How To Run Windows on a Mac (M1 and Intel)

You can run Windows on a Mac powered by Intel or the new M1 chip. But why would you want to? There’s an old joke about how loading Windows on a Mac is the equivalent to giving the Mac a frontal lobotomy.

Seriously though, even hardcore Mac users need to rely on Windows from time to time because:  

  • Some Windows applications won’t work on a Mac. For example, the Microsoft Access database or other Windows-only developer apps are tied to Windows.
  • Software developers often need the Windows platform for their test projects.
  • Windows has more games with better graphics. Although you can stream games through popular online gaming platforms like Steam, their Mac-compatible selections tend to be far fewer.
  • Windows 11 has some slick user interface upgrades that make it almost “Mac-like.”

You install the Windows operating system on a Mac through Mac’s built-in Boot Camp Assistant or through popular virtualization software like Parallels or VMWare. But nothing worth doing was ever easy, and that applies to coping with compatibility problems on both sides of Mac and Windows technology. For example, Mac now has a faster M1 silicone processor, and Windows 11 needs to be coaxed into the Mac environment.

Using the Mac Intel Boot Camp Assistant

Another advantage of running Windows on an Intel Mac is that Mac computers are better built and have a better support network. You can actually boot a Mac Intel computer into a 100 percent Windows environment with the Boot Camp Assistant. So, Mac has always been a friendly host to its more widely used rival, Windows.

An Intel-powered Mac running Windows Boot Camp is a world-class host that runs Windows as well as any PC, along with the aforementioned superior customer service. Buy a Mac at your local Mac Store, and you can have personalized, local support and training. Buy a PC at a big box store, and…well, you get the picture.

How to install Boot Camp

You install Boot Camp using Mac’s built-in Boot Camp Assistant. Type “Boot Camp Assistant” in the Spotlight Search box (click the spyglass icon on the upper right of the Mac menu), and click on the “Continue” button on the bottom right of the Boot Camp Assistant Dialog Box.

Head over to this post for a detailed guide about using Boot Camp Assistant:

How to Activate Windows 10 in Boot Camp for Mac

What you need before you begin as well as detailed instructions are contained in this Apple Support page. Before you decide to go to the trouble of partitioning your hard disk and installing a dual boot process, remember that when you boot your Mac into Windows, you cannot access any Mac features or files.  The same goes for Windows when you are booted into the Mac OS.

The biggest advantage is that, with Boot Camp, your Mac can run Windows and not have to share resources with your Mac. That comes in handy in terms of speed and reduced lag times when playing Windows PC games.

The Virtual Solutions for Using Windows

If you want to have your Windows and Mac operate seamlessly side by side, you’ll need to use the virtual machine alternatives. So, users of pre-2000 Intel Macs and those who don’t want to boot back and forth between Mac and Windows have alternatives. They include Windows emulators like Parallels and VMware Fusion.

Those emulation products are separate software packages, and you need a new Windows license.  Loading Parallels or VMware Fusion and a fresh copy of Windows means buying two pieces of software.

There are less costly, as well as free Mac emulators available. For example, free emulators like Virtual Box 6-1 are open-sourced and not all that user-friendly. More expensive products like CrossOver work within the macOS itself, but have a steeper learning curve.

We’ll go into more detail on alternatives to Boot Camp for Apple Silicon Macs in a future article. For now, let’s look at the two most popular, Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion, in the context of coping with the challenges of Windows 11 and the new Mac M1 chip.

Parallels Desktop 17 for Mac

Parallels 17 is the most up-to-date product for users who want an easy upgrade to Windows 11. Parallels has a 14-day free trial, and you can either buy a single license or a yearly subscription. It has the disadvantage that single license upgrades are not free. Upgrades cost about the same as the previous versions.

Parallels 17 automatically installs an emulator for the Windows Trusted Platform Module (TPM). The TPM is a secure crypto-processing chip that adds extra PC security. You cannot upgrade to Windows 11 unless TPM is detected during the installation process. 

If, after installing Parallels 17, you receive an error message to the effect that your computer is not compatible with Windows 11, try this fix:

1. From the Windows Actions Menu, select “Stop.”

2. With Windows in the Stop Mode, the “Windows 10” Configuration dialog box will appear.

3. If the TPM Chip icon does not appear in the left pane, click on the + sign at the bottom of the pane. A small dropdown menu will appear.

