There are two main options for installing Windows 10 on a Mac: Apple’s Boot Camp, which lets you configure your Mac to dual-boot between Windows and OS X, or a virtualization solution like Parallels. In this post, I’ll explain how you can configure your Mac to dual-boot using Boot Camp as optimally as is possible.
And to be clear, the key part of that sentence is “as is possible.” For a variety of reasons—especialy that Apple’s Mac-specific drivers are lackluster and usually outdated, impacting day-to-day usage, battery life, and performance—Windows will never truly be “optimal” on any Mac. But this guide will get you as close as possible to an optimal configuration.
Before you can even get started, you need to meet the minimum requirements:
Windows 10 installer in ISO format. You must own a copy of Windows 10—though you could of course install the OS and not activate it, just for testing purposes—and you can obtain the ISO installer that Boot Camp expects from the Windows web site. Be sure to get an x64 (64-bit) version.
Mac. You need a modern Mac—see the list in Apple Adds Windows 10 Support to Boot Camp—running the latest version of OS X, Yosemite, or the in-beta next release, El Capitan. (The Boot Camp software is included with OS X.)
Storage. As I noted in Windows 10 + Mac: Introduction, with Boot Camp you will want as much storage space as you can afford, since you’ll be dividing the Mac’s internal storage between OS X and Windows 10. This situation is further muddled by the fact that most users will have of course already filled up their Mac’s storage with data and apps, which means there will be less space for Windows. In my case, I ended up wiping out the Mac and reinstalling from scratch, so space wasn’t much of an issue: my MacBook Air has 256 GB of storage.
All set? Actually installing Windows 10 with Boot Camp couldn’t be much easier, though this process will take some time and you will want to optimize things a bit after you’re done.
First, make sure your Mac is up to date: open the Mac App Store and navigate to Updates to see whether there are any pending system updates. Install anything you find there before continuing.
Next, you need to find Boot Camp. The easiest way is with OS X’s handy Spotlight Search feature: Type COMMAND + SPACE and then boot camp to find the Boot Camp Assistant app.
Boot Camp Assistant is a wizard-based application that will create a Windows-based install disk using the Windows 10 ISO you already downloaded and a USB flash drive (4 GB or bigger, depending on the version of Windows). It will also download Apple’s Boot Camp drivers for the hardware Apple includes with its Mac, help you partition the Mac’s storage, and then start the Windows install process.
After the USB-based install disk is created—this disk will also include a Boot Camp folder with those drivers—you’re asked to determine how to partition the disk. Your ability to divide the disk will be based on how much storage you’re already using, of course. In my case, I simply selected Divide Equally and went from there.
If you left the “Install Windows 7 or later version” option checked, Boot Camp Assistant will reboot the Mac and install Windows after you partition the disk. Otherwise, you can re-run the wizard at any time, uncheck “Create a Windows 7 or later version install disk” (which unchecks the “Download the latest Windows support software from Apple” option too) and get it started from there.
Windows 10 Setup then proceeds normally, but there are a few things to be aware of.
Skip the product key. When you’re prompted for a product key, you can choose “Skip” and simply plan to enter the key later (or just trial Windows 10 until it stops working, I guess).
Format the BOOTCAMP partition. At the “Where do you want to install Windows?” phase of Setup, you need to choose the partition named BOOTCAMP. When you do so, Setup will note that “Windows cannot be installed on [that partition]” because Apple formatted it incorrectly. Select it and choose Format. Then, you can proceed. (Be sure to select the right partition, as you don’t want to blow away something needed by OS X.)
Sign-in with a local account. Finally, Apple’s Wi-Fi hardware will not be recognized during Setup. This has two implications: you can only create a local account during Setup (and not a Microsoft account), so you will need to convert this to a Microsoft account (if you wish to do so) after the Boot Camp drivers are installed. And you will not be prompted to enter your product key a second time, as is usually the case.
Once Setup is complete, you’ll be presented with the Windows 10 desktop, as usual. But the Boot Camp installer wizard will run automatically, which is of course unique to the Mac.
Be sure to complete this wizard, as it will install all of the necessary drivers for your hardware and clear up Device Manager nicely.
When that’s done, connect to the Wi-Fi network and run Windows Update, installing any pending updates and rebooting (and repeating) as necessary.
Then, find the Boot Camp icon in the system tray and examine the limited range of options available for the keyboard and trackpad. The trackpad options are of the most interest, since you can (as I do) enable tap-to-click and secondary-click functionality on the device, making it much easier to use.
When that’s done, sign-in to your Microsoft account, configure it with a PIN, and then open the Store app. Navigate to Downloads and click Check for Updates to download any pending app updates. There should be several.
So that’s the basics.
But there’s more. The thing is, out of the box, your Mac won’t run Windows very well. Battery life is terrible. The trackpad (on MacBooks) works like crap, which stinks since it works so well in OS X. The keyboard is hard to use. And it’s not clear how to switch back and forth between Windows and OS X.
So let’s solve those problems, as well as we can at least. The order here is important, too, since the second item relies on your fixing the first problem first.
