Parallels Desktop for Mac 3: Not ready yet for virtual globes

I’ve spent some time playing with the new Parallels Desktop for Mac 3, a Windows (and Linux) virtualization tool for OS X that has just gained 3D graphics support. The big question: Is the 3D graphics support compatible with the Windows virtual globes that have no Mac counterpart — NASA World Wind, Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D, SkylineGlobe and ESRI ArcGIS Explorer?

parallels-agx.jpg(Click to enlarge)

Alas, in a word: No. Despite trying all possible configurations for RAM and graphics memory, most of these applications either won’t run at all or run unstably. And when they do crash, they tend to take the entirety of Parallels down with it, which is not good for the virtual machine.

  • NASA World Wind: It starts up fine the first time, showing a pretty globe, but as soon as layers get turned on, things freeze and then crash.
  • Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D: VE3D balked at showing a globe, citing a lack of 3D graphics support, regardless of how much graphics memory was available. There was one exception, when a 3D globe very briefly flickered onto the screen, only to disappear immediately. Interestingly, Photosynth does run on Firefox (but not IE), though it does so with some unintended artefacts on the screen (upside-down photos; Smokeonit’s got the same result).
  • ESRI ArcGIS Explorer: Works fine, as long as you don’t resize the window beyond a certain limit — the graphics won’t follow you there.
  • Skyline Globe: Works fine, just as it did with Parallels Desktop 2, but that is because it isn’t turning on 3D graphics support — it uses software rendering of the globe.

All this suggests that it is not the fault of the applications — indeed, they run well when I reboot my Mac into BootCamp mode and run Windows directly. Parallels’ 3D graphics solution feels a bit hacky — and no doubt it was a difficult feat to pull off, but in this case the end result is not usable.

Best, then, to either wait for a version of Parallels that does work as intended, or else continue to run these applications after first rebooting into Bootcamp. You could always wait for VMWare to come out with their virtualization tool, and hope their 3D graphics solution is up to scratch for virtual globes.

7 thoughts on “Parallels Desktop for Mac 3: Not ready yet for virtual globes”

  1. I have been experiencing the same issues. The only globe that seems to work reasonably well in Parallels 3 is Google Earth. I ran into all of these same problems. I do hope that Parallels gets better 3D support. I know its not an easy feat as you mention. It is getting better so lets hope they can pull it off.


  2. One thing to keep in mind is that Parallels 3.0 supports DirectX 8.1. Those such as Virtual Earth 3D that require DirectX 9 won’t run.

    Simple as that.

  3. Re: Photosynth

    We have tested Photosynth on graphics cards that are “Vista Aero Ready”. This includes: support for DirectX 9 graphics with a WDDM driver, 128 MB of graphics memory (minimum), and 32 bits per pixel.

    Same issue with DirectX 9.

  4. Just curious — which windoze os are you running on your Parallels? I’ve been thinking of upgrading to p3 but I’m kinda p.o.’d that I just bought v.2 a couple months ago and it’s not a free upgrade. This tells me it’s probably not worth it. I’m just thinking…maybe Vista would be better?

  5. You didn’t say what kind of Mac you were using. If you’re using a MacBook, its video card is integrated in the CPU and provides no real support for DirectX… the Condor flight simulator runs at only 1-2 frames/sec on the MacBook. However, the MacBook Pro has a real video card, and on it the same flight simulator runs at 30-60 frames/sec.

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