With over 90% market share in Mac desktop virtualization software (according to NPD), Parallels is the clear leader in the industry. Now, Parallels has introduced Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac, bringing in new features, improving performance, and preparing for Mavericks and Windows 8.1. How does this version stack up? Is it worth the price? Read on to find out.

Performance

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With the software at its ninth version, some may be content with their version of Parallels and think the upgrade isn’t worth the price. However, as a previous PD8 (and all the way back to PD3), allow me to be straight-forward: this upgrade gives the biggest noticeable performance boost ever. The company claims the updated software provides 40% better disk performance, 25% faster virtual machine shutdown times, 20% faster virtual machine suspend times, and 15% faster web browsing and 3D graphics.

Even the faster shutdown time is noticeable. When I’m done dealing with Windows, the last thing I want to see is Parallels struggle to kill the operating system. With PD9, the operating system is gone within just a couple of seconds (and ready to launch again if necessary).

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New features

PD9 is chock full of new features that will save disk space, allow the VM to perform better while running, and more. PowerNap and the three-finger Dictionary gesture work inside Windows apps now, which are pleasant new additions. In addition, you can now connect to VMs located on Thunderbolt drives, thus saving space on your internal disk. There shouldn’t even be too much of a degraded experience in those cases, since Thunderbolt has a high bandwidth I/O.

The new software also makes efforts to avoid duplication by noticing when you’re hooked up to the same cloud services on both your main OS and the VM. When that happens, Parallels shares the resources and doesn’t duplicate the files. This works for iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, Photostream, and SkyDrive.

Parallels has also made some improvements to Windows 8 VMs by allowing you to bring back the Start Menu (the real one, not just the Start button brought back in Windows 8.1). In addition, “Modern” Windows 8 apps can be run as windows within the desktop mode. Even with all of the craziness produced by those over at Redmond, Parallels has done a great job of providing solutions for Windows 8 users.

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Better setup process

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PD9 improves the setup process by automatically finding operating system DMGs or ISOs on your computer/CD/flash drive and integrating Windows 8.1 Preview installation right into the app. When you choose to download the Windows 8.1 preview, a Product Key is automatically populated for you, and the installation can then begin. Installing Windows 8.1 only takes a few minutes, so if you’re curious what the “other” OS is looking like these days, there’s no harm in giving it a free shot.

“Sticky” multi-monitor detection

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Parallels’ full-screen mode will change depending on what you last set at the location you’re at. Your changes are set per-monitor, which makes it even easier to sit down and get work done with the software.

Operating system compatibility

Mavericks support seems to have been a main priority for the Parallels development team. In addition, the operating system works beautifully with Windows Blue (8.1), allows for installing OS X Mavericks using the recovery partition, and adds improved Linux support with shared folders and operating system autodetection. PD9 is ready for the newest wave of operating systems.

Thoughts & additional perks

PD9 is definitely the most noticeable Parallels Desktop upgrade ever. The performance boosts are the best part of the upgrade, but the sticky multi-monitor setup has been extremely helpful for me and saved quite a bit of time. As a Mavericks user, the software hasn’t been giving me any issues even though the operating system is still in beta. In addition, for a limited time Parallels Desktop 9 comes with 6 months of Parallels’ remote access iPad app, Parallels Access. Although the price is a bit high for most people, there will be plenty of users who will appreciate the sixth months of free service.

Pricing & availability

PD9 is available right now for $79.99 or $49.99 for upgraders (requires PD7 or PD8). Also, VMware users may be interested to know that Parallels Desktop requires just one-click to convert those virtual machines into Parallels-compatible VMs.