I am setting up an OS X (build and) test environment for a open source project with a big C codebase. It shall be a Mavericks host on a Mac mini, which has a virtual machine with Snow Leopard. Both machines are designated to act as Jenkins build slaves. Nothing else is meant to happen there.

I'm not sure which hypervisor to chose: VMWare, VirtualBox, Parallels, any other? It shall be both powerful enough to do the jobs in short times, but also affordable. What are your experiences and recommendations?

2 Answers 2


I would go with VirtualBox for a couple of reasons.

  • First, it's free.
  • Second, it integrates incredibly well with Vagrant which allows you to script the provisioning of your build boxes from scratch. Granted, you won't want to reprovision the build boxes often but should something weird happen, you'll be able to get back to a known state very quickly (Vagrant is limited by the complexity of the setup scripts and file I/O speeds.)
  • Third, I believe that VirtualBox has a Python scripting capability though I know about this only tangentially through what I've read of Vagrant. If this capability is there, then you could script up your own VM management processes if Vagrant doesn't do what you want.

Any VM product you select should have the I/O capabilities that you want. Benchmarks hypervisors are widely available so if performance is a huge concern (over price), you can go look that stuff up.

A large part of a build time is file I/O. If you haven't invested in an SSD for this Mac Mini of yours, I'd invest. Things are so so so much faster than with spinning media and not terribly expensive these days.


Criteria you've specified:

  • Affordable
  • Powerful enough

Anything you want to consider? The most affordable is VirtualBox because it's free.

The most powerful?

I don't have any hard data on which performs the best but when I had to make the choice (last year) between the three applications to run on my MacBook Pro I chose Parallels.

At the time Parallels seemed to have better support for Windows 8 and 8.1 (better performance than either VirtualBox or VMware). The graphics processing and rendering was far better than the others which meant I could play Windows games on my Mac if I wanted to and most importantly it supported the Retina resolution for the virtual OSes and VMware didn't do that. For me Parallels was powerful enough.

The problem I have now with Parallels is they release a brand new paid version every time Apple releases a new version of OS X. That means within a year the software is "out of date" and all existing (mainstream) support for the product stops. I don't want to spend $50+ a year in upgrades, although I might have to when Windows 10 comes out.

The problem I had with VirtualBox was it didn't do Retina display scaling (at the time), didn't have the same graphical processing capabilities (not sure if that's still true) and I thought I would use the better OS X integration (embed Windows apps in OS X) - but I never did. VirtualBox is that one application I keep around in-case something doesn't work in Parallels.

I've never tried VMware but for me it sits in between the other two - unless they've recently made some gains or offer better features. I think there's a $10 difference between Parallels ($80) and VMware ($70).

As long as you have a powerful enough machine underneath the hypervisor I think you'll be fine with any of them. I'd double-check your criteria before buying something.

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