Four Simple Ways to Run Windows 7 on Your Mac

It’s widely accepted that Microsoft have done a fairly good job with Windows 7, managing to overcome many of the problems associated with Vista. Although I’m a content Mac user, I’m the first to accept that there are circumstances where it would be great to run a copy of Windows on my machine. Whether it’s for playing a little Modern Warfare 2, testing a website in Internet Explorer, or just experimenting with the latest Microsoft have to offer.

Today I’ll be looking at four different ways you can quickly and easily set up a working copy of Windows 7 on your Mac.

Option 1: Boot Camp


Boot Camp is bundled with OS X, and provides a simple way to “dual boot” your computer into Windows or OS X. It’s the best way to have a fast, native copy of Windows running on your Mac, but means that you have to choose to run Windows 7 or OS X at any one time.

Boot Camp is fully compatible with Windows 7, and is definitely the best option if you’re wanting to use Windows for playing games. It will give you far better performance and graphics support than using one of the “virtualization” options explained below.

This guide is a great walkthrough of how to install Windows 7 step-by-step, though Apple have done their best to make everything fairly self explanatory.

Option 2: Parallels


Parallels Desktop costs $79.99, and is one of the most popular commercial “virtualization” applications for OS X. In essence, it means that Parallels allows you to run Windows 7 within OS X, so both operating systems are available at the same time. Whilst this has the huge advantage of not needing to choose one over the other, it comes with a slight hit in performance (though this is becoming less of an issue with each release of the software).

Parallels Desktop 5 supports Windows 7 with the “Aero” user interface, so you can enjoy the full graphical experience (for better or worse!). It also integrates well with your Mac, so that Windows applications blend in fairly seamlessly. Sharing files between the two operating systems also works in a snap.

If you’re looking for a virtualization solution and are happy to pay, Parallels Desktop is definitely worth giving a try. This walkthrough will take you through the process, and should help if you encounter any problems.

Option 3: VMWare Fusion


Priced at the same $79.99 mark, VMWare Fusion is the other main commercial player in the virtualization space. Again, their latest release is fully optimised for Windows 7 and supports the “Aero” interface. VMWare integrates a virtual “Start” menu into your OS X menu bar, and is also fairly proficient at seamlessly merging Windows and OS X together.

For a full comparison of the features available in Parallels and VMWare, this article at Wikipedia is fairly conclusive. If you decide to go with VMWare, this guide offers a good overview of the installation process.

Option 4: Sun VirtualBox


The final project we’re featuring here is Sun VirtualBox, a free application for running both OS X and Windows 7 together. If you’re running on a budget, experimenting with VirtualBox could be a good option. It doesn’t offer the same feature set as the previous two virtualization apps, but does support Windows 7.

We have previously written about how to install Windows XP in VirtualBox, and the process is fairly similar for Windows 7. This slightly more recent walkthrough may also help, though you’ll need to bear in mind that it is aimed at the Windows 7 Beta, rather than the final release.

VirtualBox isn’t as powerful as Parallels or VMWare, but could be an excellent option for deciding whether you’ll use Windows enough to make the purchase worthwhile.

What Are Your Thoughts?

These are the four main options available, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this subject in general. Which of the above do you prefer, and why? Do you feel the need to run a copy of Windows at all?

Let’s leave any “fanboy” attitudes at the door, and keep the comments positive. Both Windows 7 and OS X have their strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t want to come across as know-it-all Mac users!


Add Yours
  • I’ve been running Windows XP through BootCamp and VMWare on my MacPro for quite some time now. Works great. Mainly I use VMWare to browser test in IE 6, 7 and 8. But occasionally I completely reboot to blow off some steam with COD4 and Fallout 3. It’s a great setup!

  • I’m a huge fan of VMWare Fusion because of it’s ease of use and the Unity setting, which runs Windows programs as if they are native to Mac. I use it to do browsing testing with MultiIE, Chrome, Opera, etc. The ability to test on Windows is absolutely necessary to run my business.

  • I have 2 stupid questions if anyone might be able to help.
    1. Will Modern Warfare 2 work on Windows 7? (the reason I ask is it’s not listed on my packaging as a supported OS)

    2. Is it necessary to run your windows machine in bootcamp to game, or is it possible to game in VMware Fusion? (the reason for this stupid question is hard drive space, I know I can run a boot camp partition in VMware, but I like the fact that the VM only takes up the space use and the HD space is scalable, where the partition for bootcamp is more fixed. I would only this setup for gaming on occasion, and assuming it’s playable degraded quality is acceptable to me.)

