Sometimes you want to quickly run a Windows program, without restarting your Mac. Sometimes you need access to all your Mac’s computing power for a Windows program or game. All of this makes it hard to decide whether you should dual boot with Boot Camp or use a virtual machine.
It turns out you don’t have to decide: if you have Boot Camp installed, you can run your Windows partition as a virtual machine in Parallels Desktop. It’s the best of both worlds. (The only downside: you have to pay $80 for the full version of Parallels. But we think it’s well worth it.)
We’ve shown you how to install Windows on a Mac with Boot Camp, and how to run Windows on your Mac with Parallels. Combining the two gives you an amazing amount of flexibility, and it’s not hard to get started.
Open Parallels and click the “+” button to create a new virtual machine.
You’ll be presented with four primary options for creating a new virtual machine; choose “Use Windows from Boot Camp.”
After this you will be warned that Windows may ask for re-activation inside the virtual machine. Check to box to say you want to continue, then click “Continue.”
You will be asked where you virtual machine should be located. Note that this is basically just a configuration file: there is no virtual hard drive, because Parallels will use your entire Boot Camp partition instead. Configure things as you like, then click “Continue.”
Parallels will get to work setting up your Boot camp partition to run as a virtual machine. At some point you’ll be asked to log into your Windows account, after which Parallels will automatically install Parallels Tools .
(Note that Parallels Tools will only run while you’re running Windows inside Parallels—you won’t see it when you boot into Windows directly.)
Eventually you’ll be told that the everything is properly configured.
You can now use your new virtual machine! Your new virtual machine uses your Boot Camp partition, meaning anything you do in the virtual machine will be waiting for you when you log into Windows directly using Boot Camp.
For example: you could install Steam and download a bunch of games while running macOS, then reboot your Mac into Windows later and play them. Or you could do a bunch of processor-intensive work in CAD while running Windows directly, then quickly access the results from macOS via Parallels if you need to.
Every feature of Parallels is supported here. You can use Coherence Mode to run Windows and Mac App side by side, for example, or use the Shared Folders feature to access your macOS files using Windows applications.
There’s only one downside, and that has to do with activation. Windows and Microsoft Office are activated specifically to one piece of hardware, and they will see the virtual machine as a different computer entirely. The result: you may have to re-activate Windows and Office from time to time. It’s annoying, and there’s no real way around it, but it’s a small price to pay for the convenience of this setup.