Good to Know: Windows on a Mac

Running Windows on your Mac

Can I really run Windows applications on my Mac?

Yes, you can. Since Apple’s transition to Intel processors in 2006, Windows applications run beautifully on the Mac. Every currently shipping Mac qualifies, but older Macs may not. Please check your system profile in About This Mac to ensure what you need to run Windows.

To run Windows applications, do I have to run the Windows operating system?

Yes, you do. Basically, there are two ways to run Windows on your Mac:

  1. Boot into Windows at startup. This dedicates 100% of the processor power to Windows and Windows applications. You can’t use Mac OS X again until you restart.
  2. Use virtualization software, which lets you run Mac OS X and Windows side by side. You can switch between them as easily as you’d switch between Mac applications.

But you can’t run Windows without Windows—you’ll need to acquire your own copy of either Windows XP or Windows Vista to use either solution.

Boot Camp: Booting into Windows

First things first—how do I boot up into Windows?

You use Boot Camp, which is built into Mac OS X Mavericks. To use a Windows application, set your Mac to run Windows Boot Camp: Booting into Windows, then reboot.

What’s the benefit of the Boot Camp approach?

Basically, the Windows operating system runs faster under Boot Camp. By allowing Windows to run natively on the Mac, just as it does on a PC, you give the OS access to 100% of your Mac’s resources, including the processor, RAM, and graphics — it does not share resources with Mac OS X as it must under virtualization. Boot Camp comes pre-installed on all new Macs so all you need is a copy of Windows and Mac and you are ready to go.

What do I need to know about Boot Camp?

You need to re-boot in order to switch between Mac and Windows applications. Depending on what you do and how you work, this is either a minor inconvenience or a big deal.

Virtualization: Windows meets Mac OS X

Virtualization—how does that work?

Virtualization uses software to emulate PC hardware and create a "virtual machine" running alongside the Mac operating system, giving instant access to any desired Windows applications. Today, Windows is the most common "virtual machine" on the Mac, but you can also use virtualization to run Linux and other operating systems.

With virtualization, do I need reboot to use Windows?

No. One of the key benefits of Virtualization: Windows meets Mac OS X software is the ability to run both Mac OS X and a virtual machine side by side without the need to reboot your system.

Why doesn’t everyone use the virtualization approach?

Virtualization runs two operating systems simultaneously, greatly increasing the demands on resources such as memory and processor power which can result in sluggish performance. 1GB of RAM is the minimum to run virtualization software, but at least 2GB is recommended for a better experience.

What are my virtualization options?

Parallels Desktop for Mac and VMware Fusion both run Windows in a separate window alongside Mac OS X. Each developer also offers utility applications (Coherence and Unity, respectively) that bring your Windows applications right into the Mac desktop and integrate with Expose and the Mac OS X Dock.

Which method is right for you?

Is Boot Camp or virtualization right for me?

If you use resource-intensive applications such as 3D games, video editors, or 2D/3D drawing programs—or only need Windows applications once in a while—the Boot Camp route will give you maximum power.

If you frequently need Windows applications, though, virtualization lets you avoid rebooting your Mac to use these applications. Most users find virtualization the most convenient route.

Should I use virtualization or Boot Camp to run Microsoft Office?

Actually, you don’t need either. There’s a Mac-native version of the suite, Microsoft Office for Mac, which creates, reads, and edits files that are compatible with the Windows version of Office. So you can generate Windows-ready documents, spreadsheets, and presentations—all within the familiar, easy-to-use Mac interface.

Windows-based gaming and graphics

Can I play Windows-based games on my Mac?

Absolutely. Not only can you enjoy your favorite Windows-based games, you can keep on using your favorite gamepads and joysticks. Gaming requires a lot from your processor, graphic card, and RAM, so here are two tips. First, seek out a computer with a separate graphics card, such as an iMac, MacBook Pro, and Mac Pro. Second, use the Boot Camp approach to ensure the smoothest graphics rendering and highest frame rates.

Does the Mac support graphics-intensive Windows-based software such as Auto-CAD?

Yes. But be aware that graphics-intensive applications such as Auto-CAD or Adobe OnLocation require 100% of your computer’s resources. You’ll need to use Boot Camp to give resource-hungry applications like these the support they require to run quickly and smoothly.

What you need to run Windows

What are the specific system requirements to run Windows?

Fusion and Parallels both require a Mac with an Intel processor, a minimum of Mac OS X v10.4.6 Tiger, and 1GB of RAM. More RAM is always encouraged for a smoother experience while running Windows. Parallels asks for 100MB of hard disk space for the installation of the software (excluding Windows) and Fusion asks for 275MB of hard disk space (excluding Windows) for installation. Boot Camp is a built-in feature of Mac OS X v10.5 Leopard and requires a Mac with Intel processor.

Windows XP (SP2) requires at least 1.5GB of hard disk space. Windows Vista Home Premium requires a minimum of 15GB of hard disk space.