How to run Windows on a Mac

Get the best of both operating systems on one computer

Apple computers are known for solid hardware, easy-to-use software and great customer support. However, sometimes it’s easier to use a computer running a Windows operating system for work or play. Get the best of both worlds by running Windows on your Mac.

There are two main ways to run Windows on your Mac: dual booting and virtualization.

Dual booting versus virtualization

Dual booting involves splitting your hard drive into two platforms and running one operating system at a time. This enables each operating system to access your computer’s full resources. When you run the Mac OS, your computer runs just that OS and gives access to your entire CPU and RAM for optimal performance. To run Windows, reboot into Windows to access all your computer’s resources. Dual booting enables you to engage in resource-intensive activities, such as gaming or video editing.

Virtualization allows you to run one system inside another system, so both function simultaneously. In this way, you can run a Windows program and work on Mac applications at the same time. This requires sharing your CPU and RAM with both operating systems, so your computer will run more slowly when both systems are booted up. This is more noticeable in a computer with less power than in a more powerful computer. 

Dual booting with Boot Camp

To dual boot, use Apple’s Boot Camp wizard, which walks you through the process. Backup your system to prevent loss of data during the partitioning process.

Make sure you have the latest copy of Windows. If you don’t have a Windows disc, download the latest version using Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool. Follow the on-screen instructions, download an ISO file and save it before proceeding.

Press “Command” + “Space” to launch Spotlight. Type “Boot Camp Assistant.” Hit “Enter.”

Follow Boot Camp’s setup instructions. The default options work for most users. Choose the ISO when requested. Boot Camp will write the ISO and associated drivers to a USB stick.

Partition your hard drive. Windows needs at least 32 GB of hard drive space. Leave room for programs, documents and Windows updates. When your drive has been partitioned, the Boot Camp Assistant will reboot your Mac and Windows setup.

Follow the wizard’s instructions to indicate where to install Windows. Select “BOOTCAMP” partition. Click “Form.” Click “Next.”

Warning: Do not accidentally format your Mac partition, likely named “Drive 0 Partition 2.”

Your computer will reboot several times during installation. When in Windows, it will prompt you to install Mac drivers to ensure proper operation of Wi-Fi, trackpad, webcam and other hardware. Once this is done, you can use Windows.

To reboot into your Mac OS, restart and hold “Option” at the startup chime. At this point, you’ll see a menu with available OS options. 

Once you are in Mac OS, select “System Preferences,” then “Startup Disk.” Click the lock icon to make changes, and set your Mac drive as the default. This will prevent your computer from booting into Windows at startup.

Virtualization

There are several ways to use software to virtualize Windows. Three common solutions are described below.

Virtualization with VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a free way to virtualize Windows. Download and install VirtualBox as with any Mac application. Launch VirtualBox and click “New” in the toolbar to create a new virtual machine. Name the virtual machine and select the correct Windows OS from the list.

Allocate RAM, hard drive space and other resources to the virtual machine. While it’s better to allocate more resources, whatever you give to Windows will be taken away from the Mac OS, so balance the two so they function well when running together. Stay within the green bar for RAM, and choose a Dynamically Allocated disk, for the best results.

When the installation is complete, select the virtual machine in the sidebar. Click “Settings” in the toolbar and allocate resources. 

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To install Windows, select the “Storage” tab. Load the ISO. Click the Empty CD icon. Click Choose “Virtual Optical Disk File” to direct VirtualBox to the ISO. Click “OK.”

Next, click the “Start” button. VirtualBox will launch the Windows installer. Set it up as you would with a new PC. Since the virtual hard disk is empty, choose “Custom Install” at the prompt. Select the hard drive. Click “New” to format.

When Windows is running, go to “Devices,” then select “Insert Guest Additions” CD Image. Run the Guest Additions installer in Windows.

Virtualization with Parallels

Parallels is a paid method of virtualizing Windows. It has more features than VirtualBox, and lets you virtualize a Boot Camp partition. You can download the application and try it free for 10 days.

Install Parallels and launch the application. If you’ve created a Boot Camp partition, the software will ask if you want to use it as your Windows installation. Otherwise, click “Install Windows.” Parallels will handle downloading, installing and preparing Windows.

Create a Parallels account. Then use Windows as normal, including installing programs. Go into “Settings” to change resource allocations (e.g., increase RAM or CPU) in Parallels. Select “Coherence Mode” on the menu bar to launch Windows apps on your Mac desktop.

Virtualization with VMWare Fusion

VMWare Fusion is another paid method of virtualizing Windows and similar to Parallels. Download and install the application. Enter the license code during installation if you purchased the software. If you don’t have a license code, continue with the installation and purchase the software later.

Double-click the “VMWare Fusion” icon in the “Applications” folder to launch. Click “New” to launch the New Virtual Machine Assistant. Then click “Continue” to start. Select the operating system and version you want to install. Click “Continue.” Type the name of your virtual machine, and select the destination folder. Click “Continue.”

Configure the settings for your Windows drive. Remember, whatever space you give to your Windows drive will be subtracted from the space for your Mac OS. VMWare Fusion automatically allocates the amount of space Windows requires, so whatever amount you set will be the maximum amount of space available for Windows. Click Continue when done.

Use the Windows Easy Install feature to handle most of the Windows installation. Enter your name, password and Windows Product Key. You can also check Make your hard drive accessible to the virtual machine to access files on your Mac, but this feature is somewhat buggy. Click “Continue.”

Insert the Windows installation CD, and click “Finish.” The computer will begin installing Windows and go through various screens, installations and restarts. After VMWare Tools installs, Windows will require another restart. Then you will be able to use Windows. 

Use “Settings” to configure your options, and use Unity to install Windows apps.

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