Can you run Windows software on a Mac M1?

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Apple

The first one Mac 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 chip is 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.

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 chip is so fast that it seems to run as well as it does 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 M1 Macs 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 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 Mac Mini.

Even though Apple supported Boot Camp on M1 Macs, you could only install the ARM version of Windows 10. As of November 2020, this version of Windows isn’t exactly ready for prime time. It has an emulation layer that allows it to run Windows software written for Intel chips, but it’s much slower and buggier than the Mac’s translation layer. Also, it can’t run 64-bit Intel Windows applications yet, only 32-bit programs. Microsoft is I’m working on it.

Even if you were okay with the limitations of Windows 10 on ARM, Microsoft does not make the ARM version of Windows 10 available to download and install on your own devices. Windows 10 on ARM is only available to device manufacturers who want to pre-install it.

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

Can you run Windows VMs on M1 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 Parallel office and VMware Fusion. Does this work on a Mac M1?

They will eventually. When Apple’s MacBook M1s were released in November 2020, these virtual machine programs were not yet ready to support MacBooks.

Existing versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion do not work properly on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. These applications depend on the hardware virtualization features of current Intel Macs. Parallels and VMware promise that future releases will. VMware is not ready to commit to a support schedule for these new Macs for the time being. These tools need to be modified to support Apple’s new chips.

However, the architecture will again be an issue. At WWDC 2020, Apple showed that Parallels runs a virtual machine perfectly, a Linux virtual machine. It was probably an ARM version of Linux.

Even when these new virtual machine tools are ready, it looks like they will only run ARM operating systems. Parallels says he is “amazed by the news from Microsoft regarding the addition of support [for] x64 applications in Windows on ARM. Microsoft is expected to make Windows 10 on ARM available for Mac users to install in virtual machines to take advantage of it. It looks like Parallels doesn’t work on running Intel versions of Windows on Apple Silicon. It could be very slow even if it was possible.

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 well-functioning applications.

crossing works on MacBook with Apple Silicon. If he can run a Windows application on a Mac, he can run that same application on a Mac with Apple Silicon.

Should you buy a Mac M1 if you need Windows?

Apple’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini M1 are first-generation products. They lay the groundwork for a Mac future without Intel processors.

There’s a reason Apple still sells Macs with Intel processors. Apple Silicon Macs aren’t ready for everyone yet.

If you need a full Windows operating system in Boot Camp or a virtual machine, these MacBook M1s aren’t the computers for you. If you need a new Mac, consider getting an Intel Mac.

But if you really like these MacBook M1s, 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. Sounds crazy, but it might be a nicer experience than 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. Microsoft is reportedly working on a “Cloud PC” product which will allow organizations to run their applications on Microsoft’s servers and access that desktop from any device.

RELATED: Mac Intel vs Apple Silicon ARM Mac: Which Should You Buy?



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