How to install Windows on Mac: How to get Windows 10 for free
Update, 5 August 2016: The deadline has now passed, and Microsoft is no longer allowing free upgrades to Windows 10.
If you will be installing the operating system for the first time, you will need a Windows product key ( in the format xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx-xxxxx). For more information about product keys and when they are required, visit Microsoft’s FAQ page.
While Windows 10 has been free for most users for a year, the upgrade deadline is looming. Up until now, you might only have to pay if your version of Windows is older than 7 or if you don’t own a copy at all. In that case, a copy will cost around £99 (you can get it for less on Amazon). But if you still haven’t upgraded to Windows 10 before 29 July 2016, you’ll have to pay regardless of the operating system you’re running.
But what if you want to upgrade to Windows 10, but not just yet? Our sister site PC Advisor has worked out how to extract the Windows product key from an existing Windows machine, allowing you to upgrade for free at any point in the future. This is ideal if you’ve already got a Windows 8 bootcamp installed on your Mac.
Here, by the way, is how to install Windows 10 on a PC.
How to install Windows on Mac: Boot Camp vs virtualisation software
There are a few ways to run Windows on a Mac, all of which will require you to purchase a Windows licence. The simplest way is to boot into Windows at startup and use your Mac as a Windows PC throughout your computing session. This is easy to do because the required feature – Boot Camp – is built into Mac OS X/macOS. It also offers the best performance because your Mac’s hardware is dedicated only to running the Windows OS.
The other option is to use virtualisation software. This is marginally more complicated to do and requires a third-party application such as Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion. It means you can switch rapidly from Mac to Windows, but it does mean that your Mac’s processor, memory and so on are having to run two OSes simultaneously. It can make for slower performance.
We’re going to plump for the second option first, and look at using VMware Fusion to run Windows on a Mac.
Read next: How to maximise, minimise, open, close and zoom windows in Mac OS X
How to install Windows on Mac: Virtualisation software – VMware, Parallels and more
We obtained the necessary installation media earlier in this article, so we’re ready to press on with setting up Windows on our Mac.
We’re looking at virtualisation first. Here we show you how to use VMware Fusion to run Windows and macOS on your Mac, but the process is broadly similar for other virtualisation products such as Parallels. To help you decide which one to go for, read Best virtualisation software for Mac.
First you need to download VMware Fusion. VMware Fusion 8 costs 80 euros but, happily, there’s a free trial.
Once you’ve downloaded it the VMware Fusion disk image will be saved to your default download directory. Find it, and double click the VMware .dmg file, to mount it.
Double-click the VMware Fusion icon to launch the Installation Assistant and follow the instructions to install VMware Fusion.
Once it is installed, launch VMware Fusion on your Mac. The Virtual Machine Library window will launch, from which you can create a virtual machine. Now you can use VMware Fusion’s Windows Easy Install feature to automatically install Windows and VMware Tools in your virtual machine.
From the Virtual Machine Library window, click the New button or choose File, New. The New Virtual Machine Assistant launches.
Click Continue to go through to the Operating System panel. Now you can select an operating system and version for your virtual machine. In the Name panel, enter the name for the virtual machine in the Save as field.
In the Virtual Hard Disk panel, set the maximum size for the virtual hard disk. You need to set aside enough space that your virtual machine will work well, but not impinge on the original OS X install. Go in to the Advanced Disk Options section if you want to allocate all possible disk space, or one of several other more high-end features.
In the Windows Easy Install panel, select Use Easy Install. Enter your Name, Password (optional) and the Windows Product key. The product key is the long series of letters and numbers on the Windows DVD box or sent to you via email when you downloaded Windows. ‘Name’ should just be the name to which your Windows software is registered, not your Windows username. ‘Password’ will be your Windows administrator account password.
Now you’ll go to the Finish dialog. Leave selected the option ‘Start virtual machine and install operating system now’. Input your Windows 8 installation media and select the option ‘Use operating system installation disc’ if it is on DVD, or ‘Use operating system installation disc image file’ if it is a USB stick. In the case of the latter you’ll have to browse to the image file.
