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If you’re wondering whether the Apple Silicon M1 Mac can run Windows the good news is it can and here we show you how to install Windows on an M1 Mac for free.

Although there are various ways of running Windows on a Mac, the best way to run Windows on an M1 Mac is with Parallels.

Parallels is a virtual machine which runs Windows “virtually” within macOS meaning you can switch between Windows and macOS instantly.

Parallels is incredibly easy to use even for beginners and once you’ve downloaded everything, will install Windows on an M1 Mac in little more than 10 minutes.

Parallels is currently the only virtual machine that is officially compatible with the M1 chip and allows you to run Intel only Windows software on Apple Silicon M1 Macs.

Since Boot Camp doesn’t work on M1 Macs, Parallels is therefore the only way to install Windows on an M1 Mac in 2021.

We think that Parallels is better than using Apple Boot Camp anyway because it conveniently allows you to switch between macOS and Windows at the same time whereas Boot Camp doesn’t.

Windows 10 ARM on M1 Macs: Before You Start

There are a few catches to be aware of though when installing Windows with Parallels on an M1 Mac.

Since the M1 is an ARM (Advanced RISC Machine) chip, Parallels can only run the “Windows 10 for ARM” version of Windows not the standard Intel version that’s installed on most computers.

Windows 10 for ARM is not publicly available but you can download it for free as part of the Windows Insider program which anyone can sign-up for.

The other snag is that, although Windows 10 for ARM can run most software that the Intel version of Windows can (thanks to something called x86 emulation), it doesn’t always work with all programs or games.

You may therefore find that some games or software simply don’t work after installing Windows on an M1 Mac.

Note also that some games such as Valorant won’t work when running Windows in Parallels due to the anti-cheat Vanguard protection software.

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How To Install Windows 10 on an M1 Mac

With this in mind, follow these instructions to install Windows on an M1 MacBook or M1 Mac Mini.

  • Download Parallels for Mac and install it. You can use the free trial to try it first.
  • When prompted, allow Parallels to access all folders and directories.

install windows m1 mac - parallels desktop permissions

  • Parallels will confirm that you’re using an M1 chip Mac explaining that it will use the Windows 10 for ARM version. Click on Continue.

parallels m1 chip

  • Parallels will then ask you what type of OS you want to install. Select “Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or Image file.”

m1 mac windows - paralells install os

Note that you’ll need to register for a Microsoft account too to do this if you don’t already have one. When you’ve registered, you can download the Windows 10 for ARM VHDX file here.

Note that the VHDX file is 9.1 GB so you’ll need plenty of free disk space available.

  • Drag and drop the VHDX file into the Parallels installer.

windows 10 for arm parallels

  • Parallels will ask you whether you want to use Windows primarily for Productivity or Gaming. This helps it optimize the Windows installation on your Mac for how you will mainly use it.
  • You’ll also need to specify a name for the installation (e.g. Windows 10) and chose where to save it on your Mac. This will require 17.18GB of disk space.
  • Select the options “Create alias on Mac desktop” and “Customize settings before installation” at the bottom of the installer.
  • When you’ve done this, click “Create” to create the Windows 10 installation on your M1 Mac.
  • After some time, Parallels will prompt you to customize the installation settings. The default setting is 4 CPUS and 4GB of RAM allocated to Parallels. If you’ve got the 16GB M1 Mac, we strongly recommend increasing this to 8GB or 12GB in order for Windows to work as fast as possible with games and software on your M1 Mac.

windows configuration assistant parallels

  • Click Continue when you’re done and Parallels will then ask you to allow other permissions such as access to your Mac’s iSight camera, microphone and Bluetooth.
  • Finally, Parallels will ask you to sign-up for a free Parallels account after which you’ll need to accept the Parallels user agreement.

sign-up parallels account

  • Then that’s it – you’ve completed the installation of Windows 10 on your M1 Mac.

windows m1 mac install complete

From here, you can install Windows apps or gaming platforms in on your Mac such as Steam, Microsoft Office or any other Windows only games and software that won’t work on a Mac.

How Does Windows 10 Perform on an M1 Mac?

Windows 10 runs incredibly fast on an M1 Mac using Parallels. In fact, it’s so fast that it’s arguably better at running Windows than any PC laptops.

If you measure the performance in Geekbench, even when running Windows virtually, then the M1 chip outperforms some PCs with Intel chips running Windows natively which is pretty incredible.

Considering the amount of emulation that is going on between Parallels and Windows 10 for ARM to run Intel only games and software, it’s incredible how smooth everything is.

For example, you can play GTA V in Windows on your Mac via Steam absolutely perfectly without the fans on just an M1 MacBook Air even kicking into action.

You can also watch YouTube videos in 4K which play amazingly well even using the Microsoft Edge browser.

You can easily switch between macOS and Windows by pressing CMD+TAB on your Mac at any time and there’s no lag when resuming the virtual machine.

Which Games Work on M1 Macs Running Windows?

Unfortunately, we found that some games simply would not work on an M1 Mac running Windows 10 for ARM.

Steam games such as GTA V, Rocket League and Final Fantasy 7 worked amazingly well even on the highest graphic settings at 30 FPS with no glitching at all.

However, many other games simply wouldn’t launch on Steam and other gaming platforms.

We had the same problem with games on Battle.net in Windows such as World of Warcraft III, Call of Duty: Cold War and Overwatch all of which wouldn’t work either.

Downloading extra Windows plugins such as Direct X and the x86 version of Visual C++ didn’t help either.

This is probably because some games use the anti-cheat Vanguard protection system which simply won’t work when you run Windows on a Mac with Parallels.

We found exactly the same problem when trying to run Valorant on a Mac on an Intel Mac so it’s not just M1 Macs that are affected by this.

Overall all, playing those Windows games that do work on an M1 Mac is an incredible experience and illustrates the awesome power of the M1 chip.

If you have any problems or questions installing Windows on your M1 Mac, let us know in the comments below.

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7 Responses

  1. smayer97

    Good info.

    Of course, a reminder that until Windows 10 for ARM supports 64-bit software, all Windows software will run in 32-bit mode or 32-bit versions. This means memory hungry apps will be constrained.

    Reply
  2. smayer97

    Also, there is an alternative to running Windows 10 software on M1 Macs: Crossover. It too is compatible with M1.

    It is not technically a VM and ti does not run Windows 10 but according to their site, it will run Windows 10 software, though it is not compatible with all software.

    (Note: I do not vouch for the software… just pointing out an alternative).

    Reply
    • MacHow2

      It’s true that Crossover can now run some Windows only games on M1 Macs but it doesn’t work with all games and apps and as you say, it doesn’t install Windows on your Mac either.

      Reply
  3. smayer97

    Sorry but I meant to and should have qualified that statement. Windows 10 for ARM does not yet support 64-bit software in a final release version.

    64-bit software support is only available in their pre-release Preview version, aka beta software.

    Reply
    • MacHow2

      That’s true but fortunately, as this tutorial shows, Parallels supports installing the Windows 10 ARM preview version which does support x86 emulation and 64 bit support.

      Reply

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