Parallels 17 for Mac makes it easy to run Windows 11 on an Intel or M1 Mac using a seamless virtual machine. On an Intel Mac, you can easily run your favorite Windows programs side-by-side with Mac apps. Here’s how to set it up.

Why Use Parallels?

Parallels is a virtual machine program, which means it runs a separate operating system within a simulated computer (called a virtual machine) on your Mac. With Parallels, you can run Windows apps side-by-side with Mac apps using a mode called Coherence, or you can easily bring up a Windows desktop to work with your Mac files in Windows apps.

This is in contrast to Boot Camp, which requires installing Windows on a separate partition on your Mac’s SSD or hard drive. With Boot Camp, you can use only OS at a time—either Mac or PC, not both—and switching between the two operating systems requires a reboot. Unlike Boot Camp, Parallels makes transitioning between Windows and Mac more flexible and fluid.

What You’ll Need

Parallels 17 supports Windows 11 on macOS Catalina, Big Sur, and Monterey. The home version of the app costs $80, but if you already have an older version, grab the upgrade for $50. Or you can evaluate Parallels with a free trial for a certain period of time. Browse the Parallels website to get the version you need.

You’ll also need a license for Windows 11, which you can purchase from Microsoft after installing the OS. In the case of Intel Macs, it’s easy to download the Windows 11 ISO for free from Microsoft’s website.

As of November 2021, to install Windows 11 on an M1 Mac, you have to download a Windows 11 on ARM preview build from Microsoft. To do that, you’ll need a Microsoft account registered with the Windows Insider Program. M1 Macs can’t run the Intel version of Windows 11 in Parallels.

RELATED: How to Get the Windows 11 Preview on Your PC

How to Install Windows 11 in Parallels on a Mac

First, you’ll need to download and install Parallels 17 or higher on your Mac. During the installation process, make sure you permit Parallels Desktop to access your Mac’s Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders to function correctly.

Next, if you’re running an Intel Mac, download the Windows 11 ISO from the Microsoft website. On the download page, locate the “Download Windows 11 Disk Image (ISO)” section, select “Windows 11” in the drop-down menu, then click “Download.”

If you’re using an M1 Mac, you can’t use the Intel (x64) version of Windows 11. You’ll instead need to register for the Windows Insider Program, then download a copy of Windows Client ARM64 Insider Preview, which will come in a VHDX disk image file.

Download the ARM64 Windows 11 Insider Preview.

Once you have the operating system image you need, open the Parallels app. For an M1 Mac, double click the VHDX file you just downloaded and follow the on-screen instructions in Parallels to install Windows 11. Some of the steps will be similar to the Intel installation process detailed below.

On an Intel Mac, open the Installation Assistant and select “Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or image file” and click “Continue.”

Parallels will automatically locate the Windows 11 ISO on your Mac. Select it from the list and click “Continue.”

Next, Parallels will ask you for a Windows License Key. If you have one, you can enter it now. If not, uncheck the box “Enter Windows license key for faster installation” and click “Continue.”

The standard Windows 11 ISO contains installation information for many different editions of Windows 11. Choose the one you want to install from the drop-down menu (Such as “Windows 11 Home” or “Windows 11 Pro”) and click “Continue.” Keep in mind that each edition has its own price point that will come into play when you buy a Windows 11 license later.

Next, Parallels will ask if you’re going to use Windows primarily for productivity or gaming. Select the one that matches your needs and click “Continue.”

Choose"Productivity" or "Games Only."

The Windows 11 installation will begin. Parallels handles it automatically, and you’ll see the progress in a small virtual machine window on your Mac.

The Windows 11 installation in progress.

When the installation process is complete on both M1 and Intel Macs, you’ll see an “Installation Complete” message. Click inside the window to continue.

At this point, if you’re using a trial version of Parallels, the app will ask you to register a Parallels account. Otherwise, you’ll see the Windows 11 desktop, and you’ll be ready to go.

A Windows 11 desktop seen in Parallels on Mac.

To switch to the seamless mode where you can use Windows and Mac apps side-by-side, focus on the “Windows 11” window and choose View > Enter Coherence in the menu bar. Or you can press Ctrl+Command+C on your keyboard.

In Parallels, select View > Enter Coherence.

To exit Coherence mode later, click the Windows logo icon in your Dock and select View > Exit Coherence in the menu bar. Or you can press Ctrl+Command+C again.

When you’re ready to buy a Windows 11 license, run the Settings app in Windows 11 and click “System” in the sidebar. Click “Activate Now,” then “Open Store,” and you’ll be able to purchase a Windows license in the Microsoft Store. Good luck, and happy computing!

RELATED: You Don't Need a Product Key to Install and Use Windows 10

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is an Associate Editor for How-To Geek. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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Samir Makwana is a freelance technology writer who aims to help people make the most of their technology. For over 15 years, he has written about consumer technology while working with MakeUseOf, GuidingTech, The Inquisitr, GSMArena, BGR, and others. After writing thousands of news articles and hundreds of reviews, he now enjoys writing tutorials, how-tos, guides, and explainers.
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