While Mac OS X works well for most tasks, there are times when it just can’t do what you want it to; usually that’s some application or game that just isn’t supported natively. More often than not, this means running Windows on your Mac.
You can often get away with running Windows in a Virtual Machine using Parallels or VirtualBox, but sometimes that won’t cut it. Maybe you’re using a peripheral that doesn’t play nice with virtualisation (like some printers) or you want to squeeze as much performance as possible from a game.
Maybe you really like Apple’s hardware, but can’t stand OS X. In either case, you want to boot Windows 10 on your Mac.
If you just need to get Windows 10 up and running to use a particular application once in a while, you can save a lot of hassle by just running Windows 10 in a virtual machine inside OS X using virtualization software like Parallels, VMWare Fusion or VirtualBox.
There are a number of advantages to going down the virtualization route. You don’t need to partition your hard drive and potentially waste space – your Windows installation will only take up as much space as it needs. Installation is a lot faster and more straightforward, and you don’t need to worry about downloading and installing drivers.
— Chris Law (@inequals) April 29, 2016
The main downside, of course, is that by using this method you’re running multiple operating systems at the same time, so it’s by no means efficient. You’ll need to make sure that your Mac has enough RAM to handle both OS X and Windows, and battery life will take a significant hit while the VM is running.
This is also definitely not the solution if you’re wanting to do anything particularly graphics intensive. While virtualization software has made great strides in the last few years in making the graphics card more accessible to virtual machines, performance is still nowhere near what you’ll get running Windows natively.
Booting Directly Into Windows
If virtualization isn’t an option for you, you’ll want to boot directly into Windows. This means partitioning your hard drive so that it’s shared between OS X and Windows (unless you plan to only run Windows) and then using the Boot Camp Utility in OS X to create a bootable USB drive containing the Windows installer and Apple’s Boot Camp drivers.
The Boot Camp Assistant is Apple’s utility for running Windows natively on your Mac (meaning that you shut down OS X and boot into Windows). It makes it easy to partition your drive, download the drivers that you need and create a bootable USB drive using an ISO file (if you bought Windows 10 from a retail store, you’ll probably be better off just using the DVD or USB drive that came with it).
This guide assumes that you’ve bought Windows from Microsoft’s online store and that you’ve got an ISO file from them. You can download Windows 10 directly from Microsoft here.
When you start up Boot Camp Assistant (found in /Applications/Utilities/), you’ll be given the option to create a bootable install disk using a USB drive and download the latest Boot Camp drivers. To do either you will need a USB drive plugged in (at least 8GB if you want to create a Windows installation drive). If you choose both options, the Assistant will automatically copy the drivers to the install disk. If you’re planning on just downloading the drivers, you may wish to just download them directly from the Apple support website (see the Running Windows Only section below).
To use the BootCamp Assistant for prepping your Mac to install Windows, you’ll need at least 50GB free on your hard drive and also check the “Install or remove Windows 7 or later version” option. The Assistant will give you a slider allowing you to choose how much space you want to allocate to Windows. It’ll then shrink your OS X partition accordingly and create a new partition ready for the Windows installation.
Once you’ve created the installer and partitioned your hard drive, you can restart your Mac and boot using the USB drive you just created. The Boot Camp Assistant should do this for you automatically, but you can also select the USB drive from the boot menu by holding down the Option key as your Mac boots.
To install Windows, you’ll need to do a “custom install” rather than an upgrade, and you’ll need to format the partition created by the Boot Camp Assistant. Then sit back, relax, and grab yourself a beverage as Windows completes the installation process.
Once you’ve finished fighting your way through the initial setup process and got to the desktop, it’s time to install the Boot Camp drivers. Open a File Explorer window and go to the USB drive that you set up with the Boot Camp Assistant and find the Boot Camp folder. Now it’s just a case of running setup.exe — it’ll install everything for you.
Once that’s done, everything should work — it includes drivers for graphics card, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, audio, webcam, keyboard (including backlighting and the media keys) and the trackpad.
Boot Camp Performance
If the main reason you want to run Windows 10 in Boot Camp is for performance, you probably want to know what to expect.
First up, the good news – if you’re heading to Windows for gaming, you’ll probably get good graphics performance out of your Mac (as long as you have a dedicated graphics card). That’s because, generally speaking, a lot of games are written for Windows first and will often use Direct X (a Microsoft technology); the same games in OS X will have to make do with a different technology, OpenGL, which is cross-platform and well supported but generally less efficient resulting in lower performance.
Quite pleased with my Mac with boot camp gaming, despite driving a 5k display it can do DS3 1080 at 55fps Max setting and 2k at 40fps
— Gaijinhunter (@aevanko) April 19, 2016
Now, the not so good news. You know how your Mac gets incredible battery life and has an amazing trackpad? They’re both so good because they’re optimized for use with OS X, which is tailored to work perfectly with a very specific set of hardware and is heavily optimised because of it. Windows, designed to run on lots of different hardware, is nowhere near as optimised, and it shows. You’ll most likely lose a few hours battery life running Windows — with some reports of a 50% reduction in battery life. Your mileage may vary, but it definitely doesn’t stand up to OS X.
Unfortunately, the trackpad doesn’t behave so well in Windows, either. While you can set up tap to click and two finger right clicking, it just doesn’t feel as nice as it does in OS X.
