How to install Windows on a Mac

One of the advantages of using a Mac computer is that it gives you the option to run macOS, or to install Windows for those occasions when you need to run applications or games exclusive to Windows without having to resort to using a PC computer.

In this article, we explain all the modalities that exist today on how to install Windows on a Mac, now that the diversity of architectures has reached the Mac, with the computers that on the one hand run with Intel chipsets, and the new ones that work with the Apple Silicon M1.

Whether you do it through the dual-boot Boot Camp assistant that Apple allows, or through the help of virtualization software offered by third brands, we discuss the pros and cons of using each modality.

One last thing before going into detail: did you know that you don’t need to have a copy of Windows on your Mac in order to run Windows applications? In this other article, we explain how to install macOS on a PC.

Check here the article about what are considered the best virtual machines to install Windows on a Mac.

Which Macs can run Windows?

It’s something that depends on the version of Windows you’re trying to install, but you should know that any recent Mac should be able to run Windows 10. In fact, most Macs introduced since late 2012 support it. Apple offers a complete list, but these are the supported models:

  • MacBook introduced in 2015 and later
  • MacBook Air introduced in 2021 and later
  • MacBook Pro introduced in 2021 and later
  • Mac mini introduced in 2021 and later
  • iMac introduced in 2012 or later
  • iMac Pro (all models)
  • Mac Pro introduced in 2013 or later

If you have a new Mac with an M1 chip, you can run the ARM version of Windows through virtualization programs like Parallells Desktop 16.5. However, obtaining a copy of Windows ARM is not an easy task because there are compatibility issues with Windows programs that do not run on that version.

Check out this interesting article where we explain step by step how with parallels desktop version 16.5 it is possible to run Windows on a Mac M1. Parallels has developed its own native application.

Maybe by now you’re wondering if Windows 11 will work on a Mac. Well, check out the article where we tell you that even though Windows 11 has restrictions that could make it impossible to install it on Macs, alternative solutions are starting to arrive.

How much space does Windows need?

Your Mac will need to have at least 64 GB of free storage space if you are installing Windows on a Boot Camp partition. However, since Windows requires 128 GB, Apple suggests that you create a partition of that same amount.

Boot Camp vs. Virtualization

There are two possibilities when it comes to installing Windows on your Mac, and the option you choose will depend on the type of software you need to run.

The first option, provided by Apple itself through the Boot Camp Assistant that integrates with each Mac, is called “dual boot”, since it gives you the possibility to start your Mac using Windows or macOS.

Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant can split your Mac’s hard drive (or solid-state drive) into two partitions. Leave macOS on one partition, and then install Windows on the second partition. Simply choose the operating system you want to run by pressing the ‘Alt’ key on your keyboard when you boot your Mac.

Installing Windows on a Boot Camp partition with this method turns your Mac into a simple Windows PC, and devotes all the power of your Mac’s processor and memory to running Windows without the ability to interact with macOS.

This is the best option if you want to play Windows games or run design and graphics software or edit videos. In short, carry out tasks for which you need to take advantage of the full configuration potential of your machine.

The only downside to using Boot Camp is that you lose access to all your normal Mac apps while you’re running Windows, which means you have to close Windows and reboot macOS if you want to use Mac apps, such as Apple Mail or Photos.

This is where the other option, known as ‘Virtualization’, can come in handy. Instead of splitting the disk drive into different partitions for macOS and Windows, we use a virtualization program (Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion) to create a virtual machine that runs within the macOS environment itself.

The virtual machine (VM) is simply an application that runs on the Mac like any other application. However, the virtual machine mimics how a PC works, allowing you to install Windows on the virtual machine and then add any Windows applications you need.

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For this reason, it becomes the most convenient option, as it means you can run your Windows apps on your Mac’s desktop alongside all the normal apps on your Mac, so there’s no need to reboot and choose between macOS or Windows like you’ll have to do with Boot Camp.

But let’s not kid ourselves, because virtualization also has certain disadvantages. Running Windows inside a virtual machine means you’re running two operating systems at the same time, so you’ll need a lot more processor power and memory to get decent performance.

