Since the release of Windows 10, you can now install Windows on Mac for free. You can now download an ISO image of Windows 10 for free from Microsoft but you only need to pay if you want to activate it. Even if you choose not to activate it though, you can still use almost everything in Windows 10. Activation is only necessary if you want to customize the look of Windows 10 and remove a small watermark on the desktop. Then all you need is a virtual machine such as Parallels to run Windows alongside macOS or drive partition tool such as Apple’s Boot Camp to boot your Mac in Windows. Here we look at the best ways to install Windows on macOS including El Capitan, Sierra and High Sierra.
Why Install Windows On Mac?
Many Mac users ask why the hell would someone want to install Windows on Mac. After all, one of the main reasons for using a Mac is that macOS is so much better than Microsoft Windows. However, the fact is that there are many applications and games that still aren’t available on Mac and installing Windows is by far the best way, and sometimes the only way, for Mac users to use them. Installing Windows on your Mac opens up a whole new world of applications such as allowing you to enjoy Microsoft Visio, Publisher and Access on Mac or play popular PC only games such as FIFA and Cuphead on Mac. Macs generally last a lot longer than PCs too so it’s much more cost efficient, not to mention convenient, to install Windows on your Mac rather than buy a separate PC or laptop specifically for running Windows apps that you’ll have to replace in a few years.
To run Windows on a Mac you’ve basically got two options:
- Use a virtual machine such as Parallels or VMWare Fusion which allows you to run Windows and macOS simulataneously. Although Windows is free to install, both Parallels and VMWare cost money.
- Use Apple’s Boot Camp to install Windows on a partition on your Mac hard drive. This restricts you to booting in either Windows or macOS – you can’t use both at the same time. However, Boot Camp is free and included in macOS so it costs absolutely nothing to install Windows.
For most users, using a virtual environment is the simplest and most convenient way to go because it allows you to use Windows and macOS at the same time. However, in some cases, such as if you want to play games such as FIFA on Mac that require DirectX 11 or OpenGL, using Boot Camp is your only option. This is because there are a few Windows components that virtual environments don’t support such as the latest versions of DirectX and OpenGL:
Here’s a more detailed overview of the major differences between the two ways of running Windows on Mac.
- Virtual Environment: A virtual environment or virtualization software as it’s also known allows you to run Windows “virtually” within OS X. This option is by far the most convenient for most users because it allows you to use your Mac as normal but switch to a a Windows application at any time when you need it. You have full access to the rest of your Mac apps while enjoying the convenience of having the Windows available too. Virtualization software such as Parallels has got this off to a tee nowadays with Coherence Mode blurring the line between OS X and Windows so that you can work in both with almost no separation between the two. The main disadvantage is that you need to purchase virtualization software in order to run Windows and macOS at the same time the best easily being Parallels which costs $79.99 but you can also download a free trial instead. The main rival to Parallels is VMWare Fusion but we’ve found that nothing comes close to Parallels in terms of ease of setup, use and support. Also, because your Mac is running both macOS and Windows at the same time, it’s very demanding on your Mac and you may find that applications running within Windows are a bit slow or sluggish at times unless your Mac is fairly new or high spec. You’ll need at least 8GB of RAM and a Mac built within the last 3 or 4 years to run a virtual machine comfortably. Note that there is also VirtualBox which is a free virtual machine and there are Windows “wrapper” tools such as Wine, Crossover but they are considerably more complicated for the average user. We don’t recommend them for most users in this article, have therefore focused on Parallels and VMWare Fusion which are by far the most user friendly and straight forward for those new to running Windows on Mac.
- Boot Camp: Boot Camp is a free tool in macOS which allows you to install Windows on a partition on your Mac hard drive so you can choose whether to boot your Mac in either Windows or macOS. This option is particularly suitable for people that want to play games on their Mac or run games such as FIFA which require DirectX or OpenGL as it’s the only way to make these Windows components work on Mac. Because Boot Camp only allows your Mac to boot in either Windows or macOS (rather than running both at the same time as with a virtual environment) your Mac can devote all of its resources to the high demands of games and other power hungry applications. The other big advantage of Boot Camp is that it’s free in macOS – just search for “Boot Camp” using Spotlight on your Mac and you’ll see it. The disadvantage of installing Windows with Boot Camp is that you’re restricted to using either Windows or macOS at one time – you can’t switch between the two instantly like with virtualization software. You can find full instructions on how to install Windows 10 on Mac for free with Boot Camp here.
