We may earn a commission from the affiliate links on this site. Check our advertising discloure for more.
best way run windows mac - cover

8 Best Ways To Run Windows On a Mac in 2024 (inc. M1, M2 & M3 Macs)

Last updated:
Key Takeaways

  • Parallels Desktop for Mac: Offers seamless integration of Windows and macOS applications without needing to reboot, compatible with Intel and Apple Silicon Macs​.
  • Boot Camp: Allows installation of Windows on a separate partition for Intel-based Macs, requiring a reboot to switch between macOS and Windows​.
  • VMware Fusion: A robust virtualization option now free for personal use, enabling Windows applications to run on macOS​.
  • CrossOver for Mac: Runs many Windows applications on macOS without a full Windows installation, using the Wine project​.
  • Remote Desktop Solutions: Tools like Microsoft’s Remote Desktop enable remote access to a Windows machine from a Mac, avoiding the need for dual-boot or virtualization​.

It has never been easier to use Windows on a Mac in 2024, so we’ve looked at all the best paid and free options available including on Apple Silicon Macs.

Installing Windows 10 or Windows 11 on your Mac is useful for many reasons from running Windows only software to playing games that are only available on Windows too.

It’s also much cheaper and more convenient than buying a separate PC or laptop just to use Windows on.

However, there’s no doubt that some ways of installing Windows on a Mac are much easier, reliable and effective than others especially in a world of both Intel and Apple Silicon Macs.

We’ve tested all the different options available so you can decide which one is best for you.

In our extensive research and testing, we found that using a virtual machine is the easiest and most effective way to run Windows on all Macs in 2024.

Here then are all the methods we’ve tried and tested in order of ranking.

1. Virtual Machine

windows 11 on mac in virtual machine

For most Mac users, using a virtual machine is the easiest and most convenient way to run Windows on a Mac in 2024.

By far the best virtual machine for Mac we’ve used is Parallels which automatically downloads and installs Windows 11 on a Mac making it easy enough even for beginners to use.

A virtual machine (also known as a virtual environment or virtualization software) allows you to run Windows “virtually” within macOS.

We found that Parallels is the best software to do this for its ease of installation, speed, and the number of ways it conveniently allows you to switch between macOS and Windows.

These include a convenient macOS and Windows blended view in Coherence mode or separated in window view mode.

Its also the easiest way to run Windows on Apple Silicon Macs and was the first virtual machine to support Windows ARM on Apple Silicon Macs.

Parallels is even the only solution officially authorized by Microsoft to run Windows on a Mac.

It can also be used to run 32 bit apps and games on a Mac too since macOS only supports 64-bit applications.

You can install Windows on a Mac for free with Parallels for 14 days by using the free trial as you only need to purchase a Windows activation key nowadays if you want to customize it.

The closest rival to Parallels is VMware Fusion which now also offers automatic installing and downloading of Windows 11 on a Mac but isn’t quite as powerful or as easy to use as Parallels.

You can read our direct head-to-head comparison of Parallels vs VMware Fusion here.

There’s also VirtualBox which is a free and open source virtual machine but much harder to setup and use than commercial products. It also doesn’t work with Apple Silicon.

Another free option is the UTM virtual machine but again, it’s pretty basic to run Windows on a Mac with and doesn’t have many features.

If you want to know more about virtual environments, you can check out all the VM’s that are available for Macs in our look at the best virtual machines for Mac.

Pros:

  • Very easy to install Windows
  • Runs Windows and macOS simultaneously
  • Excellent for gaming
  • Fast startup and shutdown time
  • Supports Windows keyboard shortcuts
  • Optimized for macOS Sonoma and Windows 11
  • Supports DirectX and Metal
  • Officially supports running Windows on M-chip Macs
  • Can be deployed across lots of Macs by IT teams

Cons:

  • Updates aren’t free
  • Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on
  • Can’t accelerate graphics card for gaming as well as Boot Camp
  • Will not support games that use anti-cheat protection software
  • Does not support running DirectX 12 (but does support DirectX 11)

2. Apple Boot Camp

boot camp installer mac

Traditionally, Apple Boot Camp has been one of the most popular ways to install Windows on a Mac but is gradually becoming more obsolete because of Apple’s decision to drop support for it from Apple Silicon Macs.

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 dual boot your Mac in either Windows or macOS.

Historically, using Boot Camp to run Windows only games has been especially popular with gamers because Boot Camp leverages more power from your graphics card as it doesn’t have to run a virtual machine like Parallels does.

Boot Camp therefore makes playing resource intensive games like Valheim on a Mac much smoother and less choppy as there are far fewer dropped frames.

