Many Mac users are still unaware that you can install Windows 10 on a Mac for free from Microsoft perfectly legally, including on M1 Macs.
Microsoft doesn’t actually require users to activate Windows 10 with a product key unless you want to customize the look of it.
Although you can of course purchase a Windows 10 license (which costs $119.99 from Microsoft) the only advantage of activating it is that it allows you to customize the look for Windows 10 such as the desktop, lock screen, styling, removal of watermarks etc.
For most Mac users that just want to install Windows only programs or games on macOS, this is not necessary and so you can enjoy Windows 10 for free.
Here we show you how you can easily get Windows 10 on your Mac for free, including Apple Silicon M1 Macs, in little more than 10 minutes.
Best Way To Run Windows 10 on Mac For Free
The best way to run Windows on a Mac is to install it in a virtual machine.
A virtual machine allows you to run Windows and macOS at the same time so that you can switch between the two at any moment with just one click.
By far the best virtual environment on Mac is Parallels which makes it extremely easy to install Windows on macOS. With Parallels, you can switch between Windows games or apps and macOS instantly in just a click.
Parallels is also the only way to run Windows on M1 Macs.
Parallels can install Windows 10 for ARM on M1 Macs which is a specially adapted version of Windows for ARM processors like the M1 chip.
Virtual Machine vs Boot Camp
The alternative to a using a virtual machine is to install Windows in a separate partition on your hard drive using Apple’s Boot Camp.
However this means that you can only boot your Mac in either macOS or Windows at one time – you can’t run them simultaneously.
Boot Camp also does not work with Apple Silicon M1 Macs.
For the needs of most Mac users that want to run Windows only programs on Mac, using a virtual machine is by far your best option.
The only reason you may want to use Boot Camp is if the Windows program or game you want to use either doesn’t work in virtual environments or requires a lot of graphics processing power.
Examples include games such as Valorant which won’t work in virtual environments due to the Vanguard anti-cheat software or powerful CAD applications and graphic design software which are highly demanding on your Mac’s resources.
How To Run Windows 10 on Mac For Free
Before you start, you should have at least:
- At least 4GB of RAM but we recommend 8GB of RAM if possible
- At least 40GB of hard drive space free just to run Parallels and Windows. However, if you intend to install lots of games and software we recommend at least double this.
The good news is that if you’re running low on space, you can get an external drive for your Mac and install Windows on that although it’s generally better to install it on your Mac hard drive if possible.
Note that If you want to install Windows on an M1 Mac, the following procedure is slightly different and you can find instructions how to install Windows on an M1 Mac for free here.
With this in mind, follow these instructions to install Windows 10 on any Intel Mac for free.
- Download Parallels for Mac. Although there are other virtual machines are available, Parallels is by far the easiest way to install Windows 10 on Mac. Parallels has been around for many years and the installation process in the latest version of Parallels is now so automated and refined then it even downloads and install Windows 10 for you. All you need to do is install Parallels itself. You don’t even need to purchase it to try it – you can download a free trial of Parallels instead.
- Double click on the Parallels installer. Note that you can’t just drag it into your Applications folder – you need to run the installer for Parallels to install in macOS. You may see a warning that “Parallels is an application downloaded from the internet. Are you sure you want to open it?” Click Open and you will then need to enter your Mac admin password in order to allow the installer to run.
- If you’ve never installed Parallels on your Mac before, when the installer is complete it will automatically launch the Windows 10 installation wizard. This conveniently installs Windows 10 on your Mac with no further action needed from you. Simply click Install Windows at the bottom and then skip to step 5 and sit back for about 10 minutes while Windows 10 downloads and installs.
- If you have previously tried installing Parallels on your Mac before, Parallels will detect this and you may not see the auto-installer above. Instead you will see the New Virtual Machine installation assistant below. Click on Get Windows 10 From Microsoft.
- You’ll be given a choice of Windows versions to choose from. Select the last option Download Windows 10 – don’t worry about the “If you have a license key” warning because as highlighted in the introduction to this tutorial, you no longer need to activate Windows 10 to actually use it.
- Parallels will then download a free ISO image of Windows 10. The ISO image is a fully functional free “unactivated” version of Windows 10. The only benefit that activation offers is the ability to customize Windows 10 with wallpapers, themes, lock screens etc and it also removes a small watermark on the lower right hand corner of Windows so you really don’t have to pay for an license if you don’t want to.
