The MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini with M1 chips.
Apple

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 Chip Is 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.

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 chip is 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?

An Apple slide showing Rosetta 2's various features.
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 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 Macs with Apple Silicon. Boot Camp only works on Intel-based Macs. You can’t use Boot Camp to install Windows on an M1 MacBook or Mac Mini.

Even if Apple did support 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 really ready for prime time. 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. Also, it can’t yet run 64-bit Intel Windows applications—only 32-bit programs. Microsoft is working on it.

Even if you were fine with the limitations of Windows 10 on ARM, Microsoft doesn’t 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 preinstall it.

RELATED: What Is Windows 10 on ARM, and How Is It Different?

Can You Run Windows Virtual Machines 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 Parallels Desktop and VMWare Fusion. Do these work on an M1 Mac?

They will—eventually. As of the release of Apple’s M1 MacBooks in November 2020, these virtual machine programs weren’t yet ready to support MacBooks.

The existing versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion don’t run properly on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. These applications depend on hardware virtualization features on current Intel Macs. Both Parallels and VMware promise that future versions will. VMware isn’t ready to commit to a timeline on supporting these new Macs yet. These tools must be modified to support Apple’s new chips.

However, architecture will once again be a problem. At WWDC 2020, Apple showed Parallels flawlessly running a virtual machine—a Linux virtual machine. That was likely an ARM version of Linux.

Even when these new virtual machine tools are ready, it seems like they will only run ARM operating systems. Parallels says it is “amazed by the news from Microsoft about adding support [for] x64 applications in Windows on ARM.” Microsoft would need to make Windows 10 on ARM available for Mac users to install in virtual machines to take advantage of that. It sounds like Parallels isn’t working on running Intel versions of Windows on Apple Silicon. This might be very slow even if it was possible.

Does CodeWeavers CrossOver Work?

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

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 Mac If You Need Windows?

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

There’s a reason that Apple still sells Macs with Intel processors. Apple Silicon Macs are not yet ready for everyone.

If you need a full Windows operating system in Boot Camp or a virtual machine, these M1 MacBooks are not the computers for you. If you need a new Mac, consider getting an Intel Mac.

But, if you really like these M1 MacBooks, 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 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. Microsoft is reportedly working on a “Cloud PC” product that will let organizations run their apps on Microsoft’s servers and access that desktop from any device.

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

Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read nearly one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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