In­stall Win­dows on a Mac

Cliff Joseph re­veals how to in­stall Win­dows on a Mac, us­ing Boot Camp, VMWare, Par­al­lels, and Vir­tu­alBox

Macworld - - FEATURE -

One of the ben­e­fits of us­ing a Mac is that it gives you the choice of ei­ther run­ning the macOS on its own, or in­stalling Win­dows for those oc­ca­sions when you need to run spe­cific Win­dows app or games that might not nor­mally be avail­able for the Mac. In this ar­ti­cle we ex­plain how to in­stall Win­dows on your Mac, first with Ap­ple’s own dual-boot­ing Boot Camp As­sis­tant and then with third-party vir­tu­al­iza­tion soft­ware. We also dis­cuss the pros and cons of each ap­proach.

One last thing be­fore we plunge in: did you know that you don’t need to have a copy of Win­dows on

your Mac in or­der to run Win­dows apps? Here’s how to run Win­dows apps on your Mac with­out Win­dows.

Which Macs can run Win­dows?

This de­pends on the ver­sion of Win­dows you’re try­ing to in­stall, but any re­cent Mac should be able to run Win­dows 10. In fact, most Macs since late 2012 sup­port it. There’s a com­plete list here.

Boot Camp ver­sus vir­tu­al­iza­tion

There are two main op­tions if you need to in­stall Win­dows on your Mac, and the op­tion you choose will gen­er­ally depend on the type of soft­ware that you need to run.

The first op­tion, pro­vided by Ap­ple it­self with the Boot Camp As­sis­tant that is in­stalled on ev­ery Mac, is called ‘dual-boot­ing’, as it gives you the abil­ity to start up (or ‘boot’) your Mac us­ing ei­ther Win­dows or the macOS. The Boot Camp As­sis­tant can split your Mac’s hard drive (or solid-state drive) into two sec­tions – called ‘par­ti­tions’. It leaves the macOS on one par­ti­tion, and then in­stalls Win­dows on the sec­ond par­ti­tion, and then you sim­ply choose which 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 ef­fec­tively turns your Mac into a straight­for­ward Win­dows PC, and de­votes all of your Mac’s pro­ces­sor power and mem­ory – and its graph­ics card if it has one – to run­ning Win­dows alone. That’s the best op­tion if you want to play Win­dows games, or run high-end graph­ics and

de­sign soft­ware that needs all the power it can get. The only dis­ad­van­tage of Boot Camp is that you lose ac­cess to all your nor­mal Mac apps while you’re run­ning Win­dows, which means that you have to shut down Win­dows and boot back into the 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 your hard drive into sep­a­rate par­ti­tions for macOS and Win­dows, you use a vir­tu­al­iza­tion pro­gram – such as Par­al­lels Desk­top (fave. co/2H4Bzvd) or VMWare Fu­sion (

The vir­tual ma­chine (VM) is sim­ply an app that runs on the Mac just like any other Mac app.

How­ever, the vir­tual ma­chine mim­ics the work­ings of a PC, al­low­ing you to in­stall Win­dows on the vir­tual ma­chine, and then in­stall any Win­dows apps that you need to run as well.

This is def­i­nitely the most con­ve­nient op­tion, as it means that you can run your Win­dows apps on the Mac desk­top right along­side all your nor­mal Mac apps, so there’s no need to dual-boot back and forth be­tween the macOS and Win­dows as you do when run­ning Boot Camp.

But vir­tu­al­iza­tion has dis­ad­van­tages too. Run­ning Win­dows within a vir­tual ma­chine means that you’re ef­fec­tively run­ning two op­er­at­ing sys­tems at the same time, so you’re go­ing to need plenty of pro­ces­sor power and mem­ory to get de­cent per­for­mance when run­ning your Win­dows apps. Even so, most re­cent Macs can still pro­vide good per­for­mance when run­ning Win­dows in a vir­tual ma­chine, and it’s only 3D games and high­end graph­ics apps that need the ex­tra power you can get from dual-boot­ing with Boot Camp.

What you’ll need for Boot Camp

The Boot Camp As­sis­tant is an app pro­vided by Ap­ple that helps you to in­stall Win­dows on your Mac. You’ll find the As­sis­tant lo­cated in the Util­i­ties folder within the main Ap­pli­ca­tions folder on your Mac – but be­fore you run the As­sis­tant there are a few things that you should check first.