However, the growing number of alternative ways of playing Windows games on a Mac mean that Boot Camp is increasingly less popular for this too.

That said, if you still have an Intel Mac, Boot Camp provides an easy and free way to run Windows on a Mac.

Boot Camp is also still useful for those Intel Mac users that require a lot of RAM or processing power such as CAD software and graphic design apps.

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.

The other big drawback is that Boot Camp also does not work with Apple Silicon Macs which is the chipset that’s powered Macs made from late 2020 onwards.

This means you can’t dual boot in Windows or macOS on an Apple Silicon Mac with Boot Camp.

There are also some iMacs which can’t use Boot Camp in macOS Mojave.

You can see how virtual machines vs Boot Camp compare below.

Boot CampVirtual Machines
Install Windows 10 & 11
Play Windows Games
Run Windows and macOS without restarting
Works on M1/M2 Macs
Run Windows and macOS apps at the same time
Share files and folders between macOS and Windows
Transfer all data from PC to your Mac
Copy and paste images between macOS and Windows

Free Trial

Pros:

  • Free in macOS on Intel Macs
  • Easy to setup
  • Dedicates all of your Mac’s hardware and resources to running Windows
  • Better for gaming as it leverages more power from the graphics card
  • Works for games protected by Vanguard anti-cheat software
  • Works for apps and games that require DirectX 12

Cons:

  • Only allows you to boot in either macOS or Windows
  • Requires dedicating some of your Mac hard drive space to running Windows
  • Some games won’t work with Boot Camp installations
  • Will not work with the latest Apple Silicon M-chip Macs

3. Crossover

crossover for mac

Crossover is a compatibility layer which “translates” Windows only apps and games to work on a Mac without actually having to install Windows.

Crossover is the best way of playing Windows games on a Mac although it can also run some Windows only applications too.

Crossover is based on the open source project Wine (see below) but in a far easier to use interface. It’s much easier to setup and use but it’s not free.

Crossover uses what’s called Rosetta 2 in macOS to “translate” Intel chip only games and software to work with Apple Silicon chips.

It doesn’t work with all games though and we recommend checking the list of Crossover supported apps and games before buying it.

Crossover is also one of the few ways of running Windows games and applications that require DirectX 12.

This means Mac users can play Windows or console only games to such as Diablo 4 and Hogwarts Legacy which require DirectX 12.

Pricing for Crossover starts at $74.00 (£60.00) for the Crossover+ plan  but there is also Crossover Life for $494 (£414.00) which gives you lifetime upgrades and support.

You can also try a 14 day free trial of Crossover to test it first.

You can also check out our full Crossover review for more.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require installing Windows to use Windows games and apps
  • Doesn’t require rebooting your Mac to play Windows games
  • Works with some games and software on M-chip Macs
  • Supports DirectX 12

Cons:

  • Annual subscription
  • Doesn’t work with all Windows apps and games
  • Slow to update when new versions of macOS are released

4. Wine

wine for mac

Wine (stands for Wine Is Not an Emulator) is a free way to install Windows on your Mac and it works by “wrapping” Windows in macOS.

Wine is a free open-source project although it is sponsored by CodeWeavers that are also behind the Windows gaming software Crossover (see above).

Wine is neither a Windows emulator or a virtual machine but is known as a compatibility layer that translates Windows applications and games to work on Mac and Linux.

Until recently, Wine was only 32-bit which meant that it did not support the latest versions of macOS but Wine 7 has been updated to support 64-bit operating systems including macOS Sonoma.

Wine also now works on the latest Apple Silicon Macs and supports Rosetta for running Intel applications on M1, M2 and M3 Macs.

We only recommend Wine for those that really know what they’re doing and have strong technical skills with Macs. Wine is notoriously difficult to use, setup and many times, doesn’t even work properly for all problems.

If you’re brave enough to try Wine, definitely check out the list of supported Wine applications first to avoid saving yourself a lot of pain.

Pros:

  • Free to use
  • No copy of Windows required
  • Now supports 64-bit applications and games
  • Works on Apple Silicon Macs

Cons:

  • Complicated to setup for many apps
  • Doesn’t work with all Windows programs
  • Installation often breaks with updates to macOS
  • Does not work with games protected by anti-cheat software
  • Does not support DirectX 12

5. Remote Desktop Software

remote desktop software mac

Another option to access Windows on a Mac is to run Windows remotely on another PC and use remote desktop software on your Mac to connect to it.

This involves using a remote desktop application of which there are many on the market.

They all basically connect to any Windows machine and then display the desktop of the PC on your Mac desktop.

This isn’t an ideal solution though because there’s usually plenty of lag between the PC, Mac or mobile device you’re connecting to and your Mac.