    I am still a fairly new switcher and really the only thing I miss about windows are the awesome gaming titles. COD MW2 is pretty cool, and while I really have time for games these days, it’s always nice to fire up a FPS from time to time and kill some jokers to blow off steam. thanks for taking the time to read my comment, and apologies for the loosely related questions.

    Mac n00b- Jeff

    • To answer your questions:

      1. Any game that works on Vista will work on 7. I know that MW2 was being sold on Steam, so I ‘m 99% sure it works on 7.

      2. It is possible to use VMWare Fusion to game, however you will probably want to use Boot Camp for that. Since VMWare is just a program that runs another OS as a virtual OS, it won’t be able to use as much RAM as it would if you were using Boot Camp.

      You can easily keep track of your games if you buy from a digital content provider such as Steam ( I’m pretty sure all of those games work on 7. Steam on 7 works fine for me.

      Hope this helps!

  • I’ve been using VMware Fusion, since it was released, to run Windows XP on my Macbook Pro and it hasn’t given me any notable issues.

    The biggest thing for me in running Windows in a virtual environment has been a need for more RAM on the Mac. I would highly suggest having at least 4GB of RAM if you are going to be running Windows Vista or 7 in a virtual environment. Windows XP works fine for those with only 2GBs of RAM since 512MB of RAM dedicated to the virtual machine works fine for most uses.

    On a side note, the new migration feature of VMware Fusion 3 that boasts taking a Windows machine and converting it to a virtual machine over the network is simply amazing and worked flawlessly for me between a Dell laptop with Windows Vista and an early 2007 Macbook Pro with 3GB of RAM recently.

  • I’ll admit i kinda like windows becuase i need it for school but last time i used boot camp i managed to format my entire harddrive as ntfs or what ever that awful windows format is. but i kinda like sun because its free and very much like parallels.

  • Hi Jeff,

    I think the consensus on gaming on the mac goes to BootCamp, for the simple reason that anything other than booting up directly into windows (for example, running VMware while you’re in OSX) means your system hardware has to share memory and CPU with OSX in addition to whatever Windows system you’re running, which isn’t ideal for gaming. I have VMWare and Bootcamp running, with BootCamp’s partition set to be very small, since I only really need it for gaming.

  • actually jeff the partition is somewhat flexible becuase you can use disk utiltiy to change it. speaking from experince on that one when i tried ubuntu
    cooper agin

  • I’ve owned Parallels 2 and 3 and I was a Beta Tester for VMWare Fusion 3, but my current fave is VirtualBox! All I use Windows for is testing site designs in Explorer, and VirtualBox fits the bill for that.

    I also use it to do things like monkey around with Moblin, Ubuntu, etc… It works really well. It’s maybe a little less “automatic” than Parallels or VMWare, but it works every bit as well.

  • I tried BootCamp and VMWare Fusion 3, but i still can’t decide.

    I need Windows to work with Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and Outlook. At this point, this is the only things i do in Windows. So i really can’t decided what software to use… Any ideas?

    Another thing i noticed is that my mouse, sometimes, goes wild when i run vmware, or in another words, the mouse starts to move faster, very faster! Is this happened to anyone?


  • I use Parallels 5. Its great i recommend it highly over virtual box, boot camp and VMWare Fusion.

    It just seems to run faster than VMWare, and the new Maclook feature and crystal means you can run the applications as if they are actually on your mac desktop (not inside another program).

    I normally have it in Space 2, and set to freeze when its not on that space.

    Then I can easily switch over to what ever i need it for (generally Fruity Loops), and it doesnt eat up RAM that way.

  • Parallels is utterly unusable on my machine. It slows the whole thing to a crawl. VMware has been much faster and more stable for me.

  • Thanks for the response all! This site is great and really has a wonderful community as has been my experience with just about everything Mac thus far. Guess I will be deleting my VM and partition off a bit of bootcamp space tonight, thanks again all!

    Mac n00b- Jeff

  • Which package is best for early Mac Intels (Code Duo)?

  • Virtual Box is a great app… I was turned onto it by some friends after previously using both Parallels and VMWare. It may not have all the specific features as the big two, but for a free app it’s great… especially if all you are doing is launching Windows to check a version of IE.

  • Anyone here uses visual studio 2008 for development under a virtual machine?? What software is best for this?

    • I switched from Parallels to VMWare as Parallels was chewing CPU all the time (perhaps due to me migrating the VM after a Parallels upgrade). In any case VMWare has caught up on the unity feature which was my main reason for using Parallels (called coherence there).

      As for Outlook, ditch it and use webmail with Entourage, it’s a much better client than Outlook, search for example works great. monodevelop isn’t there yet for VS replacement if you are using things like MVC.

