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How to Play Windows Games on a Mac

Here's how you can play Windows based games on your Mac

Playing games designed for Windows on your Mac doesn't have to be a hassle. There's a couple of ways to make it happen and a good selection of software out there to help you. Some virtualization methods are cheaper than others, but software such as CrossOver, Wine, Parallels and VMware will help you get the job done. Take a look at our guide to help you pick the option that's right for you. See also Group test: What's the best gaming PC?

Play Windows games on a Mac with Boot Camp

Apple's virtualization solution is fairly simple. By installing Boot camp and Windows onto your machine, you can run startup through Windows and begin gaming from there, provided your system has the graphical power to keep up. Apple claims that Boot Camp is a good choice as it doesn't leave you fighting against the same performance issues that come with emulators.

You can install Windows and iOS side by side and switch between the two simply by using Boot Camp. During installation, the assistant tool will form a partition to house the Windows OS, without erasing any Mac data. A downside is that a system reboot is required every time you switch operating systems, which can prove tiresome.

Apple's Boot Camp provides full support for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7. You get the option to tell the computer which operating system you want to start up in by default. Files for the programs that you install will be sent to the partition of the OS you're running. Boot Camp requires a licensed Windows installation disk, which may not be an option for some.

You can check out our guide on How to dual boot a Mac with Windows 7 here.

Play Windows games on a Mac with Wine

Wine 1.4Wine is a free, open-source alternative to CrossOver that might save you some money. The application is still in its Beta phase, so expect the occasional hiccup here and there. Not every program will work flawlessly, but the product is still proving popular with users online.

Wine enables you to access Windows content on a Mac by creating separate prefixes for each application. It isn't an application in itself, but more a tool that allows your computer to run programs it's not used to. You won't experience much of a performance drop either, which is ideal if you want to avoid gaming lag.

As with CrossOver, wine struggles with newer games and powers through older releases. Be warned- while some applications will function normally, others wont bother loading up at all. Linux users should visit our guide on how to run Windows Software on Linux using Wine.

The online Wine Application Database is particularly useful. It lists the top 25 games and tools that work flawlessly under virtualization, along with known bug fixes, email support, and an app library you can browse by developer. Big titles like Blizzard's World of Warcraft and Bethesda's Fallout 3 run nicely on Wine.

More on Wine 1.4 here.

Play Windows games on a Mac with CrossOver

CrossOver Mac 10This application designed by CodeWeaver allows you to install many of the more popular Windows applications and PC games onto your Mac. CrossOver is a paid version of Wine, and serves as an alternative that comes bundled with bonus support features and product upgrades.

You'll be glad to hear it's an affordable product. You can trial CrossOver for a two-week period and after that there's a £25 price tag for the most basic package on offer, which gives you one-month of email support along with the software itself.

CrossOver XI is the name of the latest version and it's fully compatible with the recent Mac 10.8 Mountain Lion update. Linux users are in luck too, although the installation process will take slightly longer. If you want to make sure you'll be able to use your favourite programs before trying it out, it's worth checking the 'What Runs?' feature on the site. From using the tool, we found that CrossOver works with a good selection of popular games, including: Team Fortress 2, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Portal 2. Valve's Steam gaming client is also supported.

Older applications play far nicer with CrossOver. If you want to use the latest versions of Microsoft software such as Excel, Word and Powerpoint, you're in for a bumpy ride. The team at CodeWeaver warn: “In our testing, we find that these applications have bugs that prevent them from running flawlessly”.

You don't need a Windows system license to run CrossOver. It's certainly a decent price, but in terms of functionality the software is by no means perfect.

More on CrossOver Mac 10 Standard Edition.

Play Windows games on a Mac with Parallels Desktop 7

Parallels Desktop 7 for Mac reviewThis is one of the more expensive methods we've come across, but it works a treat. Parallels requires a Windows licence to function, but if you sort that out you'll be rewarded with one of the smoothest pieces of virtualization software out there. First-time buyers will have to fork out £65, but upgrading from earlier versions will cost £35. As with CrossOver, a trial version is available.

Mobile users can further their experience using the remote application. The mobile app works with the iPad, iPhone and an internet-enabled iPod Touch and allows you to control your desktop from the palm of your hand. There's a slight dip in visual quality, but the application is only £2.99.

While Parallels Desktop 7 is more expensive that the other programs we've covered, it's relatively straight-forward to use and performs well with most tasks. A recent update means that the program not only works with Apple's Mountain Lion, but also with the current Windows 8 preview build.

Features include an integrated store that lets you purchase Windows programs, and the ability to use the Mac's iSight camera from inside the Windows OS. The installation process is extremely simple and Microsoft Office 2010, which many other virtualization tools struggle with, runs perfectly here.

You may be paying more than CrossOver, but the features bundled with Parallels Desktop 7 justify the download. You can check out our full review of Parallels Desktop 7 here.

Play Windows games on a Mac with VMware Fusion 4

VMware Fusion 4Vmware offers more customisable features than most virtualization programs we've seen. Costing £39.99, it offers a variety of features and UI modes. You can choose between a full screen option, a single window mode and 'Unity view'. VMware recommends Unity view for most users as it offers a 'fully integrated' experience. Choose this option, and you wont see any of the Windows task bars or icons. It'll look like you're using a regular Mac to the untrained eye, but you'll have Windows working undercover too.

If you've tried Parallels Desktop and fancy a change, VMware will let you import your previous virtual machines. It's a useful feature, considering setting up new partitions from scratch can take a while. You also don't need to reboot your system when you want to switch the operating system.

Fusion can handle applications such as Microsoft Project, Access and Internet Explorer, but how does it fare with gaming? Online reports suggest that VMware can be temperamental when it comes to running games smoothly. You should be able to use your peripherals, however, as the application can handle Windows-only USB devices such as gaming pads and joysticks.

VMware Fusion 4 for Mac is £39.99 and you can trial it for 30 days before you decide whether to make the purchase or not. The package bundle on the official product website offers good value for money, coming with 18 month of free e-mail support and a 12-month complimentary subscription to McAfee antivirus.  

For more information and our full review on VMware Fusion 4, click here.

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