Except for Dell’s XPS 13, there really are no Windows laptops out there that I enjoy using as much. The Air still gets over eight hours of battery life in my rigorous testing, and the trackpad works better than any I’ve found on a Windows machine.
Now, are you going to buy a Mac just to run Windows? Probably not. The $120 Windows 10 Home plus the already pricey Apple hardware adds up to a sizable bill. But if you already have a Mac, and want the best of both worlds, here’s how to get Windows 10 up and running.
First, You Need Windows 10
The first step is getting the Windows 10 ISO or image file.
Head over to Microsoft’s download page for the file. (The 64-bit version recommended for recent Macs is 3.8GB.) Downloading it is free, and you can use Windows 10 without a license for 30 days. After that, you’ll have to purchase a $120 Windows 10 Home license. Once downloaded, drag the file to your desktop. For the next few steps, you’ll want to keep it there, or somewhere handy.
Be sure to back up your computer via Time Machine before starting this procedure. It’s pretty harmless, but there are a few twists that could jeopardize your hard drive, so better to be safe than sorry.
This brings us to the next step, choosing your own installation adventure.
Route 1: Virtual Machine
The first option is to install Windows 10 using a virtual machine program, like Parallels or VMWare Fusion, and run it alongside Mac OS X. That means you can easily jump between operating systems without having to reboot the computer, and even run Windows apps right on your Mac OS X desktop.
I decided to start with the 14-day trial of Parallels. (It costs $80 after that.) After downloading and installing the Parallels software, it asked what operating system I’d like to install and I pointed it to the Windows 10 ISO file on my Mac’s desktop.
A few clicks, a cup of coffee and a 30-minute installation process later, Windows 10 was up and running. Well, sort of. On my MacBook Air with 4GB of RAM, I found Parallels to be almost unusably sluggish, choking when I loaded too many websites and tried to install Office. You’ll have better luck on a MacBook Pro with at least 8GB of RAM—and ideally a quad-core processor.
Route 2: Boot Camp
On a weaker Mac, I prefer Apple’s included Boot Camp tool. With it you can install Windows on a separate partition of your hard drive. You’ll have to reboot the system to use Mac OS X but because only one OS is running at a time, performance is seriously snappy. The downside? Getting started is a bit rougher.
Launch Apple’s Boot Camp assistant by searching for it in Spotlight (or opening it under the Utilities folder). You’ll have to create an install disk using a USB drive, so find one with at least 8GB of space, and plug it in. Make sure “Create a Windows 8 or later install disk” and the other two related check boxes are selected, then hit continue. With this, the tool builds a bootable USB drive with the Windows ISO and all the right drivers for your Mac.
(While the software currently says Windows 8, I didn’t encounter any serious Windows 10 compatibility issues. Apple plans to release Windows 10 support soon.)
In the next step, Boot Camp will automatically locate the Windows ISO on your desktop, and you’ll just need to make sure the USB install disk is selected as the destination. (The USB drive should be clean, too, because any files on there will be wiped out during this process.)
Click Continue and grab another cup of coffee—or two or three. The preparation of the USB drive took nearly an hour. Don’t freak out when it appears to be stuck on the “Copying Windows files” screen.
When it is completed, you’ll be brought to the all-important step of figuring out how much hard drive space you want to dedicate to the Windows hard-drive partition. Windows 10 requires at least 20GB of space, but you’ll need more than that if you plan to install programs and save files. Choose wisely: You can’t go back and rejigger this later.
Hit install again and the system will start to do its thing, this time booting up with the USB drive you’ve created, then using it work on the Mac’s own hard drive. It will restart a few times, then take you through the Windows installation process. (If for some reason you get a normal boot up instead of installation, you can restart the computer yourself and hold down the Option key. Select the USB drive as your boot disk, and the process should begin.)
When it asks where you’d like to install Windows, select the “Boot Camp” partition, click format and continue the install. You’ll also be prompted at this point to put in the Windows license key. You can skip over this for now, if you’d like.
When you finally make it to your Windows desktop, it will prompt you to run the Boot Camp installer. This will install the necessary drivers to make Windows work with your Mac’s hardware (wireless, graphics, etc.).
And that’s it. You’ve got Windows on your Mac! If you want to get back to OS X, just restart and hold down the Option key. Select Mac and you’re there.