Want Windows 8 running on your Mac, but don’t know where to start? That’s understandable: there are a lot of options out there, and it can get overwhelming.
Whether you’re interested in more advanced gaming on your Mac, or simply need to run a particular Windows program from time to time, you might feel like you’ve no idea where to start. To make things simple, let’s quickly go over your two main options:
- Dual Booting: This means that, when you start up your computer, you can pick between running Windows or OS X. Windows can make full use of your Mac this way, but it can be inconvenient – you need to restart your Mac every time you want to switch between operating systems.
- Virtualization: This means that, when you’re running OS X, you can run Windows at the same time. Windows won’t run as well this way, because it can’t use all of your Mac’s resources, but this method can be more convenient – you can switch between Windows and Mac programs instantly.
Of course, this is just a starting point – things get far more complicated. For example: you can dual boot Windows using the hard drive inside your computer, but you can also boot Windows from a USB drive if you’d like. There are three major programs for running Windows in a virtual machine, all with pros and cons of their own.
So, what’s the best way to get Windows on your Mac? I’d argue it depends on your situation. Let’s look at four methods.
Note: You Need Windows To Do This.
If you want to run Windows 8 on your Mac, you need a copy of Windows 8. There’s no working around this (at least, not legally). You can buy Windows 8 from Microsoft; prices vary.
You can also check sites like eBay or Amazon for discounts. Another thing worth noting: if you’re planning on dual booting, you really should back up your files first.
With that out of the way, let’s explore different ways you can run Windows on your Mac.
1. Dual Boot Windows On Your Mac, Using Your Mac’s Hard Drive
The easiest method, which offers the best performance, but takes up space on your hard drive and requires you to restart your computer every time you want to run Windows. Recommended for gamers.
Your Mac comes with Boot Camp, which makes it easy to dual boot Windows. With this set up you can choose to boot OS X or Windows when you start up your Mac. You’ll want at least 30GB free on your hard drive to do this, and more is recommended if you plan on installing a lot of Windows software.
Getting started is simple: just launch the Boot Camp Assistant found in the Utilities folder.
Start the program up and you’ll be guided through the entire process. Windows drivers for your Mac will be downloaded, a partition will be created on your hard drive and a good chunk of the Windows installation will finish before you even restart your Mac.
Simon showed you how to install Windows 8 on a Macbook using Bootcamp back in 2012, and the process hasn’t changed much since then.
2. Boot Windows On Your Mac From An External Hard Drive
Slightly more difficult method that requires access to a PC running Windows to set up. Worse performance than Boot Camp, but better than most virtual machines. Requires you to restart your computer every time you want to run Windows, but doesn’t take up space on your Mac’s hard drive.
Don’t have a lot of free space on your Mac’s hard drive? It’s also possible to boot a full version of Windows on your Mac from an external drive. You can use this disk on any Mac, and all of your installed Windows programs will come with you.
The catch? You can’t use Boot Camp to set the process up. I’ve found a method that works, but it requires access to a PC running Windows. Ask a Windows-using friend nicely if need be – you’ll only need the machine once.
You’ll also need a free program called WinToUSB, and a USB drive to install Windows onto. I used an old external hard drive, but if you have access to a flash drive bigger than 32 GB it should work. USB 3.0 is recommended.
Plug your USB drive into the PC, then open the Disk Management utility. Right click the USB disk itself (making absolutely certain that it is your USB disk – you’re about to delete all files on the drive).
If you see the option to “Convert to GPT”, click it. This will format the drive, but is necessary in order to create a drive that will boot on your Mac (or any UEFI-compatible device). If you see the option to “Convert to MBR”, don’t click it: simply delete the partitions on the drive.
Double-click the empty space on your newly empty drive and create a FAT32 partition – it doesn’t need to be bigger than 100 MB – to serve as the boot sector. Next, create an NTFS partition for the remaining space – this is where Windows itself will be installed.
Your external drive is now ready for WinToUSB, so fire that application up. You’ll need to point it toward your Windows 8 install disk/ISO, then to your USB drive. Assign the Boot and System partitions you created earlier.
Click next, and WinToUSB will install Windows on your USB drive. When it’s done, unmount the disk from the PC and plug it into your Mac. Shut your Mac down, if it’s currently running, then turn it on while holding the Option key.
You should see your USB drive as an bootable option – click it to continue, and Windows will start (though it may restart once or twice to complete the installation process). You’ll have Windows running, but your WiFi and a number of other things won’t work – you need drivers.
Reboot your Mac to OS X and download the Boot Camp drivers. You’ll probably want to put them on another USB key, so you can access them from within Windows. Reboot into Windows, then run the installer.
Eventually you’ll have a full version of Windows running from USB, complete with Mac drivers. A huge advantage of this set up is you can run the same instance of Windows on any Mac, and all your programs will come with you.
3. Virtualize Windows On Your Mac Using Parallels ($80)
Easy but expensive tool for running Windows on your Mac the same time as OS X. Performance won’t match a dual-boot setup, but you don’t need to restart your computer to run Windows software. Built specifically with Macs in mind. Recommended for anyone who needs to run a few specific Windows programs from time to time.
Setting up virtual machines can be a complicated process, but Parallels makes it simple. Just point the program to your Windows install disk, configure a few settings and the rest is taken care of.
We’ve shown you how Parallels lets you run Windows faster, so check that review out for a look at how the program works.
Parallels also offers a lot of great Mac-specific tricks, like support in Windows for your favourite Mac keyboard shortcuts, and letting you create a virtual machine of your Boot Camp partition in just a few clicks (meaning you can run the same instance of Windows as a virtual machines or on its own).
Parallels is generally considered to outperform VMWare Fusion ($50), its main commercial rival, in terms of both performance and features – but Fusion is also a solid, cheaper option to look into. Check out Wikipedia’s comparison of the two apps for a quick rundown.
4. Virtualize Windows On Your Mac Using VirtualBox (Free)
Slightly more difficult software for running Windows on your Mac the same time as OS X. Performance doesn’t match Parallels, but also isn’t much worse. This cross-platform program is short on Mac-specific features.
Time is money, the old saying goes, but that only really applies if you don’t enjoy tinkering. If you’re willing to spend a bit more time getting a virtual machine set up, I highly recommend installing Windows 8 using VirtualBox. It’s what I personally use, mostly to test Windows software.
We offer a complete guide to setting up VirtualBox, so check that out if you want to learn how to use this powerful software.
As for Mac-specific features? A lot is missing out of the box – don’t expect your Mac keyboard shortcuts to keep working. But some things, like copy-pasting between programs, work great. And there’s a lengthy tutorial for running a Bootcamp partition, if you’re willing to spend some time on it.
What Did We Miss?
These four methods are, to me, the best ways to get Windows running on your Mac. Which to use probably depends on your situation, but they should cover most common usage scenarios.
Of course, I could be wrong – which is why I love our readers. They point out things I miss. If you can think of something, let me know in the comments below. Looking forward to it!
Do you run Windows 8 on your Mac? How and why?