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How to Install Windows on a Mac With Boot Camp

macbook-running-windows

Thanks to the switch from PowerPC to Intel many years ago, a Mac is just another PC. Macs come with Mac OS X, but you can easily install Windows on them with Apple’s built-in Boot Camp feature.

Boot Camp installs Windows in a dual-boot configuration. You’ll know what to expect if you’ve ever installed Linux alongside Windows. Both operating systems will be installed, but you can only use one at a time.

Do You Actually Need to Use Boot Camp?

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Before we proceed with the details on how to install Windows in Boot Camp, you should first stop and think about whether or not that is the best choice for your needs, because there are also a couple of drawbacks to consider.

When you use Boot Camp to install Windows on your Mac, you’ll need to re-partition your drive, which is going to take up quite a bit of your available drive space. Since storage on a Mac is fairly expensive, it’s something you should really think about. In addition, to actually use Windows, you’ll need to reboot, and if you want to use OS X again, you’ll need to reboot yet again. The benefit of Boot Camp, of course, is that you’re running Windows directly on the hardware, so it’ll be a lot faster than a virtual machine.

If all you need to do is run a few Windows applications on your Mac, and those applications aren’t games or something that requires a lot of resources, you might consider using a virtual machine like Parallels (there’s a free trial), VMware Fusion, or VirtualBox to run that software instead. The vast majority of the time you don’t actually need to use Boot Camp, and you’d be better off using a virtual machine.

Note: we don’t often recommend paid software, but in the case of Parallels Desktop, it’s something we use at How-To Geek every single day for testing software and running Windows. The integration with OS X is amazingly well done, and the speed blows away Virtualbox. In the long run, the price is well worth it.

You can even use Parallels to load your Boot Camp partition as a virtual machine while you are in OS X, giving you the best of both worlds.

What You’ll Need

You’ll need a non-Enterprise, 64-bit copy of Windows 8.1, Windows 8, or Windows 7 for this. This applies to Macs made in the last several years — if you have an older Mac from 2009 or earlier, you won’t be able to install Windows 8. Check Apple’s detailed system requirements for more information.

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Windows doesn’t come with Mac OS X, so you’ll need a full version of Windows — not an upgrade version — to install it on your Mac. You can download Windows installation media for free if you already have a product key, but you’ll need to purchase a copy of Windows if you don’t. You’ll need the installation media in ISO file or DVD form.

You’ll also need a USB drive at least 8 GB in size. This will be used to install Windows and the appropriate drivers on your Mac.

Apple recommends backing up your files before partitioning or installing Windows. It’s always good to have backups before doing something that could potentially be destructive. If you make a mistake or the partitioning process fails due to a bug, you could lose your files. If you’re careful, this shouldn’t happen.

How to Install Windows on Your Mac

You’ll use the Boot Camp Assistant application that comes on your Mac for this. Open it by pressing Command + Space, typing Boot Camp, and pressing Enter.

The Boot Camp Assistant will copy the Windows installation files from an ISO file or physical disc to a USB drive. Windows will install itself on your Mac from this USB drive. The latest Windows drivers will also be downloaded from Apple and placed on this drive, and they’ll install automatically after you install Windows. This application will also guide you through the process of resizing your Mac’s existing system partition and creating a Windows partition.

First, select what you want to do. You should probably leave all these options checked. However, if you already have a Boot Camp USB drive or you’ve already partitioned your Mac, you can uncheck these options to speed the process up. This is useful if you’re installing Windows on multiple Macs and you’ve already created a USB drive.

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Next, point your Mac at the ISO file or USB drive. Insert a USB flash drive and select it. This drive will be erased, so be sure you have backups of any important files stored on it.

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The screen will read “Copying Windows files” as your Mac creates the Windows installer drive it will need. This process may take quite a while, depending on the speed of your drive. It’s normal for the progress bar to appear stuck in one position — just be patient.

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After your Mac finishes creating a USB installation drive, you’ll see the Create a Partition screen. You can now divide your Mac’s system drive into two separate partitions — one for Mac OS X and one for Windows. How you should allocate the space depends on how much space you want for your Windows system and how much space you want for your OS X system. If you have multiple hard disks in your Mac, you can use one specifically for Windows.

If you want to resize your partitions after this process, you’ll need to use a third-party tool. Boot Camp Assistant can’t help you with that.

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Click the Install button and Boot Camp Assistant will resize your Mac OS X partition and create the new partition for Windows. Your Mac will then restart and boot the Windows installer from the USB drive. Go through the installer and install Windows on your Mac like you’d install it on any other PC.

Select the partition labeled BOOTCAMP when you reach the Where do you want to install Windows? screen. Click the Format option to format the partition as NTFS, and then click Continue.

Warning: Triple-check that you’re formatting the right partition. You’ll wipe your Mac OS X system if you format the wrong partition.

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Windows will now finish installing normally. The Boot Camp installer will appear after you finish installing Windows, installing the hardware drivers and utilities you’ll need in your Windows system.

After the Boot Camp installer finishes, you’re free to remove the USB drive and do whatever you want with it. If you don’t plan to install Windows on another Mac, you can format the drive and place your personal files on it again.

The Boot Camp Control Panel

You’ll find Apple’s Boot Camp Control Panel running in your system tray after installing Windows. Click the up arrow in your system tray to view more icons, click the Boot Camp icon, and select Boot Camp Control Panel to open it.

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This control panel allows you to choose the default operating system your Mac boots to, as well as tweak keyboard and trackpad settings.

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While in Windows, the Mac’s Command key functions as the Windows key, while the Option key functions as the Alt key.

How to Remove Windows From Your Mac

If you want to remove Windows from your Mac and free up space, reboot into Mac OS X and open the Boot Camp Assistant again. You’ll see the Remove Windows 7 or later version option here if Windows is currently installed.

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Boot Camp Assistant will automatically remove Windows and expand the Mac OS X partition for you, reclaiming all of that space.

Warning: This will delete all the files on your Windows partition, so be sure you have backup copies first!

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Windows should work just fine on your Mac hardware. These aren’t the PowerPC days anymore — your Mac has standard hardware components. In fact, many of the hardware drivers provided by Apple are the same ones you’d get on a typical Windows PC.

Image Credit: raneko on Flickr

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/15/14

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