Can You Run Windows Software on an M1 or M2 Mac?
The first Macs with Apple Silicon are very impressive machines. But, in the shift from Intel chips to Apple’s own 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. This is a custom ARM chip that has more in common with the chips built into iPhones and iPads than the Intel CPUs found in existing Macs. (The M2 is the successor to the M1, and it’s in the same situation with regards to Windows applications.)
Apple built into a translation system named Rosetta 2, and it lets these new Macs run Mac applications designed for Intel Macs. Your existing Mac apps will run just fine even if they haven’t been upgraded to support Apple Silicon. There’s a bit of a slowdown due to the translation, but the M1 and M2 chips are so fast that they seem to perform just as well as they did on Intel Macs. Those apps will run even faster after they’ve been updated to support Apple Silicon.
But what about apps that aren’t Mac apps?
RELATED: How the Mac Will Switch From Intel to Apple’s Own ARM Chips
Do M1 and M2 Macs Support Boot Camp?
Apple’s Intel Macs include a feature called “Boot Camp” that lets you install Windows directly on your Mac. To switch between Windows and macOS, you have to reboot. Windows runs on the Mac just as it would on a PC. After all, both Intel Macs and 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 can’t use Boot Camp to install Windows on an M1 or M2 MacBook or desktop Mac.
Even if Apple did support Boot Camp on M1 or M2 Macs, you could only install the ARM version of Windows 10 or Windows 11. This isn’t the ideal version of Windows: It has an emulation layer so it can 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 Virtual Machines on M1 or M2 Macs?
You can also run Windows software on Intel Macs through virtual machines. Popular virtual machine programs include Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. Do these work on an M1 or M2 Mac?
They do! While it wasn’t ready for the initial release of Apple’s M1 MacBooks in November 2022, Parallels Desktop now lets you install the ARM version of Windows 11 on an M1 or M2 Mac.
VMware Fusion is a little further behind. As of August 2022, you can download a tech preview version of VMware Fusion for M1 and M2 Macs. This preview version isn’t completely stable just yet, but it’s usable—and it will likely offer a solid alternative to Parallels Desktop when it’s done.
Older versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion don’t run properly on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. These applications depended on hardware virtualization features on current Intel Macs.
At WWDC 2020, Apple showed Parallels flawlessly running a virtual machine—a Linux virtual machine. That was likely an ARM version of Linux. Parallels can’t run older Intel-based versions of Windows or other operating systems on Apple Silicon. Thankfully, the ARM-based version of Windows 11 has its own emulation layer to run Intel-based Windows software.
Does CodeWeavers CrossOver Work?
Here’s one way you can run some Windows applications on an M1 Mac: By using CodeWeavers Crossover for Mac. This application is based on the open-source Wine software that became famous for letting Linux users run some 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 every application, and you will experience some bugs. CodeWeavers maintains a database listing applications that work well.
CrossOver does work on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. If it can run a Windows application on a Mac, it can run that same application on a Mac with Apple Silicon.
Should You Buy an M1 or M2 Mac If You Need Windows?
Apple’s M1 and M2 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini were first-generation products when they debuted in 2022. They laid the groundwork 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 likely isn’t coming 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 whatever older Windows software you want to use will have to go through Windows 11’s emulation layer running inside the virtual machine.
If this is a problem for you and you really like these M1 and M2 Macs, you might try a compromise. For example, if you’re happy having two machines, you could have one 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 back and forth to use Boot Camp.
Or, you could run Windows applications on a remote Windows PC and access them remotely. In fact, that might be the future solution for many people. That’s what Microsoft’s “Cloud PC” system for businesses is all about.