If you’re wanting to play games you’ll probably want to go and find the latest drivers for the particular graphics card in your Mac from either AMD or NVIDIA. These can increase the performance of your graphics card even further, but beware: they may break functionality like the ability to change the brightness of your display.
The Boot Camp drivers work well enough, though power management and trackpad functionality are definitely nowhere near as good as they are in OS X. Thankfully, better options are available which bring them a lot closer… if you’re willing to pay for them.
Power Plan Assistant helps to eke out a bit more battery life by giving you much greater customisation over power saving mechanisms, such as how quickly your monitor should dim and turn off. It lets you have multiple profiles (for different battery percentage ranges, or when you’re charging), and also provides quick access to toggling Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on or off — which usually requires diving into your network/Bluetooth settings.
Trackpad++ (which requires Power Plan Assistant to be installed) gives you back the extra trackpad functionality from OS X that you lost in Boot Camp. Yes, the settings window is super cluttered and confusing, but you can tweak pretty much anything from scrolling sensitivity to extra gestures (like pinch to zoom), and even configure things like trackpad rejection when you’re typing.
Both of these applications are free to install, but require a reinstall with every version release unless you have a serial number (which you can only get with a $17 “donation” to the developer).
Running Windows Only
You may decide that you’re done with Mac altogether and that you only want to run Windows on your Mac. In this case, you’ll probably still want to use the Boot Camp utility to download the Boot Camp drivers, although you won’t need to use its partitioning tool to resize your hard drive as you’re planning on wiping it anyway.
In case it wasn’t obvious, if you’re planning on installing Windows on the Mac by itself, you’ll be wiping your hard drive, so you’ll want to make sure that all of your files are saved elsewhere (you should already your files saved elsewhere because they’re already backed up, right?). Bear in mind that if you’re relying on getting your files from a backup, Time Machine won’t work because Windows has no way of accessing Time Machine (though being able to read Mac filesystems definitely helps). The best way to make sure is to just copy all of the files you want onto another hard drive so you’re definitely sure you have everything you need.
If you’ve already wiped your hard drive and installed Windows only to realise that you didn’t download the Boot Camp drivers using the utility, fear not; you can download them directly from the Apple website. Older Macs (pre 2013) need Boot Camp 5.1.5621, whereas newer Macs (from 2013 on) need Boot Camp 5.1.5640.
Besides that, installation is the same as for Boot Camp. Just use the partition selector under Windows installation to delete any current partitions before formatting for Windows, and you’ll still want to install the Boot Camp drivers (and any other 3rd party drivers mentioned above).
A Note on EFI vs. BIOS
Traditionally, computers have used a Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) to compile a system report listing the hardware that the computer has available to it. This includes the CPU model and its specifications, the amount of RAM installed, any storage devices (like any hard drives installed via IDE or SATA) and other devices (optical drives, graphics cards, sound cards, or any other expansion card). This report is then passed on to the operating system so that it knows what it’s working with.
Macs don’t use a BIOS, but rather use a system called the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI). It performs much the same functions as a BIOS, but allows extra features (such as support for a graphical user interface and built in support for booting over a network).
For older versions of Windows that only supported booting with a BIOS, a compatibility support module (CSM) translates the information from the EFI to a virtual BIOS which is then provided to the operating system to allow it to boot.
Microsoft started providing support for EFI booting from Windows 8 onwards. Booting from EFI results in much faster boot times, is by default much more secure (protecting you from malware hijacking your computer or running outside of what can be detected and fixed by antivirus software) and allows you to boot from devices larger than 2TB. Windows 10, like Windows 8, supports booting from either a BIOS or the EFI.
Unfortunately, driver support can be a bit hit and miss when booting Windows in EFI mode. For example, the Mid–2012 13-inch MacBook Pro will happily boot into Windows 10 in EFI mode, but for whatever reason Windows 10 will absolutely refuse to recognise the sound card.
the efi version of windows 10 doesn't recognize my hdd just like Mac OS X >10.8.2! So I must use the bios version pic.twitter.com/U9JbGLDNMq
— Computer Guy (@TCG96) October 1, 2014
Whether you should boot via an EFI or BIOS comes down to whether your particular Mac is fully supported by Windows in EFI mode, and requires a bit of research. Booting in EFI mode is generally much faster, but you run the risk of something not being properly supported; this may or may not be a deal breaker based on your own personal requirements.
While BIOS mode is slower and will one day be phased out, that day is not today. It’s the method officially supported by Apple and its Boot Camp drivers, so if reliability, compatibility and ease of setup is your biggest priority, BIOS mode is still the way to go.
Windows Works Well… Mostly
If you need to run the odd Windows application on your Mac, you should definitely consider running a virtual machine. For most users it should be more than sufficient, and is generally much easier to set up and transition to and from OS X.
However, sometimes you really do just need to run Windows natively, whether it’s for gaming or you just can’t stand OS X any longer. Boot Camp makes this much easier to set up, too. With drivers that all install together, you’ll be up and running in no time. You’ll have better graphics performance at the expense of battery life and trackpad usability, but sometimes a Mac’s gotta do what a Mac’s gotta do.
Note that running Windows natively may not even be necessary if you use a tool like WineBottle to run Windows apps on Mac. It isn’t the perfect solution for all cases, but it’s definitely an option worth exploring.