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One problem that a lot of Apple-owning poker players have in common is the need for hand history tracking programs and shortcut software for hardcore grinding.  The shortcoming of playing on a Mac is that although there are four major poker sites that have Mac OS X native clients, there is only one hand history tracking program, Poker Copilot, and one shortcut program, which remains in beta.  Since PokerTracker 3 has not released its Mac-native version yet, many poker players must turn to the world of Windows virtualization.

Parallels has been around for many years and is one of the leading virtualization programs on the market.  The software allows a user to install Windows on their Mac and run the PC operating system within the OS X environment without rebooting.  This also allows programs between the PC and Mac environments to share files to make life easier.

Parallels Desktop 5 for Mac is a faster, smarter and more powerful version of the virtualization software.  The big ticket items with this release are that it supports Windows 7 and runs many times faster than any previous version.  It allows you to share files between Mac and Windows environments and enjoy more power with the likes of DirectX 9.0x/9Ex with Shader Model 3.  Simply put, Parallels 5 improves the overall Windows experience.  The cost of the program is $79.99 and if you are a previous user of Parallels, there’s an upgrade available for $59.99.

We already had Parallels 4 installed on our MacBook Pro machine; however, wanted to upgrade to Parallels 5 to help speed things up.  We decided to keep XP with Parallels 5 for now so we could compare the new edition with the old.  If you have an old installed version like we do, you do not have to remove or uninstall the old version or get rid of your old Windows installation.  For new customers, you’ll need to get Parallels 5 and a full version of the Windows OS you prefer to use.

Once you have your purchase information, the download comes in at 219 MB.  Simply download the file and double click it to get the process started.  The time to install Parallels 5 came in at a short eight minutes.  Once Parallels 5.0 has been installed on your system, there is a lengthy period for your Windows installation inside of Parallels to set up the necessary “Parallels Tools” for Windows.  This process took approximately 12 minutes, making the entire upgrade time 20 minutes.

The installation, overall, was rather painless, with only one hiccup coming after the Parallels Tools had installed into Windows.  The issue was that every time we booted our system, we got a “Blue Screen of Death,” which was rather annoying.  After consulting the Parallels forums, we quickly found that there was one small setting that had to be changed (assigning a specific CPU for Parallels) and once that was completed, there were no further hang-ups.

We conducted some simple timing tests to see if Parallels 5 ran faster than the previous version.  The results:

Parellels 4 Load Time Tests
Parallels 4 – Windows Boot Time: 1:04
Holdem Manager Load-Up Time: 0:39
Windows Shutdown Time: 0:14

Parallels 5 Load Time Tests
Parallels 5 – Windows Boot Time: 0:48
Holdem Manager Load-Up Time: 0:34
Windows Shutdown Time: 0:14

Parallels 4 with Entourage and FireFox running in OS X
Parallels 4 – Windows Boot Time: 1:52

Parallels 5 with Entourage and FireFox running in OS X
Parallels 5 – Windows Boot Up Time: 0:58

Across the board, the performance from Parallels 5 outperformed 4 in all aspects.  All load times were faster in identical circumstances with 5 and there were fewer “pauses” while running various programs.  In terms of a poker player’s perspective, we were able to boot up faster, load Hold’em Manager faster, run all of our scripts, and get into the action quicker than ever before.  Parallels 5 seems to shine more during RAM-intensive activities involving both operating systems, but if you are only running Windows and your regular programs, Parallels will be extremely reliable and smooth.

Overall, the upgrade to Parallels 5 is well worth its $59.99 price tag and for those of you just getting into Windows virtualization, this is the program you want to be using.  Since Parallels will allow you to work across both platforms simultaneously, there’s a significant value well above and beyond anything Boot Camp could possibly offer.  For Mac Poker players, this is a surefire winner that’s worth your money.