H+M on M1 Macs/Parallels 18 Test

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H+M on M1 Macs/Parallels 18 Test

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For the past couple of weeks I've been testing Help+Manual and related tools on the latest version of Windows 11 for ARM running on an M1 Mac under the new Parallels 18 virtual machine program.

Conclusion first: It works. Cautious recommendation

I can cautiously recommend Parallels 18 for running Help+Manual and its necessary helper programs under the current and latest version of Windows 11 for ARM. Earlier versions of Windows 11 ARM and earlier versions of Parallels will NOT work satisfactorily, but these latest versions appear to be surprisingly good.

Warning: It is still early days, so this recommendation remains cautious. Even though everything appears to be stable, I still wouldn't yet depend on it if I was buying a new computer as my only machine. However, I would already feel pretty good about using this as a second machine, provided I had a genuine, Intel-based Windows machine as a backup.

A little more depth

Provided your M1 or M2 Mac has enough memory and disk space (more on that below), Help+Manual 9 and all the other software needed to use it appear to be running fine with excellent performance. Help+Manual itself, Impict, HelpXplain, Help+Manual Translation Assistant, Git and SubVersion all work fine. I experienced one crash in HelpXplain on creating a screencast, but that seems to have been a one-off, and was also while I only had 8GB of memory allocated to Windows under Parallels.

Initial delays and occasional problems

The very occasional problems may have something to do with the way X86 programs are handled on Windows 11 for ARM. Windows for ARM uses the same approach as the just-in-time compiler that modern browsers use for JavaScript.

The first time you use an X86 program or one of its larger features that opens in a new dialog or window, there is a short delay while Windows recompiles the program's code for ARM and saves it for later reuse. Actions that still get performed during this delay can sometimes lead to errors or even a single crash. However, this appears to be restricted to the initial compile delay period. Afterwards, the saved ARM version is used directly.

Overall impression

Generally speaking, Windows 11 for ARM under Parallels 18 on an Apple Silicon Mac (M1, M2 and all their variants) is astonishingly good and stable. And not just for dedicated ARM programs. On the contrary: I wouldn't try to play any games or edit 4K video (if you've got a Mac you're going to be editing video on the Mac, not on Windows), but all the regular X86 programs I have tried so far have worked fine, including both 32-bit and 64-bit programs. Windows 11 ARM has now clearly been optimized for Apple Silicon processors and shows the processor as "Apple Silicon" in the system information. Even the current version of Visual Studio 2022 and both WPF and Windows Forms applications compiled with it appear to be working fine. This is an almost incredible achievement by the Windows 11 development team. Seriously -- hats off.

What you need: Parallels 18 and Windows 11

You must have both the latest version of Parallels 18 and the latest version of MacOS Ventura. This is all still very cutting edge, so don't even think about trying this with earlier versions of anything. Parallels 18 will now also automatically download and install the latest version of Windows 11 for ARM, and you should accept this. Trying to install or transfer any earlier versions of Windows for ARM will end in tears. Don't even think about it.

What you need: Windows license

If you have a Windows 10 or Windows 11 key that is registered to you, you will most likely be able to unlock the version of Windows 11 for ARM that Parallels installs with it. Otherwise you will need to buy an OEM key. However, it will run fine in trial mode for a long time before you absolutely need to register.

What you need: Your Mac and its configuration

As always, you can never have enough RAM or disk space. An M1 MacBook Air with only 8GB of RAM and a 256GB hard disk is definitely not enough for any kind of serious work with Windows 11 ARM under Parallels. You may be able to use a MacBook Air or the current M1 iMac line at a pinch, but if you do, you should have at least 16GB and better the maximum 24GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. If you are going to do any kind of serious work under Windows you should be able to assign at least 8GB of RAM to it under Parallels, better 16GB.

You will also want to create a sufficiently large Windows hard disk, so with a view to the future you should plan that at least 128GB and better 256GB of your Mac hard disk is going to belong to Windows, assuming that you are going to be doing serious work there. Think of it as an additional laptop, just in the same case as your Mac: You wouldn't buy a laptop with less than 256GB of disk space any more.

My optimum recommendation for this based on my testing on a Mac Studio would be an M1 or M2 MacBook Pro with 32GB of RAM and at least 1TB of hard disk space. Then you can assign 16GB to Windows when it is running, along with enough hard disk space for Windows to be able to breathe. Also, unlike the MacBook Air, the Pro series have cooling fans, which is a big benefit when you have Windows stressing the system.

Parallels configuration: Turn off desktop and disk sharing

By default, Parallels tries to completely integrate your Windows and Mac configurations. I really don't recommend this. For example, it puts all your Windows desktop icons on your Mac, and all your Mac desktop icons on your Windows desktop. One of the first things to do is to turn off sharing disks and desktops between Mac and Windows. Keep the two systems as separate as you possibly can.

Don't use Mac disks from Parallels

Another good reason to turn off sharing disks between the two systems is because it prevents you from being tempted to save your Help+Manual projects on your Mac disk and work on them from Windows. Always save everything you edit in Windows on Windows' own virtual hard disk. Don't try to work across the border between the two systems. Over the years I have all too often seen Help+Manual users experience data corruption and loss when they try to do this on any virtual machine system, and I just cannot recommend it.

Similarly, I also wouldn't recommend using Parallels' clever ability to open a Windows application in a window on a Mac desktop. Regard your Windows installation as a separate machine, switch it to full screen and work in Windows when you're in Windows and on your Mac when you're on your Mac.
Regards,
Tim (EC Software Documentation & User Support)

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