How to install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp

How to install Windows on your Mac

Boot Camp provides the best performance for Windows on your Mac. It takes a little work to install, so here's some help.

If you need to install Windows on your Mac, you have a few options: software like VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop can help you get the job done so you don't have to reboot each time you want to use it, but if you want truly native performance — important for gamers and others looking to eke every last drop out of their Mac — Boot Camp is the way to go. Here's a step by step guide to make it happen.

What you'll need to install Windows on your Mac

To install Windows on your Mac via Boot Camp, you'll need:

  • A copy of Windows either on CD/DVD (if your Mac has a SuperDrive) or an ISO disc image.
  • The Boot Camp Assistant app, found in the Utilities folder of your Mac.
  • 8 GB USB storage device or external drive (thumbdrive, hard drive, etc) formatted as MS-DOS (FAT) to install Windows drivers. (You can use Disk Utility to format your thumbdrive accordingly.)
  • Enough space on your hard drive to get Windows to work and do what you want it to.

Will any version of Windows do? In short, no.

Boot Camp has very specific system requirements depending on which Mac model you're installing. Older Macs will only work with Boot Camp 4, newer ones work with Boot Camp 5.

That, in turn, determines which version of Windows can be installed on your Mac (Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, 32-bit or 64-bit). It's confusing, I realize. The best thing to do is to consult Apple's Boot Camp system requirements web page for details before you get started.

Bear in mind also that Boot Camp needs to work from your Mac's boot volume, so you'll need to decide how much space you really can afford to lose. The good news is that both OS X and Windows easily work with external hard drives, so you can always add more storage space later.

If you don't want to be saddled with all this hassle, Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion for the most part just work. They just don't work quite as fast as running Windows natively.

Please backup your hard drive before continuing.

How to install Windows using Boot Camp

  1. Quit all open applications.
  2. Connect your MS-DOS (FAT) formatted USB thumbstick or drive.
  3. Insert or mount your copy of Windows.
  4. Open the Utilities folder.
  5. Double-click on Boot Camp Assistant.
  6. Click Continue.
  7. It's usually safest just to leave all options on. Click Continue.
  8. Boot Camp Assistant will try to connect to Apple's servers to download the latest Windows drivers onto your USB thumbstick. If it runs into problems, you can manually download the drivers yourself from this web page.
  9. Boot Camp Assistant will repartition your hard disk with a Boot Camp partition (this will not delete the existing data on your drive). Specify how much space you'd like to use for the update.
  10. Once the partition is configured, your Mac will reboot to continue the Windows installation process. Follow the prompts. You will need to do a new Windows installation, and you will likely have to reformat your new Boot Camp partition to get Windows to install. Make sure you've selected your Boot Camp partition, not your OS X partition.
  11. Once the installation is done and Windows is operating, run the setup app on your USB thumbdrive. This will install other drivers Windows needs to run optimally on the Mac, including graphics and sound drivers, networking and Bluetooth drivers, and more.
  12. Enjoy!

Your Mac should continue to boot by default into the Mac partition. If you'd like to change this, you can select the Windows partition using the Startup Disk system preference. The next time you reboot you'll be running Windows.

Any time you want to switch back, simply reboot the Mac with the option key held down. The Mac will show you your OS X and Windows-formatted partitions. Select the one you want and hit the return key.

There you have it. You can get up and running with Windows on your Mac as long as you do some prep work; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. And make sure once you're running Windows to install anti-malware software right away. I've had good luck with Microsoft's Security Essentials software, which is free.

Have you installed Windows on your Mac? Are you going to? What sort of issues did you run into? Let me know.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 14 comments. Add yours.

Iocane Powder says:

Nice overview Peter. I ran Win 7 through Bootcamp for some gaming but was too worried about how hot my 27" iMac was getting. I went back to using an old XP box for PC games and now use Parallels and Win 7 for work....primarily SQL Server.

