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How to run Windows on your Mac

Even if you have an M1 or M2 chip

A Macbook displaying a Windows screen among other Apple devices. Credit: Shadow PC

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Running Windows apps on a Mac PC can be tricky. In the past, you could install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp, but that won’t work if you’ve upgraded to an M1 or M2 Mac—you need an Intel processor to run the app, but Apple doesn’t sell Macs with those chips anymore.

However, you don’t need to install Windows to run Windows-only apps at all these days. There are several ways to get these apps going on Mac, from virtual machines to API translators that bridge the gap between Windows-based tasks and MacOS’s Unix-based system.

Why won’t Boot Camp work with Apple’s new chips?

A pink Macbook Air M1.
Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

Time to trick the system.

These Macs use Apple Silicon processors, which run on Arm-based architecture. This gives the processors a big edge when it comes to efficiency and heat, but it also runs differently from x86-based processors (the architecture Intel and AMD processors use) that applications need to be heavily revised if they’re being translated from x86 to Arm.

But Apple Silicon isn’t the only Arm-based processor out there. ARM got its start with mobile processors commonly used in smartphones and tablets. As a result, Microsoft has an incentive to develop an Arm-compatible version of Windows: Windows 11 for Arm (Microsoft started its efforts with an Arm-friendly Windows 10 OS, but that project was scrapped to focus on Windows 11).

This version of Windows 11 can run on Apple Silicon, but an Arm-based Windows will still have compatibility issues with some applications, so you need to check if your specific application works with it. If it doesn’t, you’ll have to use a PC with an x86-based processor.

The second issue with Windows 11 is that it requires a TPM 2.0 module to run. TPM chips are common in Windows PCs made in the past five years, but they have never existed in Apple-made PCs. To run Windows 11 on a PC without this chip, you’ll have to trick the OS into thinking the PC has a TPM chip. Parallels, a paid software that runs Windows on Macs via a Virtual Machine, does this by emulating a TPM chip.

Can I still use Boot Camp with an Intel-based Mac?

The BootCamp Assistant software introduction screen.
Credit: Apple

A simple and free software.

Absolutely! Boot Camp is a free multi-boot utility made by Apple so you could run Windows and macOS on the same PC. However, Apple does not support Boot Camp for its Apple Silicon-based Macs.

Boot Camp lets you install Windows on your Mac by splitting your storage drive into two or more partitions, which keeps the macOS side and the Windows side of your drive separate. It’s safe to use, and all you need to do to switch operating systems is restart your Mac and hold down the Option key while it boots. If you manage to do something sketchy in Windows, the Mac side of your drive won’t be affected and vice versa.

The biggest advantage of Boot Camp is that it’s the fastest way to run Windows on your Mac—there are no extra steps for your PC to manage (like running two OSes or translating a non-macOS-native program) while it’s running software. It’s just running Windows. If you run particularly demanding apps like games or CAD software, you won’t run into performance issues from software-side complications.

The downside is that your Mac has to have at least 64GB (and preferably 128GB or more) of free storage space to install and run Windows.

Running Windows on a virtual machine

Seven different screens displaying the home desktop menu for Ubuntu 14.04, Ubuntu 20.04, Windows 10/11, Windows 11, Windows 7 and Windows XP.
Credit: UTM

You can even run the classic Windows XP!

A Virtual Machine (VM) is a handy tool for any PC user, as it’s a PC within a PC. The VM is a sandbox with its own memory, storage, processor space, and operating system. Anything you do in the VM stays isolated from the rest of the PC as a whole, so running a VM is a popular practice for cybersecurity applications in particular to keep security threats from reaching the rest of the system.

If you run Windows in a VM, you can switch between macOS and Windows seamlessly—all you have to do is click away from the VM to get back to macOS. (You close the VM to “shut down” Windows.) The downside is that you’re running two operating systems at the same time, and so you’re putting more strain on your hardware than if you were to run one OS at a time.

Additionally, apps within the VM have to run through an additional layer between the app’s interface and your computer’s hardware, as a VM is software emulating hardware. This extra step could create lag and compatibility issues in some cases.

If you’re looking to run Windows on your Mac to game or run a specific security application like a company-issued VPN, you’ll want to make sure the app will work with a VM; video game anti-cheat software, like Vanguard, is notorious for its inability to work with VMs.

There are many software applications that can run Windows via VM on a Mac, but the most popular are Parallels, UTM, VMWare Fusion, and Virtualbox. Parallels is the easiest to use of the bunch, but it’s not free (it’s $79.99 for one year).

The upside is that it takes care of the hard parts for you: you don’t need to worry about emulating a TPM module, setting up host environments, or anything like that. The installation process walks you through everything. Additionally, because it’s a well-supported product, you can work with customer service if you run into issues.

Once you’re running the VM, you use it the way you’d use a native Windows PC. To run Windows apps, you install them and then you open them through the VM. If you want to save files on your VM and then access them on macOS, you can either transfer the file with a USB or cloud service, or you can set up a shared folder on your local network.

If you offload that shared folder to a separate location like a network attached storage (NAS) system, you can use the NAS to save backups of your PC files.

UTM is another great option for running Windows through a VM. UTM is a free open-source software VM, so it’s continually getting updates and feedback from its community. Getting Windows to run on UTM does require a little more technical knowledge than if you were to use Parallels, but once it’s set up it should be a smooth experience. Compared to Parallels, its performance can be slower due to optimization issues.

QEMU, VMWare Fusion, and Virtualbox can also run VMs on macOS, but they are significantly harder to use than UTM or Parallels.

Use a compatibility layer

The Wine software website's 'about' section.
Credit: Code Weavers

With Wine, your Mac will behave almost like a Windows PC.

Compatibility layers are kind of like translators. They take Windows applications and “translate” them into commands macOS can understand. When it works, it works wonderfully. It’s faster than emulating a VM, and you don’t need a Windows license to run the Windows software. However, like any translator, it has its limits.

Wine (which stands for “Wine is Not an Emulator”) is the most popular tool in this category. It’s free and open-source software, and if you don’t mind delving into command lines, it’s well worth a look. However, it’s not an easy tool to use if you don’t have at least a little knowledge of how operating systems work.

There is some software, like Crossover, which uses Wine and wraps it into a user-friendly interface. If you’re mostly looking to run productivity Windows apps on macOS, Crossover could be a great option that’s easy to use, but it’s not free.

Use a remote desktop

The Shadow PC software introduction screen.
Credit: Shadow PC

If you already own a Windows PC, this is a good way to connect to it using your Mac.

If you already have a Windows PC, you could just access it from your Mac using a remote desktop application. Remote desktops connect the PC you’re using (client PC) to the PC you want to access (host PC) so you can control the host PC from afar. The downside is that you may experience lag depending on the strength of your internet connection. Teamviewer, Parsec, and Moonlight are some popular free options that work well.

It’s also the basic technology behind cloud gaming: you pay a provider to access their powerful host PCs via an internet connection. Shadow PC is a cloud desktop service that lets you rent a personal desktop to do anything you want with it. It’s not cheap, but if you need an uber-powerful Windows PC every once in a while, it’s an option.

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