Installing Windows on a Mac is surprisingly easy and here we show you the very best way to run Windows on Mac including on El Capitan and Sierra. Installing Windows on your Mac opens up a whole new world of applications such as allowing you to enjoy Microsoft Visio on Mac, Project on Mac and Publisher on Mac or play popular PC only games such as FIFA on Mac. Macs generally last a long 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 PC or laptop specifically for running Windows apps. Here then we take a closer look at the best ways to run Windows on Mac
Best Way To Run Windows On Mac: Virtual Environments v Boot Camp
To run Windows on a Mac you’ve basically got two options – by using a virtual environment such as Parallels or VMWare Fusion or by using Boot Camp. For most users, using a virtual environment is the simplest and most convenient way to go but in some cases, particularly if you want to play games such as FIFA that require DirectX or OpenGL, using Boot Camp is your only option.
Here’s an overview of the major differences between the two.
- 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. The main disadvantage is that you need to purchase virtualization software in order to do this, the best easily being Parallels which costs $79.99 but there are other options such or VMWare Fusion. Also, because your Mac is running both OS X 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. Note that there are a few other free ways to run Windows on Mac using virtualization software such as Wine, Crossover and VirtualBox but they are considerably more complicated for the average user. We don’t recommend them for most users and 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 OS X 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 OS X. This option is particularly suitable for people that want to play games on their Mac or run games such as FIFA on Mac which require DirectX or OpenGL. This is because by choosing to start your Mac in either Windows or OS X (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. It’s also the only way to play Windows games on Mac that require DirectX or OpenGL because virtualization software such as Parallels still do not allow you to install them. The other advantage of Boot Camp is that it also doesn’t require you to purchase any other software apart from a copy of Windows because the Boot Camp installation assistant is already included in OS X – 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 OS X at one time – you can’t switch between the two instantly like with virtualization software. 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. You can find instructions on how to install Windows on Mac with Boot Camp here. 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 a copy of Windows either by purchasing it on CD/DVD or by downloading a Windows ISO image. With Parallels, you can conveniently select a preview copy of Windows to try during the installation which works for 30 days only by selecting “Get Windows 10 from Microsoft”.With VMWare Fusion however, you’ll need to have a Windows ISO ready. 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 30-100GB 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. If you fail to budget for enough space when installing Windows on your Mac, you’re in for some serious headaches further down the line when you’ll find you either can’t install anymore programs or they simply keep crashing/don’t run properly due to lack of hard drive space.
- 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. Check our aforementioned guide to the best external hard drive for Mac for some backup options. 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 will have no problem while the MacBook Air may struggle a bit depending on the specs. However, as long as your Mac is no older than 5 years old with 4GB, preferably 8GB of RAM, you should be fine. 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 fairly cheaply (see article referenced previously). 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 via virtual environment, the two best options are Parallels and VMWare Fusion. Parallels is easily 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 OS X 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. Running a virtual machine within Windows 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 12 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 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 via Boot Camp.
Installing Parallels is extremely simple although one thing to bear in mind before installing Parallels is that you need at least 16GB of hard drive space so that it can install Windows on your Mac. You can try a 14 day free trial of Parallels first or you can buy the full version for $79.99. You can choose to either pay a one-off payment of $79.99 or pay $79.99 per month, 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 purchase page to find the offer). Most users will only need the Home & Student Version of Parallels to install Windows on Mac, not the Pro or Business versions.
If you’ve checked you have enough RAM and hard drive space to install Windows on your Mac using Parallels, just follow these instructions.
- First you need to get Parallels. You can try a 14 day free trial of Parallels first or you can buy the full version for $79.99. You can choose to either pay a one-off payment of $79.99 or pay $69.99 per month, 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 purchase page to find the offer).
- When you have purchased Parallels or downloaded the free trial of Parallels for Mac, double click on it and the Parallels setup wizard will start. Parallels will offer you the choice to either get Windows 10 directly from Microsoft, install it from a a DVD or USB drive or connect your Mac to a PC and import Windows from it.
If you already have have a copy of Windows 7 or Windows 8 in ISO format, you can also install them instead from DVD or USB. You can find out here how to download an ISO Windows for Mac here.
Parallels will then automatically install Windows. If you’re intending to use Windows for gaming as well as other applications, make sure you select the checkbox “Express Installation” as this also installs Parallels Tools which you need in order to use Parallels for gaming. If you don’t select it, it’s not a disaster as you can install Parallels Tools separately later by going to Actions > Install Parallels Tools within Parallels but it’s just more hassle.
