Virtual PC 6.1.1 for Mac, by Mircosoft
Posted: 28-Mar-2004

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Microsoft Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: David Arnold Class: PRODUCTIVITY

Overview
Virtual PC is an Intel-compatible computer emulator that allows the installation and operation of any Intel compatible operating system. This would include Linux or any of the Microsoft operating systems (DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, through Windows XP).

From Microsoft:

With Virtual PC for Mac, you can run PC programs, access PC networks and share PC files-without ever leaving your Mac. Virtual PC for Mac is a true Mac application that emulates a PC on your Mac, making it easy to run programs such as Microsoft® Access, Visio, and Project, in addition to custom-built enterprise software tools.


Requirements

  • Macintosh PowerPC, native G3 or G4 machines (currently not compatible with G5 systems)
  • Mac OS 9.2.2 or 10.1.5 or later
  • At least 192 MB RAM
  • 60 MB of hard drive space to install, 30 MB of hard drive space to operate

Pricing

  • Virtual PC for Mac - Windows XP Professional, $249
  • Virtual PC for Mac - Windows XP Home Edition, $219
  • Virtual PC for Mac - Windoes 2000 Professional, $249
  • Virtual PC for Mac - Upgrade (no OS CD), $99
  • Virtual PC for Mac - Standalone (no OS CD), $129

Test Systems

  • PowerMac Mirror Drive Door (G4 MDD)
    • Mac OS 10.3.2
    • Dual 1.25 GHz G4
    • 1 GB RAM
    • nVidia GeForce Ti4600 (128 MB RAM)
    • 7200 RPM 8MB Cache 250GB Hard Drive

  • Powerbook AL 15" (G4 PB)
    • Mac OS 10.3.2
    • 1.25 GHz G4
    • 512 MB RAM
    • ATI Radeon 9600 Mobility (64 MB RAM)
    • 4200 RPM 8MB Cache 80GB Hard Drive

Installation & Setup
Installation is a snap, just drag the Virtual PC application from the CD to the hard drive. After launching the application and entering the the serial number, I immediately downloaded and applied the Virtual PC 6.1.1 patch.

Getting started consists mainly of picking what type of OS you plan to install to determine what kind of drive image Virtual PC creates. The default options for Virtual PC meet most needs and will have everything running with very little setup. The version under review did not include an operating system, so I installed a copy of Windows 2000 that I already own. The install took a significant amount of time, with the exception of the hard drive format. Normally when I install a Windows OS, I reformat the drive. I did the same here; however, since Virtual PC uses a system where the virtual hard drive (basically just a file on your Mac) dynamically expands as needed, the format took very little time. After the install was complete I immediately launched Internet Explorer and selected Windows Update to update Windows 2000 to the latest configuration. Getting on the net was easy. Because the default setup for Virtual PC shares the Macs connection to the internet, no configuration is required at all. For some non-basic needs, such as VPN or connecting to a server on the Mac side, a separate connection is needed. I run Apache and mySQL on my G4 PB as a web development system, and I tried several methods of connecting back to Apache from Virtual PC but couldn't get it to work.

Just for kicks, I also tried to install Be OS 4.5.2 for use in Virtual PC. I could successfully install as long as I didn't touch the keyboard. If I touched the keyboard, the BeOS would freeze solid, although Virtual PC itself would run fine.

Interface
The Virtual PC interface is minimal. You are presented a window that contains the emulated PC screen, and just eight icons located at the bottom of the screen (see figure below). These icons are mostly shortcuts to settings pages, duplicating much of the functionality of the menus.


Virtual PC icons

The first icon has a menu that either opens the settings for the particular Virtual PC you are working in (preferences are per virtual computer) or it starts the Virtual Disk Assistant for creating new drives. The settings window is displayed below.


Virtual PC settings

The second icon has a menu that lets you image or eject a CD/DVD disk from the Virtual PC. This menu will also let you open the settings window to the CD/DVD drive page. The same theme continues with the floppy, sharing, ethernet, USB, and printing. The last icon that resembles the Extension's icon from OS 9 is something a little different. It basically launches the installer for the Virtual PC additions. These additions are what allow drag and drop between the Mac and PC and other integration between Virtual PC and the host operating system. Another nice integration touch is that applications launched in Virtual PC get their own icon in the Mac OS X dock (see the ProntoEdit figure below, and note the ProntoEdit icon towards the right of the dock).

Start Menu
A handy little utility, labeled ironically enough "The Start Menu", is installed in the Mac OS dock providing the user with quick access to the PC's start menu, even when Virtual PC is not running.


Virtual PC Start Menu

Selecting any item in the Start Menu will launch Virtual PC and then launch the selected application. This is similar to opening a Classic application on OS X, and a nice shortcut for accessing a PC application.

General Use
I installed Microsoft Office 2000 on the G4 MDD and updated it using the Office update website. In general use, Office performed reasonably well on the G4 MDD system with no real hesitation in keeping up with typing in Word, doing simple calcuations in Excel or simple presentations in PowerPoint. On the G4 PB, office occasionally lagged behind, I suspect that is because the G4 MDD has two processors and handles all the Mac interface with one, while the other handles the VPC tasks. Virtual PC does not utilize two processors, but having the second processor available to run the Mac processes does appear to help with performance. Dragging and dropping files between operating systems worked erratically. Grabbing a file on the PC and trying to drag it to the host operating system only worked occasionally due to lag in responsiveness on the part of Virtual PC. To get it to work reliably, I had to grab the file and slowly drag it to the Mac and not let go until the icon caught up (same thing in reverse). Unfortunately, copying and pasting only seemed to work with text, not graphics, at least when I tried between PowerPoint on the PC to PowerPoint on the Mac.