4. From the drop-down menu, select “TPM Chip.”

If your system is still blocked from downloading Windows 11, another possible solution is to do a clean install of Windows 11 by downloading a Windows Disk Image (ISO). Grab a cup of coffee, because the file is about 5 gigabytes.

When the ISO file is downloaded, you’ll need to copy it to a USB drive. Open the drive and go to the setup.exe file, which will open your Windows 10 and go through the lengthy installation process.

Important: Have your Windows 10 license key handy, because you’ll be asked to enter it if you want your Windows 11 to be supported and legal.

Another helpful hint: If you want your Windows display title at the top to indicate “Windows 11,” you’ll need to open the Parallels configuration dialog with Windows in the Stop mode. Select “General,” and enter Windows 11 in the name box.

Install more operating systems with Parallels

Parallels has a “Create New” feature where you can:

1. Download a fresh copy of Windows 10 from Microsoft.

2. Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or image file.

3. Transfer the Windows Operating System, documents and applications from a PC to a virtual machine on your Mac.

4. Download free Linux and Android virtual operating systems.

5. Recover and download macOS older editions

VMware Fusion

VMware Fusion is another alternative. It is more expensive, but has a 30-day free trial period. The product supports the MacOS BigSur (11.0). VMware fusion also supports TPM so that you can upgrade to Windows 11 on a Mac Intel computer. For the time being, that upgrade requires a workaround by downloading a Windows 11 ISO image and installing the TPM through one of three rather lengthy options.

VMware Fusion, like Parallels, can host a wide range of other operating systems.

The Mac M1 Chip, ARM, and Rosetta Translator Further Complicate Matters

The new Apple M1 chip is the first Apple-designed “Systems on a Chip” (SOC). The M1 powers the 2020/2021 versions of MacBook Air, Pro, and Mac Mini, iMac and iPads.

The M1 chip is super-fast and provides longer battery life for MacBooks. Its integrated design takes the place of multiple chips on older Mac models that previously needed to swap and copy data, where now everything is on one module.

Upgrades don’t always turn out well.

The problem with any upgrade—software or hardware—is that old features and capabilities can get left behind. For example, M1 powered Macs do not support Boot Camp. Also, as previously discussed, Windows 11 won’t work without the TPM setting, and not all Macs can load TPM.

Currently, Parallels is the only Windows virtual machine compatible with the Mac M1 chip. VMware Fusion has yet to offer an M1 chip solution, and probably won’t officially support M1 Macs until Spring 2022.

More glitches with ARM and the M1 chip

Two glitches: Catch 1 is that, presently, Windows 10 for ARM is the only platform that works on an M1 Mac. The second catch is that not every Windows program can run on the ARM configuration.

To get the Windows 11 ARM program you’ll need to be a member of the Microsoft Insider Program. See this Microsoft News page for details and links.

Mac’s Rosetta Intel Translator is Glitch 3

Mac’s Rosetta Intel-to-ARM Translator comes with another set of problems for Windows emulators. Apple plans to use the Rosetta translator to keep its legacy applications working both in Intel and M1.

But the bad news is that while Apple has acknowledged that most intel-based apps can pass through Rosetta, it can’t do the same for virtual machine apps that run x86_64 programs—like Parallels and VMware, unfortunately. Of course, Boot Camp is included with that purge.

Mac’s Boot Camp has already been consigned to the dust bin of technological history. Likewise, during the next two years’ transition to Apple’s silicon M1 chip will force Windows emulator developers to scramble for a solution. Neither Mac nor Microsoft have any great interest either way, of course.

So, as Mac and Microsoft continue to sometimes try to fix that which is not broken, they sometimes seem to be throwing out the baby with the bath wash. For users who want to run Windows on their Macs, in the next two years it could turn out to be more trouble than it’s worth as buying a cheap Windows PC might be a better solution for those times when only a Windows frontal lobotomy will suffice.

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About S. Santos

I am a tech columnist and blogger by trade, but I'm also an avid tennis player. In my spare time, I enjoy reviewing gadgets and gizmos from the world of tech. A lot has changed in the field since I started out as a writer back in 2009, so it's always exciting to keep up with all that's new. To me, there's nothing quite like getting my hands on a brand-new gadget or piece of software for the first time -- it's like Christmas morning every day!

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