How to install Windows 10 on a Mac

There are two types of people in this world — Mac and PC. Both sides make compelling arguments as to why the operating system within each is better, so the battle lines are clear.

So, what do you do when you need to run specific applications on your Mac that aren’t compatible? What about those who like the design of a Mac but hate its OS? The answer is simple: Install Windows 10. Here’s how to do it with an Intel-based Mac. There is one caveat to these instructions, though: If you have a new M1 Mac, you will not be able to run Windows via Bootcamp. Companies such as Parallels say they are working on an updated version of their software that will allow M1 user’s to run Windows via a virtual machine, though.   

Step 1: Confirm your Mac’s requirements

Before getting started, make sure your Mac has the available disk space and hardware necessary to handle Windows 10. Also, be sure to update MacOS before you begin.

First, here are the Macs that can run Windows 10:

  • MacBook: 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Air: 2012 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: 2012 or newer
  • Mac Mini: 2012 or newer
  • iMac: 2012 or newer
  • iMac Pro: All models
  • Mac Pro: 2013 or newer

Note: Macs require an Intel-based CPU to run Windows 10.

Second, for some Macs, the process requires an external USB drive with up to 16GB of storage (these are our favorites). Here’s a list of Macs that do not require a USB drive but must have MacOS 10.11 or newer installed:

  • MacBook: 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Air: 2015 or newer
  • MacBook Pro: 2015 or newer
  • iMac: 2015 or newer
  • iMac Pro: All models
  • Mac Pro: Late 2013 or newer

You can connect the external drive when preparing if it’s not already connected.

Third, Macs require at least 64GB of dedicated free space, though Apple recommends 128GB. Remember, you’re keeping MacOS; thus, Boot Camp Assistant creates a special area (partition) on your main drive specifically for Windows 10 and all its associated files and installs. That means your MacBook Air with a 128GB solid-state drive isn’t an ideal candidate.

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.

Finally, if you’re using an iMac Pro or Mac Pro with 128GB of system memory (RAM) or more, your startup disk must have at least as much free space as your Mac has RAM.

Step 2: Buy a copy of Windows

Windows 10 Microsoft

Acquiring Windows 10 has never been easier. Go to the Windows Store and purchase a digital copy that you’ll need to download. After that, download this tool to create a Windows 10 disk image. You can also purchase a Windows 10 flash drive that Microsoft ships to your home office.

If given an option, always choose the ISO file, which should be available for download even if you bought a physical copy. The flash drive option tends to be time-consuming and unnecessary and should only be used if you have compatibility issues with a download.

Step 3: Open Boot Camp

Load Boot Camp Assistant

Now that you have an install drive for Windows 10, it’s time to open the MacOS Boot Camp Assistant.

Step 1: With Finder active, click Go on the menu bar.

Step 2: Select the Utilities option on the resulting drop-down menu.

Step 3: Select Boot Camp Assistant in the pop-up window, as shown above.

Boot Camp Assistant Introduction

Once the app opens, an introductory screen offers information on the application. It also suggests creating a backup of your data before continuing with the Windows install — we highly recommend doing this.

Step 4: Click Continue to advance to the next screen.

Boot Camp Assistant Win 10 Location

Step 5: Click Choose to find the downloaded ISO file, whether it’s located internally or on a USB drive.

Step 6: Determine the Windows partition size. Again, you need at least 64GB, while Apple recommends 128GB. Pretend it’s a C drive (C:) on a Windows 10 machine: How much room will you need for the platform and your favorite apps and programs?

Choose wisely, as you can’t change the partition size once you install Windows 10. Also, consider the needs of your MacOS install if you plan to continue using Apple’s OS.

Step 7: When you’re ready, click Install. Boot Camp Assistant now gets to work creating the Windows partition and downloading Windows support software.

Step 4: Format the Windows partition

Once Boot Camp Assistant creates the partition, it asks for your administrator password. Your Mac then restarts and loads the Windows ISO. Follow the steps in the ISO’s installer, entering your product key and choosing the correct version of Windows to install.

If you’re prompted to select a specific install location, select the BOOTCAMP partition and then click Format. However, Apple advises that in most cases, the correct partition is selected and formatted automatically. You’ll also need to unplug any connected devices — external storage drives, monitors, etc. — that aren’t necessary for the installation.

Step 5: Install Windows drivers and choose your startup disk

Startup Disk Preferences

When the Windows installer completes, your Mac loads Windows 10, followed by the Boot Camp Assistant. Click Next > Install, and the Boot Camp Assistant begins downloading and installing the necessary Windows drivers. When it’s done, click Finish. Your Mac will restart and load back into Windows.

You’ll want to make sure your copy of Windows 10 is up to date.

Step 1: Click the Start button, followed by the Gear icon located on the start menu’s left side.

Step 2: Go to Settings > Update & Security.

Step 3: The Windows Update section loads by default. Click the Check for Updates button.

Let Windows 10 download and install everything. This will take a while, but it’s an important step.

If you want to load MacOS by default and switch to Windows later, restart your Mac. Once it restarts, immediately press and hold the Option key (or Alt) until the Startup Manager screen appears. Here, you can choose whether to load MacOS or Boot Camp (aka Windows 10). Click on your partition of choice, then click the arrow underneath it or press Return.

If you prefer to load Windows by default, do the following in MacOS:

Step 1: Click the Gear icon located on the Dock. This opens System Preferences.

Step 2: Double-click the Startup Disk icon.

Step 3: Select the startup disk that hosts Windows 10.

Step 4: Restart your Mac.

Your Mac should now boot to the Windows 10 login screen.

Touch Bar support in Windows

If you own a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, fear not. You can still get some functionality out of your OLED touchpad while using Windows 10.

Once you boot into Windows 10, your Touch Bar retains some functionality, but not exactly the full range available in MacOS. The Touch Bar still supports your MacBook’s basic controls — brightness, volume, play, and pause. At the touch of a button, it can switch over to a standard row of F keys, too.

A final note

Many features may not work correctly while using the Windows partition. Apple supports Windows 10, but you’ll still notice a difference in performance.

Like its iPhones (iOS) and iPads (iPadOS), Apple optimizes MacOS to run optimally on specific hardware layouts, while Windows 10 must cater to near-infinite configurations. That means your trackpad may be less responsive, and Apple-specific hardware — like the TouchID sensor — may not work at all in Windows 10.

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