Still, most newer Macs can provide good performance when running Windows on a virtual machine, and it’s only 3D games and applications in high-end graphics environments that need the extra power.

How to get Windows for Mac

If you want to be able to run Windows 10 on your Mac, you should know that it is possible to download it as a disk image file, sometimes also known as an ISO file, from Microsoft’s official website.

You can also download ISO files for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1. However, these versions of Windows were originally sold on disk media, so if you still have the original disk, it’s probably faster to create the ISO file from here. It’s pretty straightforward, and Apple also addresses this possibility on its website.

Now that you have the Windows installation files, you only need to launch your virtualization software to run it and be able to install it. 

What you need for Boot Camp

Boot Camp Assistant is an application provided by Apple that helps you install Windows on your Mac. You will find the wizard located in the ‘Utilities’ folder within the main ‘Applications’ folder of your Mac.

Before you run the wizard, here are the things you’ll need to run Windows in Boot Camp:

  • Apple recommends that you have a minimum of 64 GB of free storage on your drive or solid-state drive in order to install Windows. Actually, 128 GB is recommended.
  • You may also need a USB or pen drive with at least 16 GB of storage for the additional “driver” software that Windows needs to recognize components such as the monitor, Mac camera, keyboard type, or mouse used.
  • You will need a version of Windows along with your license. Recent Mac models and any Mac running Mojave will only work with Windows 10, something to keep in mind. Older models will also be able to support Windows 7 or Windows 8.1.

You can check which versions of Windows you can run on your Mac by checking the list that appears on Apple’s official website. The installation process and time spent may vary, depending on the version of Windows you use. 

How to run Windows on a Mac via Boot Camp

Once you’ve completed all the preparations to run boot camp assistant, and you’ve installed Windows on your Mac, here’s the next thing you need to do: 

Step 1: Open the Boot Camp Assistant

When you run the Boot Camp wizard for the first time, it will tell you a number of options. The first is to confirm that you want to create an installation disc for Windows 7 or later. This will copy your Windows ISO file to the USB stick to install Windows.

Step 2: Download the drivers

In the next step, Boot Camp will inform you that it will also download the drivers for Windows on the USB memory device. However, it will only download those corresponding to Windows 8.1 and Windows 10. If you need to install Windows 7, you’ll need to check the compatibility tables on Apple’s website and locate them.

Step 3: Partition the drive

If this is your first time using Boot Camp, you’ll need to select the ‘Install Windows 7 or later’ option. This will allow you to create two disk partitions on your Mac. Thus, macOS is left on one partition, while the second will install Windows and any other software and applications you want.

Step 4: Adjust the desired size of your partition

By default, the Boot Camp wizard offers to create a small Windows partition of only 32 GB, but you can use the slider to vary the size of the two partitions to your liking. There is another button that simply splits the unit into two of equal size.

If your Mac has more than one hard drive or SSD in its configuration, it is possible to dedicate one of them exclusively for Windows.

However, you should know that Boot Camp does not work well with external drives connected via USB or Thunderbolt, so it is best to use the internal drive whenever possible.

And if you have an external drive connected to your Mac to back up Time Machine, it’s a good idea to remove it, as Boot Camp can be a bit confusing if it detects an external drive during installation.

Step 5: Install Windows

Once you have partitioned your Mac’s drive, Boot Camp will shut down your Mac and launch the Windows setup program from the USB stick. Just follow the step-by-step prompts to complete the Windows installation.

As soon as Windows starts, you will also be prompted to install the additional Boot Camp drivers from the USB removable memory device.

Step 6: Run Windows

Once that’s done, you’ll be able to make use of the dual boot between macOS and Windows by pressing ‘Alt’ (also known as ‘Option’) on your keyboard when you turn on your Mac. You will see the two partitions with macOS and Windows on the screen.

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How to run Windows in a virtual machine

Virtualization programs such as Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion provide an ingenious and flexible alternative of boot camp dual boot and use of different operating systems.

