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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