Sometimes, you just need Windows. It’s not something that Apple would like to admit, and for the most part MacOS has done an admirable job of keeping up with its less stylish and more utilitarian cousin, but sometimes you just need access to a Windows system. Thankfully, as Apple used to say, “there’s an app for that.”
Apple’s custom-tailored solution is called Boot Camp, and it’s the easiest way to get Windows on your Mac without resorting to dark rituals and eldritch sorcery. For the purposes of this guide, that’s the method we’re going to use. So whether you’re looking to breathe some new life into an old Mac Mini or do a little (light) gaming on your shiny new MacBook Pro, read on, we’ll have you up and running in no time.
Prepping your installation
Step 1: Confirm your Mac’s requirements
Before getting started, make sure your Mac has the available disk space and hardware necessary to handle the Windows install via Boot Camp.
First, the install requires an Intel-based Mac computer and an empty USB thumb drive capable of holding up to 16GB of data. The installation requires the thumb drive to install the Windows operating system, as well as all the appropriate drivers necessary for the Mac computer – support for things like the Touch Bar and the Apple Trackpad.
Last but certainly not least, the Mac you intend to use for the install needs to have at least 55GB of free disk space on the startup drive. This is for the partition where your Windows install will live and work and play. Keep in mind, your Windows install will not have access to your Mac partition, so be sure you have enough free space to allocate an appropriate chunk to the new Windows installation.
Note: Apple provides a handy system requirements list for various Mac models which details the version of Boot Camp your system requires to complete a Windows install.
Step 2: Buy a copy of Windows
After assuring your Mac is up to snuff, you’ll want to decide which version of Windows you wish to install. After the success of Windows 7, and mixed critical reception of Windows 8, your best bet is going to be Windows 10. Microsoft learned from the mistakes made with Windows 8. Rather than a touch-focused OS, Microsoft delivered a fully-featured operating system with a stylish and understated visual design which builds on user feedback gleaned from the Windows Insider program to deliver a really great user experience.
Windows 10 has quickly become the standard for Windows, with support for Windows 7, and Windows 8.1 trailing off in the next couple years, so it’s going to be the best choice for long-term use.
Luckily, acquiring Windows 10 has never been easier. Just head over to the Windows Store. You’ll have options here, first you can choose to purchase a digital copy, which you’ll need to download (and then download this tool to create a Windows 10 disk image), or you can purchase a Windows 10 flash drive which Microsoft will ship to you.
Once you have that part taken care of, read on.
Working with Boot Camp
Step 3: Open Boot Camp
Note: You’ll now want to plug in the blank USB thumb drive into your Mac computer. Make sure the USB drive has at least 16GB of free space and uses the Master Boot Record partitioning scheme. To check the USB drive’s format, partition it, or erase any content, use your computer’s Disk Utility program. Boot Camp Assistant uses this flash drive to store all of the download media and support drivers of the operating system you wish to install.
Now that you’ve got an install drive of your desired Windows operating system, it’s time to open the Mac’s Boot Camp Assistant. To do this, simply select the Utilities folder from your Mac’s application list and open Boot Camp Assistant. Once the program opens, an introductory screen offers information on the application and also suggests creating a backup of your data before continuing with the Windows install — we highly recommend doing this. Click Continue to advance to the next screen.
After doing this a window opens asking you to select several tasks you wish Boot Camp Assistant to help you complete. To properly continue with the install, check the boxes next to Create a Windows 7 or later version install disk, Download the latest Windows support software from Apple, and Install Windows 7 or later version then click Continue.
At this point, Boot Camp Assistant copies your desired Windows operating system installation files from either an .ISO file, or a physical disc, onto the plugged in USB drive. Simply choose the location of the .ISO file and its intended destination (the USB drive) and click Continue. Boot Camp Assistant erases anything previously on the USB drive during this process, so make sure you don’t have anything important stored on it. The next screen should say Copying Windows files… and may take a while to complete; be patient even if it looks like the progress bar freezes.
Once the next window opens, Boot Camp Assistant gives you the option to choose where to save the Windows drivers and installs support software files. Simply select the USB drive you have plugged in as the destination and then click Continue. Now identify your computer’s network connection and click Continue one more time to begin the process of installing the drivers. The process of downloading the drivers could take quite a while to complete so instead of intently watching the progress bar fill up you could knit a scarf, watch an episode of Better Call Saul, or (gasp!) go outside.
Step 4: Create a partition for Windows
After the drivers complete installing, the next step is to create a partition for the new Windows installation. By default, Boot Camp Assistant assigns just 55GB of space for the Windows partition, which is enough to complete the installation but hardly anything else. To increase the GB limit for the Windows partition, simply slide the bar between the Mac OS X partition and the Windows partition until it assigns the desired amount of space. Once you finish this, click Install to complete the partition process.
Installing the operating system
Step 5: Install Windows
With the partition completed, Boot Camp Assistant now asks you to begin installing the Windows operating system. After following a few on-screen prompts the installer asks which partition you wish to install the Windows operating system on. Simply select the partition labeled BOOTCAMP, format it to the Windows file system NTFS, and proceed with the installation.
Continue to follow the install wizard’s commands and Windows should complete installing in around 30 minutes. After it completes, open the USB flash drive plugged into your computer and select the setup.exe file in the WindowsSupport folder. This installs the Windows support drivers and completes the installation process of Windows on your Mac.
Touch Bar Support on Windows
If you’re installing Windows on a brand-new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, worry not, you’ll still be able to get some functionality out of your OLED touch pad when running Windows. Once you boot into Windows your Touch Bar will retain some functionality, but not exactly the full range available in MacOS. The Touch Bar will still have support for all of your MacBook’s basic controls – brightness, volume, play and pause – and at the touch of a button it can switch over to a standard row of F keys.
It’s also worth noting many features may not work correctly while using the Windows partition. Apple supports Windows 10 but you’ll still notice a difference in performance. MacBook hardware is made for MacOS, so it doesn’t always get along with Windows 10, in particular your trackpad might be a little less responsive, and some Apple-specific hardware will cease to function entirely – like the TouchID sensor on the power button.
Even after the installation completes, there are still a few things to keep in mind while using Windows on your Mac. First, to switch between your original OS X operating system and the new Windows OS, simply restart your computer and press the option key once it begins to reboot. Once the boot manager opens, select either the OS X partition, your OS X recovery partition, or the Windows partition.