It’s also limited in what you can actually do – you can usually drag files and folders, open documents and save files but it’s certainly not suitable for playing games.

Probably the easiest way to do this nowadays is to use Windows App which streams Windows to a Mac from the Cloud and can be used either with a remote desktop client or simply a browser (see more on this below).

For a look at some of the options available, check out our guide to the best remote desktop tools for Mac.

Pros:

  • Doesn’t require installing Windows on any emulators on a Mac
  • Lots of apps to help you connect to a Windows machine
  • Easy to use once setup
  • Some remote desktop apps work with Apple Silicon Macs
  • Allows you to access and use apps that require DirectX 12

Cons:

  • Can be lots of lag
  • Remote desktop apps vary in price
  • Doesn’t give you access to as many features as Parallels
  • Requires access to a PC

6. Cloud Computing Services

cloud computing services

Cloud computing services allow you to hire or access a Windows PC in the Cloud which you can connect to remotely from a Mac.

With remote desktop software, you need a physical Windows PC to access remotely but with Cloud computing services, the Windows PC is provided for you in the Cloud.

You can install anything you want on the cloud PC including Windows only applications and games.

The most well known cloud computing services are Shadow and airGPU which are both commonly used by Mac users to play Windows only games in the Cloud but can be used for running any Windows application.

Both provide their own Mac desktop client to connect to a Cloud PC and are very easy to setup and install.

Cloud computing services require you to setup and install Windows applications and games remotely on the PC and then you can use them remotely from your Mac.

Cloud computing services also give you complete freedom to install whatever you want on your Cloud PC including game mods and DirectX 12 for example.

The main disadvantage of cloud computing services is that they are expensive to hire.

airGPU subscriptions for example start at $0.65 per hour for a cloud PC with a basic Nvidia Quadro RTX 4000 graphics card which soon adds-up if you’re using it for long periods.

This doesn’t include storage space either so you’ll have to add an extra $3.50 per 50GB of SSD storage space.

Considering you need at least 50+GB to install Windows and probably double this to install application, this can take the cost well over $1.50 an hour to use airGPU.

Alternatively, a Shadow subscription starts at $39.99 per month for a cloud PC with an Nvidia GTX 1080s graphics card with 250GB SSD drive space which may work out cheaper than paying hourly with airGPU.

The data transfer speeds for both airGPU and Shadow are extremely fast though with speeds of up to 100GB per second possible.

If you don’t have access to a Windows PC, then a cloud computing solution provides a convenient if expensive way of using one on a Mac

Pros:

  • Allows you to install any Windows application in the Cloud from a Mac
  • Doesn’t require you to have access to your own Windows computer
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Works for applications that require DirectX 12
  • Works on Intel and Apple Silicon Macs

Cons:

  • Subscriptions are expensive
  • Requires you to manually setup everything yourself
  • For gaming only supports maximum frame rates of 60fps
  • Only allows you to access Windows remotely, not physically on your Mac

7. Windows App

windows app on mac
Windows App on a Mac: Source: Microsoft

“Windows App” is a new service from Microsoft that allows you to stream Windows to a Mac.

Windows App was released in November 2023 although it is basically a reworking of Windows 365 which was announced in summer 2021.

Windows App allows you to stream Windows 11 from Microsoft Cloud to any Mac either in a browser or via a remote desktop client.

Windows App uses the same principle as cloud computing services except everything is provided and setup by Microsoft automatically so it’s arguably easier if you just want to use Windows only applications and are not interested in gaming.

Windows App also allows Apple Silicon M1, M2 and M3 Macs to access the standard version of Windows 10 or Windows 11 instead of just Windows ARM as is the case with virtual machines.

The Windows app allows Mac users to instantly connect to the following Microsoft services:

  • Azure Virtual Desktop
  • Windows 365
  • Microsoft Dev Box
  • Remote Desktop Services
  • Other remote Windows based PCs

It will even allow Mac users to use your webcam, speakers, printers, SD cards and other peripherals with the remote version of Windows.

We wouldn’t recommend using Windows App for using resource intensive applications or playing PC games though due to the technical limitations of accessing software remotely.

There are better ways to play Windows only games on a Mac not least Microsoft’s own Xbox Game Pass which allows you to play PC and Xbox games on a Mac.

At the moment Windows App is only available for businesses and enterprises on a per-user, per-month costing basis.

The exact pricing for Windows App depends on how powerful you need your Windows Cloud PC configuration and how many users you want to use it.

Pricing is the same as Windows 365 with the Basic Plan starting at $31.00 per user per month which gives you 2 vCPU, 4GB RAM and 128GB storage for your Windows 11 environment.

