Nowadays it has never been easier to run Windows on a Mac so we’ve looked at the best ways to do so in 2021 including on M1 Macs.
Installing Windows 10 on your Mac is useful for many reasons from running Windows only software to playing PC only games.
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 10 on a Mac are much easier, reliable and effective than others.
We’ve taken a closer look at the different options available so you can decide which one is best for you.
Are There Any Risks Installing Windows on Mac?
Because installing Windows on a Mac involves separating it into either a virtual environment or a separate partition on your hard drive, there are absolutely no risks installing Windows on your Mac.
Running Windows on a Mac effectively isolates 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 installation and reinstall it.
It’s also extremely easy to install Microsoft Windows on a Mac nowadays and Virtual Machines like Parallels make it easy even for beginners to do it.
However, we always recommend backing-up your Mac to an external hard drive before making any major changes to it.
If you’re 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 thanks to Boot Camp in Intel Macs and there’s no issues with the Windows EULA installing Windows on a Mac using any of these methods.
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With this in mind, here then are the best ways to install Windows on a Mac of 2021 in order of ranking.
1. Virtual Machine (Best For Beginners)
A virtual machine (also known as a virtual environment or virtualization software) allows you to run Windows “virtually” within macOS.
There’s also VirtualBox which is free and open source but much harder to setup and use.
Although VMWare has improved a lot, we still think Parallels is the best way to run Windows on your Mac in 2021 for its ease of installation, speed, and the way it conveniently allows you to switch between macOS and Windows instantly.
You can even install Windows on a Mac for free with Parallels as you only need to purchase a Windows 10 activation key nowadays if you want to customize it.
Or if you already have Windows 10 installed on a PC, you can use the same 25 figure activation key during the Windows installation process in Parallels to get another fully activated copy for free on your Mac.
Virtual Machines are by far the most convenient Windows on Mac solution for most users because they allow 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.
Parallels has got this off to a tee nowadays with Coherence Mode blurring the line between macOS and Windows so that you can work in both with almost no separation between the two.
Parallels is also the best way to run Windows on M1 Macs.
Apple’s latest generation of Silicon Macs use a different ARM M1 chip and Parallels is the currently the only way to run Windows on Apple silicon M1 Macs.
The main rival to Parallels is VMWare Fusion which has now released a free version for non-commercial use but we’ve found that nothing comes close to Parallels in terms of ease of setup, use and support.
You can try Parallels for Mac for free here to test it first.
Parallels costs $79.99 for a home license or $99.99 for a Pro License suitable for developers, testers and power users.
For a limited time you can also get 50% off Parallels with an educational discount for students and teachers.
If you want to learn more, check out our full Parallels Desktop review.
- Very easy to install Windows
- Runs Windows and macOS simultaneously
- Excellent for gaming
- Fast startup and shutdown time
- Optimized for macOS Mojave, Catalina, Big Sur and Windows 10
- Now supports DirectX and Metal
- Runs Windows on M1 Macs
- Updates aren’t free
- Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on
- Subscription pricing model
- Not yet officially compatible with Apple Silicon M1 chip Macs
- Can’t accelerate graphics card for gaming as well as Boot Camp
2. Apple Boot Camp (Best For Gamers)
By far the most popular alternative to installing Windows with a virtualization software is by using Apple Boot Camp.
Using Boot Camp to run Windows and install Windows only games is 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.
This makes playing games like Valheim on a Mac much smoother and less choppy as there are far fewer dropped frames.
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.
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.
Note also that that are some iMacs which can’t use Boot Camp in macOS Mojave.
Finally, be aware that Apple has confirmed that Boot Camp will not work with Apple Silicon M1 Macs which is the new chipset and ARM processors that powers new Macs from late 2020 onwards.
If you are thinking of buying a new Mac in 2021, Boot Camp is definitely not an option if you want to install Windows on it.
You can find full instructions on how to install Windows 10 on Mac for free with Boot Camp here.
If you’re also interested in other ways to play Windows games on a Mac, you may also be interested in GeForce Now For Mac which is a gaming platform by NVIDIA which allows Mac users to play Windows only games in the Cloud.
- Free in macOS
- 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
- Only allows you to boot in either macOS or Windows
- Some games won’t work with Boot Camp installations
- Will not work with the latest Apple Silicon M1 Macs
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.
Note that Wine is 32 bit only which means it does not work with macOS Catalina which only supports 64 bit applications.
This is hard to explain without getting very technical and boring but it basically allows your Mac to interpret what are called Windows API calls.
For more on running 32 bit apps on Catalina check here.
However, 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.
- Free to use
- No copy of Windows required
- Does not work with macOS Catalina
- Complicated to setup for many apps
- Doesn’t work with all Windows programs
- Installation often breaks with updates to macOS
- Does not work with Apple Silicon M1 Macs
Crossover is based on Wine but in a far easier to use interface. It’s much easier to setup and use but it’s not free and costs $39.95.
Also, since it’s based on Wine, it can only run Windows programs that are Wine compatible which restricts the number of games and apps that work with it on a Mac.
Apart from Parallels though, Crossover is currently the only way to play some Windows games on M1 Macs. Crossover uses what’s called Rosetta 2 in macOS to “translate” Intel chip only games and software to work with the M1 chip.
You can watch Team Fortress 2 being played on an M1 Mac using Crossover below and as you can see, the performance is pretty good.
It doesn’t work with all games though and we recommend checking the list of Crossover supported apps and games before buying it.
You can also try a free trial of Crossover to try it first.
- Easier to setup and use than Wine
- Works with some games and software on M1 Macs
- Not free
- Limited amount of Windows games and apps it can run
- Can only run the same apps and games as Wine
- Slow to update when new versions of macOS are released
- Doesn’t work with many games and apps on M1 Macs
5. Remote Desktop Software
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 a 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.
For a look at some of the options available, check out our guide to the best remote desktop tools for 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 M1 Macs
- Can be lots of lag
- Remote desktop apps vary in price
- Doesn’t give you access to as many features as Parallels
- Definitely not suitable for gaming
Frame doesn’t actually run Windows on your Mac but it does allow you to access Windows applications remotely and use them on your Mac in your browser.
Frame uses the same principle as remote desktop software by hosting Windows and Windows applications in the Cloud and then giving you access to them via your browser.
The main drawback of Frame is that it doesn’t actually give you access to Windows, it’s Cloud based so requires an internet connection and it’s not cheap with plans starting at $20 per user per month.
- Nothing to install, all Cloud based
- Supports a wide range of Windows applications
- Doesn’t actually give you access to Windows itself
- Can suffer lag depending on stability of connection
- Not compatible with Apple Silicon M1 Macs