Nowadays you can have the best of both worlds on Mac as it’s never been easier to run Windows on a Mac. We’ve taken a look at the best ways to run Windows on a Mac in 2020.
We found the best way to run Windows on Mac is Parallels which is by far the easiest, fastest and most convenient way to run macOS and Windows at the same time.
Even better you can now even install Windows on your Mac for free using Parallels since Windows 10 only requires paying for if you want to customize the default version.
With this in min, here then are the best ways to install Windows on a Mac of 2020 in order of ranking.
1. Virtual Machine
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.
We ranked Parallels the best way to run Windows on your Mac in 2020 for its ease of installation, speed, and the way it conveniently allows you to switch between macOS and Windows instantly.
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.
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.
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
- Updates aren’t free
- Requires a separate license for each Mac you want to install it on
- Subscription pricing model
- Not clear if it will work with Apple Silicon and ARM chips in new Macs
By far the most popular alternative to installing Windows with a virtualization software is by using Apple 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.
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 which is the new chipset and ARM processors that will power new Macs from late 2020 onwards.
If you are thinking of buying a new Mac in late 2020 onwards, then Boot Camp is not an option for you.
You can find full instructions on how to install Windows 10 on Mac for free with Boot Camp here.
- Free in macOS
- Easy to setup
- Dedicates all of your Mac’s hardware and resources to running Windows
- Only allows you to boot in either macOS or Windows
- Some games won’t work with Boot Camp installations
- Will not work with Apple Silicon from late 2020 onwards
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.
Many stock trading platforms recently found this out to their cost as many of them offer a customized version of MetaTrader for Mac wrapped in Wine which suddenly broke when macOS Catalina stopped supporting 32-bit apps like Wine.
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
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.
- Easier to setup and use than Wine
- 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
Another option to access Windows on a Mac is to run Windows remotely on another PC and tap into it from your Mac.
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
- 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
Why Install Windows on a Mac Anyway?
It might seem strange to some that anyone would want to use Windows on a Mac.
After all, one of the main reasons for using a Mac is that macOS is so much better than Microsoft Windows.
In addition, Macs generally last a lot longer than PCs too so it’s 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.
What You’ll Need To Run Windows on a Mac
If you choose one of our top 2 choices – a Virtual Machine or Boot Camp – there are some essential things to prepare first to prevent serious problems or disappointments further down the line.
The other methods featured here such as Wine, Crossover and Frame all “emulate” Windows but not half as effective, stable or as easy to use as Virtual Machines or installing Windows via Boot Camp.
Here’s what you’ll need before you start looking at which method to use to install Windows on your Mac.
A Copy Of Microsoft Windows
If you choose to use a virtual machine, it helps if you download a free Windows ISO image first.
With Parallels, you can conveniently do this within the setup Wizard by selecting the first option “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 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 by connecting it via cable.
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.
A Lot Of Hard Drive Space
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.
If you need to clear some space on your hard drive, check out our guide about how to check storage on your Mac and find large files that are hogging valuable disk space.
If you’re really struggling for space, you don’t have to install Windows on your Mac’s internal hard drive as you can also install it on a an external USB 3.0, Thunderbolt or SSD hard drive.
The technology of external hard drives however 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.
A Fairly New Mac
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 just about work with 4GB of RAM it’s not recommended and you’re much better having 8GB of RAM.
You can check your Mac’s specs by going to the Apple logo in the top left corner and selecting “About This Mac”
One thing to be aware of however is that from 2020 onwards, new Macs will be built with Apple Silicon inside which is Apple’s own chipset based on ARM processors.
Apple has already confirmed that Boot Camp will not work with Apple Silicon but it’s not clear yet if any of these ways of running Windows on a Mac will work on Macs built in late 2020 onwards.
It’s certainly more probable that virtual machines will be the first to be made compatible with Apple Silicon than free emulators like Wine and Frame.
Tips For Running Windows On A Mac
- Sharing Windows
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 to an external drive 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.
- Accessing Files On Your Mac
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 things such as Microsoft Access, Project and Visio files 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.
- Virus Protection
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 into macOS.
Using an eGPU With Windows On a Mac
eGPUs for Macs are becoming an increasingly popular way of enhancing the performance of a Mac rather than upgrading to a new Mac.
An eGPU unit basically plugs into your Mac to significantly enhance the graphics capabilities of a Mac and enables you to use a VR Headset with your Mac.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of using an eGPU connected to your Mac with Windows yet. None of the following methods for running Windows on macOS support eGPUs.
It is technically possible to connect an eGPU to your Mac using Boot Camp but it’s complicated, tedious and doesn’t always work so we can’t even recommend it.
As eGPUs become more popular on Mac, this could change though.