I started using Macs a lot more around 2007 when Apple switched from PowerPC processors to Intel. This allowed me to run Windows applications either by directly booting using Apple’s “Boot Camp” feature or by spinning up a virtual machine using Parallels or VMWare Fusion.
Windows compatibility was a casualty of Apple’s switch away from Intel in favor of their own custom silicon. But that feature loss was only temporary. Shortly after the release of the first batch of M1 powered Macs, Parallels released an ARM version of their virtualization software that could run the ARM version of Windows 10 on M1 Macs.
I didn’t expect much but I was surprised in my review of Parallels at the time that the original Macbook Air ran ARM Windows better than a dedicated ARM Windows PC I had looked at previously. The subsequent Windows ARM laptops I looked at also fell short of the Mac’s performance.
Fast forward almost two years and things are even better with the release of Windows 11, Parallels 18, and more powerful M1 and M2 Apple processors.
This week I installed Parallels on my M2 MacBook Air to see how far things have come. You can see my full review here.
In my testing the Macbook Air performed on par with the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s which is to date the best ARM based Windows laptop I’ve reviewed. Windows boots up in a few seconds on the Mac and I found its compatibility with ARM, x86 and x64 apps to be just as good as a dedicated Windows ARM machine.
Installation was super easy too – you’ll see a big Windows button on the Parallels interface that will download an official copy of Windows 11 from Microsoft and automatically configure it. In my testing I was able to get to the Windows desktop in less than 10 minutes. Just note that Parallels does not come with a Windows license so that will need to be purchased separately.
Parallels has a number of free ARM Linux distributions also available as one click installs. In my review we booted up Ubuntu and it ran pretty nicely at a similar level of performance to the Windows virtual machine. If your Mac has a lot of RAM you can even run multiple operating systems simultaneously.
In my review I was able to boot up an older x86 version of Quickbooks along with a 64 bit application I use for my amateur radio work. Game players will certainly want to stick with an Intel or AMD based computer but older games like Half Life 2 run surprisingly well on the Mac through Parallels.
Microsoft deserves some of the credit as the ARM experience with Windows 11 is so much better than Windows 10. Prior to 11 x64 compatibility required running with a beta version of the operating system. Now things feel much more natural and integrated. Most Windows apps will just run without much aggravation and configuration.
Apple is still much further ahead on their ARM transition but Windows 11 gives me some hope that at some point Windows users will enjoy the performance and battery life that Apple users experience on their Apple Silicon based computers.
Parallels has a 7 day free trial if you want to take out for a test drive. Click here to visit their website (compensated affiliate link).
The standard version should work fine for most Macbook Air users but the Pro version allows for more CPU cores and RAM to be made available to the virtual machine. Unfortunately that version requires an annual subscription.