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Run Windows 11 on an M1 or M2 Mac


Rating:

8/10

?

  • 1 – Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 – Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 – Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 – Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 – Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 – Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 – Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 – Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 – Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 – Absolute Design Nirvana

Price:
Starting At $99.99

Parallels logo
Parallels

Since Apple switched to making its own in-house ARM processors (M1 and M2), getting Windows running on a Mac hasn’t been so straightforward. Fortunately, Parallels Desktop 18 makes running the latest version of Microsoft’s OS easier than ever.

Here’s What We Like

  • Easy setup and foolproof operation
  • More options for power users to tweak
  • Run Windows, 3D applications like games, and standard Windows software
  • Windows 11 on ARM now ready for 64-bit x86 applications

And What We Don’t

  • Pricey
  • Windows on ARM is great, but some incompatibilities remain (which isn’t really Parallels Desktop’s fault)

How-To Geek’s expert reviewers go hands-on with each product we review. We put every piece of hardware through hours of testing in the real world and run them through benchmarks in our lab. We never accept payment to endorse or review a product and never aggregate other people’s reviews. Read more >>

What You Need to Know About Windows 11 on ARM and Apple Silicon

Parallels Desktop 18 lets you create virtual machines that run on top of macOS so you can run operating systems like Windows as if they were native applications. This software cannot be used to create x86 or Intel-based virtual machines at all when used on an Apple Silicon Mac (and you wouldn’t want to, considering how poor performance would be).

We tested Parallels Desktop 18 (Pro Edition) on a 16-inch 2021 MacBook Pro with an M1 Max processor, so everything you read below is relevant to the new ARM-based Apple Silicon processors. Our test machine has 32GB of RAM and is running the (at the time of writing) latest version of macOS Monterey.

About This Mac

Apple Silicon ditches the 64-bit x86 architecture that Windows has traditionally used, so running Microsoft’s operating system on your Mac using Parallels Desktop 18 uses the experimental Windows on ARM release. Fortunately, this version of Windows has come a long way since it first appeared in the days of Windows 10.

Because of the inherent differences in the way different processor architectures work, Windows must use an emulation later to enable compatibility on ARM. Windows 10 on ARM had support for 32-bit applications written for x86, and now Windows 11 on ARM adds support for modern 64-bit applications. Theoretically, most software that runs on the standard “retail” version of Windows should also run on the ARM version.

This means that running Windows on an Apple Silicon processor is viable from both a performance and compatibility standpoint. You can also use Parallels Desktop to run other ARM-based operating systems on your Mac in just the same manner, opening up the world of Linux virtualization too.

Parallels Takes Care of Everything

Parallels Desktop 18 handles the setup process quickly and easily, getting you up and running in record time. The self-contained installer downloads everything you need and walks you through the various macOS permissions you’ll need to enable to get the most out of the software. How long the process takes largely depends on how fast your internet speed is.

Parallels Desktop 18 setup

As soon as Parallels Desktop finishes installing, you’re invited to download and set up Windows right away. You can choose between Home and Pro versions of Windows on ARM, with the installation process taking care of itself.

Once Windows 11 finishes downloading, Parallels installs it to a preconfigured virtual machine without any input from you. The installer will even create a Windows account using the same username as macOS.

Parallels Desktop 18 download Windows

It can be easy to forget that you still (technically) need to pay for Windows 11 too. While Windows on ARM isn’t available in retail form, you can register the ARM-based version of Microsoft’s OS using a standard Windows license (make sure the versions match, since a Windows 11 Home key won’t activate a Windows 11 Pro installation).

Activating Windows 11 gets rid of the annoying watermark and lets you customize your desktop, but core functionality isn’t affected if you don’t activate.

Activate Windows 11 notice

When you finally get into Windows, you’ll see that most things have been taken care of for you. In our case, Parallels configured a virtual machine with 6 CPU cores and 16GB of RAM, chose a sensible (scaled) resolution for our high DPI MacBook Pro display, shared our existing network connection, and even made macOS files available in Windows.

