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Running Windows on a Mac, part 3: The complete how-to

Need or want to run Windows on a Mac? We walk you through the entire setup experience, driver hacks and troubleshooting tips

This third installment of my series "Running Windows on a Mac" doesn't focus on performance issues or what you can expect anymore, it's all about how to get Windows 7 running on your Mac. And since Windows 8 Developer Preview was just released a few weeks ago, it made sense to include this as well to spare you the early adopter pains I had.

Running Windows on a Mac, part 1: Lion vs. Win7 performance shootout

Running Windows on a Mac, part 2): The good, the bad and the ugly

This guide helps you to...

- Create a Windows partition

- Download the necessary Boot Camp drivers

- Install Windows 7/8 from a DVD

- Install Windows 7/8 from a USB thumb drive and install rEFIt to boot from USB

- Deal with serious driver issues on Windows 8 Developer Preview

- Configure Windows and Boot Camp 4.0 properly

- Update the most common Mac drivers

- Enable AHCI

- Backup Mac OS X + Windows partition with one tool

Step 1: Setting up your Boot Camp partition

The first step requires you to shrink the Mac OS X volume and create a separate NTFS partition for Windows. I'll describe these steps using Lion, though the procedure in Snow Leopard doesn't differ a lot (except for the fact that Windows XP and Vista won't work in Lion -- yeah, Apple ditched "legacy" support entirely with Boot Camp 4 and Lion).

So how does this work? First, start Mac OS X Lion and head over to Go/Utilities/Boot Camp Assistant. On a Mac with an optical drive, the first dialogue box gives you the option to download the "Windows support software" (i.e. Boot Camp 4.0, which includes all the necessary Windows drivers).

Macs without the Superdrive give you the additional choice of creating a bootable USB thumb drive from an ISO.

If you want to (or can) install Windows using your Setup-DVD, just pop it in and hit "Continue".

If you'd rather install Windows using a USB thumb drive, read the steps below first and then move on. At any rate, make sure that "Download the Windows support software for this Mac" is checked, which starts a download assistant that puts the Boot Camp 4.0 drivers on your desktop, on a separate USB drive or burns it onto a blank CD/DVD.

On the next screen, you're going to face a tough choice: How much disk space do you really need for each operating system?

Windows needs at least 20GB to work properly (system files, page file, hibernation file, system restore points, etc.). This is the absolute minimum. Depending on how much data you want to carry around with you and how many programs you need, you'll likely need a lot more than that.

Choose the disk size wisely. Only a handful of disk partitioning tools are capable of handling both HFS and NTFS partitions reliably (I have personally tested Paragon CampTune, which works great, but there are a handful of alternatives).

Decided your size? Then let's hit "Start Installation" and start the installer. Next, reboot your system and hold down the "option" key while doing so. Jump to Step 4!

Hint: Deleting the Mac OS X partition is a bad idea

I know some of you are playing with the idea of getting rid of Mac OS X entirely to save money and have a "clean" system (I get that a lot). I strongly advise against it. Mac OS X is literally the only way to get firmware updates for your Mac hardware (EFI, Bluetooth, SuperDrive, Wi-Fi, SSD, etc.) -- in many cases, such updates have proven to be a live saver when it comes to performance and stability.

Step 2: Create a bootable Windows 7/8 USB thumb drive

Whether you've got a MacBook Air/Mini (2011) or any other Mac with an optical drive, installing Windows from a USB drive is just the more comfortable option: first, the setup is done in half the time, second, this thumb drive is also a more portable Windows Recovery Environment. It doesn't scratch and fits easily into your travel bag -- if your system gets messed up, plug it in and run the repair options. Here are a couple of ways to create a bootable key (remember, you're going to need at least a 4GB stick):

Create a bootable Windows Setup USB using Boot Camp Assistant (MacBook Air/MacBook Mini only): Launch the Boot Camp Assistant, check "Create a Windows 7 install disk" and hit "Continue".

Make sure that the proper USB drive is selected and hit "Continue". Et Voilà! The ISO gets "burned" to a bootable Flash drive. Now, read the rest of the instructions given in Step 1 above ("Setting up your Boot Camp partition").