  • I’m running Windows 7 on VMWare 3 loaded on my *new* MacBook Pro; along with Windows 7 on Parallels 5 on my *older* (last gen) MacBook Pro. Ran the “Windows Experience Index”on both and noticed identical scores – with the exception of the ‘Graphics’ section which lists it as “2.9 score” (under VMWare) vs “4.5” (on Parallels).

    Any tips on improving these scores would be helpful

  • I have only experience with Parallels 3,4, and now 5. I like it. Slow to start up on my 2008 Macbook, but works fine when up. I only start it about once a week for the Delorme mapping program and to check web sites.

    In an odd sort of way, Crystal is kind of spooky because it is so transparent in its operation!

    It boots up and apparently operates XP faster than various Dells and HP desktops that I use in the school system where I work!

    Our school system made the decision 4 years ago to go all Windows, but has backed off on that for practical and yes, cost reasons.

    Leopard upgrades are cheap and easy to do on the existing machines, but Vista/Windows 7 has backed them into a very expensive corner. All Windows machines will have to be completely replaced in order to upgrade from XP, so there is a 80,000 lb gorilla in the room. Right now they are pretending it’s not there. The way to deal with it right now is that when a Windows machine quits, they just don’t replace it. Obviously, that can’t go on much longer.

    Emacs just crank along with Leopard upgrades.

  • I admit this is not a way to run Windows 7 on your Mac, but it is a way to run Windows apps, so I think it should be mentioned: Wine!

  • Until recently I ran Windows Vista Business on Parallels Desktop 3. I have been running it for a while on my MacBook Pro and did not have complaints. It allowed me to keep developing ASP.NET applications. I recently wanted to upgrade to Windows 7 Pro but I had read a lot of not favorable reviews of both Parallels 4 and 5 and so I decided to try VirtualBox.

    Let me say that the experience was eye opening. Now I can’t say for sure if it was just VirtualBox or a combination of VirtualBox and Windows 7 Pro, but the performance is incredible in this set up. Boot up in Parallels 3 for Vista Business would take at least 1:30-2:30 mins, now it just takes seconds to be at a usable desktop. Applications run and start quicker. Overall it is just a better experience. I didn’t want all the Aero special effects anyway so that was never a feature I needed from my virtualization solution. I don’t mind paying for good applications so cost was not the end all with this decision. But the fact that I can have better performance and not have to pay for a license is a no brainer for me.

    I have not used VMware Fusion so I can’t make any comparisons, but for now I will continue to use VirtualBox + Windows 7 for my .NET development. It makes my previous set up feel like a chore to get things done.

  • I just got the new MBP with the i7 processor and the only thing I’ll be running on my PC side is Solidworks. I ran Solidworks on my old 2008 MBP with bootcamp, and while it was stable, it became super inconvenient when I had to work back and forth between both OS’s while I was working.

    Has anyone ran Solidworks with Parallels or VM with the i7 processor and with windows 7? Any preferences?

  • I have VMWare and Bootcamp running, with BootCamp’s partition set to be very small, since I only really need it for gaming.

  • I ran Solidworks on my old 2008 MBP with bootcamp

  • Thanks for the ideas you have discussed here. Another thing I would like to mention is that personal computer memory demands generally increase along with other innovations in the technology. For instance, as soon as new generations of cpus are made in the market, there’s usually a corresponding increase in the size and style demands of all laptop memory along with hard drive room. This is because the application operated simply by these processors will inevitably rise in power to leverage the new engineering.

  • Every time I saw dolphins I remember when mom used to treat me to watch dolphins show. I really beg her to come closer to but she never did. She’s always afraid to get wet.

  • Sounds like they’re already smarter than most Internet commentators out there. Perhaps we should add underwater terminals to distract them before world domination takes place..

  • I just bought windows 7 to run with my Parallels, should o also get a 1TB external hard drive so that I can use to connect for more memory space. (by the way, I’m using a Mac) And if I should, which external hard dries would you recommend? I was thinking between WD and Seagate?
    I’m going to be using windows for both visual basic and maybe gaming.

  • From experience, I definitely recommend Parallels 7. That seemed to have worked the best for me. I have a friend giving away 4 free copies of it. Check it out.

  • olphins I remember when mom used to treat me to watch dolphins show. I really beg he

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  • Is it a good idea to have a Parallel + Windows 7 on a 120GB Macbook Air Lion OS X? I want to run the Autodesk 3D Max in the windows version but I don’t want to have to buy a new Windows laptop just for that. Any suggestions?