Parallels Desktop 18 Windows installation complete

Parallels Desktop 17 and above includes virtual Trusted Module Platform (vTPM) support, which satisfies Microsoft’s requirements for a TPM chip for Windows 11. This means that if you want to transfer your virtual machine to another Mac, you’ll have to transfer the encrypted vTPM data, which is stored in the macOS keychain (Parallels has an article explaining how to do this).

Parallels takes care of your virtual machine’s disk space with a capacity limit, starting at 256GB. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all of that space at once, and Parallels will only use what it needs (up to your capacity limit). There’s also a handy “Free Up Disk Space” tool that lets you recover free space if things get a little tight.

We tested this by downloading a 27GB application, observing that our macOS available free space reflected the download, then uninstalling it. Upon restarting the Windows 11 on ARM VM, we saw the 27GB we’d lost appear again in the main macOS volume.

Virtual Machine Management Made Easy

Parallels Desktop 18 Control Center

Parallels lets you manage all aspects of virtualization using the “Control Center,” which lists your current virtual machines. Just click on the little “cog” icon next to a machine to see a full list of properties. This can be as easy or complicated as you like.

You can choose from a set of pre-defined configurations with labels like “Productivity” and “Games only,” which takes the sting out of configuring your machine manually. Many users will prefer to get their hands dirty using the “Options” tab to set preferences like system resource allocation, which folders are shared, and to manually schedule Windows maintenance (for software updates).

Parallels Desktop 18 configuration

You can even share folders in real-time without having to restart Windows by right-clicking on your Windows virtual machine in the Mac dock and then navigating to Devices > Sharing > Add a Folder.

Parallels Desktop 18 Add folder

Further, you can use the “Hardware” tab to change CPU core and RAM allocation, choose how your network connection is shared (and set bandwidth limits), change your storage drive capacity, and even modify the boot order of your virtual machine.

You can get away with never visiting this menu if all you want is a one-size-fits-all setup, but it’s nice to have options if you’re a power user.

Parallels Desktop 18 hardware configuration

Setting a password for your virtual machine on the “Security” tab lets you stop other users from using it (important if you want to protect accounts used in your VM).

Parallels also comes with a custom backup solution on the “Backup” tab known as SmartGuard which takes a snapshot of your current setup so that you can quickly restore it in the future. The feature takes up a fair chunk of disk space, so you might want to rely on Time Machine backups instead (your Parallels VMs are included by default).

Parallels Desktop 18 security

Setting up a new virtual machine is a case of hitting the plus “+” icon in Parallels’ Control Center or File > New and choosing an OS. If you already have a disk image that you’ve downloaded, you can use that, otherwise use the quick links to get started setting up ARM-flavored versions of Windows, Ubuntu, Fedora, Debian, and Kali (or a guest macOS install).

Why Bother With Windows on Your Mac?

Parallels does an excellent job of allowing you to run Windows 11 and its associated software on your Mac. But unless you’ve got a good use case in mind, the novelty of virtualization alone probably isn’t going to convince you.

Thanks to support for 64-bit x86 applications, you can now run almost any Windows app on your Mac. Performance is excellent, with things happening at what feels like native speed. Windows is snappy and responsive, applications load almost immediately, and the Windows desktop feels more like an extension of macOS than a layer running on top of it.

Parallels Desktop 18 Windows system information

Parallels also has a mode known as “Coherence” which lets you run Windows apps in windows alongside macOS software. This lets you run software without worrying about managing a standard Windows desktop environment. It’s ideal for users who have a specific application in mind and who are comfortable using macOS for the vast majority of tasks.

You can also choose to run Windows in full-screen mode, in which it appears as another space. You can quickly flick back and forth between macOS and Windows using a four-finger swipe on a trackpad or set up Windows on an external display. Users with more than one monitor could have macOS and Windows running on separate displays and use both simultaneously.