Finally, you’ll need your Windows product key to complete the installation:
You then need to select how you want to use Windows in Parallels Desktop for Mac. You can choose either Productivity or Games Only. If you’re unsure what you will be using Windows for, your best to select Games Only as it will optimize it for handling gaming but also be able to handle other applications too.
You can specify a location to install Parallels on your Mac. The default location for Parallels is /Users/username/Documents/Parallels but you can change this to whatever you want.
If you have more than one login account on your Mac, select “Share with other users of this Mac” if you want other users of the Mac to be able to use Parallels on your Mac. Finally, if you really know what you’re doing, select Customize settings before installation for more advanced options although most users don’t need to touch this and you can change these settings after installation anyway.
Finally, if you’re going to be gaming on your Mac, you must then make a few small configuration changes to ensure that Parallels is completely optimized to run games on Mac.
You first need to open the Virtual Machine Configuration Window. To find this, make sure that Parallels is closed on your Mac and click on the Parallels icon in your Mac Menu Bar.
Then select the cog next to the version of Windows you have installed.
You then need to ensure that a few settings are correct for gaming:
- Make sure the volume of Memory is within the limits on your Mac. You need at least 50% of total RAM still allocated to OS X. To check how much RAM and other specs of your Mac, click on the Apple logo as instructed earlier in this article.
- Go to Options > Optimization and ensure that the Performance option is set to ‘Faster virtual machine’. Make sure that Power is on “Better Performance”
- In Hardware > Video (Graphics) ensure that 256MB of video memory is set. For games other than FIFA that require DirectX you can also select the DirectX version from the drop-down menu.
- Make sure that Enable vertical synchronization is selected.
- Finally, go to Mouse & Keyboard > Smart Mouse and select Auto-detect Games. Likewise, make sure that the Keyboard option is set to Optimize for games.
The simply choose how you want Windows to display in your Mac and you’re done:
If you select “Like a Mac”, Parallels is now so well integrated with OS X that you can access Windows apps from your Dock as if they were installed on your Mac thanks to what’s called Parallels “Coherence” mode. All of your Windows and Mac files and folders are blended together so that there’s no separation between the two operating systems.
In fact, if you miss the Windows Start Menu in Windows 8, using Windows on a Mac with Parallels in coherence mode effectively brings it back by adding a Start Menu to your Dock from where you can access all of your programs.
However some people may find it a bit confusing having their Windows and Mac files and folder all mixed together in which case it’s better to choose “Like a PC”. In this mode, Windows will be contained within it’s own separate window within OS X that you can access at any time.
Whichever option you choose, the extremely convenient thing about Parallels is that you can drag and drop files and folders between Windows and Mac easily. Parallels also supports all types of external devices connected to your Mac. So far example, if you want to connect a USB, Firewire or Thunderbolt device, it will be available within Windows on your Mac (check out our guide to the best external hard drive for Mac for more on external storage devices).
In terms of price, Parallels is constantly competing with VMWare Fusion. There is a 14 day free trial and if you choose to buy, the standard price is usually around $79.99 although Parallels often run promotions throughout the year. 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.
You can watch Parallels in action on a Mac here:
Very easy to install Windows
Superb integration between Windows and Mac
Excellent for gaming
Fast Startup and Shutdown time
Optimized for Retina Macs
Updates aren’t free unless you choose subscription model
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 OS X, 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.
You can see VMWare Fusion in action below with a useful comparison of how VMWare compares with Parallels:
Easy to setup Windows on a Mac
Offers several different ways of you want Windows to display on a Mac
Superb integration between Windows and Mac
Doesn’t require a separate license for each Mac installed on
No account needed to use free trial
Doesn’t provide any way to download or purchase a copy of Windows (you must have your own copy ready)
Slightly slower than Parallels especially for gaming
Updates aren’t free
Doesn’t support DirectX or OpenGL
We give Parallels the edge over VMWare Fusion mainly because it’s easier to use, updated regularly and is also slightly faster for games. We also like the fact that you can try a sample version of Windows with the free trial so you don’t need to purchase a copy of Windows until you’re sure that it’s right for you. The latest version of Parallels has been through many refinements and revisions and it’s now incredibly easy to have your cake and eat it when it comes to choosing between PC & Mac. The main disadvantage of Parallels and VMWare is that they do not support games that need DirectX or OpenGL for which your only option is to install Windows on Mac using Boot Camp.
If you have any questions or issues installing Windows on your Mac, let us know in the comments below.