Virtualization software is however the best way to run Windows on Mac because it’s just so convenient to switch between macOS and Windows in just a click. Below we’ll show you how to run Windows on a Mac using either Parallels or VMWare Fusion.
Windows On Mac Installation Checklist
Whichever option you choose to run Windows on your Mac, there are some essential things to prepare first to prevent serious problems or disappointments further down the line. Here are some important things to be aware of before you install Windows on a Mac.
- Whichever of these methods you choose, you’ll need to download a free Windows ISO image. With Parallels, you can conveniently do this within the setup Wizard by selecting “Get Windows 10 from Microsoft”. With VMWare Fusion, you need to download it separately from Microsoft and put it on a USB drive or external drive for Mac with at least 5GB of space on. Alternatively, if you have a PC already, both Parallels and VMWare allow you to import your current Windows operating system plus files from the PC to your Mac. You simply install a small application on your PC, connect your PC to your Mac with a network cable and Parallels or VMWare will transfer all of your Windows files to your Mac.
- You need a lot of free hard drive space to install Windows and Windows programs on a Mac. Virtualization software such as Parallels and VMWare work by “reserving” a portion of your hard drive to run Windows and any programs that you want to install within it. You can install as many virtual instances as you want (useful for example if you want to install all of Windows 7, Windows 8 and Windows 10) but just one installation of Windows can take anything from 15GB upwards depending on how many programs you intend to install within it. Microsoft Office for example takes almost 50GB of hard drive space and things such as Adobe Creative Suite take even more. Remember that apart from the space needed for both Windows and programs you want to install, you need to leave extra space on top to save files and folders.
- You don’t have to install Windows on your Mac’s internal hard drive – you can also install it on a an external USB 3.0, Thunderbolt or SSD hard drive. The technology of external hard drives is constantly changing however with new standards, speeds and capacities constantly being developed and we recommend reading our guide to the best external hard drive for Mac before choosing one. However, it’s recommendable to install Windows on your hard drive if you have space although preferably, your Mac should have an SSD hard drive and if not, you should consider upgrading it to one.
- The handy thing is that you can share and move an entire Windows installation and all of the apps installed to another Mac or machine whenever you want. In fact, if you know what you’re doing you can host Windows and all it’s programs on one Mac and share it with several others to use too. However, we strongly recommend backing it up regularly as if it goes wrong or your Mac crashes or dies, you’ve lost everything installed within Windows. Note that although you can use Time Machine to back up your Windows VM installations, it will slow down Time Machine due to the huge size of the installation and you’re better backing it up in a separate file. In addition, when it comes to your saved files and work, we recommend saving them to the Cloud – that way if your Windows installation crashes or your Mac dies, your work can be more easily recovered rather than having to recover then entire Windows installation.
- Virtualization software allows you to access files and folders on your Mac. There’s no need to worry about transferring everything into your Windows installation – you can conveniently access, copy and use folders and files on your Mac from within Windows in a Parallels or VMWare. In addition, you can set your virtualization software to open Microsoft Access, Project and Visio files etc to open by default even if it’s saved on your Mac. So if you double click on a Windows file on your Mac, it will automatically start Parallels or VMWare and open the file in the appropriate application.
- Windows installed in Virtual Environments on a Mac can still get viruses or malware. Whilst it’s easier to rescue Windows in a VM than on a PC via the use of virtual machine snapshots which instantly roll back Windows to the last clean version, you should use anti-virus or anti-malware software just as you would on a normal Windows installation. Note that there’s no way a virus or malware can “jump” from your Windows installation onto your Mac so there’s no need to worry about that.
- Finally, you’ll need a fairly recent Mac for Windows to run well. MacBook Pros built within the last 3 or 4 years should have no problem while the MacBook Air may struggle a bit depending on the specs. A virtual machine will jsut about work with 4GB of RAM but you’re much better having 8GB of RAM. The biggest problem you may have is finding enough hard drive space but you can extend your Mac hard drive space with an external hard drive. You can check your Mac’s specs by going to the Apple logo in the top left corner and selecting “About This Mac”
Parallels v VMWare Fusion
If you choose to install Windows with a virtual environment, the two best options are easily Parallels and VMWare Fusion. Parallels is the best and has been highly polished and refined over the years to make running Windows on a Mac incredibly easy and user friendly. VMWare Fusion also works well but doesn’t seem to be updated as regularly and isn’t quite as intuitive to set up.