Now click Finish and put on the kettle. VMware Fusion will install Windows. This will take up to 45 minutes, and once it is done you can boot to Windows at any time by going to VMware Fusion from within OS X.
How to install Windows on Mac: Oracle VirtualBox
Here’s an alternative method of running Windows on your Mac: use Oracle VirtualBox to run Windows 10 as a virtual machine.
It’s broadly the same as the process using Parallels Desktop for Mac or VMware Fusion. Parallels Desktop for Mac 10 features improvements like 30 percent more battery life for MacBook users, 60 percent faster loading of snapshots, 50 percent faster performance from Office 2014 apps, and 48 percent speedier opening of Windows files.
This section is by Nik Rawlinson.
Download and install VirtualBox
VirtualBox is a free download from here. Opt for the latest edition by clicking the ‘amd64’ link beside VirtualBox 5.0 for OS X Hosts in the VirtualBox binaries section at the top of the page. Once the disk image has downloaded, locate it on your Mac, mount it and double-click thefile to install the application.
You’ll need 175MB of free space on your computer to accommodate it, in addition to the space required by Windows (up to 32GB). When the installation completes, launch VirtualBox from your Applications folder.
Download your copy of Windows 10 as explained above, and put it somewhere convenient so you can access it from within the VirtualBox installer. Click the New button on the VirtualBox toolbar and give your new virtual machine a name (‘Windows 10’ in our instance) and select the operating system you’re installing from the Version drop-down menu. Click Continue.
Devote sufficient resources
When Windows is up and running it will behave like a separate computer from the rest of your Mac, which will continue to run macOS. To do this it needs to ‘borrow’ resources from your Mac, which your Mac won’t be able to touch while the virtual machine is running. The most important of these is memory.
VirtualBox suggests 2GB (2048MB) on our machine (a Mac mini with 16GB RAM), but we’re going to increase this to 4GB (4096MB) to give Windows some room to breathe. If you want to do the same, use the slider and then click Continue.
Create a virtual disk
When you set up a virtual machine, not only the operating system but also the applications running on it and the files created and edited in it are stored in a bundle, which your Mac will see as a virtual hard drive.
This is convenient as it means you won’t get your Windows and OS X assets mixed up, but it also means that you’ll put a large chunk of your disk out of reach of OS X. For this reason we’re going to stick with VirtualBox’s fairly conservative recommendation of a 32GB virtual disk for Windows.
When you click Continue you’ll be asked what kind of drive you want to create. Stick with VDI (VirtualBox Disk Image) unless you’re going to use this installation of Windows with a different virtualisation application, such as Parallels Desktop.
Put off the inevitable
VirtualBox can either take away the 32GB immediately or take it piecemeal as and when required by increasing the size of the Windows drive over time as your files and range of installed applications grows.
It makes sense to opt for the latter, so unless you have any particular reason for giving up the full amount right away, leave the storage option set to Dynamically allocated and click Continue.
You’ve now created your new virtual machine – all you need to do now is install Windows on it. VirtualBox new shows you a summary of the composition of your virtual machine, and allows you to switch between different virtualised environments in the sidebar if you’ve set up more than one.
Click Start to begin the Windows installation process.
Locate your installation file
We’ve stored our installation download on an SD card in the slot on the back of our Mac mini. We need to tell VirtualBox where this is, so we click the folder icon on the screen that popped up when we clicked Start and select the ISO file on the card. Clicking Open returns us to the set-up screen where we click Start to open the disk image and use it as the installation media.
Walk through Windows
Once you’ve selected your language the installer needs to know whether you’re upgrading an old version or opting for a Custom install. Pick Custom, as you’re setting up a brand new virtual machine and then, on the following screen, make sure Drive 0 is selected as the installation drive (this should be the only option).
Sign into Windows
The virtual machine will reboot a couple of times during the installation before asking you to set up your preferences. You can opt for Express Settings, which accepts all of Microsoft’s defaults, including using Bing as your search engine, automatically installing updates when they become available, and sending your browsing history to Microsoft.
If you don’t want to do this, click the Customise button and tweak the settings by hand. Next, you need to tell Windows whether the machine belongs to yourself or your organisation. Only you know the right answer here, but if you’re a home or small business user, the chances are the second option is the most appropriate.
