Virtual PC 4
Right off, when people find out I am doing a review of Virtual PC 4, they always have the same question: is it faster than before? Well, yes and no. If you are running a G4, the answer is yes. If not, the answer is no. Or, for some people, maybe. Confused? Let me clarify.
Virtual PC (hereafter referred to as VPC) is a program that emulates a Pentium computer. As such, you can run any operating system that runs on a Pentium on your Mac. These include Windows 95-me, NT, Linux, and others. For this review, I used Windows 98, which was included in the review edition of VPC.
For this review, I used a PowerMac G4 Dual Processor, running at 500MHz with 320MB of RAM. Performance will be lower on less powerful machines, noticeably so. Version 4 of VPC takes advantage of Velocity Engine on the G4 processor. I also tested the product on a 333MHz iMac with 192MB of RAM.
As I said at the top of this review, speed is the first question people ask when they find out you have the latest copy of VPC. “Is it faster than the older version?” or “Can you play games with it yet?” Those are by far the most asked.
Yes, VPC version 4 is indeed faster than version 3. If you are running a fast G4. As I said, for this review, I used the program on a 500MHz G4, but I also tested it on a 333MHz iMac. The results (speed-wise) were quickly apparent.
On the G4, the speed of Windows 98 was actually very decent. It felt like I was working natively on a PC, running around 300-400MHz. Boot time was very fast. Amazingly so, in fact. Windows 98 does not boot this fast on some of the PC I work with regularly!
I (of course) was most interested in trying out some PC games. This is a good indication of speed and reliability, and thus far in VPC’s product history, games would either not load or were too choppy and slow to operate. Not so with version 4 running on a G4! I was able to download and play a number of games, though not the top of the line 3D programs such as Quake.
Running VPC on an iMac (333Mhz) was a different story. While this version is indeed faster on the iMac than previous versions, it is still too slow for game play, but just fine running, say, Microsoft Office.
The next most important step was to find out how easy it is to connect to the Internet. I have a cable modem, and was unsure how reliable Windows 98 would be seeing my network running under VPC. Well, see the network it did, and I did not have to configure anything at all. I simply double clicked Internet Explorer, and I was browsing the web! In fact, it seemed almost faster doing so than browsing the net using Explorer on the Mac side of things! It was sure downloading programs faster, by almost 50k per second. I am not sure why this is, but it makes me wonder about networking on the Mac versus the PC. At least in downloading times.
Connecting to the net while dialed in with my built-in modem on both the iMac and G4 was also no problem. In fact, if I had a network connection, Windows under VPC found and used it very well.
In older versions of VPC, you had to manually set a “virtual disk” to act as a hard drive for VPC’s operating systems to use. You also had to determine how large said virtual disk was to be. No longer with version 4! Now, the virtual disk will grow (up to 127GB according to the documentation) as needed. In fact, it will only be as large as the information stored on it. So if you only have 1.5GB of information on your virtual disk, then it will take up that amount of space on your hard drive, and only grow larger as you add to it. Very convenient.
Mac/Windows File Sharing
You can also share files between the Mac and PC, which comes in very handy. Perhaps you are creating a custom graphic or html page for a client, who is on a PC, and you want to make sure the page looks good on his platform. No problem, just drag the file from your Mac desktop to the PC desktop.
You can also copy/paste graphics, but I found this a little problematic at times. Long delays would occur when I had copied even a moderate size graphic (under 1MB) and tried to move it over to Windows. Text, on the other hand, was no problem, but it would loose any sense of formatting during the process.
One of the biggest factors in making Windows run well under VPC on your Mac is by making sure you give it enough memory. Unlike most Mac programs that make you change the memory settings under the “get info” window, you change the memory settings in VPC in the program itself.
The best rule of thumb is to have at least 128MB of FREE memory for VPC. They claim you only “need” 20-64MB available, while 96MB is recommended. But I find these numbers a little on the low side. While 96MB would let the program run decently, I found 128MB of dedicated memory for VPC cured a lot of the small vexing problems I would encounter. The more memory, the merrier your Windows (as well as other OS’s) will be under VPC.
One of the nice things (and a great way to scare the heck out of your other pro-Mac or anti-PC friends) is to make VPC run full screen, thus hiding the Mac desktop and menu bar completely. If looks JUST like a PC, no difference at all. Of course, you can also run in “Windowed” mode, meaning VPC will be just another running application in a window, albeit with a Windows 98 desktop. (Kind of strange to look at let me tell you.)
VPC supports all monitor resolutions. In fact, you can set the Windows environment to a different resolution than that of your Mac. So while your Mac may be running at 1152×870, you may have Windows sitting at 800×600. And, if you go to full screen mode, your monitor will also change to the Windows resolution.
Printing and Removable Media
Printing works great under VPC. Without configuring anything at all, I opened up a web page and hit print. VPC not only went out and located my printer (a Epson 740i in this case) but also printed the page flawlessly. However, I could not control the printer in any way from Windows. No page setup at all. In the preference window, it has the option to enable USB devices, which I did. Afterwards, printing went even smoother.
Removable media was also a breeze. Windows recognized my USB ZIP drive and made it accessible with no problem. I could also set up a folder to share files between the Mac and PC, in this case a folder on an external FireWire hard drive.
Some people love them, some people live by them. Benchmarking can give you a good idea on how fast, accurate, or reliable something is compared to a set of benchmarksof like products. As such, I ran a very standard Windows Benchmarking program, WinTune. The following is what WinTune reported while running on the 500MHz G4.
CPU (1) ConnectixCPU 6@408 MHz
Video Board S3 Trio32/64 PCI (732/764)
Video Mode 1024×768@32bits/pixel
RAM 150 MB
OS Windows 98 4.10.2222 A
All told, VPC is a fine product, one worthy of consideration if you need to run some PC software on your Mac. Also a good way to learn Linux without having to partition an existing hard drive.
Alas, there were some problems. Even though VPC saw my SanDisk, Windows 98 never did. I also had trouble accessing my CD-ROM drive, but this could have had more to do with Mac OS 9.1 than VPC.
Connectix has done a remarkable job of updating a program many felt cost too much for the sluggish speed and inherent problems with such a large emulator. Connectix has, however, consistently improved upon the program, and each major revision thus far has been well worth the upgrade price. In fact, Connectix is great for offering existing users who may have recently purchased an older copy a great upgrade price. (If not free, in some cases) They also offer good customer support via the Internet, and provide a toll call so you can actually talk to another human being live. (Though the wait can be long at times.)
Virtual PC 4.0 is a great update to a program that delivers on its promises. There are still a few minor bugs in the program, but knowing Connectix, there will probably be a 4.1 (free) update soon to correct these few shortcomings.
Any G3 or G4 PowerMac
*To run Windows 95
Mac OS 8.5 or later, 1 GB HD, 64 MB recommended.
*To run Windows Me
Mac OS 9.0 or later, 1 GB HD, 96 MB recommended
MacMice Rating: 4 out of 5