Parallels Desktop 18 Paint.NET

It’s startling how “native” Windows on ARM feels running via Parallels Desktop 18 on an Apple Silicon processor. MacBook users need to be aware of the additional battery drain introduced by running Windows alongside macOS. On our MacBook Pro, we barely noticed much of a drain on system resources. It’s easy to forget you have Windows running at all.

Parallels Desktop 18 USB connectivity

The main impact we saw was in 3D applications like games, some of which would produce a fair bit of heat. Ironically, this was the first time I’ve heard the fans spin up to audible levels on my 2021 MacBook Pro, but even when used on a lap the heat output never reached uncomfortable levels.

This might be worth keeping in mind if you have a MacBook Air which lacks an integrated cooling solution since your machine may hit its thermal throttling threshold quickly in some applications and that will limit overall performance.

Parallels for Gaming

One of the most (pleasantly) surprising aspects of Parallels Desktop 18 is how well it works in 3D applications like games. This is handy since Windows still receives the lion’s share of games, and many older games that have Mac versions no longer work for one reason or another. Parallels can help bridge that gap and get Mac users gaming again.

Parallels Desktop 18 Geekbench score

Not everything works, and there are a few reasons for that. Modern titles like Halo: Infinite and DOOM: Eternal don’t work, nor do titles like Valorant which rely on hardware-level anti-cheat software that’s incompatible with virtualization software like Parallels.

Plenty of games run perfectly like The Witcher 3Age of Empires II: Definitive EditionInscryptionMass Effect Legendary Edition, and Titanfall 2. Many other games are also playable like Grand Theft Auto V, Valheim, and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

Parallels Desktop 18 Steam on Windows 11 ARM

You’ll have even more success with older games, many of which have Mac versions that are incompatible with modern hardware. Let’s take Half-Life and Half-Life 2 as examples. These Valve classics are only available as 32-bit applications, even if you own the Mac versions. That means you can’t run either game (or derivatives like Counter-Strike or Team Fortress 2) on a modern Mac, since Apple has abandoned support for 32-bit applications.

On Parallels, these games work perfectly well. Older games with Windows 11 compatibility are ideal since the less demanding a title, the better performance you’re likely to see. We tested oddball indie games that use Unreal Engine 4, old PC games that use the Quake II engine, newer titles that use Unity, and pretty much everything worked at playable frame rates.

Is Parallels Better Than Boot Camp?

With the move from Intel-based chips to ARM-based Apple Silicon, installing Windows natively on your Mac is not (yet) possible. Even if it was, for many users it would be hard to recommend taking the long road when Parallels Desktop 18 works so well.

The experience isn’t quite perfect, but it’s damn close. We did experience a small amount of unpredictability while running in full-screen mode where Windows would occasionally not respond to input. Thankfully, a quick Command+Tab normally resolved that. Windows was very stable, with only one hang while shutting down (and no real crashes to speak of).

The future is bright for Windows on ARM, with performance and compatibility only set to improve as time goes on. Paired with a fast new Mac, Parallels and Windows on ARM lets you use Microsoft’s desktop OS, native Windows apps, and even play many games.

Parallels Desktop 18 download Windows

It’s not your only option, since you can also run Windows 11 on ARM in a VM using UTM. However, just like installing Linux via UTM on Apple Silicon, this requires more work than using Parallels.

Thankfully, you can try Parallels Desktop 18 out for 14-days before buying to see if it lives up to your expectations. There are three different versions to suit a range of users, starting with the standard version that will work for most home users. If you need more RAM, CPU cores, networking options, and support for Visual Studio, check out the Pro or Business version.

Rating:
8/10

Price:
Starting At $99.99

Here’s What We Like

  • Easy setup and foolproof operation
  • More options for power users to tweak
  • Run Windows, 3D applications like games, and standard Windows software
  • Windows 11 on ARM now ready for 64-bit x86 applications

And What We Don’t

  • Pricey
  • Windows on ARM is great, but some incompatibilities remain (which isn’t really Parallels Desktop’s fault)





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