It's not specifically a virtual machine, but you cannot avoid talking about Boot Camp when it comes to running Windows on a Mac. Boot Camp is Apple's own answer to consumer demand, and as a part of macOS represents a huge advantage as it eliminates the need to download any third-party apps. Parallels Desktop, on the other hand, seeks to solve a widespread demand for running not one but multiple operating systems on a single computer in a secure and trusted environment. But which can cater to your needs, and are there more benefits for one than the other?
|Free Trial||Free Trial|
|Import Boot Camp Partitions||n/a|
|Windows Integrated Into macOS|
|Guest OS Support|
|Virtual Copy of macOS|
|Windows Data Transfer||n/a|
|Shared Folders||DirectX 10.1 Support||n/a|
|Microsoft Cortana Integration|
|iCloud/Dropbox/Google Drive Integration|
|"Open With" Option|
|Free Version||n/a||14 days|
|Money-Back Guarantee||n/a||30 days|
Although it lacks the features that virtual machines offer, Boot Camp is still the best way to make the most of the Windows experience on a Mac, be it for leisure, gaming or work purposes. It builds on the need that Mac users sometimes have to run the most popular desktop operating system on their machine because the software they wish to use is only available on Windows.
Boot Camp is Apple’s way of running a guest operating system (specifically Windows) on a Mac. The on-screen installation instructions are easy to follow and require little input from the user beyond the presence of the Windows ISO file or installation disk. Once the process is complete users will have access to the ultimate Windows experience as the operating system takes full advantage of the Mac's hardware resources without the performance penalty of a virtual machine.
The downside of Boot Camp, however, is that users need to allocate storage space on the startup disk for the Windows OS, which will be formatted to NTFS. Alongside this minimum allocation of 40GB of space, users will only be able to read the Boot Camp partition's content and not write to it. This means that they will have to figure out how to create a communication channel between the two completely isolated operating systems to allow for file transfers across platforms.
Maybe the biggest downside of all is the reboot process. Every time a user wants to use the guest operating system for whatever, a full reboot is required. This could easily become a hassle over time but considering that Boot Camp is available for free it is an acceptable compromise.
Launched a year before Apple added Boot Camp onto its desktop operating system, Parallels Desktop is one of the top paid virtual machines available for both regular and power users. Thanks to years of development, the hypervisor has reached a deep level of integration while still isolating the guest operating systems from its host, in this case macOS.
What makes a virtual machine such as Parallels Desktop highly appealing is the convenience of being able to run two or more operating systems simultaneously. However, it’s the tiny automation of certain aspects that makes or break such software, and Parallels Desktop incorporates a wide variety of these.
For example, Parallels will download Windows directly from Microsoft and install it at a speed that matches Boot Camp. And when Windows (or another guest OS) is running on a Mac, users of Parallels can take bidirectional sharing for granted since the software has smoothly integrated this function, meaning you can focus on getting the job done instead of figuring out how to share a file between the two operating systems. The same goes for apps: this deep integration allows users to run Windows in Seamless mode as if it would be part of macOS and use features such as Call with iPhone or Quick Look while still running Windows.
Parallels Desktop charges $79.99 per year for a single Mac license or $99.99 for a lifetime license, but users can test the software free for 14 days.
The final choice depends on the consumer's needs, and in this case there are multiple factors to consider. If free solutions are required due to budget constraints, then Boot Camp is by far the best option. Still, either choice comes with compromises: Apple's solution limits the guest operating system choice to only one platform and has other challenges such as having to find a way to share folders and the need to reboot the Mac every time platforms are switched.
Parallels Desktop, on the other hand, incorporates all the extra features of a virtual machine, meaning that it offers users the convenience of running multiple operating systems simultaneously including a wide variety of supported platforms, which is great for getting the job done. However, users need to consider a roughly 10% performance penalty, as its host must share the hardware resources with whichever guest OS is being operated.