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How to run Windows on a Mac

There are many reasons why you might want to run Windows on your Mac computer. Maybe you need to run a Windows-only app, or you actually prefer the look and feel of Microsoft’s operating system. Whatever the reason, you have two basic ways to do it.

Which method is right for you depends on your budget, how often you plan to use Windows, and the age of your Mac. We’ve covered both here so you can choose or switch between the two if you need to.

And in case you were wondering, you can’t run macOS on a Windows PC—at least not that easy. Apple doesn’t make its software available for non-Apple computers, so if you want to try your luck, you’ll need to follow the unofficial solutions that may feel like a bigger problem than it’s worth.

Option 1: Boot Camp

Apple’s Boot Camp is a built-in application that sets up your computer as a dual boot system, which allows you to choose between loading Windows or macOS every time you boot your device. There are a lot of advantages to Boot Camp: It’s officially supported by both Apple and Microsoft, it takes full advantage of your Mac’s processing power and memory, and it’s easy to set up.

But since nothing about Windows-Mac relationships can be perfect, Boot Camp has a major drawback of being quickly aging, which makes it incompatible with the latest Apple computers. Macs with Apple’s M1 chip — meaning all the devices the company has released since 2020 and will continue to launch from now on — don’t support Boot Camp, because Windows is simply not designed for this processor design.

[Related: 4 great macOS features you can get on Windows]

But the limitations remain, and even if you have an old Mac with an Intel chipset, Boot Camp will only allow you to run Windows 10. This is because Windows 11 has some strict system requirements that Intel Macs don’t meet. At the time of writing, it’s not clear if Boot Camp will come to Apple silicon-powered Macs, or if Windows 11 will work with Boot Camp. Apple has released some positive votes about it, so now it looks like it’s up to MIcrosoft.

So if you have an old Mac and are satisfied with running Windows 10, Boot Camp can give you OS flexibility easily. To get started, you’ll need a digital copy of Windows (you can get it from MIcrosoft for $139) and running Boot Camp Assistant. Use Spotlight search (Command + Spacebar) to find the app on your Mac, open it and follow the installation process.

The first step is to set up a partition on your Mac’s hard drive, which will separate part of the disk so WIndows can live in it. It’s up to you to decide how big that space is, but the more files and programs you want to use with Windows, the more space you’ll need. Apple recommends at least 64GB for Windows to function properly, and at least 128GB for the best experience.

When the time is right, Boot Camp Assistant will prompt you to open the file you downloaded from Microsoft – you’ll know which file it is by the ISO extension on the file name. After the installation is complete, when you start up your Mac, hold down File Option A key to choose between macOS and Windows. You can also set the default option from macOS by opening a file apple Menu and selection System Preferences and then startup disk.

Option 2: Virtualization software

The other option to get Windows on your Mac—which is really the only option if you have a newer M1 machine or want to use Windows 11—is to use virtualization software.

This type of software runs Windows on top of another software layer that works with macOS, making it work on a regular PC, as far as Windows is concerned. This extra layer of processing and interpretation makes performance slower than Boot Camp, although for most tasks you shouldn’t notice any major lag issues. This is also a more expensive option, as you will pay for the virtualization package as well as for the Windows operating system itself.

Parallels is the best in this area and will set you back a one-time fee of $80. For faster support, free upgrades for future versions, and some extras (like more customization tools), there’s also a professional package for $100 per year. As with Boot Camp, you’ll also have to buy Windows, which will set you back $139. At the time of writing, Microsoft is not selling Windows 11 directly so you will have to settle for Windows 10 which you can then upgrade to the latest version of the operating system.

But this approach also has its problems. If you want to use Windows 11, you need to use a trial version of the software that Microsoft created specifically for ARM processors, which is what Apple chips represent. You will need to register with Microsoft to use this version, and since it is beta, you may encounter some errors.

[Related: MacOS Big Sur has an annoying Do Not Disturb bug. Here’s how to fix it.]

The good news is that Parallels do all the heavy lifting for you. Download and run the installation package, follow the onscreen instructions, and you’ll be using Windows on your Mac in a matter of minutes. Parallels also lets you run Windows as a Mac app, so you can switch between operating systems as needed without restarting, running Microsoft’s operating system full screen or even in a window.

Although the performance is not as good as with Boot Camp, Parallels does a good job optimizing Windows, so most applications and even the least demanding games should run without problems. Other virtual tools are available including VMware Fusion and VirtualBox, but they are more difficult to configure than Parallels and have more issues when it comes to M1 Macs and Windows 11.

Finally, if these two options seem like a lot to you, things might get easier in the future. Windows 365 Cloud PC from Microsoft is a tool that is able to stream access to your Windows 11 PC through any browser on any type of device, regardless of the operating system it is running. This app is currently only available to businesses, but it may become a consumer option at some point in the future, making the PC experience on a Mac seamless.

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