Note that if you cancel your Windows App subscription at any time, you will lose access to any data saved in it.

You can find out more about Windows App here.

Pros:

  • Runs Windows in the Cloud on a Mac
  • Windows is automatically accessible and setup for you
  • Works on Intel and Apple Silicon Macs
  • Doesn’t require you to setup anything
  • Supports Windows keyboard shortcuts
  • Supports external devices connected to a Macw
  • Easy to get started
  • Allows you to access and use apps that require DirectX 12

Cons:

  • Only for business and enterprises
  • Requires more expensive plans for powerful Windows environments
  • Pricing is per user
  • Requires a fast internet connection
  • You lose your Windows installation and data if you cancel the subscription
  • Not suitable for gaming

8. Flex (formerly Frame)

frame on mac

Flex (formerly known as Frame) doesn’t technically run Windows on your Mac but it does allow you to access Windows applications remotely and use them on your Mac in any browser.

Flex is known as a Desktop as a Solution Service (DaaS) that delivers Windows apps and programs to users on any device including Macs.

It was known as Frame until it was acquired from the developer Nutanix by Dizzion in 2023 although it still refers to itself as Flex “powered by Frame”.

Flex uses the same principle as cloud computing services by hosting Windows and Windows applications in the Cloud and then giving you access to them via your browser.

However, unlike Windows Windows App, you can’t actually use Microsoft Windows itself but you can use Windows based applications using Frame.

Flex is particularly popular for accessing Windows only CAD applications on Mac such as Solidworks and is mainly aimed at Enterprises that need system administrators to manage access across networks.

The main drawback of Flex is that it doesn’t actually give you access to Windows, only Windows applications.

Flex is also entirely Cloud based so requires a fast internet connection to work effectively.

Flex is aimed mainly at Enterprise customers rather than individuals with pricing plans on request only but you can try the service first.

Pros:

  • Nothing to install, all Cloud based
  • Supports a wide range of Windows applications
  • Provides ready made access to Windows only applications
  • Supports 4K monitors

Cons:

  • Doesn’t actually give you access to Windows itself
  • Can suffer lag depending on stability of connection
  • Doesn’t work with apps and games that require DirectX 12
  • Doesn’t work with games protected by anti-cheat software
  • Pricing aimed mainly at Enterprise customers

Comparison Table

Product Pricing (USD/GBP) Cross-Platform Compatibility Integration with Cloud Services Remote Access Notes
Virtual Machines Varies Yes Depends on the platform Yes Parallels, VMWare, VirtualBox, Hyper-V, etc.
Apple Boot Camp Free (Intel Macs only) No No Local Only Runs Windows on Mac hardware directly
Crossover $74.00/£60.00/year Yes No No Emulates Windows APIs for running Windows software
Wine Free Yes No No Open-source compatibility layer for running Windows apps
Remote Desktop Software Varies Yes Yes Yes Examples: TeamViewer, AnyDesk, Microsoft Remote Desktop
Cloud Computing Services Pay-as-you-go Yes Integrated Yes Examples: Shadow, airGPU, AWS, Azure, Google Cloud Platform
Windows App Varies Yes Integrated with Microsoft 365 Yes Microsoft’s cloud PC service
Flex (Frame) Varies Yes Integrated with Cloud Yes Cloud-based virtual desktop service

Are There Any Risks Installing Windows on Mac?

There are absolutely no risks running Windows on your Mac.

The most common ways of installing Windows on a Mac involve either running it in a a virtual environment or in a separate partition on your hard drive.

Both methods effectively isolate the rest of your Mac from any potential problems with viruses, malware or adware.

If the Windows installation were to get a virus or corrupted in some way, it wouldn’t damage macOS. You can simply delete the Windows installation and reinstall it.

However, we always recommend backing-up your Mac with Time Machine to an external hard drive before making any major changes to it.

If you choose to access Windows remotely in the Cloud from your Mac such as with Windows App or cloud computing services, then there’s no need to do this as Windows doesn’t actually touch your Mac at all – it’s all hosted in the Cloud.

If you’re also worried whether installing Windows on a Mac is illegal, there’s no need to.

Installing Windows on a Mac (or any other computer) is perfectly legal.

In fact, Apple actively encourages it by providing Boot Camp in Intel Macs and there’s no issues with the Windows EULA installing Windows on a Mac using any of these methods.

You can also use both Windows 10 and Windows 11 for free perfectly legally.

Microsoft only requires you to purchase a product key for Windows if you want to personalize things like the desktop wallpaper, theme and other minor tweaks.


Discover more from MacHow2

Subscribe to get the latest posts to your email.

error:

Discover more from MacHow2

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading