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.
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.
At the moment, the only major rival to Parallels is VMWare Fusion which is not expected to officially support M1 Macs until Spring 2022 although there is currently an Apple Silicon Preview of VMWare Fusion version that does work with the M1 chip.
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 problem with Windows 10 for ARM is that many programs and applications don’t work with it.
Although Windows 10 for ARM can run some software that the Intel x86 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 10 for ARM on an M1 Mac.
If the application you want to run is available in the Microsoft Store, then it probably runs on Windows 10 for ARM. If it isn’t however, it may not work.
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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Can You Install Windows 11 on an M1 Mac?
You can now install Windows 11 on a Mac although currently only the Pre-Installation Environment version is available. The official version of Windows 11 isn’t due until Fall 2021.
Windows 11 requires a physical TPM chip to run and although Macs don’t have one, Parallels can now emulate a virtual TPM chip so that Windows 11 will run on both Intel and M1 Macs.
You can watch Windows 11 running on an M1 Mac below and find full instructions how to run Windows 11 on a Mac here.
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.
- 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 will then ask you what type of OS you want to install. Select “Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or Image file.”
- At this stage, you will need to download the Windows 10 for ARM VHDX file. To do this you have to register for the Windows Insider Program here.
If you can’t download Windows 10 for any reason, you can also download it from 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Then that’s it – you’ve completed the installation of Windows 10 on your M1 Mac.
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.