 10 operating systems through Boot Camp. However, my experience was mediocre at best. With 512GB of available storage space — that wasn't user-upgradeable, because Apple — neither operating system had enough storage to run comfortably. Plus, you'd need to fully restart every time you wanted to change operating systems.

Using Parallels 19, on the other hand, makes you forget that you're using two operating systems at all. Let alone the fact that one of those operating systems is running through a virtual machine on an unsupported platform. Part of this is because Alludo has managed to get the ARM version of Windows, which individual consumers can't get directly from Microsoft. This means the entire operating system isn't running through Rosetta, and this makes a big difference in performance. Since Microsoft doesn't differentiate between x86 and ARM versions of Windows 11, any license you have will work to activate the ARM version of Windows 11 in Parallels 19.

A screenshot of Windows 11 and macOS apps running side-by-side in Coherence Mode.

There are two different ways you can run Windows 11 in Parallels 19. The first is like a typical virtual machine, where you have a windowed version of a Windows 11 desktop with all your apps running inside that space. However, the cooler version is through something Alludo calls Coherence Mode, which lets you run Windows and Mac apps side-by side. In the screenshot above, I have the Mac-exclusive photo editor Pixelmator Pro opened next to the Windows 11 version of Microsoft Edge. This is all running on top of the macOS desktop, and you can switch between Mac and Windows apps with ease.

So, how does this work? Essentially, when Coherence Mode is activated, the Windows 11 start menu is relegated to the Dock on macOS. When you need to launch a Windows app, you click the Start Menu option in the Dock and launch the application you want by searching for it. Then, whatever Windows 11 apps you choose to open will launch in their own windows as part of macOS. This is great for when you need to use Windows and Mac apps at the same time. It makes you forget you are using a virtual machine at all, and it's my preferred deployment of Parallels 19.

Can you game?

It depends, and it's not as simple as you might think

Downloading the Windows 11 version of Steam on my M2 MacBook Air.

macOS has fallen short when it comes to gaming support, and that's been well-documented over the years. That might be changing with Apple's new Game Porting Toolkit, but I wouldn't hold out hope. Parallels 19 might seem like a good way to get Windows games on your Mac, and it is in some cases. But you will run into compatibility and driver issues when trying to play certain games on a Mac, even while using a Windows 11 virtual machine. For example, Epic Games' proprietary Easy Anti-Cheat software isn't compatible with Parallels, so any game that requires this software to run won't work. This includes Fortnite, which Epic removed from macOS following a lawsuit with Apple.

There's also the issue of performance. Base-model Apple Silicon Macs have just enough power to run macOS thanks to Apple's impressive hardware and software optimization. The base-model M1 MacBook Air ships with just 8GB of unified memory, which is shared between the CPU and GPU cores within the M1 system-on-a-chip. Add a virtual machine into the mix, and it's easy to see how low-end Apple Silicon Macs can struggle in certain situations.

When completing basic tasks in Windows 11 and letting the VM idle, the Parallels 19 virtual machine sucked up a lot of CPU and RAM usage. This isn't the end of the world for typical productivity usage, since macOS tends to use as much memory as it can, and then reallocate when the system becomes strained. However, it's easy to see how gaming could throttle low-end and mid-tier Macs, so you probably shouldn't buy Parallels 19 as a solution to gaming on macOS.

What's new in version 19?

Bringing Touch ID support to Windows 11 VMs — kind of

Touch ID sign-in on Windows 11 via Parallels 19.

Parallels 19 brings a few changes that are designed to improve performance, like the aforementioned improved Linux support. There's also support for macOS Sonoma and the Internet Printing Protocol, which Apple is moving to with macOS 14. Performance is better due to support for OpenGL 4.1, and this allows for ArcGIS CityEngine 2023, Vectorworks Vision 2023, VariCAD, Deswik.CAD, and more to work within VMs.

However, there are also key quality-of-life features that will make using a Windows 11 virtual machine feel more natural within macOS. You can now use Touch ID to sign in to your Windows 11 user account, but there isn't full Windows Hello support. Instead, your user account credentials are stored in Apple's iCloud password keychain like any other website or account password. Though it isn't true Windows Hello, you won't know it because the experience is so seamless. Plus, your windowed resolution will finally adjust when windows are resized, and there's support for trackpad gestures too.

Should you buy Parallels 19?

The Windows 11 desktop in macOS.

You should buy Parallels Desktop 19 for Mac if:

  • You need to run Windows 11 on an Apple Silicon Mac
  • You want to create macOS, Windows, or Linux VMs
  • You're willing to pay for a yearly subscription or a perpetual license

You should NOT buy Parallels Desktop 19 for Mac if:

  • You have a low-end Mac and want to play Windows games
  • There are native macOS versions of the apps you need
  • The subscription prices are too high for your liking

Parallels Desktop 19 is firmly seated as the best way to run Windows 11 on Mac computers with Apple Silicon systems-on-a-chip. It's so good that it's easy to forget that you're running virtual machines at all, and you probably won't miss Boot Camp while you're using it. But some underpowered Macs might run into performance issues while running a virtual machine, and it isn't a bona-fide solution for gaming. Plus, due to the fact that Parallels typically needs yearly upgrades to work with new versions of macOS, it can be expensive to maintain. However, for professionals or enthusiasts who need the functionality provided by Parallels, it's definitely worth the investment.

Parallels Desktop
Best virtualization software for Mac

Parallels Desktop 19 for Mac is a virtualization software that can create instances of macOS, Windows, and Linux. It does this all within your original macOS operating system, and is the only recognized way to get Windows on Apple Silicon machines. Parallels 19 brings key upgrades like a design overhaul and Touch ID support.