Boot Camp, Still Crazy After All These Years

Posted on December 3, 2018 by Paul Thurrott in Mac and macOS, Windows 10 with 41 Comments

I was under the impression that Boot Camp had evolved since I had used it on my old MacBook Air. Sadly, that does not appear to be the case. At least not with the 2018 MacBook Air that I recently purchased.

For those unfamiliar, Boot Camp is included with macOS, and it lets you partition your Mac’s hard drive into two primary partitions, one for Windows and one for macOS, so that you can dual-boot between them.

I’ve been using Boot Camp with Macs since the technology was first introduced to Mac OS X as a way for Mac users and switchers to overcome the “app gap” that existed at the time.

But Boot Camp has always been problematic. The Apple-supplied drivers for Windows are not in any way optimal. And Boot Camp never supports the latest Mac hardware features that are available on the macOS side, like Touch ID. These two things work together to ensure that Windows always performs sub-optimally on a Mac. And it is, of course, done very much on purpose.

Which is funny because I’ve often heard that, ironically, the Mac is the best way to run Windows. That’s ludicrous, and nothing could be further from the truth. In my experience, even a virtualization solution like Parallels Desktop, which lets you use Windows alongside macOS, performs better than Boot Camp. And these solutions offer unique benefits of their own, too.

But I wanted to see whether Boot Camp had evolved, and whether the experience was any better now, in 2018, than it was several years ago when I first started testing it.

It’s not.

In fact, it’s so identical to my previous experiences that it’s not clear to me that Apple has done anything at all to improve this solution. The Boot Camp wizard supports macOS’s new Dark mode, which is nice. And I’m sure Apple updates the drivers to match new hardware. But that’s about all I can see that’s different.

Here’s how it works.

First, you should download the latest Windows 10 ISO to your Mac, Then you run the Boot Camp Assistant in macOS. This simple wizard steps you through the process of partitioning the Mac’s storage as you’d like; I usually choose a 50/50 split between macOS and Windows.

Then, it downloads Apple’s Windows drivers, partitions the disk, and reboots to install Windows 10.

When Windows 10 first comes up, those drivers are applied and you’re left with a very bare Windows install. You’ll need to learn some new keyboard shortcuts—there’s no “PrtScn” button on a Mac, for example, and many keys are different or in the wrong place—and some other Boot Camp-specific functionality. The trackpad scrolls backward to what you’re used to in Windows.

You can choose the startup partition from either system. In Windows, this happens through a legacy Control Panel applet. In macOS, it’s via the Startup option in System Preferences.

That Control Panel is bare-bones, too. And it offers just a handful of keyboard- and trackpad-based options, none of which have changed at all over the years.

As noted, this install is sub-optimal. But you don’t have to take my word for it: I ran the PCMark 10 benchmarks in Windows 10 on Boot Camp and it’s not pretty. It scored just 1819 overall, and 2755 in the productivity benchmark. By comparison, the HP Spectre Folio, which isn’t exactly a performance champ, scored 3002 overall and 5769 in productivity.

Those results are a good comparison because the MacBook Air and the Spectre Folio both run on similar Intel Y-series processors. But the Air’s is bumped up to 7-watts, vs. 5 for the Folio, so if anything it should be faster. But it’s not even close.

Put simply, Boot Camp is better than nothing. But that’s about the only positive thing I can say about it.

I’ll be looking at Parallels Desktop on the new MacBook Air soon to see how that compares.

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Comments (41)

41 responses to “Boot Camp, Still Crazy After All These Years”

  1. will

    I have never been a fan of Boot Camp. When it first launched it was a really cool and great way to run Windows with the core hardware. Rebooting was a pain, but it worked well for Mac hardware.

    Today I use Parallels and the performance that it has is pretty good. Being able to run multiple VMs and just swiping between desktops is nice. While each version of Parallels has been minor usually in features, the ease of use is great.

    However with Microsoft and the Office apps getting better with each release, and OneDrive supporting files on demand I am using Windows a little less than before.

  2. shameermulji

    The performance of VM software like Parallels is so good that BootCamp isn't really necessarily. Don't be surprised if Apple gets rid of BootCamp in a future version of macOS and pushes users toward VM's for running Windows or other operating systems.