Ap­ple rec­om­mends that you have a min­i­mum of 55GB of free stor­age avail­able on your Mac’s in­ter­nal hard drive (or solid-state drive) for in­stalling

Win­dows, along with a USB mem­ory stick with at least 16GB of stor­age for the ad­di­tional ‘driver’ soft­ware that Win­dows needs in or­der to con­trol com­po­nents such as your Mac’s mon­i­tor and cam­era, as well as your Mac key­board and mouse (which, of course, are dif­fer­ent from con­ven­tional Win­dows mice and key­boards).

And, of course, you’ll need a fully paid-for copy of Win­dows, along with the li­cence num­ber. Some re­cent Mac mod­els will only work with Win­dows 10, al­though older mod­els may also work with Win­dows 7, or Win­dows 8.1. You can check which ver­sions of Win­dows your Mac can run on Ap­ple’s web­site (

The in­stal­la­tion process will also vary, de­pend­ing on which ver­sion of Win­dows you’re us­ing. If you’re us­ing Win­dows 10 then you’ll need to down­load it as a ‘disk im­age’ file – some­times also called an ‘ISO file’ – from Mi­crosoft’s web­site (

You can down­load ISO files for Win­dows 7 and Win­dows 8.1 also. How­ever, these ver­sions of Win­dows were orig­i­nally sold on disk, so if you still have the orig­i­nal disk then it’s prob­a­bly quicker to cre­ate the ISO file us­ing the in­staller pro­gram on the disk. This is ac­tu­ally quite straight­for­ward, and Ap­ple cov­ers this op­tion on its web­site too (fave. co/2H4W8rk).

Run­ning Boot Camp

Once you’ve com­pleted those prepa­ra­tions you’ll be ready to run the Boot Camp As­sis­tant and in­stall Win­dows on your Mac.

When you run the Boot Camp As­sis­tant for the first time, it will prompt you with a num­ber of op­tions. The first op­tion is sim­ply to con­firm that you want to ‘Cre­ate a Win­dows 7 or later in­stall disk’. This will copy your Win­dows ISO file on to the USB mem­ory stick so that you can in­stall Win­dows.

When you se­lect this op­tion, the Boot Camp As­sis­tant also tells you that it will down­load the driver soft­ware for Win­dows on to the USB mem­ory stick as well. How­ever, it will only down­load the driv­ers for Win­dows 8.1 and Win­dows 10, so if you want to in­stall Win­dows 7 – which is still used by mil­lions of peo­ple around the world – then you’ll have to head back to the com­pat­i­bil­ity ta­bles on Ap­ple’s web­site ( in or­der to

lo­cate the driver soft­ware that you need for your Mac and then fol­low the in­struc­tions to copy the driv­ers on to your USB mem­ory stick.

If this is your first time us­ing Boot Camp then, of course, you’ll also need to se­lect the op­tion to ‘In­stall Win­dows 7 or later’. This will al­low you to split – or ‘par­ti­tion’ – your Mac’s hard drive into two sep­a­rate sec­tions, known as ‘par­ti­tions’. The nor­mal macOS is left on one par­ti­tion, while the sec­ond par­ti­tion is used to in­stall Win­dows and any other Win­dows soft­ware and apps that you want to use.

By de­fault, the Boot Camp As­sis­tant of­fers to cre­ate a small Win­dows par­ti­tion that is only 32GB in size, but you can use the slider con­trol to ad­just the size of the two par­ti­tions as re­quired. There’s

also a sim­ple but­ton that will sim­ply split the drive into two par­ti­tions of equal size.

If your Mac has more than one in­ter­nal hard drive or SSD then it is pos­si­ble to de­vote one of those drives ex­clu­sively to Win­dows.

How­ever, Boot Camp doesn’t play well with ex­ter­nal drives con­nected via USB or Thun­der­bolt, so it’s best to use your nor­mal in­ter­nal drive wher­ever pos­si­ble. And if you have an ex­ter­nal drive con­nected to your Mac for Time Ma­chine back­ups then it’s a good idea to re­move it as Boot Camp can get a bit con­fused if it de­tects an ex­ter­nal drive dur­ing in­stal­la­tion.