Click Next, then enter your Microsoft account details to log in. If you don’t already have a Microsoft account, click Create one.
The final two steps ask if you’d rather use a PIN that in place of a password, and whether you want to store your files on OneDrive or the local virtual machine. When you’ve decided what you want to do in each instance, Windows reboots one last time before presenting your with the desktop.
How to install Windows on Mac: Boot Camp
For the full Windows 10 experience, you can use Boot Camp. You’ll need a USB drive with at least 16GB of free space to add the Windows 10 installer and the necessary Boot Camp files. Apple has updated its Boot Camp tool to provide Windows 10 support for 64-bit Macs. Check for software updates to make sure OS X, your Mac firmware, and Boot Camp Assistant are up to date.
You’ll also need at least 30GB of space free on your Mac to give to the Windows partition. Boot Camp will take the Windows ISO file and create a boot disk that can be used to install Windows on your Mac. See also: Make a bootable Mac OS X install drive.
1. Download the Windows 10 Disc Image. Choose 64-bit download.
2. Make sure OS X, your Mac firmware, and Boot Camp Assistant are up to date.
3. Once you have the Windows 10 ISO downloaded (see above), open the Boot Camp assistant. Tick the following boxes: Create a Windows 10 install disk; and Install Windows 10.
4. Insert the USB drive and select the Windows 10 .iso file via the Boot Camp Assistant.
5. Boot Camp will copy the Windows 10 iso and all the Boot Camp drivers needed to run Windows to the USB stick. After some time your USB drive will become a Windows 10 boot disk.
6. The next step is crucial: you need to partition your hard drive. This means choosing how much storage to give to Windows 10, and take away from OS X. The recommended minimum is 20GB, but 30GB or more is better. Windows 10 the OS itself will take up a lot of space. Hand over as much as you can afford.
7. Once you have set the required space, click Install. Windows 10 will start to install.
8. As this is happening you will see Windows restart a few times. Things are working well if after a while you hit the ‘We’re getting your PC ready’ screen. Don’t worry if this is onscreen for a quarter of an hour or so.
9. Once the process is finished your computer will reboot. It should reboot into Windows 10 so you can see the Windows set up screen, but it isn’t a problem if it reboots to OS X. Regardless, whenever you reboot, if you hold the Option/Alt key you will see a menu from which you can select which operating system to launch.
10. Next enter your product key and select your Windows Boot Camp partition to install Window on.
11. Follow the installation process. Once installed the Mac will boot into Windows 10.
12. Now you need to install the Boot Camp drivers that are on the USB stick. Locate them and runto install them.
Now you will have Windows 10 on your Mac. Enjoy Windows 10!
How to install Windows on Mac: Update an existing Windows Boot Camp partition
You can also upgrade existing 64-bit installations of Windows 7, or 8.1 to Windows 10. You need at least 10GB of free space on your Windows partition. If you have Windows 8.0 you will need to update to Windows 8.1 before upgrading to Windows 10.
Read next: What to do if your Mac doesn’t finish installing an update
How to install Windows on Mac: Can I run macOS on a Windows PC?
What about the opposite scenario? Is it possible to run macOS on a PC?
In a word: no. It is one of those ironies that although Microsoft is famed for its aggressive commercial practices, Apple is responsible for this particular impasse. Although you can run Windows on any X86 computer, Apple makes its own macOS software available only on Mac software. Overtly the reasoning is laudable: macOS is designed to run on Apple’s own hardware, and the experience wouldn’t be as good on any old computer. This is one reason why you will never run an underpowered Mac.
But it is also fair to say that Apple creates software in order to sell hardware. The excellence of macOS is a killer app when it comes to selling Macs, and it doesn’t want to share. So if you want to experience the best of all worlds, you need to run Windows on your Mac.
How to install Windows on Mac: How to run Windows games on Mac
We cover various games you can play on a Mac if you run Windows in separate articles:
- How to play Ghost Recon Wildlands on Mac
- How to play Need for Speed 2015 on Mac
- How to play No Man’s Sky on Mac
- How to play Tomb Raider 2: Rise of the Tomb Raider on Mac
- How to play Dark Souls 3 on Mac