Buying a Mac to Run Windows

Guest blogger Karl Newark writes:

Running Windows on an Apple machine has been possible ever since Apple ditched the PowerPC processor for Intel; this can a very attractive feature to a potential customer as it can offer the best of both worlds. But is it that simple? Here are some points I would like to raise about my experiences with running Windows on a Mac.

There are two main methods of running Windows on a Mac: through a dedicated partition (managed by a tool provided by Apple called Boot Camp), or from virtualization software. Both have advantages and disadvantages, and suit different users.

To use Boot Camp, you have to launch the utility through OS X. It will then guide you through creating and formatting a partition, as well as helping you prepare drivers for when Windows is installed. It will then ask you to put in your Windows install disc; from then on it’s just a usual PC Windows install procedure. When it is complete, you will be left with a Mac that can run Windows, just as any PC would.

Buying a Mac to Run WindowsIf you would like to use OS X and Windows at the same time, you will have to use a virtualization software. This will probably be Parallels or VMware Fusion — each costs around $50. VirtualBox is a popular free alternative, but it is more complicated for the average consumer. Using virtualization to run Windows will allow you to seamlessly jump between both environments, but this has its disadvantages. Running two operating systems at once can use a lot of system resources, so it may not be suitable for lower powered Macs. Also, heavy applications such as 3D games and professional design suites are not likely to run well (if at all) on a virtual machine.

A lot of people will probably know a lot of this already, but what I don’t seem to see a lot of online is what it’s like to run Windows on a Mac on a regular basis. Is it just the same as any PC? Or do the hardware differences cause complications? Here is a recollection of some of my experience with a bit of advice for anyone who is considering this. It’s worth noting that I run Windows on my MacBook Pro through a Boot Camp partition, so this is where I get the majority of my opinion, though I have used Windows on an iMac and Mac mini in the past.

The first thing I noticed after installing Windows was how easy it was to get the necessary drivers. This was great; anyone who has installed or reinstalled Windows will know how frustrating it can be to track down source drivers — but Apple takes care of this quite well. When starting this process in OS X, the Boot Camp utility may prompt you to download the necessary drivers and save them appropriately, or (if you have an older Mac) you can simply insert your OS X install disc once Windows is running.

Drivers are installed and updated by the Boot Camp Windows software. This simplifies the installation of the drivers by keeping them all in one place and checking for updates. This is something I like; sourcing drivers for another PC OEM would often leave me searching around the Web for each driver, and often around multiple component manufacturers’ websites — and if the version of Windows was different from the one originally on the machine, I would often be out of luck.

After the drivers were installed, my first instinct was to see what settings I could access, such as a left click setting and the keyboard function key settings. Both of these were in the Boot Camp Control Panel that I could access through an icon on the system tray. There are also other features such as the ability to change the machine’s default operating system and enable or disable the infrared sensor.

Using Windows on my MacBook for some time, I have certainly noticed something I miss about more traditional Windows laptops: the lack of expandability. I use a 13-inch MacBook Pro, so it has two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, an ethernet port, an SD card slot, and a combined audio jack. This isn’t such an issue for me when I use OS X as I am not used to expandability when using it, but often when I use Windows 7, I will instinctively go to plug in a USB flash drive or another peripheral only to realize that there are not enough ports free. I was also unpleasantly surprised when I realized there was no good way for me to plug in more than one external display. Other Apple computers may have more ports, but they almost always have less available than a Windows equivalent.

Other than that issue, using Windows on my MacBook has worked out great for me; although the MacBook and other Macs are designed for OS X, they really don’t do a bad job when being used with Windows. Although Windows 7 lacks all of the fancy gestures of OS X, it is still the nicest laptop touchpad I have used. The keyboard is very nice, and somehow manages to feel bigger and more comfortable than it actually is, and it’s a nice touch that the onscreen volume and brightness control animations from OS X are installed with Boot Camp.

Probably the thing I like most about using a Mac instead of a non-Apple laptop is how popular they are, which means there are plenty of accessories and support videos available. I have upgraded the hard drive, and when I’ve had to look up online tutorials, there are hundreds of step-by-step guides available. When it came to opening the machine, I knew exactly where the hard drive would be, and how to remove it, with no need for guesswork.

The popularity of Apple products ensures that accessory manufacturers will take an interest, and this is something I love. I have a Speck see-through case and I love it. I can use my laptop while traveling and take it in and out of bags without worrying about zips and other objects scratching the Mac; accessories like this are not available for laptops from other manufacturers as there are so many variants.

Over all, the MacBook has served my Windows needs very well, though I miss the expandability and low cost of a traditional Windows laptop. The Mac certainly was more expensive, and with a copy of Windows on top of that, it does add up. But the hardware design is fantastic and everything works well in Windows; I would definitely recommend buying a Mac to anyone currently in the PC market who wants what the best of both worlds have to offer.

Article Written by

Guest Blogger is from all sorts of different times and places. Guest Blogger is usually less mysterious than James Bond, but often more mysterious than Austin Powers. Guest Blogger has a knowledge base that is as vast as space, and as timeless as infinity. Guest Blogger is sometimes me, and Guest Blogger is sometimes you.

  • Scott

    It’s the reason why I finally bought a iMac, best of both worlds.