  3. brettscoast

    You are quite Paul the experience is pretty awful. I found parallels provided a more improved performance and quite frankly easier to use than bootcamp

  4. jdmp10

    First time I ran BC was on a 2014 MBP equipped with the highest available i7 QC at the time and 32GB of RAM. Whether that configuration ultimately helped my W10 experienced in a meaningful way, I couldn't say but my W10 experience on that particular machine was as good if not better than other similarly specced Windows machines running the same build of W10. While I'm no fan of the new MBPs, I am a fan of macOS, not for daily use but dabbling from time to time is fun and knowing that BC ran with no real issues for me in the past, I would be more inclined to get a Mac and put Windows on it than a PC and just be stuck with Windows only.

  5. james_wilson

    I run boot camp on my Mac Pro 2009 with an ATI 7950 for Mac card. I use the native ATI driver set and it screams along ( as much as a 7950 can). I think they knobbled the drivers on later Macs to stop you using native drivers.

  6. SvenJ

    "even a virtualization solution like Parallels Desktop, which lets you use Windows alongside macOS, performs better than Boot Camp. "

    That's the only (partial) sentence this article really needed. ;)

  7. dontbe evil

    of course apple would not spend time and effort to make windows and drivers run properly on their machine, so they can show that mac os magically is the best

  8. wright_is

    On my iMac (first generation 24"), I used Bootcamp to play Need for Speed Carbon. It played very well, back then,

  9. robotraccoon

    I run Windows 10 Pro in Parallels 14 on my 2018 13" MacBook Pro (i7, 16GB). I split the CPU cores and memory evenly between the two operating systems, and they both run smoothly--even with Visual Studio 2017 open on the Windows side.

  10. ErichK

    Thanks for this Paul. I just picked up a new Air as well (typing on it right now), and I'm doing research on running Windows 10 on it. macOS is doing a great job at the moment, however, of doing most everything I need it to do.

  11. lvthunder

    How do you know they make Windows run sub optimally on purpose? It could be they got it running and have more important priorities to work on. You know things that would help more of the Mac OS user base.

  12. dcdevito

    I always disliked Bootcamp on my MacBook Pro. Performance was decent, but the trackpad was terrible and battery life was non existent. It's honestly the biggest reason I left the Mac entirely and switched to a Lenovo Yoga 3 years ago to try Windows 10. Haven't gone back to the Mac since.

  13. Matt Kelly

    There’s a regedit trick to flip the scrolling into the direction that you’re expecting, the search term in the editor was “FLIPFLOPWHEEL” or something similar...

    On my 2017 i5/8Gb/256 13” MBP, I run Boot Camp regularly, I find the battery life as well as performance takes a hit too.

  14. MikeGalos

    And that's not even discussing the legality of the first step being "download the latest Windows 10 ISO" to install on a computer that doesn't have a Windows license. By comparison, you rarely see an article about building a Hackintosh without disclaimers about running bootleg software to appease Apple's legal teams.

    Odd how Apple doesn't provide a legal license option (correct me if I'm wrong here) to use a feature they provide designed to bootleg someone else's intellectual property when they are so litigious about anyone bootlegging their own intellectual property.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to MikeGalos: I'm sure you know that downloading a Win 10 iso and loading it on some machine, virtual or otherwise, works fine..for a while..and then you need to buy a license, or it stops. It's the same for Parralels as well as Bootcamp, or a Hyper-V VM for that matter. Maybe it should be pointed out, but people who are doing it, really should be savvy enough to figure this out.

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to SvenJ:

        Yes. And that's because it's essentially stolen software.

        And I'd say anybody savvy enough to set up a multi-boot system or a virtual machine is savvy enough to know they can't legally run software without a license.

        • MarkWibaux

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          How the heck is it stolen software when Microsoft supplies you with the ISO to do this from their own site. It's in no way "essentially stolen software". It's up to you as the user doing the install to obtain a proper license for the software you are installing.

          The only time this becomes "illegal" is if you obtain a work around to getting a license.

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to MarkWibaux:

            Nope. That they provide the bits or not doesn't make it legal to run without a license. Until you buy it, it's not a legal install. How they enforce it doesn't change a thing.

            Remember that it's the LICENSE that you buy, not the download image. They could hand out DVD images like AOL install disks and that doesn't make the license requirements change.

            • pecosbob04

              In reply to MikeGalos:"It's up to you as the user doing the install to obtain a proper license for the software you are installing." You seem to ignore that part of MarkWibaux's post. The point of which is that people will pay the license fee, if not initially when the reminders get bothersome enough. Also you can join the insiders program and run a beta copy of W10 on a Mac or home built PC or in a vm on a pc and there is no nagware as long as you install the latest versions.
        • curtisspendlove

          In reply to MikeGalos:

          You get a “activate Windows” watermark at the bottom right of the windows desktop which overlays every window. You get multiple feature regressions. You get a routine pop up telling you that you aren’t running a legitimate copy of Windows.

