• Running Windows on a Mac – the Mac hardware for VMs

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    See Running Windows on a Mac as a preface.

    The Mac hardware does not have to be the latest and greatest to be able to run Windows in a VM. In fact, in most cases, I prefer the older versions because they have more ports and the hardware is still user changeable.
    In actuality, the Mac hardware will be acting as multiple computers, the host running MacOS and the guest(s) running a non-Mac OS (Windows or Linux). The Mac hardware has to at least be capable of supporting the combined minimum requirements of each of the simultaneously running computers combined.

    To demonstrate the possibilities, I will use my computers as examples.

    13” MacBook Pro 9,2 Mid 2012 (no longer available from Apple, find elsewhere)
    2.9GHz Dualcore i7-3520M (Ivy Bridge), Intel HD Graphics 4000 + 1536MB

    Initially this laptop had a 512GB HDD and 4GB RAM. For $30 this was immediately upgraded to 8GB RAM. I installed three 64GB expandable disk VMs: XP Pro, Win7 Pro, and Win8.1 Pro all 32-bit. I chose 32-bit because of the 8GB RAM, assigning 2GB to XP and 4GB each to Win7 and Win8.1. Only one VM can be run at a time, and that leaves at least 4GB RAM for the MacOS host.

    I have since increased to 16GB RAM and replaced the HDD with a 500GB Samsung 840 EVO SSD. This makes the the computer much faster and I could actually run Win7 and Win8.1 as 64-bit (if I wanted to go to the trouble of reinstalling them).

    What I like about this system is the built-in CD/DVD drive and the numerous ports (no dongles here). The system originally came with Mountain Lion, but has no problems running the latest version of Sierra. Even though it’s is an older computer, both the host MacOS and the Windows VMs run faster than many of the Windows laptops I’ve used.


    MacMini 6,2 Late 2012
    2.6GHz Quadcore i7-3720QM (Ivy Bridge), 16GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4000 + 1536MB, 27” Thunderbolt Display 2560 x 1440, 1TB Fusion Drive (hybrid 128GBSSD + 1TB HDD. 866.8GB free)

    This is my main production use-every-day-all-day machine. It initially came with 8GB RAM which was upped to 16GB (32GB max if I wanted to, RAM is cheap) There are five Parallels VMs installed: XP Pro, Win7 Ultimate, Win8.1 Pro, Win10 Pro 1703 and Win10 Insider Preview. The XP VM has 2GB Ram assigned, the others each have 4GB RAM. I have had two of the VMs running at the same time (4+4+8 RAM) but really have had no need to run more than one guest OS guest at a time. A three-finger swipe gives instant access to either fully functional full screen VM.

    The parts (Ram, HDD) are user changeable. The MacMini has a multitude of ports and the Thunderbolt Display also acts as a docking station with power for a laptop and a variety ports. The MacMini actually will work with any display, the Thunderbolt Display is just excess.


    21.5” iMac 13,1 Late 2012
    3.1GHz Dualcore i7-3770S (Ivy Bridge), 16GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M + 500MB, 1TB HDD (845.77GB free)

    The bottleneck on this machine is the mechanical HDD. Had I known then what I know now, I would have ordered it with the 500GB SSD. This is the first of the really thin iMacs, and the parts (RAM and drive) are not user changeable.

    There are three VMs installed: Win7 Ultimate, Win8.1 Pro and Win10 1703. I use the Win7 VM daily and keep most of my personal records there. The host MacOS and each of the Windows OSs are fast once they are fully booted (file opening, Internet access, running programs) but the boot up process is much slower that with an SSD.

    Although not the Retina, I find the 1920 x 1080 display clear, crisp and more than sufficient.


    15” MacBook Pro 11,3, Retina Late 2013
    2.6GHz Quadcore i7-4960HQ (Haswell), 16GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GT 750M + Intel Iris Pro 1536MB 2880 X 1800, 500GB SSD (359.61GB free)

    There are three Parallels VMs installed on this laptop: Win7 Ultimate, Win8.1 Pro, and Win10 1703. The Win10 VM is assigned 4GB RAM, the Win7 and Win8.1 have 8GB. This model MacBook has 2-USB3, 2-Thunderbolt/mini-display, 1-HDMI, 1-card slot, and 1-headphone jack. I use all but the headphone jack simultaneously.

    I put this machine to the test running the computerized scoring for the sport of diving (Olympic, not SCUBA). And it’s dongle-time: thunderbolt to RJ45 (wired network), thunderbolt to VGA or DVI (external monitor), USB to RS232 DB9 (Daktronics scoring console) and USB to printer. The diving software is run from a fullscreen Win8.1 VM to control the scoreboard and transmit real-time scores online to a website.

    Unfortunately, making this laptop thin and light means the hardware is not user-swapable. Also, the later models with the four USB-C/thunderbolt3 ports would necessitate some kind of docking station for my purposes – I have seen several advertised at very expensive prices.


    Some things to note.

    • In spite of the fact that there are numerous VMs, there is ample free space on a 500GB drive. There is room for VM assigned storage spaces to be increased.
    • SSDs DO make a difference in speed. Do to the nature of SSDs, it is best not to have one so small that it is nearly full if you are using VMs. The VMs on my machines run anywhere from 18GB to 52GB depending on the number of programs installed and whether they are actively used (data added).
    • Older equipment is preferable if you want swappable hardware or need access to multiple ports.
    • 8GB RAM is usable, but 16GB is better.
    • The processor has to be capable of virtualization. Dualcore works, quadcore is better.
    • The older 13” MacBook Pro with the onboard slot CD/DVD drive from somewhere in 2012 has Bluetooth 4.0 and some of the newer technology that allows handoff between iPhones and Macs. The ones from 2011 do not. It is the numbers after the model (like 9,2) that are significant. I’m not sure what model is the cutoff point. That may also determine which can handle 16GB RAM as opposed to 8GB max and which can continue to update the OS through Sierra and beyond. These models are discontinued by Apple, but you can find them on Amazon, AppleInsider, B&HPhoto, MacMall, and some of the other vendors, or refurb/used in the usual places (be careful with the latter).
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    • #132859

      You are brilliant- what a in depth review- so much to get one’s teeth into.

      Must admit the specs you’re suggesting are what I was thinking of. Anything lower than

      512GB for a SSD, for instance, would be cramped for space. And the RAM of course I think

      one needs to think at least 18GB- those options are no brainers for me – but it’s the processors

      that would give me pause for thought. Although after reading your review- it’s going to be

      very much easier!!! I would think possibly the way to perhaps help keep prices down would

      be to look at older models – and those too would give options like ‘no need for dongles ‘ etc

      which the latest version does .

      You’ve got a fantastic set up there PK – sounds very good indeed!!!

      Thank you again for your insights and help- I for one really appreciate it! LT


      Incidentally this has been written and sent from my iPhone!!

    • #329498

      I’ve ran Windows VM’s on a 2018 MacBook Pro with 4GB of RAM and a 2011 iMac with 8GB of RAM. Windows ran on both, but did better on the iMac. Now that I have an iMac Pro, if I need to run Windows or another OS anytime, I’ve got plenty of power. 🙂

      Nathan Parker

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