On the G4 MDD, I have two 17" LCD monitors side by side. I tried setting up Virtual PC fullscreen on one monitor and running the Mac interface on the other. This worked really well except when starting up Virtual PC, it would always drop to a lower resolution until I told it to run full screen.

Once Virtual PC was up and running, I was most excited to try running ProntoEdit software for programming my Pronto Remote Control. This is a sophisticated remote from Phillips that can be programmed with graphics and macros to run just about anything controllable via IR. To get full use out of the remote requires a PC with a COM port to interface with the remote. The software ran pretty smoothly on the G4 PB, including the software emulator for the remote.


Running ProntoEdit under Virtual PC

I made some updates to my Pronto configuration which I then wished to load on the remote. The trick was to get the remote, which uses a PC style serial interface, to talk to Virtual PC. I used a Keyspan High-Speed serial adapter and configured Virtual PC to see the adapter as a virtual COM port, and I attached the remote control to the adapter and downloaded an updated configuration to it successfully.

Some additional programs I tried were Microsoft Access, Adobe Photoshop Elements, PCMark2004 (see benchmarking below), and some ActiveX internet download sites that won't work on the Mac. I also used VPC for browsing my home network. Everything seemed to work just as it would on a Windows system, including the same crash I get in the Pronto Emulator.

Performance
To get an objective versus subjective feel for performance, I ran a general benchmarking tool,
PCMark2004, and compared Virtual PC running Windows 2000 on both the G4 MMD and G4 PB to Windows XP running on a 2.8 GHz PC system. Virtual PC was not capable of running all of the tests, in particular some of the intensive video tests. All tests were run an a freshly boot computer with only Virtual PC running on the Macs, and no other applications running on the PC. If a test reports 0.0, that indicates that the test did not complete successfully.

PC System:

  • WindowsXP SP1
    • Intel 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 (Northwood)
    • 1 GB RAM
    • ATI Radeon 9800 All-in-Wonder (128 MB RAM)
    • 5400 RPM 2MB Cache 60GB drive

Benchmark Test

  G4 PowerBook   G4 MDD   PC System
CPU  

0.0

 

0.0

 

4212.0

Memory  

471.0

 

521.0

 

4338.0

Graphics  

0.0

 

0.0

 

4200.0

HDD  

2094.0

 

3829.0

 

2463.0

File Compression (MB/s)  

1.2

 

1.1

 

4.7

File Encryption (MB/s)  

9.2

 

7.8

 

46.1

File Decompression (MB/s)  

7.9

 

8.4

 

33.4

Image Processing (MPixels/s)  

4.0

 

4.4

 

12.7

Virus Scanning (MB/s)  

208.2

 

231.8

 

2425.0

Grammar Check (KB/s)  

0.7

 

0.7

 

1.9

File Decryption (MB/s)  

18.4

 

19.4

 

80.9

Audio Conversion (KB/s)  

373.6

 

408.7

 

2473.8

Web Page Rendering (Pages/s)  

0.6

 

0.7

 

5.1

WMV Video Compression (FPS)  

6.7

 

6.7

 

48.7

DivX Video Compression (FPS)  

0.0

 

0.0

 

54.3

Physics Calculation and 3D (FPS)  

0.0

 

0.0

 

157.4

Graphics Memory - 64 lines (FPS)  

87.2

 

89.0

 

2563.6

File Compression (MB/s)  

1.2

 

1.3

 

4.7

File Encryption (MB/s)  

9.2

 

9.7

 

44.0

File Decompression (MB/s)  

8.0

 

8.6

 

33.6

Image Processing (MPixels/s)  

4.0

 

4.4

 

12.7

Grammar Check (KB/s)  

1.2

 

1.2

 

4.0

File Decryption (MB/s)  

18.6

 

19.2

 

74.5

Audio Conversion (KB/s)  

353.1

 

410.4

 

2478.4

WMV Video Compression (FPS)  

6.5

 

7.0

 

48.8

DivX Video Compression (FPS)  

0.0

 

0.0

 

56.0

XP Startup (MB/s)  

4.0

 

8.2

 

5.2

Application Loading (MB/s)  

3.3

 

5.8

 

3.3

File Copying (MB/s)  

11.2

 

19.1

 

16.2

General HDD Usage (MB/s)  

2.7

 

4.8

 

3.0

Internal Clock (MHz)  

737.0

 

1660.0

 

2799.0

The PC system is admittedly not run of the mill, but that's all I have to compare with. As can be seen, the PC is significantly faster in most areas, with the exception of hard drive access. Interestingly, the benchmark utility reports the CPU speed on the G4 MDD as 1.67GHz and the G4 PB as 737 MHz. Although many of the tests didn't run successfully, the results do give an idea of relative perfomance.

NOTE: I'm not listing all individual tests from the Benchmarking tool, most of the additional tests were either 3D (which the Macs won't run), video tests (which neither of the Macs was very successful at running either) or breakdowns of some of the tests listed above.

Summary
Virtual PC is a flexible and reasonably robust Windows emulator that has good integration with the host operating system. It's not fit for daily use as a primary productivity tool, but it does provide a method for limited running of that critical application that is not available for the Mac OS. It also should be noted that Virtual PC is not suited for processor intensive tasks, such as watching a DVD or playing most of today's PC Games. In addition, Virtual PC 6.1.1 and below are incompatible with Apple's new systems utilizing G5 processors. This is planned to be corrected in Virtual PC 7.0 due out in June of this year.

Pros

  • Stable
  • Can run many different operating systems in virtual environments.
  • Good network integration with host operating system
  • Requires virtually no configuration

Cons

  • Slow
  • Limited copy and paste between the host and the virtual OS.
  • Inability to run most PC games
  • Inability to run on PowerMac G5 systems.


Overall Rating

3 1/2 out of 5 Mice