Create a bootable Windows Setup USB using Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool (All Macs): The easiest way to create a bootable Windows 7/8 Setup USB Drive is with Microsoft's own "Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool". Download it, select an ISO and the target USB drive -- and you're done!

(Hint: If the USB thumb drive isn't recognized by your Mac bootloader or rEFIT, try creating the installer using USB Creator -- and if all fails, the manual route should definitely work).

Create a bootable Windows Setup USB using Terminal commands (All Macs): If no PC is in visible range, the USB/DVD Download Tool won't do you much good - in that case, you'll have to work your way to the command line:

1. Open a Terminal window and run "diskutil list". Determine which device node matches your USB thumb drive (e.g. this could be "/dev/disk4").

2. Unmount this disk by typing in "diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX" (where X stands for the number of your USB drive -- in our example, it would be "diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk4").

3. Type in "sudo dd if=/PATH/Windows7or8.iso of=/dev/diskX bs=1m". Make sure to replace the "/PATH/Windows7or8.iso" with the correct path of your Windows 7 or 8 ISO file and, again, replace the X with the drive number.

4. Done! Once the operation is complete, run the "diskutil eject /dev/diskX" command to eject the flash drive!

Step 3: No USB boot? Install rEFIt!

Not all Macs support booting from a Windows-formatted USB thumb drive. So if you don't see an image like the one to the right after plugging in your Windows USB key you're going to need to equip your Mac with rEFIt, which enhances the standard EFI with a few options such as a terminal command line or our much-needed USB boot option. And it's not as complicated as it sounds: Just head over to http://refit.sourceforge.net/ and get the 6.5 MB DMG file. Install rEFIt and restart your machine. Note: It might take a restart or two until the rEFIT option shows up, so be patient.

Step 4: The Windows 7/8 Setup

Once you've booted from USB or DVD, you've basically survived the most "difficult" part. I won't bore you with the details of how to install Windows on your machine -- it's the same old procedure as ever. Both Windows 7 and Windows 8's setup steps are fairly simple -- just make sure to select the "Boot Camp" drive during setup and let it run its course.

Note for Windows 8 early adopters

The Intel HD 3000 Graphics on the 2011 MacBook Airs and Mac Minis have some problems with the built-in Windows 8 drivers; which makes the lower half of the display flicker and indistinguishable right from the setup. As you might imagine, that makes it kind of hard to work with or even finish the setup! The easiest solution is to plug in an external display, which shouldn't be affected by the glitch. If that's not an option, you need to use your mouse and/or touchpad to guess where to click next on the Windows 8 installer.

Once you've gotten past that small hurdle, download the latest Intel HD 3000 Graphics drivers for Windows 7 and unzip the file, because you're going to need to do a bit of driver tinkering in order to get your graphics to work: Open up the subfolder "Graphics" and look out for the "igdlh.inf" (32-Bit) or "igdlh64.inf" (64-Bit) file. Open it and replace the line "no install on Win8" with the entire paragraph you see under the line "[IntelGfx.NTamd64.6.0]".

Save it! First, run the Boot Camp 4.0 driver installer in order to install all the basic drivers (see below for more) and then run the "setup.exe" found in the Intel drivers folder -- if that fails, try running it using compatibility mode and with admin rights. This should make the Intel drivers install correctly and get rid of the annoying display bug!

Step 5: The 4 Most Important Settings for Running Windows on the Mac

After installing Windows, there are a couple of necessary (and optional) steps that make the Windows on a Mac experience just better:

Install Boot Camp: Without the boot camp driver, your Mac is next to unusable -- Windows doesn't provide drivers for most of your Mac's hardware! Here's how to fix that. Insert the Boot Camp 4.0 CD, DVD or USB drive that you downloaded earlier and simply run "Setup.msi". Windows 8 users, again, need to perform some tinkering (which I describe below).

Done? Reboot! Now your Wi-Fi adapter, LAN, the graphics card, Bluetooth, the iSight camera, the sound chip and the trackpad should work properly.