Instead of splitting your Mac’s hard drive into separate partitions, and then installing Windows on the Boot Camp partition, these programs create a virtual machine (VM), which is simply an application that runs on the Mac and acts like a PC.

You can then install Windows on the VM, along with any Windows applications and software you need to run. The VM can work alongside other Mac apps, such as Safari or Apple Mail, so there’s no need to switch from one operating system to another, something you’re forced to do with Boot Camp.

 These programs aren’t free, so you’ll need to purchase a copy of the program of your choice, as well as provide your own copy of Windows (though both Parallels and VMware provide trial versions that you can try for a while.

There is also a free virtualization program called VirtualBox, but it is quite complex and difficult to use, so we do not advise you if you do not have advanced knowledge in the matter.

We’ll focus first on using Parallels and VMware to install Windows. Check out the VirtualBox section if you feel ready for the challenge.

We have more information about the best virtual machines to install Windows on Mac.

Run Windows on a Mac with Parallels

Buy Parallels Desktop from €79.99 per year

Parallels Desktop 16 (the version currently available) has a more colorful graphical interface than VMware Fusion with advanced features that allow you to pick up the thread very quickly to your possibilities. However, the two programmes have the same basic approach.

They provide several options for creating a new VM on your Mac, using an installation disc or ISO file.

It is also possible to connect a Windows PC to your Mac and create a VM on the Mac that is an exact copy of the Windows PC and all the applications you need. And, if you’re already using Boot Camp, you can even create a VM that duplicates your Boot Camp partition.

It is a practical and most interesting option, because it will allow you to quickly check some files or run applications that do not need maximum performance, without having to turn off the Mac to restart with Windows mode.

Once you’ve decided how you want to install Windows, both programs will allow you to adjust a number of important settings.

Run Windows on a Mac with VMware Fusion

Buy VMware Fusion from €88.95

VMware’s interface is a bit more complex, as it shows a window with many settings that could confuse novice users. Parallels makes things a little easier for beginners, providing a number of predefined options for productivity environments with Office, or for running powerful 3D games.

Running Windows on a Virtual Machine: Hardware

Both VMware Fusion and Parallels allow you to change the hardware configuration of your virtual machines if you need to, just like if you were choosing the physical hardware for your real Mac or PC.

If your Mac has a multi-core processor (like the iMac Pro, which has up to 18 processor cores), you can dedicate multiple cores to your VM to improve performance. You can also allocate additional memory and disk space, and even increase the amount of video memory your VM will use to handle graphics.

Other options offered by Parallels and VMware include the ability to connect external devices, such as a hard drive or even Bluetooth speakers to your Windows virtual machine.

You can also determine how your VM interacts with macOS in such a way that you can share folders and files you need for a project or job, or even share your music or photo library. 

Running Windows on a Virtual Machine: Software

A key aspect when Windows runs on your Mac’s virtual machine is the way you can handle it on your Mac’s desktop.

By default, both Parallels and VMware run their VMs in a window, so you’ll get a sort of Windows window that shows the Windows desktop floating in its own window at the top of the Mac desktop.

However, it’s also possible to expand the Windows desktop to fill the entire screen, making your Mac look like a regular Windows PC while allowing you to switch to Mac apps using ‘Command’+’Tab’.

But a better option for many people is the ability to hide the Windows desktop altogether, so that individual Windows applications appear on their own on the Mac desktop, just like the usual Mac applications.

The number of options available is very variable, but the best thing about virtualization technology is that you won’t be able to break the virtual machine. You can save different versions of your VM, just as you save different versions of a Word document.

This allows you to experiment with different configurations to see which options work best, and then simply go back to a previous version of the virtual machine whenever you want.

 How to run Windows on a Mac for free

This is an alternative method to run Windows on your Mac: use Oracle VirtualBox to run Windows as a virtual machine. This section with its comments belong to Nik Rawlinson.

VirtualBox you can download for free from here. It proceeds as follows:

1. Download the latest version.

2. Once the disk image is downloaded, locate it on your Mac, mount it and double-click the VirtualBox file.pkg to install the application. You’ll need 175 MB of free space on your computer, in addition to the space required by Windows (up to 32 GB).