Once you’ve par­ti­tioned your Mac drive, Boot Camp will shut down your Mac and launch the

Win­dows in­staller pro­gram from the USB mem­ory stick. You can just fol­low the prompts to in­stall Win­dows. As soon as Win­dows starts up you will also be prompted to in­stall the ad­di­tional Boot Camp driv­ers from the mem­ory stick as well.

Once that’s done you can sim­ply ‘dual-boot’ be­tween the macOS and Win­dows by press­ing Alt on your key­board when you turn the Mac on. You’ll see the two par­ti­tions with the macOS and Win­dows dis­played on screen as the Mac starts up, and you can sim­ply se­lect whichever op­er­at­ing sys­tem you need.

Get­ting started with Par­al­lels and VMWare

Vir­tu­al­iza­tion pro­grammes such as Par­al­lels Desk­top ( and VMware Fu­sion ( pro­vide an in­ge­nious and flex­i­ble al­ter­na­tive to the dual-boot ap­proach of Boot

Camp. In­stead of split­ting your Mac’s hard drive into sep­a­rate par­ti­tions, and then in­stalling Win­dows on to the Boot Camp par­ti­tion, these pro­grams cre­ate a ‘vir­tual ma­chine’ – or VM – which is sim­ply an app that runs on the Mac and acts like a PC. You can then in­stall Win­dows on the VM, along with what­ever Win­dows apps and soft­ware that you need to run. The VM can run along­side other Mac apps, such as Sa­fari or Ap­ple Mail, so there’s no need to switch back and forth be­tween the two op­er­at­ing sys­tems, as you are forced to do with Boot Camp.

These pro­grams aren’t free, so you’ll need to buy a copy of the pro­gram you pre­fer, as well as pro­vid­ing your own copy of Win­dows (al­though both Par­al­lels and VMWare do pro­vide trial ver­sions that

you can look at to see which one you pre­fer). There is a free vir­tu­al­iza­tion pro­gram, called Vir­tu­alBox (, but it’s com­plex and dif­fi­cult to use, so we’ll fo­cus first on us­ing Par­al­lels and VMWare to in­stall Win­dows. Go to the Vir­tu­alBox sec­tion if you feel ready for the chal­lenge.

Par­al­lels Desk­top 13 has a more colour­ful graph­i­cal in­ter­face than VMWare Fu­sion 10, but the two pro­grams take the same ba­sic ap­proach. They pro­vide sev­eral op­tions for cre­at­ing a new VM on your Mac, us­ing an in­staller disk, or ISO file.

It’s also pos­si­ble to con­nect an ex­ist­ing Win­dows PC to your Mac and cre­ate a VM on the Mac that is an ex­act copy of the PC, com­plete with Win­dows and all the Win­dows apps that you need. And, if

you’re al­ready us­ing Boot Camp, you can even cre­ate a VM that du­pli­cates your Boot Camp par­ti­tion – which is a handy op­tion for quickly check­ing a few files, or run­ning apps that don’t need top per­for­mance, with­out hav­ing to shut the Mac down and boot into Win­dows.

Once you’ve de­cided how you want to in­stall Win­dows, both pro­grams al­low you to ad­just a num­ber of im­por­tant set­tings. VMWare is a lit­tle more com­pli­cated here, as it dis­plays a win­dow with a lot of set­tings that might seem a bit daunt­ing to first time users. Par­al­lels makes things a bit eas­ier for be­gin­ners, by pro­vid­ing a num­ber of pre­de­fined op­tions that are suit­able for pro­duc­tiv­ity soft­ware such as Mi­crosoft Of­fice, or run­ning heavy-duty 3D games, or de­sign soft­ware.

Vir­tual hard­ware

Both pro­grams also let you change the ‘hard­ware’ con­fig­u­ra­tion of your VMs if you need to – just as though you were choos­ing the phys­i­cal hard­ware for a real Mac or PC. If your Mac has a multi-core pro­ces­sor – such as the new iMac Pro, which has up to 18 pro­ces­sor cores – then you can de­vote mul­ti­ple cores to your VM in or­der to im­prove per­for­mance. You can also al­lo­cate ex­tra mem­ory and disk space, and even in­crease the amount of video mem­ory that your VM can use for han­dling 3D graph­ics in games and other graph­ics soft­ware.