Make Windows your default OS: You're going full Mac on Win? Then let's make Windows 7 or 8 the default operating system, so you don't need to hold down the option key on your Mac to enter Windows: Right-click on the Boot Camp icon in your tray, select "Boot Camp Control Panel" and just click on "BOOTCAMP - Windows". Hit "Apply".

Enable Tap to Click: If you're using a MacBook and just can't stand to press down on the trackpad, just select "Tap to Click" from the Boot Camp options menu. To further improve the trackpad, go back to part 2 in this series and download Trackpad++!

Sound volume: Here's a weird bug that I've encountered on literally ALL my Macs under Windows and that still persists on my latest purchase, the 2011 MacBook Air. By default, the sound volume of all movies (iTunes, DVD, AVI, MKV, etc.) is way too low -- both coming from the speakers and the headphone jack. The solution: Go to "Control Panel", click on "Hardware and Sound", head over to "Sound" and right-click on your sound chip.

Jump to the "Enhancements" tab and check "Loudness Equalization". As weird as it sounds, this actually boosts the volume of all your movies noticeably.

Note: Installing Boot Camp 4.0 on Windows 8

The latest Boot Camp drivers won't work properly with the Windows Developer Preview, since the built-in OS check detects that you're running Windows 8 (NT 6.2) instead of Windows 7 (NT 6.1) -- the compatibility assistant is no solution. You are stuck with "Boot Camp requires that your computer is running Windows 7"!

Here's the solution: First, download and install Microsoft's ORCA MSI editor. Fire up Orca and use it to pen the "BootCamp.msi" (32-Bit) or the "BootCamp64.msi" (64-Bit) installer files, which are located under the "\Drivers\Apple" folder in your Boot Camp directory (make sure to create a backup of the original file, just in case).

Under the "Tables" section, you'll find a category called "LaunchCondition."

Right-click on this entry and select "Drop Table". Save the MSI file and try to launch either the BootCamp.msi/Bootcamp64.msi or -- if that doesn't work -- the setup.exe found in the root folder. This should get all your Boot Camp drivers installed!

Step 6: Update your drivers!

Since Apple uses standard hardware components (mostly), you won't have a tough time finding suitable drivers, though some of them require a bit of searching and tinkering.

This is why I only recommend hunting down and downloading (and in some cases even modifying) drivers if you've got problems with games running unusually slow on your graphics card or when the Wi-Fi connection starts acting up.

The list of potential drivers for all the variety of Macs (Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini, iMac) goes on and on, so I'll just compile the most popular here:

Intel chipset drivers: Basic chipset drivers which include the latest IDE/SATA/AHCI drivers, sound drivers and other enhancements.

Intel HD Graphics (onboard GPU) Drivers: These drivers are updated every couple of weeks, which quickly made the Boot Camp 4.0's drivers (dated early 2011) obsolete.

NVIDIA GeForce (discrete) Graphics Drivers: It's likely that the official NVIDIA drivers won't work on your NVIDIA-based Macs (though it's worth a try), so you will likely have to resort to a bit of driver modification to get the latest drivers to work. It sounds worse than it actually is. Simply head over to the LaptopVideo2Go forums and choose the latest GeForce driver series category.

These forums host literally all Nvidia drivers that are released through various channels (e.g., OEMs, developers, etc.). If you're getting any of these, watch out for the "MS WHQL Certificate" tag and read the forum comments carefully to avoid potentially buggy drivers. First, you need to click on "Download Driver", download the package and extract it. Then, right-click on "INF Modified" and save the INF file under the "Display.Driver" directory found inside your driver folder.

That's it! This will remove all hardware checks and will allow you to install NVIDIA drivers on your Mac.

Broadcom Wi-Fi Drivers: The broadcom chip is present in most recent MacBooks, iMacs and Mac Minis. Station-Drivers.com has the latest drivers. Scroll down to the "Broadcom Wireless 802.11a/b/g/n controller" section and get the latest drivers for your OS.