Fix battery life issues
According to Apple, a 13-inch MacBook Air gets about 12 hours of battery life, though I believe the 2014 model I purchased may be an hour or two shorter. No matter: running Windows, which again is non-optimally installed and service by drivers, you’ll get less than half that. There’s no real way to fix this issue per se, and certainly no guarantee that Windows 10 could match OS X’s battery life on the same hardware. But you can improve matters somewhat by installing a little utility called Power Plan Assistant.
So here’s the downside. Power Plan Assistant disables Microsoft “digital signature enforcement policy specific to x64 only.” And since you can only install an x64 version of Windows using Boot Camp, this change is necessary, both for this utility and for the trackpad fix mentioned below. If this makes you uncomfortable, don’t install it. But understand that the battery life will suck a bit more and that the trackpad on your MacBook will never work properly. (If you always use a mouse, no worries.)
Fix the trackpad
To fix the Mac’s trackpad, you need another handy utility called Trackpad++. It’s made by the same folks as Power Plan Assistant, above, and in fact you need to install that utility before you can install Trackpad++.
This utility makes a MacBook/MacBook Air trackpad work much better than it does with the sad, stock Apple drivers. However, it has three downsides. One, the configuration interface for Trackpad++, while complete, is overly-complex. It’s really hard to use.
And two, TrackPad++ needs to undercut the built-in digital signature enforcement policy in x64 versions of Windows in order to work. So you’ll be dealing with SmartScreen here again.
Three, TrackPad++ can be very unstable. I’ve experienced a number of blue screens already since installing this utility, and the error message specifies TrackPad++ as the cause. It’s almost like the digital signature enforcement policy is there for a reason.
Fix the confusing keyboard layout
If you look at the bottom right of a PC keyboard, you will typically see CTRL, WINKEY, and ALT keys to the left of the spacebar and in that order. And, if it’s a portable PC, you will also usually see a Fn (Function) key in there somewhere as well. A Mac keyboard is different. My MacBook Air has Fn, CTRL, ALT/OPTION and COMMAND keys to the left of the spacebar, and in Windows 10 the Fn, CTRL and ALT/OPTION keys work as expected and COMMAND functions as WINKEY. This is fine, and you might choose to simply get used to the new key order. Or you could use key mapping software to switch the ALT/OPTION and COMMAND functions to match what you’re used to on Windows.
I used to use a utility that shall not be named—when I installed it this time, my Mac-based Windows install was infected with viruses and other malware—so I hunted around a bit and came up with KeyTweak. It works simply enough: just reverse the keys for LEFT ALT and LEFT WINKEY and you’re good to go.
Actually, you may also want to change a few other keys. You can type FN + DELETE to get a Windows-style DEL, but the default keyboard shortcut for PRTSCN (Print Screen)—Fn + SHIFT + F11—is confusing, and it’s not possible to use a Windows 10-style WINKEY + PRTSCN shortcut, which I’ve gotten used to. Maybe turn the COMMAND key to the right of SPACE into PRTSCN.
Choose which OS to boot into
From here, the Mac will just keep booting (and, as needed, rebooting) into Windows 10 unless you tell it not to.
You can choose to boot into either Mac OS X or Windows at boot time by pressing the OPTION key when the system “bong” sounds at startup. You’ll see the two OSes listed as choices.
Or you can use the Boot Camp control panel in Windows, or the similar Boot Camp utility in OS X System Preferences to choose to reboot into the other OS. When you do so, the Mac will always boot into the most recent choice unless you choose otherwise.
Windows 10—like previous versions of Windows—is not optimal on a Mac. This is mostly Apple’s fault, as the firm purposefully limits the performance and power management capabilities of the OS at install time and then supplies lackluster and out-of-date drivers for the Mac-specific hardware. (Seriously, some of the Boot Camp 6 drivers are over three years old.) While you can fix things to some degree using the methods I outline here, you can’t ever truly make Windows run efficiently on a Mac using Boot Camp. (And you don’t want to completely wipe out OS X since that is the only way to apply firmware updates to the machine.)
So why bother? When you consider the reasons why anyone would even want to run Windows on a Mac, the primary use case, I believe, is to gain access to one or more applications that simply aren’t available on the Mac. And if that is why you want to do this, I believe you are better served by a virtualization solution like Parallels, which I’ll document soon, though of course you will need a Mac with enough processing power, RAM and storage space to handle a virtual environment.
Boot Camp is better suited to that group of people—tech enthusiasts, mostly—who love Apple’s hardware (understandable) but prefer Microsoft’s platform (also understandable). Were I actually going to use such a setup as my primary computer, I would relegate OS X to the smallest possible partition when using Boot Camp Assistant, and I’d skip the reliability-challenged Power Plan Assistant and TrackPad++ utilities and just use a mouse when possible. Doing so, of course, undercuts one of the primary advantages of the MacBook Air I own—the trackpad is silky-smooth and arguably the best such device out there—which makes this whole thing semi-pointless.
But that’s the issue with running Windows on a Mac, in a nutshell. It really isn’t ideal.
Next up, I’ll look at Parallels, which runs Windows 10 in a virtual environment inside of (or “under”) OS X. I feel this is the superior approach for running Windows 10 on a Mac, with some caveats.