Other op­tions pro­vided by both Par­al­lels and VMWare in­clude the abil­ity to con­nect ex­ter­nal de­vices, such as a hard drive or even Blue­tooth

speak­ers to your Win­dows VM. You can also de­ter­mine how your VM in­ter­acts with the macOS on your Mac, per­haps shar­ing spe­cific fold­ers and files that you need for a work project, or shar­ing your mu­sic or photo li­braries.

A key as­pect of how your VM runs on your Mac is the way it ap­pears when it’s run­ning on the Mac desk­top. By de­fault, both Par­al­lels and VMWare run their VMs in a win­dow – so you get a kind of ‘Win­dows win­dow’ that dis­plays the Win­dows desk­top float­ing in its own win­dow on top of the Mac desk­top. How­ever, it’s also pos­si­ble to ex­pand the Win­dows desk­top so that it fills the en­tire screen, mak­ing your Mac look just like a nor­mal PC (whilst still al­low­ing you to switch into Mac apps by us­ing Com­mand-Tab).

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

The num­ber of dif­fer­ent op­tions avail­able here can be a bit in­tim­i­dat­ing, but the great thing about vir­tu­al­iza­tion tech­nol­ogy is that you can’t break a VM. You can save dif­fer­ent ver­sions of your VM – just like sav­ing dif­fer­ent ver­sions of a doc­u­ment in Mi­crosoft Word. That al­lows you to ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent set­tings to see which op­tions work best for you, and then sim­ply re­vert back to a pre­vi­ous ver­sion of the VM when­ever you want.

Or­a­cle Vir­tu­alBox

Here’s an al­ter­na­tive method of run­ning Win­dows on your Mac: use Or­a­cle Vir­tu­alBox to run Win­dows as a vir­tual ma­chine.

Down­load and in­stall Vir­tu­alBox Vir­tu­alBox is a free down­load from fave. co/2oIFpTY. Opt for the lat­est edi­tion by click­ing the ‘amd64’ link be­side Vir­tu­alBox 5.0 for OS X Hosts in the Vir­tu­alBox bi­na­ries sec­tion at the top of the page. Once the disk im­age has down­loaded, lo­cate it on your Mac, mount it and dou­ble-click the Vir­tu­alBox.pkg file to in­stall the ap­pli­ca­tion.

You’ll need 175MB of free space on your com­puter to ac­com­mo­date it, in ad­di­tion to the space re­quired by Win­dows (up to 32GB). When the in­stal­la­tion com­pletes, launch Vir­tu­alBox from your Ap­pli­ca­tions folder.

Down­load your copy of Win­dows 10 as ex­plained above, and put it some­where con­ve­nient so you can ac­cess it from within the Vir­tu­alBox in­staller. Click the New but­ton on the Vir­tu­alBox tool­bar and give your new vir­tual ma­chine a name (‘Win­dows 10’ in our in­stance) and se­lect the op­er­at­ing sys­tem you’re in­stalling from the Ver­sion drop-down menu. Click Con­tinue.

When Win­dows is up and run­ning it will be­have like a sep­a­rate com­puter from the rest of your Mac, which will con­tinue to run macOS. To do this it needs to ‘bor­row’ re­sources from your Mac, which your Mac won’t be able to touch while the vir­tual ma­chine is run­ning. The most im­por­tant of these is mem­ory.

Vir­tu­alBox sug­gests 2GB (2048MB) on our ma­chine (a Mac mini with 16GB RAM), but we’re go­ing to in­crease this to 4GB (4096MB) to give

Win­dows some room to breathe. If you want to do the same, use the slider and then click Con­tinue.

When you set up a vir­tual ma­chine, not only the op­er­at­ing sys­tem but also the ap­pli­ca­tions run­ning on it and the files cre­ated and edited in it are stored in a bun­dle, which your Mac will see as a vir­tual hard drive. This is con­ve­nient as it means you won’t get your Win­dows and macOS as­sets mixed up, but it also means that you’ll put a large chunk of your disk out of reach of macOS. For this rea­son we’re go­ing to stick with Vir­tu­alBox’s fairly con­ser­va­tive rec­om­men­da­tion of a 32GB vir­tual disk for Win­dows. When you click Con­tinue you’ll be asked what kind of drive you want to cre­ate. Stick with

VDI (Vir­tu­alBox Disk Im­age) un­less you’re go­ing to use this in­stal­la­tion of Win­dows with a dif­fer­ent vir­tu­al­iza­tion app, such as Par­al­lels Desk­top.

