Can you run Windows software on a Mac M1 or M2?

MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini with M1 chip.
Apple

The first Macs with Apple Silicon are truly impressive machines. But, in the transition from Intel chips to Apple’s ARM processors, what happens to Windows software on a Mac? Does Boot Camp Still Work? Here’s everything you need to know.

Why M1 and M2 chips are a problem for Windows software

Apple’s M1 chip is the first Apple Silicon chip used on Macs. This is a custom ARM chip that has more in common with the integrated chips in iPhones and iPads than the Intel CPUs found in existing Macs. (The M2 is the successor to the M1 and is in the same situation as far as Windows applications are concerned.)

Apple has integrated a translation system called Rosetta 2 and allows these new Macs to run Mac applications designed for Intel Macs. Your existing Mac apps will work fine even if they haven’t been updated to support Apple Silicon. There is a bit of a slowdown due to translation, but the M1 and M2 chips are so fast they seem to work just as well as Intel Macs. These apps will work even faster after they are updated to support Apple Silicon.

But what about apps that aren’t Mac apps?

An Apple slide showing the various features of Rosetta 2.
Apple

RELATED: How the Mac will move from Intel to Apple’s ARM chips

Do Macs M1 and M2 support Boot Camp?

Apple’s Intel Macs include a feature called “Boot Camp” that lets you install Windows directly on your Mac. To switch from Windows to macOS, you need to reboot. Windows works on the Mac just like on a PC. After all, both Macs and Intel PCs have the same hardware architecture.

However, Boot Camp is not supported on M1 and M2 Macs with Apple Silicon. Boot Camp only works on Intel-based Macs. You can’t use Boot Camp to install Windows on an M1 or M2 MacBook or desktop Mac.

Even though Apple supported Boot Camp on Mac M1 or M2, you can only install the ARM version of Windows 10 or Windows 11. This isn’t the ideal version of Windows – it has an emulation layer so it can run Windows software written for Intel chip, but it is much slower and more faulty than the translation level of the Mac.

RELATED: What is Windows 10 on ARM and how is it different?

Can you run Windows virtual machines on Mac M1 or M2?

Debian Linux running in a Parallels virtual machine on an Apple M1 Mac.
Apple

You can also run Windows software on Intel Macs via virtual machines. Popular virtual machine programs include Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. Do they work on an M1 or M2 Mac?

They do! While it wasn’t ready for the initial release of Apple’s MacBook M1s in November 2022, Parallels Desktop now lets you install the ARM version of Windows 11 on an M1 or M2 Mac.

VMware Fusion is a little behind. Starting August 2022, you can download a technical preview version of VMware Fusion for Mac M1 and M2. This preview version is not fully stable yet, but it is usable and will likely offer a solid Parallels Desktop alternative when completed.

Previous versions of Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion do not work correctly on MacBooks with Apple Silicon. These applications depended on the hardware virtualization capabilities on current Intel Macs.

At WWDC 2020, Apple showed Parallels the flawless execution of a virtual machine, a Linux virtual machine. It was probably an ARM version of Linux. Parallels cannot run older Intel-based versions of Windows or other operating systems on Apple Silicon. Thankfully, the ARM-based version of Windows 11 has its own emulation layer to run Intel-based Windows software.

Does CodeWeavers CrossOver Work?

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

Here is one way to run some Windows applications on a Mac M1: using CodeWeavers Crossover for Mac. This application is based on the open source software Wine which has become famous for allowing Linux users to run some Windows applications without Windows itself.

CodeWeavers is essentially a decoded compatibility layer designed to run Windows applications on non-Windows operating systems. It’s not perfect, it doesn’t support all applications and you will encounter some bugs. CodeWeavers maintains a database that lists applications that work well.

CrossOver works on MacBook with Apple Silicon. If it can run a Windows application on a Mac, it can run the same application on a Mac with Apple Silicon.

Should you buy a Mac M1 or M2 if you need Windows?

Apple’s M1 and M2 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini were first-generation products when they debuted in 2022. They laid the foundation for a future Mac without Intel processors.

These machines aren’t as good at running Windows as older MacBooks. Boot Camp is gone and probably won’t be back, so you can’t dual-boot Windows on a modern Mac. You will be limited to running the ARM version of Windows 11 in a virtual machine, and any older Windows software you want to use will have to go through the Windows 11 emulation layer running inside the virtual machine.

If this is a problem for you and you really like these Macs M1 and M2, you may want to try a compromise. For example, if you’re happy to have two machines, you might have a MacBook and a separate laptop or desktop for your Windows software. It sounds crazy, but it might be a more enjoyable experience than buying an outdated Intel Mac and then rebooting back and forth to use Boot Camp.

Or, you can run Windows applications on a remote Windows PC and access them remotely. Indeed, this may be the future solution for many people. This is what Microsoft’s “Cloud PC” system for business is all about.

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