  • Namdead

    How well does Steam work, I think it would be great for gaming and since most games aren’t PC+MAC compatible.

    • David Fields

      Personally, I’m not a fan of Steam. I bought into a special deal to get Civ V through Steam and I’ve played it, but I’m not a fan of how it works compared to having the game natively on the machine.

    • Karl Newark

      I have played Portal and TF2 on OSX and Windows (on the same machine) I get a little better performance on Windows, I also get better performance from Flash in Windows (for what that’s worth), and Chrome feels a lot snappier.

      Performance on OSX is not better in many cases from what I have seen, but OSX is definitely more stable, sometimes on Windows things just stop responding for no reason or the machine just slows down for a couple of minutes for no apparent reason, I think this is where the optimisation of OSX to the hardware really comes in to play. OSX definitely doesn’t have better load times or frame rates etc. from what I have seen.

  • Aidan Taylor

    But Macs are the best? And OSX is the best software.. why still need windows?

    Microsoft FTW!

    • David Fields

      I know you’re being facetious, but for some people there really is a need to retain at least some Windows functionality to use specific applications. Personally, I’m a very strong fan of Photodex’s ProShow series of slideshow/video editors and have used their apps for nearly 10 years now.

      Outside of that, I’ve been far more comfortable using OS X than Windows due to its much cleaner–to me more intuitive–interface. I know what I’ve got, have an ultra-easy way to access it (without having to go through multiple-nested menus) and don’t have to work my way through increasingly-confusing menu bars and “ribbons”. While I do admit and accept that Windows has improved in many ways, it seems that with each new iteration since XP, Microsoft has gone out of their way to make certain things MORE difficult, not less. Windows 8 is going to add at least one more level of complexity that people don’t really want, but I do believe they’re headed in the right direction once people get through that initial learning curve.

  • David Fields

    Running Windows on a Mac through Bootcamp is just like running Windows on a dedicated Windows PC, although you’re less likely to run into driver issues. I’ve used Windows XP, Vista and Win7 on my now 5-year-old iMac and have never seen a BSOD and could even run some of the latest games with no issues other than relatively low framerates (up to about 50fps) which may be an issue for hard-core gamers.

    On the other hand, using Parallels and Fusion are absolutely great for productivity purposes with Office and similar apps, but definitely causes problems with processor/graphic-intensive apps like games or video editing. The overhead becomes quite visible by watching the Windows clock lag the OS X clock sometimes by several seconds. One of my favorite slideshow apps, ProShow Producer by Photodex, seemed especially sensitive to this as I was unable to get a clean output file in any virtualization mode (though it worked perfectly in Bootcamp).

    As such, while I do agree that there are compromises involved, the Mac is well capable of serving almost anybody’s needs.

  • Derek Tom

    1 big problem I have encountered in the workplace when running Windows 7 Pro on Boot Camp on recent MacBook Airs (Thunderbolt model) is that video output to projectors is unreliable (using MiniDisplayPort to VGA adapter); it only works with a few projector makes/models. On projectors it does not work with when booted into Windows, when booted into Mac OS X, the video output is fine so I think it’s a Windows video driver issue. So for those who do presentations a lot, Windows on Mac via Boot Camp is not a good solution, unless Apple fixes the driver issue.

  • Dave Browning

    I bought a Macbook Pro for the build quality and clean tidy look.
    I have tried a few times to love OSX, I just can’t do it though!

    Most probably partly due to needing a fair amount of Windows programs for my work. And VMWare Fusion that wasn’t snappy enough for my liking.

  • zan

    why not just buy a windows computer?

    • Karl Newark

      Read the article.

  • drsamr

    Welcome back to 1920s. I read an article like this in 1910 and started using windows. But it was long time ago and I forgot. Thanks for refreshing my memory. :)

  • LaurenLCD

    Maybe it’s just me, but I fail to see the justification of buying an overpriced piece of hardware that gives the minimum amount of specs compared to other vendors today (that are more versatile to fit the needs of different users) and can’t be upgraded without voiding warranty just to have an OS with “better” (read: niche market with little reason to invest the time in making viruses for) security. You’d get similar results (and a better price tag) dual booting Windows 7 and a Linux distro. Linux for security and “cred/cool points” and Windows for more options for programs that generally run better in their native environment without playing with wine or virtual machines and not compromising quality for the sake of being “free from corporate shackles through the power of open source.” As far as I’m concerned, the need to download avast and malwarebytes are simply a minor trade-off for having the most options and alternatives available.

    • Longfang47

      If I can afford a Mac and appreciate the finer things in life, why not. You talk about similar results, but no way is a regular PC going to match the fit and finish of a Mac.

  • Karl Newark

    I wrote this blog as there are plenty of guides/tutorials on how to run Windows on a Mac, but I wanted to go more in depth and tell people how it is on a daily basis compared to a Windows machine, this is information that the internet seems to lack, so I guessed it may help people out.

  • Ashiqure Rahman

    I never really saw the point in running Windows on a Mac computer. For the same amount of money for a Macbook Pro, you could probably buy a laptop from HP or Dell with better specifications.

  • anon666

    Or you could buy a mac and install linux on it and have a really expensive linux computer.