Revisiting Windows Gaming on Mac in 2022 with Parallels Desktop 18
If you’ve come across my blog over the years, I’ve posted how I’ve played Windows-only games on my Mac through Parallels Desktop and CrossOver. With the release of Parallels Desktop 18, it’s time for me to revisit Windows gaming on Mac.
Full disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of Parallels Desktop 18 for this write-up.
Windows Gaming on Mac with Parallels Desktop?
In general, it is actually possible to play popular Windows only games on Mac. As I mentioned earlier, you can do this via a virtualisation software like Parallels Desktop or using CrossOver which works like a translator for macOS.
Depending on the games, some works well on CrossOver, but some just runs better on Parallels Desktop. This is because virtualising Windows generally provide better compatibility as Parallels Desktop emulates Windows running on macOS. The downside is performance takes a bit of a hit.
What’s New with Parallels Desktop 18
There are a lot of new updates to Parallels Desktop 18. A lot of them are specifically to support the upcoming macOS Ventura and enhancements specific to the M1 and M2 based Macs. These updates should improve your gaming experience and performance if you’re using those new Apple Silicon Macs.
I, however, am still on my old Intel-based MacBook Pro. However, it is powered by an AMD Radeon RX 6600XT running on an Razer Core X eGPU enclosure. So while I can’t test the claims of up to 96% faster Windows 11 performance with the M1 Ultra CPU, I would be looking out for performance and compatibility improvements on Parallels Desktop’s DirectX virtualisation to Metal.
Having said that, one new feature thing that’s really for gaming on Parallels Desktop 18 is the ability to use game controller in Windows with no setup at all. In the past, you would have to specifically pair an Xbox or Playstation controller with the Windows VM. This makes is really painful to always need to re-pair the controller with the macOS host if you want to play games on the Mac (I use the controller also for Witcher 3 running on CrossOver). Now, the controller just works automatically in the Windows VM!
Running 3D Benchmarks with Parallels Desktop 18
The usual two test I go for is Unigine Valley Benchmark and 3DMark. Let’s start with Unigine Valley Benchmark results first.
With Parallels Desktop 18, the benchmark score is 1259 with an average FPS of 30.1 when running on Direct 3D 11 mode.
If compared with running the benchmark natively on macOS, the is about 50% slower.
Switching over to 3DMark 11 benchmark, I compared the Parallels Desktop 18 run vs the old result I got on Parallels Desktop 17. As you can see, there seems to be some improvements to Direct3D 11 performance with Parallels Desktop 18.
Running games on Parallels Desktop 18
One of the games I’ve always wanted to play is Fallout 4. In fact, I tested this back when Parallels Desktop 16 was released when DirectX 11 was first supported.
With Parallels Desktop 18, it seems that the performance has somewhat improved. However, my setup still isn’t at a point where the Fallout 4 is really playable. You can see how it is in the video recording I took below.
As you can see, the game still stutters a lot even though the frame rate counter is above 30-40 fps.
So what can we actually play on Parallels Desktop 18 then? So far, I’ve preferred to play Fallout: New Vegas on Parallels Desktop 18 over CrossOver. It’s a DirectX 9 game and runs really well on Parallels Desktop. On the latest version, it runs just as well and I can hardly see any difference from the time I’ve played in on version 16.
There are plenty of games that runs decently on Parallels Desktop which would not run at all on CrossOver. This includes The Bureau: XCOM Declassified which I have on my Steam Library. There are probably many more older games that will run very well on Parallels Desktop 18. But as I’ve tested, your millage with DirectX 11 games will vary.
One thing to note here is that the screen video capture seems to be a little jerky because I am using macOS’ built-in screen capture app which records the video at the native resolution of my monitor, which is at 3840 × 2160 (4K).
Windows Gaming on Mac: The reality
For one, you still need a decent GPU to be able to game on the Mac platform, especially so with a virtualisation software like Parallels Desktop 18. My RX 6600 XT barely keeps up with the games at 1080p resolution on Parallels Desktop, so anything less would probably not go well.
Unfortunately, I don’t yet have a M1 Pro/Max/Ultra Mac to test, but so far from what I’ve seen, the GPU is quite powerful and you can indeed run some games relatively well. But of course, most of the games would then be going thru 2x emulation, from x86 to ARM emulation on Windows 11 and then Windows 11 to macOS on Parallels Desktop. Still, some of the video captures I’ve seen is showing promising results.
While DirectX 12 is still not supported, I really like the seamless game controller support on Parallels Desktop 18. This makes it really compelling to run more games like Rocket League on Parallels Desktop vs running it on CrossOver which sometimes present graphic glitches.