We’ve tried many ways of running Windows on Mac and this is our verdict on the very best way to run Windows on Mac. The bottom line is, if you just need Windows occasionally to access certain applications which aren’t available on OS X, it’s best to use a virtual environment such as Parallels or VMWare. If you’re going to use Windows for gaming or very demanding applications such as Visio or Soldworks on your Mac, it’s better to install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp. We’ve done the hard work for you by looking at these two different ways of installing Windows on your Mac so you can decide which one is best for you. There are a few other ways to use Windows on a Mac other than those reviewed here such as Wine, Crossover and VirtualBox. However, because they are more complicated to setup and use for most general users, we don’t recommend them and have focused on those that are the most user friendly for those new to running Windows on Mac.
The Best Way To Run Windows On Mac
Important Note: 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 select a preview copy of Windows to try during the installation which works for 30 days only but with VMWare Fusion you’ll need to have one 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.
To run Windows on a Mac you’ve basically got two options:
- Option 1: Virtual Environment – Run Windows and OS X at the same time.
This option is by far the most convenient for most users because it allows you to use your Mac normally while using a Windows application in a separate window. You have full access to the rest of your Mac apps while enjoying the convenience of having the Windows available in a separate window on your desktop.The disadvantage is that the most user friendly software you need to run Windows on a Mac this way – Parallels – costs around $80. 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. The most popular Virtual Environment solutions on Mac are Parallels and VMWare Fusion which are the two packages we focus on in this article. Both are optimized for Snow Leopard and above and work on Lion, Mavericks and OS X 10.10 Yosemite.
- Option 2: Boot Camp – Install Windows on your Mac hard drive so you can choose to boot your Mac in either Windows or OS X.
This second option is suitable for people that want to play games on their Mac or use highly demanding Windows applications such as Visio. This is because by choosing to start your Mac in either Windows or OS X (rather than running both at the same time as in the first option) your Mac can devote all of its resources to the demands of Windows game or app you are running. It also doesn’t require you to purchase any software (apart from a copy of Windows as stated in the introduction). The tool you need to install Windows this way – Boot Camp – is already included in OS X. Just search for Boot Camp in Spotlight on your Mac. The disadvantage is that you’re restricted to using either Windows or OS X at one time – you can’t switch between the two instantly like in option one. We have covered this method in a separate article about how to install Windows on Mac with Boot Camp here. In the rest of this article, we look at how to run Windows on a Mac using a virtual environment.
How To Run Windows On Mac Using A Virtual Environment
There are two main options when it comes to user friendly Virtual Environments on Mac – Parallels and VMWare Fusion. Both of them have been highly polished and refined over the years to make running Windows on a Mac incredibly easy and user friendly.
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.
Installing Parallels is extremely simple although one thing to bear in mind before installing Parallels is that you need at least 15GB of hard drive space so that it can install Windows on your Mac.
First choose how you want install Windows – either from a disc/image file or by importing it from a PC.Then select the image file or DVD that you want to install from:
Parallels will then automatically take you through the installation process and you’ll need your Windows product key if your installing from a DVD or Disc Image:
The simply choose how you want Windows to display in your Mac and you’re done:
The system 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.
In fact, if you miss the Windows Start Menu in Windows 8, using Windows on a Mac with Parallels effectively brings it back by adding a Start Menu to your Dock from where you can access all of your programs.
The other extremely useful feature of Parallels is that you can drag and drop files and folders between Windows and Mac easily. Parallels is generally very fast although how fast depends on how much RAM you have (at least 4GB is needed). In particular, Parallels performs surprisingly well when it comes to gaming. Although gamers are generally better to install Windows on their Mac hard drive using Bootcamp, the latest versions of Parallels handles Windows gaming within OS X very well indeed. This may be because Parallels dedicates 1GB of Video RAM (VRAM) to games and has a powerful 3D engine designed for the demands of gaming. The result is a faster, smoother Windows gaming experience on your Mac.
Finally, Parallels 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.
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.
Pros: Superb integration between Windows and Mac, The best virtual machine for gaming, Very easy to install Windows, Lots of annual sales promotions, Very fast Shutdown and Start up time, Optimized for Retina Macs.
Cons: Updates aren’t free, Requires a lot of RAM (at least 4GB) although most modern Macs have at least this, Requires at least 15GB of Hard Drive, Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on, Requires a Parallels account to use free trial.
You can also watch Parallels in action on a Mac here:
VMWare Fusion ($59.99. Free Trial)
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.
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.
Pros: Offers many different ways of you want Windows to display on a Mac, No account needed to use free trial, Superb integration between Windows and Mac, Very easy to install Windows, Doesn’t require a separate license for each Mac installed on.
Cons: 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, Requires at least 6GB of space.
You can see VMWare Fusion in action here with a comparison of how VMWare compares with Parallels:
These are by far to the two best ways to run Windows on a Mac. If you have any questions or issues with either of them let us know in the comments. We give Parallels the edge over VMWare Fusion mainly because it’s slightly faster, especially for games, and makes installing Windows easy f you don’t have a copy and the integration with OS X is superb.