Here we take a closer look at them both.
For those new to Mac or running Windows on their Mac for the first time, we highly recommend using Parallels because it makes both installing Windows on a Mac and switching between Windows and macOS so easy and seamless. Parallels was one of the first solutions to run Windows on Mac and over the years they’ve refined it so much that it makes using Windows on Mac a pleasure. Installing Windows on Mac with a virtual machine used to be a very complex affair but Parallels has now made it easy enough for just about anyone to use.
The latest version of Parallels 13 for Mac has also been optimized for gaming by dedicating 1GB of Video RAM (VRAM) to games and has a new 3D engine specifically designed for the demands of gaming. Parallels also supports all types of external devices connected to your Mac so you can connect a USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt device and access it within Windows. Parallels also has the advantage that you can run Windows and OS X at the same time whereas with Boot Camp, you can only run one at a time. Although both Macs and Parallels have come a long way in the past few years, Parallels still isn’t suitable for all games. Games such as FIFA that rely on DirectX 11 or OpenGL for 3D graphics are still not supported. This is a shame because the latest generation of Macs have Intel NVIDIA graphics cards that are more than capable of handling the demands of DirectX and OpenGL. For games that require either DirectX or OpenGL, your only option is to install Windows with Boot Camp.
You can choose to either pay a one-off payment of $79.99 or pay $79.99 per year, the advantage to the latter being you get free annual upgrades and you get Parallels Access for free which allows you to access your Mac from anywhere with an iOS or Android device. Note that if you’re a student, you can get 50% off Parallels (scroll down the page to see the offer). Most users will only need the Home & Student Version of Parallels to install Windows on Mac, not the Pro or Business versions. Note that if you need to run Parallels on more than one Mac, Parallels only allows you one license per Mac per purchase – you cannot install multiple copies of Parallels on multiple Macs unless you purchase a separate license for each. VMWare Fusion does not have these license limitations.
Very easy to install Windows
Superb integration between Windows and Mac
Excellent for gaming
Fast Startup and Shutdown time
Optimized for macOS High Sierra and Windows 10
Updates aren’t free
Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on
Doesn’t support DirectX or OpenGL
The other major virtualization software for running Windows on Mac is VMWare. In our experience, Parallels is more updated for the latest releases of Windows and macOS, easier to setup use and better supported than VMWare Fusion. However, it’s still a very good virtual environment and worth taking a closer look at.
VMWare Fusion is generally for more advanced users with more customization options and is less geared towards beginners on Mac. However, over the years it has been more user friendly and is now an equally viable option as Parallels for general users. In fact, all of the above applies to VMWare Fusion with a few small differences.
The main difference between VMWare Fusion and Parallels is generally in speed and functionality. VMWare Fusion isn’t quite as fast at handling Windows on a Mac so if you’re planning on using some memory hogging application on Windows or using it for gaming, you might find it a bit slow. Parallels is also easier to setup and holds your hand through the whole setup process.
However, the more notable difference between Parallels and VMWare Fusion is the way it displays Windows on your Mac. VMWare Fusion gives you a few more choices:
- Full Screen View: So that Windows takes-up your entire screen.
- Single Window View: Display a Windows desktop within OS X
- Unity View: Runs Windows programs as if they were Mac apps i.e. you don’t see a Windows desktop at all, just the Windows apps that you’re running within OS X
Like Parallels, installation of VMWare is very simple offering you the option of either installing from a CD or file. Unlike Parallels however, there’s no option to purchase Windows during installation so you must make sure you have a copy of Windows available when you install it. Alternatively, if you have a PC already, you can import your current Windows operating system plus files from the PC to your Mac. Simply install a small application on your PC, connect your PC to your Mac with a network cable and VMWare fusion will transfer all of your Windows files to your Mac. Finally, connectivity is as good in VMWare Fusion as it is in Parallels with support for USB, Firewire and Thunderbolt.
Easy to setup Windows on a Mac