USB2 speed tests in Parallels and Boot Camp

2007-04-02

In this post I’m documenting my findings of a windows application running in Parallels accessing a USB2 external disk drive. I compared this setup to various other alternative disk locations. I first explain a little bit of the background and the 2 test that I did in each scenario, then show the results and discuss them.

Background: Since switching to the Mac platform I am using quite a lot new applications and appreciate every single one. However, there’s one Windows app that I still can’t let go, mainly because the alternatives that I looked at did not (yet) match its features. It is MediaMonkey, which for some nostalgic reasons is still my primary music tidy-up tool, before the tracks get anywhere near iTunes. Why I do this, I will explain in a different post later. Today let’s just be clear that MediaMonkey runs in Windows only.

My two speed tests are:

  1. adding a 100kB album cover art to 39 tracks (177.5 MB), measuring from the OK on the Properties window until the status bar has no more “xx tracks to be tagged”. Note that none of those tracks had an album cover art before and I took a fresh copy of the old untagged tracks for each scenario.
  2. modifying the same tracks from test 1. to have updated content in the artist and genre tags.

When adding the cover art in test 1. the whole file of the songs need to be re-written, since the tag is at the beginning of the mp3 file, hence it is quite a good test for file I/O. Modifying the existing id3 tag in test 2. is much faster, since only the tag gets updated – the rest of the mp3 file are left untouched.

# XP What Disk Test 1 Test 2
1 Parallels USB2 in Parallels 146 39
2 Parallels USB2 on Host via CIFS 48 6
3 Parallels XP System 61 0
4 Parallels MacHD of Host via CIFS 40 6
5 Parallels FW on remote CIFS, Wired 62 9
6 Parallels FW on remote CIFS, Wireless 118 19
7 Boot Camp XP System 42 0
8 Boot Camp USB2 15 3

All results are in seconds, less is better.

I used an external USB2 disk (LACIE 160GB) that came formated with the FAT32 file system. Hence I had the option of mounting it read+write in Mac OSX without installing NTFS support in any way. If your external drive is NTFS, you either need to get the NTFS write support going, or you can only use scenarios 1 and 8. A FAT32 drive can be used in Mac OS X, and then shared via CIFS to be used inside the Parallels VM – which comes with quite a speed improvement over USB2 inside Parallels – comparing scenarios 1 and 2.

Scenarios 3, 4 and 7 wrote to the internal disk of my Mac OS X host, scenarios 5 and 6 to another Mac OS X host in my local network. This second machine was accessed over Gigabit Ethernet in scenario 5, and “802.11n only (5GHz)” about 2m (6 and a half foot) away from the Airport Extreme AP.

In all 8 tests XP is running of the same disk – I have Parallels set up to use the Boot Camp partition. You see how fast writing to this Boot Camp partition is in scenarios 3 and 7. I was surprised that scenario 8 was quicker than 7. However, note that this Boot Camp partition is terribly full with less than 10% free space, while on the USB2 disk I still have plenty of space left.

Conclusion: USB2 speed in the Parallels virtual machine is not good enough for me. Boot Camp is much quicker, but requires reboots – a No-Go for me. I will use my USB2 disk mounted in OS X and shared into my Parallels as the best compromise between speed and comfort. YMMV – comments welcome!

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2 Responses to “USB2 speed tests in Parallels and Boot Camp”

  1. Mr.S Says:

    What is the version of parallels you are evaluating?

  2. Kai Says:

    My tests were all done with Parallels build 3188.


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