Parallels has announced that version 16.5 of its virtualization software, Parallels Desktop for Mac, is now generally available, bringing with it native support for Apple's new M1 chipset. Ever since Apple announced its first Macs powered by in-house ARM processors, more and more companies have had to update their apps to run natively on they new silicon, since Intel-based apps have to be emulated, this resulting in some performance overhead.
The benefits of native support should be especially evident in Parallels Desktop, since virtualization software tends to use a significant amount of hardware resources. In fact, that's why Parallels prioritized adding native support for the M1 chip, as Nick Dobrovolskiy, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Support, says:
"Apple's M1 chip is a significant breakthrough for Mac users (...). The transition has been smooth for most Mac applications, thanks to Rosetta technology. However, virtual machines are an exception and thus Parallels engineers implemented native virtualization support for the Mac with M1 chip. This enables our users to enjoy the best Windows-on-Mac experience available.”
Parallels is making some big claims about the performance and power efficiency improvements, but you have to read the fine print to put things in the correct perspective. First, it promises to be 250% more power-efficient on an Apple M1 Mac compared to a 2020 Intel-based MacBook Air. However, it's actually compared an Apple M1 MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM to a model powered by an Intel Core i5-8210Y and 8GB of RAM, which was actually released in July 2019. There is a newer Intel-based MacBook Air with Ice Lake processors, but that's not what's being used here.
It also promises up to 60% more performance on an Apple M1 MacBook Pro versus an Intel-based one, but that's with an Intel Core i9-8950HK and AMD Radeon Pro 555X GPU, again ignoring the most recent generation of MacBooks. Finally, it promises up to 30% more performance on a Windows VM, but again, that's comparing to the same Core i9-8950HK processor, though this time with a Radeon Pro Vega 20 GPU and 32GB of RAM, double of what's in the M1-based MacBook Pro used in the comparison. As such, while there may be improvements in performance, they may not be as significant as suggested in Parallels' announcement.
There's also another problem that this update doesn't solve. As we noted in our review of the M1 MacBook Pro, many of the Windows 10 inbox apps don't run on the Apple M1, since it only supports 64-bit ARM apps, while Windows 10 still ships with many 32-bit ones. Also, Microsoft only releases VHDX images for Windows on ARM Insider Previews, so you can't get a stable version of the OS running on Macs just yet.
Update: As noted by one of our readers, you should be able to run ARM32 apps in Parallels now. Users on the Parallels forum have reported similar successes during the technical preview stage.
Either way, if you already have an M1-based Mac, this should at least improve your experience on it.