- If for any reason Parallels can’t download Windows 10, you can download the free ISO image of Windows 10 from Microsoft yourself and put it on a Pen Drive with at least 5GB of space. You would then have to select the second option in the Virtual Machine Wizard Install Windows from a DVD or Image File. If you go this route, make sure you download the 64-bit version of Windows and not the 32-bit version.
- Before the Windows installer starts, you will be prompted to create a Parallels account. This is done instantly when you enter your email and click Create Account – you don’t have to wait for any confirmation emails or anything, you just have to choose a password. You can also use your Facebook or Google account to sign-up instead.
- When you’ve created a Parallels account, you will see Windows being setup just as if you were installing it on a PC. This can take up to to ten minutes to complete and you’ll see a progress bar across the bottom.
- After the installer has run, Windows will start the final setup phase. Don’t worry if it seems to hang as it’s still working.
- Windows will then go into the final setup phase and you’ll then be warned it could take several minutes (although it should only be a few minutes at most). Make sure you don’t turn off your Mac or press anything.
- Finally, you’ll see an “Installation Complete” message and hey presto, you’ve got Windows 10 on your Mac.
- When you use Windows for the first time, you will hear and see various pop-ups in Windows as Parallels automatically detects hardware on your Mac. This is one of the best things about Parallels as it instantly integrates Windows with your Mac. With other virtual environments, you usually have to manually configure ports, hardware and sharing between your Mac and PC but Parallels automates the entire process so that your Mac and PC work in harmony from the start. You’ll even see all of your Mac desktop documents on your Windows desktop without having to do anything.
- You may also see a Windows Activation screen pop-up but you can simply click Close it unless you’ve bought a full license for Windows and have a product key.
- If you’re installing Windows only Office applications, we’ve provided full instructions on how to run Publisher on Mac and run Access on Mac. You can also install Office by going to the Windows 10 Start Menu and selecting Get Office.
And that’s it – you’ve installed Windows 10 on your Mac for free!
The only cost you’ll face is that after 14 days, the free trial of Parallels will expire. You’ll then have to choose whether to buy a license for $79.99 or you can choose an annual subscription of $79.99 per year which includes free upgrades.
Parallels is updated frequently to keep apace of updates to macOS and Windows so this may work out cheaper in the long run than having to buy a new version every year if new versions of macOS and Windows are released.
You don’t have to upgrade every year but the likelihood is you’ll need to upgrade at least every 2-3 years or so as Macs, macOS and Windows evolve.
One thing to be aware of is that you may notice that your Mac’s cooling fans go into overdrive when installing Windows via Parallels and running Windows on your Mac.
This is because running a virtual environment is a very intensive process for your Mac’s resources and Windows will need a lot of RAM and CPU power to run on your Mac.
The system requirements for Parallels are an Intel Core processor with a minimum of 4GB of RAM but it recommends 8GB of RAM.
However, even when running it on a MacBook Pro with a 2.3 GHz Intel Core iZ with 8GB, it’s still pushing it. If you check Activity Monitor, you may notice that Windows 10 sometimes uses all of your CPU resources.
Don’t be alarmed by this – your Mac can handle it but you should reduce the number of applications running on your Mac to a minimum to help Parallels and Windows operate as smoothly as possible.
The best advice is basically to use Parallels on the newest Mac possible with the most RAM possible.
The latest iMac Pros have 8, 10 or 18 Core processors which will handle Parallels virtualization software with ease.
The latest version of Parallels has some nice new touches and has been optimized for Mojave.
It supports the new Dark Mode and there’s also a handy picture-in-picture mode that allows you to keep your Windows desktop window in view at all times while you work in macOS.
Parallels is also the only virtual machine for Mac that works with the latest generation of Touch Bar MacBook Pros.
You can configure the Touch Bar to launch Windows apps such as Internet Explorer, OneNote, Chrome etc or change volume, brightness and other settings.
You can see the full set of preconfigured actions and configurations built into Parallels by default below:
You can even configure it so that your Windows Task Bar:
is the same as your Touch Bar for easier launching of apps:
You can pretty much configure the Touch Bar to work however you want although it can get quite complicated to setup specific actions as you need to know a little about XML code but you can find full instructions how to do so here.
Parallels can be used to install any operating system including Linux and older versions of Windows and macOS (note however that you can’t install older versions of macOS or Windows on M1 Macs).
However, we don’t advise installing older versions of Windows unless you really need them, especially as old as Windows XP because it is no longer supported by Microsoft.
We hope this tutorial has shown you how easy it is to install Windows 10 on your Mac for free but if you have any questions, problems or suggestions, let us know in the comments below.