          All of these warnings (ok, except the watermark) provide a helpful “give Microsoft $100 to make these warnings and limitations go away” button.

          Apple is doing nothing wrong here. I can buy (and have just done so) a bunch of computer parts off the internet, assemble them, and toss a Windows install on there. Get the same restrictions and warnings until I cough up at least a hundred bucks.

          Or I can format it and toss Linux on there. But I like games. So for now, Microsoft gets another $140-ish bucks.

          There is literally an “install without product key and activate later” option during the install. But trust me, Windows is *very* adamant about letting you know you haven’t yet given Microsoft their licensing fee (which you should, of course, do, if you are using the OS).

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to curtisspendlove:

            That the license is enforced isn't what makes the license required. The "If it's easy to steal it isn't theft" excuse doesn't really hold beyond making a thief feel better about themselves.

            Yes, you can build computers and then BUY a Windows license for them. Equally you can buy a computer without a license and BUY a license for it. Or you can buy a computer that has a license because the OEM bought one and passed the cost on to you.

            In any case you have to BUY a license. And that's an odd step to skip in discussing the process.

            As to Apple's culpability, as an OEM who builds computers, would you sells a computer to a customer with a set of driver disks and says "here's a download link for Windows" or install an unlicensed copy without mentioning that they need to buy a license and that's part of why your system is cheaper than one including a license?

            • curtisspendlove

              In reply to MikeGalos:

              In any case you have to BUY a license. And that's an odd step to skip in discussing the process.

              I agree it is an odd step to skip. So I find it a bit strange Microsoft offers the option to install without a product key.

              It is almost like they want people to install Windows and try it, no? Maybe someone loves it and ponies up during one of the activation prompts.

    • pecosbob04

      In reply to MikeGalos:I think msft must be okay with it unless of course they dumped the legal department at the same time that they axed the internal testers. You know crowd source quality assurance then crowd source the legal team what could be more cost effective..

      • MikeGalos

        In reply to pecosbob04:

        I'm pretty sure that "some people didn't get prosecuted for it" isn't a legal defense for theft.

        • pecosbob04

          In reply to MikeGalos:You seem to be confused between criminal and civil law. Msft could have sued if they felt it was in their best interest and a proper use of their time and the shareholders assets, for whatever reason they elected not to. An argument can be made that the greatest majority of installations in Boot Camp are of legally purchased / licensed copies of the software. Also it is highly likely that in some of the myriad settlement agreements over patents and the licensing of same that this issue has been contractually addressed. Do I know this to be case? No and you certainly don't either. But that would be the way rational business folk address this sort of thing. The leadership at msft today are business professionals not msft .fanbois.

          • MikeGalos

            In reply to pecosbob04:

            While anything can be argued, what license is the user using Boot Camp installing under? I don't think Apple is paying an OEM license and while consumers don't buy retail Windows licenses that's because the OEMs now buy a lifetime license for the machine it's used on. And that license is not transferable to other computers, the license follows the hardware.

            Perhaps I'm wrong and Apple is paying a license to Microsoft for BootCamp installs or per machine. But that would have to be the case since it's not like you can go to your local store and buy a retail Windows 10.

          • Paul Thurrott

            In reply to pecosbob04:

            There's nothing illegal about this. You can do it on a PC too.

            • MikeGalos

              In reply to paul-thurrott:

              Really? What license is there on the Mac for the copy of Windows 10?

              An OEM Windows PC already has a per-device lifetime license for Windows 10 included in the price. Did Apple start paying Microsoft an OEM license fee for every Mac sold?

              Seriously, I missed this if it happened and it'd be great if they did.

            • Sihaz

              In reply to paul-thurrott:

              there are many places to buy a windows 10 licence to apply to a boot camp installation, so as you rightly say, nothing illegal at all about doing this...

              • MikeGalos

                In reply to Sihaz:

                Correct. Nothing illegal IF you buy a Windows 10 license. I don't seem to have seen that step in there and Macs don't come with a Windows license any more than a Dell comes with a macOS license.

  15. locust infested orchard inc

    Boot Camp (AKA BC), was only fit for purpose in 2018, 2018 BC that is.

    Don't dishonour Windows by attempting to execute it on upgradeable overpriced Apple hardware.