Realtek HD Audio: The Realtek audio chipset is also very commonly found in Macs. Unfortunately, again, the installation requires you to do some tinkering: Go to Guru3D and download the latest Realtek HD Audio drivers. Make sure not to get the MSI installer, we need the extractable ZIP/EXE format -- you'll see why. Download and extract the file. Go to "Device Manager", double-click on "Sound, video and game controllers" and then "Realtek High Definition Audio". Go to the "Driver" tab, click "Update Driver" and point it to your downloaded directory. Hit "OK" to install these drivers! If you don't follow these steps and just go with the regular installer, you'll hear no audio out of your speakers -- it's likely one of those weird little Windows on a Mac issues.

Step 7: Enable AHCI or not?

I've talked about the missing AHCI drivers before. Thanks to a crippled BIOS emulation and some weird decisions on Apple's part, the storage controller runs with legacy IDE drivers instead of AHCI drivers, which makes for a noticeable loss in performance.

I've read pretty much everything there is to read on this issue and tested all the hacks that help you enable AHCI on your Mac or MacBook. Be warned:

  • While, yes, AHCI can be enabled, it's a dirty hack that changes the Master Boot Record. If anything goes wrong, you'll spend a couple of hours reinstalling both Mac OS X Lion and Windows so be sure to create a complete image, before you do this.
  • All hacks out there work only on Macs with Intel chipsets. Nvidia Chipsets are not supported.
  • There's a good chance that you'll be stuck with a longer shutdown time (1-2 minutes) and with a non-functional sleep mode! Hibernation continues to work fine.

If these (possible) issues don't bother you or are less important than the possible performance gain, I'd suggest you give it a go. Obviously, I don't have to remind you to create an image of both your Mac OS X and Windows partition (see below) first, before you move ahead with changing the master boot record (MBR).

Start Windows 7 and fire up "regedit". Go to the key "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE_ System\CurrentControlSet\Services\msahci". Double-click on "Start" and change the value from whatever it is to "0". Repeat this step with the following keys (if present):



This will make Windows 7 look for the AHCI controller during the next boot! Restart your machine, hold down your option key and boot directly into Mac OS X Lion -- NOT into Windows!

Download the AHCI Enabler (you have to register with the InsanelyMac forums before downloading) and start it. This tool automates the MBR edits necessary to enable AHCI under Windows and works with a variety of Intel chipsets (ICH7, ICH8, ESB63xx, ICH10, 5 Series). Next, select the appropriate volume and wait for the AHCI Enabler to detect the chipset. Then, make a backup of your MBR by clicking on "File" and "Save Backup MBR to File", and finally click on "Modifiy".

If you see this error, you'll either have an NVIDIA or an unsupported Intel chipset (Sandy Bridge).

My MacBook Air 2011 has an Intel Series 6 chipset, which is not yet supported by AHCI Enabler. If all works out for you, jump directly to step 8. If it didn't work and if you've got a Sandy Bridge 2011 MacBook Pro or Air, read further.

So the AHCI Enabler didn't work out for you? Well, here comes the complicated part:

Download the patched MBR file from OCZTechnologyForums, put the "patchedboot.bin" on an external USB drive and follow the instructions given on their forums in detail. These instructions require you to boot from your OS X Lion Setup DVD (or USB key or most bootable Linux distributions such as Ubuntu or Damn Small Linux) and replace the Master Boot Record with the patchedboot.bin.

Step 8: Backup Mac OS X and Windows partitions

Creating a complete image of your Mac (both Mac OS X Lion and Windows) isn't straightforward: Time Machine has some trouble with Windows partitions and Windows 7/8's image feature isn't designed to work with HFS+, either. I tried a couple of backup tools, but stuck with CloneZilla in the end, thanks to its fantastic file system support (Hint: Try out Clonezilla Live to burn a bootable CD/DVD or USB Flash disk to restore an unbootable Mac system).


This marks the end of this series, for now! If you're struggling with some serious Windows+Mac issues, let me know.

This article, "Running Windows on a Mac, Part 3: The complete how-to," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Sandro Villinger is a contributor to ITworld. For more by Sandro, see: 15 incredibly useful (and free) Microsoft tools for IT pros and Windows won't boot? Try these tips.

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