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3. After the installation is complete, launch VirtualBox from the Applications folder.

4. Download your copy of Windows 10 as we explained above and place it in a convenient place so that you can access it from the VirtualBox installer.

5. Click the new button on the VirtualBox toolbar and name your new virtual machine (‘Windows 10’ on our instance) and select the operating system you are installing from the drop-down menu.

6. Click ‘Continue’.

7. Reserve resources. When Windows is running, it will behave like a different computer from your Mac, which will still run macOS. Your computer will lend resources that you won’t be able to touch while the virtual machine is running. The most important thing here is memory.

VirtualBox suggests using 2 GB (2048 MB) on our machine (a Mac mini with 16 GB of RAM), but we’re going to increase it to 4 GB (4096 MB) to give Windows some extra space. If you want to do the same, use the slider.

9. Create a virtual disk. When you set up a virtual machine, not only the operating system is created, but also the applications that run on it and the files created and edited are stored in a package that your Mac will see as a virtual hard disk.

10. This implies that it won’t confuse your Windows and MacOS assets, but it also means that it will put a large portion of your disk out of the reach of MacOS. For this reason, we will continue with the recommendation to reserve 32 GB in VirtualBox.

11. When you click ‘Continue’, the system will ask you what type of drive you want to create. Continue with VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) unless you are using this installation of Windows with a different virtualization application, such as Parallels Desktop.

12. VirtualBox can remove the 32 GB from you immediately or do so in a fragmented way when necessary, increasing the size of the Windows drive over time as the stored files and installed applications grow.

13. It makes sense to opt for the latter, so unless you have any particular reason to give up the total amount, leave the storage option set to the amount that is dynamically allocated and click on continue.

14. At this point, you will have already created your new virtual machine. All you need to do is install Windows on it. VirtualBox New shows you a summary of the composition of your virtual machine and you can switch between different virtualized environments if you have configured more than one.

14. Click ‘Start’ to start the Windows installation process.

15. Finally, you need to locate the installation file. We have stored the download of our installation on an SD card in the slot on the back of our Mac mini. We have to tell VirtualBox where it is, so we click on the folder icon and select the ISO file on the card.

16. Clicking on ‘Open’ returns us to the configuration screen where we click start to open the disk image and use it as an installation medium. Once you’ve selected the language, the installer should know if you’re upgrading to an older version or if it’s a custom installation.

Choose ‘Custom’ as you are setting up an entirely new virtual machine, and then on the next screen, make sure drive 0 is selected as the installation drive (this should be the only option).

18. The virtual machine will restart a couple of times during installation before prompting you to set your preferences. You can opt for ‘Express Settings’, which accepts all Microsoft defaults, including updates when available.

19. If you don’t want to, click the ‘Customize’ button and make the adjustments by hand. Next, you must tell Windows if the computer belongs to you or is one of your organization.

20. Click Next, and then enter your Microsoft account details to sign in. If you don’t already have a Microsoft account, click ‘Create a new one’.

The last two steps ask you if you prefer to use a PIN instead of a password to access and if you want to store your files on OneDrive or on-premises virtual machine.

From here, Windows will restart one last time before displaying the ultimate desktop.

Can I run macOS on a Windows PC?

What about the opposite scenario? Is it possible to run macOS on a PC? In a word: no. It’s one of those ironies that while Microsoft is famous for its aggressive business practices, Apple has been blunt at this point.

Although it is possible to run Windows on any X86 computer, Apple offers its own macOS software only on Mac hardware.

Apple’s reasoning is that macOS is designed to work with Apple’s own hardware, and the experience wouldn’t be as good on any computer. This is one of the reasons why you’ll never use a low-powered Mac.

But it’s also fair to say that Apple creates software to sell hardware something it doesn’t want to share with tech partners like Microsoft does. So if you want to experience the best of all worlds, you’ll be able to run Windows on your Mac but not the other way around.

That said, there is an alternative that goes through installing it on a Hackintosh. See here how to install macOS on a PC:Change your computer’s operating system and use macOS on your PC.

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