Do you know of any guidelines for how hot is too hot for an iMac? I've searched "the Google" and have only seen hints but nothing definitive. It would be good information for gamers.

Peter Cohen says:

I do not, but I'll look into it.

Chana Michel says:

I just installed bootcamp on my macbook pro w/ retina (running windows 8.1 64 bit) and my machine gets super hot when running the windows OS as well. Anyone found a driver or something to fix that??
Thank you! (i also use this for work)

Jay Mobile says:

For some reason my mac mini will not install win 7 via bootcamp properly. I took it to apple and they did the whole refresh and finally just told me that it was a MS problem. I found that in order to install run boot cam successfully I had to unplug any usb's except dvd rom and even then there are times that while the disk is partitioned win 7 is no where to be found. I do the option start up and its not even there to select. I have heard that others have this problem too for the Mac Mini.

Peter Cohen says:

Interesting. What vintage Mac mini are you using? I installed Windows 7 on a 2010-era Mac mini with no problems, though I did have to manually download Boot Camp drivers for Windows from Apple's web site.

Jay Mobile says:

Late 2012 i5 model, I followed the procedures to the tee in terms of what files were necessary for installation but found myself reluctantly using VMware whenever I needed to use windows.

Lon Seidman says:

Has anyone managed to get bootcamp working on an external thunderbolt drive? I've seen some find success on Apple's forums but I haven't had the same luck on my MacBook Pro Retina.

Peter Cohen says:

Getting Boot Camp to work on an external drive is, from everything I've read, a huge bag of hurt. I've read up on it and it doesn't look like it's worth dealing with.

Art Tabb says:

Circumstances kept me away from Mac for 10 years until 2007 when I got the Aluminum iMac Core 2 Duo. I was in seventh heaven until Adobe told me they would not trade my Windows Photoshop CS for a Mac version. So I put it on Boot Camp Win 7 and never looked back. Thank you, Apple.

Disturbed_Angel says:

Funny you post an article on this today, I literally did this with my rMBP 2013 model last night installing Windows 8 for some gaming that I couldn't play on Mac while on a trip.

moroboshi says:

Did Apple ever fix the problem with boot camp not working on 3tb fusion drives?

Peter Cohen says:

Sure. That was fixed with 10.8.3.

John Medhurst says:

I had a couple of problems, firstly when installing windows 8 on my 2011 MBP, bootcamp would not recognise my ISO burnt to a DVD. The solution was to burn the ISO using disk utility.

Secondly the process of installation did not prompt me to install drivers (that I'd downloaded to my USB DRIVE). I had to watch a video on YouTube where a helpful child guided me through the process.

Finally, I'd partitioned 20Gb of my HD for Windows, and after installing Windows 8, drivers, updates and ONE program VCDS for VAG car diagnostics, the entire 20 Gb was full.

Windows is horrid. I'm glad I can now use my MBP to diagnose and code my car, but Windows still seems inefficient and like walking through treacle. Yuck.

Amit Gafny says:

I have been trying in each and every way to install Windows 7 on my Macbook pro 15" (Mavericks) I own. Nothing worked. In the first place I don't have the first section that needs a ( V to be checked) when I run Bootcamp ("Create Windows 7 Install Disk"). - Meaning , It won't allow me to create A Win 7 on a usb Only the 2 other sections ("Download" and "install" ) . Also, no matter which ISO file I have created which is a boot file my internal DVDROM won't even read and eject it after a few seconds or will tell me that I inserted a black disk , ( which is completly false). When I thought that maybe something is wrong with my DVDrom , I actually plugged an external DVDROM using a USB, and only then I the mac recognised the fact that I can start do a partition. When the partition was done, the computer restarted , a black screen appeared with a note that " No bootable device found, insert a boot and press any key". By that point I raised a white flag.
If any of you guys know what is wrong with Apple and why they are making my life so hard , l'll be glad to know