Vir­tu­alBox can ei­ther take away the 32GB im­me­di­ately or take it piece­meal as and when re­quired by in­creas­ing the size of the Win­dows drive over time as your files and range of in­stalled ap­pli­ca­tions grows. It makes sense to opt for the lat­ter, so un­less you have any par­tic­u­lar rea­son for giving up the full amount right away, leave the stor­age op­tion set to Dy­nam­i­cally al­lo­cated and click Con­tinue.

You’ve now cre­ated your new vir­tual ma­chine – all you need to do now is in­stall Win­dows on

it. Vir­tu­alBox new shows you a sum­mary of the com­po­si­tion of your vir­tual ma­chine, and al­lows you to switch be­tween dif­fer­ent vir­tu­al­ized en­vi­ron­ments in the side­bar if you’ve set up more than one. Click Start to be­gin the Win­dows in­stal­la­tion process.

We’ve stored our in­stal­la­tion down­load on an SD card in the slot on the back of our Mac mini. We need to tell Vir­tu­alBox where this is, so we click the folder icon on the screen that popped up when we clicked Start and se­lect the ISO file on the card. Click­ing Open re­turns us to the set-up screen where we click Start to open the disk im­age and use it as the in­stal­la­tion me­dia.

Once you’ve se­lected your lan­guage the in­staller needs to know whether you’re up­grad­ing an old ver­sion or opt­ing for a Cus­tom in­stall. Pick Cus­tom, as you’re set­ting up a brand new vir­tual ma­chine and then, on the fol­low­ing screen, make sure Drive 0 is se­lected as the in­stal­la­tion drive (this should be the only op­tion).

The vir­tual ma­chine will re­boot a cou­ple of times dur­ing the in­stal­la­tion be­fore ask­ing you to set up your pref­er­ences. You can opt for Ex­press Set­tings, which ac­cepts all of Mi­crosoft’s de­faults, in­clud­ing us­ing Bing as your search en­gine, au­to­mat­i­cally

in­stalling up­dates when they be­come avail­able, and send­ing your brows­ing his­tory to Mi­crosoft.

If you don’t want to do this, click the Cus­tomise but­ton and tweak the set­tings by hand. Next, you need to tell Win­dows whether the ma­chine be­longs to your­self or your or­ga­ni­za­tion. Only you know the right an­swer here, but if you’re a home or small busi­ness user, the chances are the sec­ond op­tion is the most ap­pro­pri­ate.

Click Next, then en­ter your Mi­crosoft ac­count de­tails to log in. If you don’t al­ready have a Mi­crosoft ac­count, click Cre­ate one.

The fi­nal two steps ask if you’d rather use a PIN that in place of a pass­word, and whether you want to store your files on OneDrive or the lo­cal vir­tual ma­chine. When you’ve de­cided what you want to

do in each in­stance, Win­dows reboots one last time be­fore pre­sent­ing your with the desk­top.

Run­ning macOS on a Win­dows PC

What about the op­po­site sce­nario? Is it pos­si­ble to run macOS on a PC?

In a word: no. It is one of those ironies that al­though Mi­crosoft is famed for its ag­gres­sive com­mer­cial prac­tices, Ap­ple is re­spon­si­ble for this par­tic­u­lar im­passe. Al­though you can run Win­dows on any X86 com­puter, Ap­ple makes its own macOS

soft­ware avail­able only on Mac soft­ware. Overtly the rea­son­ing is laud­able: macOS is de­signed to run on Ap­ple’s own hard­ware, and the ex­pe­ri­ence wouldn’t be as good on any old com­puter.

This is one rea­son why you will never run an un­der­pow­ered Mac.

But it is also fair to say that Ap­ple cre­ates soft­ware in or­der to sell hard­ware. The ex­cel­lence of macOS is a killer app when it comes to sell­ing Macs, and it doesn’t want to share. So if you want to ex­pe­ri­ence the best of all worlds, you need to run Win­dows on your Mac.

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