Can you run Windows software on a Mac M1 or M2?


Apple

The first Macs with Apple Silicon are very impressive machines. But when switching from Intel chips to Apple’s ARM processors, what happens to Windows software on a Mac? Does Boot Camp still work? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why the M1 and M2 chips are a problem for Windows software

Apple’s M1 chip is the first Apple Silicon chip used in Macs. It’s a custom ARM chip that has more in common with the chips built into iPhones and iPads than the Intel processors in existing Macs. (The M2 is the successor to the M1, and it’s in the same boat when it comes to Windows apps.)

Apple has integrated a translation system called Rosetta 2, and it allows these new Macs to run Mac applications designed for Intel Macs. Your existing Mac apps will work just fine even if they haven’t been upgraded to support Apple Silicon. There is a bit of lag due to translation, but the M1 and M2 chips are so fast that they seem to run just as well as they do on Intel Macs. These apps will run even faster after being updated to support Apple Silicon.

But what about apps that aren’t Mac apps?

An Apple slide showing the various features of Rosetta 2.
Apple

RELATED: How the Mac will switch from Intel to Apple’s own ARM chips

Do Mac M1 and M2 support Boot Camp?

Apple’s Intel Macs include a feature called “Boot Camp” that allows you to install Windows directly onto your Mac. To switch between Windows and macOS, you need to restart. Windows runs on a Mac just like it would on a PC. After all, Macs and Intel PCs have the same hardware architecture.

However, Boot Camp is not supported on M1 and M2 Macs with Apple Silicon. Boot Camp only works on Intel-based Macs. You cannot use Boot Camp to install Windows on a MacBook M1 or M2 or desktop Mac.

Even though Apple supported Boot Camp on M1 or M2 Macs, you could only install the ARM version of Windows 10 or Windows 11. It’s not the ideal version of Windows: it has an emulation layer allowing it to run Windows software written for Intel chips, but it’s much slower and buggier than the Mac’s translation layer.

RELATED: What is Windows 10 on ARM and how is it different?

Can you run Windows VMs on M1 or M2 Macs?

Debian Linux running in a Parallels virtual machine on an Apple M1 Mac.
Apple

You can also run Windows software on Intel Macs through virtual machines. Popular virtual machine programs include Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. Does this work on a Mac M1 or M2?

They do! Although not ready for the initial release of Apple’s MacBook M1s in November 2022, Parallels Desktop now lets you install the ARM version of Windows 11 on a Mac M1 or M2.

VMware Fusion is a little further back. As of August 2022, you can download a technical preview version of VMware Fusion for Mac M1 and M2. This preview build isn’t completely stable yet, but it’s usable and will likely offer a solid alternative to Parallels Desktop when complete.

Older versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion do not work properly on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. These applications depended on the hardware virtualization features of current Intel Macs.

At WWDC 2020, Apple showed that Parallels runs a virtual machine perfectly, a Linux virtual machine. It was probably an ARM version of Linux. Parallels cannot run older Intel versions of Windows or other operating systems on Apple Silicon. Fortunately, the ARM-based version of Windows 11 has its own emulation layer to run Intel-based Windows software.

Does CodeWeavers CrossOver work?

The Windows version of Team Fortress 2 running on a Mac M1 via CodeWeavers CrossOver.
Jeremy Newman/CodeWeavers

Here’s one way to run some Windows applications on a Mac M1: using CodeWeavers Crossover for Mac. This application is based on the open-source Wine software which became famous for allowing Linux users to run certain Windows applications without Windows itself.

CodeWeavers is essentially a reverse-engineered compatibility layer designed to run Windows applications on non-Windows operating systems. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t support all apps, and you’ll run into bugs. CodeWeavers maintains a database of applications that work well.

CrossOver works on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. If he can run a Windows app on a Mac, he can run that same app on a Mac with Apple Silicon.

Should you buy an M1 or M2 Mac if you need Windows?

Apple’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini M1 and M2 were first-generation products when they debuted in 2022. They laid the foundation for a Mac future without Intel processors.

These machines just aren’t as good at running Windows as older MacBooks. Boot Camp is gone and probably won’t come back, so you can’t dual boot Windows on a modern Mac. You’ll be limited to running the ARM version of Windows 11 in a virtual machine, and any older Windows software you want to use will need to go through the Windows 11 emulation layer running inside the virtual machine.

If this is a problem for you and you really like these M1 and M2 Macs, you can try a compromise. For example, if you’re happy with having two machines, you can have a MacBook and a separate laptop or desktop for your Windows software. It sounds crazy, but it might be a nicer experience than buying an outdated Intel Mac and then rebooting to use Boot Camp.

Or, you can run Windows applications on a remote Windows PC and access them remotely. In fact, this could be the future solution for many people. That’s what Microsoft’s “Cloud PC” system for business is for.

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