Can you really play Windows games on Mac with Parallels Desktop 16?
Parallels Desktop is by far the best virtualisation solution for macOS if you want to run Windows alongside your Mac apps. And I didn’t need a complimentary license to state this. I’ve used VMWare, VirtualBox and Parallels over the last 10 years. Parallels Desktop just works flawlessly for the every day Windows applications. So there is little doubt from me that the latest version of Parallels Desktop will work just as well. But the big question for me has always been if I could play Windows games on my Mac with Parallels Desktop.
Disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of Parallels Desktop 16.
Update: Another year passed since I’ve written up this article, its now time to revisit this with the latest version of Parallels Desktop 17. Check out my latest post here now!
Playing Windows games on the Mac? With Parallels?
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts here, you will know that I’m a big fan of macOS. It is the OS that is keeping me on an Apple hardware. That’s why I’ve stuck with my MacBook Pro all these while. You would also know that I game from time to time. Thankfully, most of the games I want to play have releases for the macOS, mostly turn-based strategies like XCOM and RPGs like Divinity: Original Sin. That’s why I have gotten myself an eGPU upgrade.
But there are a few Windows games that I would really want to get my hands on. One of it is the Fallout Series, specifically Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4. So when I found out that Parallels Desktop 15 and 16 had support for DirectX 11, I got quite excited.
Installing Parallels Desktop and the Windows 10 VM
Installation of both Parallels Desktop and the Windows 10 VM is a breeze. Once Parallels Desktop is installed, you would see the Installation Assistant where you can start to install the Windows 10 VM or any other OS that you prefer.
I downloaded the official Windows 10 ISO images from Microsoft here for the my Windows 10 VM installation.
The Installation Assistant will then guide you through some configurations, such as your main use of the Windows OS to pre-set some key configurations that would work best for your use. You can also then customise the pre-set configurations as well. It would also ask you for the license key as Parallels can also help you activate your Windows install.
As you can see, the installation of the Windows VM is a trivial and painless process.
Show me some 3D benchmarks!
Let’s now get to the exciting part. How does Windows games really perform on a Mac with Parallels?
To start, I ran a couple of popular benchmarks that was made for DirectX 11. Do note that DirectX 11 is actually rather dated in the Windows world. So, I used Unigine Valley and 3DMark 11 to showcase how well Parallels handles 3D rendering with an eGPU setup.
Unigine Valley Benchmark
I ran the benchmark both at 1440p as well as the Extreme HD preset. Both had very similar results. It seems that it would is at an average of 25-30fps. This is about 1/3 of the performance when the Valley benchmark runs natively on macOS.
You can see that Parallels Desktop fully utilises the RX 5700 XT eGPU in the screenshot below.
3DMark 11 Benchmark
On 3DMark, most of the benchmarks ran at about 30 fps as well. From the visual experience perspective, it seems smooth. But of course, this is far from the results of a native Windows 10 machine with an equipped with an RX 5700 XT.
There were some rendering issues in the two underwater submarine scene in the 3DMark 11 benchmarks. You can see it in the video capture I took with my digital camera of the benchmark below.
Both Unigine and 3DMark are of course synthetic benchmarks. The real test is when I run the actual Windows games I want to play on my Mac with Parallels Desktop 16.
Running Fallout 4 on Parallels Desktop 16
As I mentioned, one of the few Windows Games I wanted to play on my Mac is Fallout 4.
I’ll let you watch the video below to have a look at how it runs off Parallels Desktop. By the way, I removed the audio in the video as the digital camera I was using recorded more noise than the game audio 🙁 But suffice to say, there wasn’t any stuttering on the audio at any point in time.
As you have seen, I’m not sure it if would be really playable. I would have to really get somewhat deeper into the game before I can fully judge it. From the video recording above, you can see that the eGPU can handle everything that is being thrown at it. And considering that the performance is similar when the game is set at Ultra@1440p and at Low@1080p, I’m not sure what is causing all the freezing in the game.
It feels like this is being caused by some I/O issues or bottleneck. I’m not sure and would probably try to see if there are any other settings I can adjust to get better performance.
And considering that the combat system on Fallout 4 isn’t turn-based, I’m not sure if continual freezing is going to allow it to be playable. More updates on this once I get some more time into the game.
Update: It seems that the stuttering is only really bad when there is a high number of NPCs within the player’s field of view (FOV), even when they are quite a distance away and hidden behind other objects like walls. When playing the early parts of the game when you’re in Vault 111, the performance wasn’t too bad, averaging at about 30fps. Perhaps this can be further fixed with some tweaks within the game’s settings or installing some of the performance mods available for the game.
Update 2: I messed around the settings a lot more now. It now seems that I was somewhat wrong in my initial assessment in the previous update. Parallels Desktop does a lot of magic with their Auto settings. The best performance I can get out of Fallout 4 without installing any performance mods or custom tweaking is to set the Parallels’ Graphics Memory to Auto. The stuttering still happens as you will see in the video above. However, whenever I change this setting, either to 1GB or something lower like 256MB, the framerates drop to 3-5 fps whenever there is a lot of NPCs around. But when it’s Auto, the framerates hovers around 20-30 fps. This is regardless when I run Fallout 4 at Ultra settings with a 720p, 1080p or 1440p resolutions.
Running Fallout: New Vegas on Parallels Desktop 16
Fallout: New Vegas, on the other hand, ran extremely well. Granted, it’s running off a much older DX9-based game engine that powered Fallout 3. As you will see in the video I’ve uploaded below, I can run the game without any issues at all at Ultra settings at 1440p resolution.
DirectX 12 games?
I’ve tried to run a few games that required or uses DirectX 12. The short answer to this is that it would just crash upon loading. You can only run games that use DirectX 11, or if it has the option to only use DirectX 11 in its settings.
One potential option is to use the Direct X Control Panel (dxcpl.exe) utility that comes with the Windows SDK (download site) to limit an application to a specific DX level of support. However, I was unsuccessful when I tried this to get the Unigine’s Superposition benchmark to run.
A quick conclusion to running Windows games on Mac with Parallels
It will depend very much on the game you are playing. As for now, I’m happy that I can finally play Fallout: New Vegas (10 years later!) without needing to set up another Windows machine. If the game is forgiving to freezing moments, such as turn-based strategy, then you might still be ok with it. If you are playing any DX9 or DX10 games, Parallels is a safe bet if you have a powerful enough GPU to run the game. For DX11 games, it seems like it really depends. My experience with Fallout 4 is a little iffy. It is sort of playable, but it stutters from time to time. I will be checking out more games over time and will update this article to share what else runs well on a setup like this.
Parallels Desktop, after all, is still a virtualisation solution and the fact that I can even play any 3D games on it is an amazing feat itself. To do so rather smoothly, albeit with certain games or 3D benchmark applications, at ultra-high settings on a 1440p resolution is very commendable. No other virtualisation solution is able to claim the same.
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