Windows on the World

HOW TO RUN WINDOWS ON A MACBONUS MATERIALWeb Clips: Hear audio examples that demonstrate running Windows on a MacRead Bonus Material From This Feature.

Like many musicians, you might be wondering if it's time to run Windows on an Intel Mac. Perhaps you're already a Mac user and want to try out some free or low-cost Windows-only software, or maybe you're a Windows user thinking about buying a Mac and having two operating systems in one. I fall somewhere in between — a longtime PC owner who got his first Mac about a year ago and wanted to look at the various options for having one computer run both operating systems.

To test this out, I installed Vista Ultimate x64 under Apple Boot Camp 2.0, Windows XP SP2 under VMware Fusion 1.1.2, and Vista Ultimate 32-bit under Parallels Desktop 2. As I discovered, the capabilities and performance that each of these configurations provides are quite different, and during the installations a number of unexpected issues arose. I'll describe the steps I went through in each case and give some tips about how you might make the process easier. I'll also discuss my findings when loading and running different audio apps and installing audio hardware, as well as lay out a few real-life scenarios for working with audio in a hybrid system (see the sidebar “Inside the Box”).

Keep in mind that none of the manufacturers that make Windows audio hardware or software that I spoke with officially support the use of their products on the Mac. So don't expect them to walk you through the process or answer your tech-support calls. Hopefully, after reading this article you'll have a good idea of what to expect and how to overcome some of the hurdles. Then again, your results could be different depending on the specific hardware and software, both Mac and Windows, you plan to use.

Getting Started

To run Windows on a Mac, you'll need either Boot Camp, which is included with the Mac OS, or virtualization software such as VMware Fusion ( or Parallels Desktop ( With Boot Camp, Windows runs natively, as if you had installed it on a Dell, Gateway, or other Windows machine. In theory, you get access to all the RAM and processors your Intel Mac has to offer, but 32-bit versions of Windows are still limited to around 3.5 GB of RAM, and you'll need a way to access the data on your Mac system drives (which I'll discuss in a moment). This was a hugely exciting deal for me, as I recently purchased a second Mac that is vastly more powerful than any of my current Windows computers: a new Mac Pro running Leopard 10.5.2 with 16 GB of RAM, 3 GHz 8-core processors, and a 1.5 TB RAID 0 drive array.

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FIG. 1: Apple''s Boot Camp Assistant is included with all recent versions of the Mac OS and is used to set up a new partition for a Windows install.

To get started with Boot Camp, you use the included Boot Camp Assistant utility, which creates a new partition for Windows (see Fig. 1). Apple's Web site states that Boot Camp supports “32-bit versions” of Windows, but I successfully installed the x64 version of Vista Ultimate. Apple also intends Windows to run on your internal Mac system drive, but I've seen numerous reports of people who claim to have installed it on an external drive. That involves a good bit of tweaking, and with an equal number of failed attempts being reported, I decided against trying that option.

Note that Boot Camp doesn't actually install Windows — that's the job of the Setup program on your Windows DVD. You'll also use the Setup program to reformat the partition if you want to use the NTFS file system. Boot Camp merely creates the partition Windows will use. In addition, because Windows requires a BIOS (Basic Input/Output System), a software interface between the operating system and the hardware, and Macs use an EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface), a new and improved approach, Boot Camp provides, in effect, an EFI-to-BIOS converter that keeps both operating systems happy. (Vista SP1, which was just released as of this writing, supposedly offers direct support for EFI. Due to time constraints I was not able to test this, however.) It also provides a number of Windows drivers for your Mac hardware; you'll find them on the Leopard install disc.

Boot Camp Assistant lets you specify how much drive space you want to allocate for Windows, and because the recommended system requirements for Vista Ultimate are a 40 GB drive with at least 15 GB of free space, I decided to allocate 50 GB, leaving lots of extra room for software, a few sample libraries, and other data. (A Boot Camp-created partition must be at least 5 GB and still leave another 5 GB free for the Mac OS X partition, but that shouldn't be a problem for any modern system.)

With the Vista install disc in my DVD drive and the setup process in progress, I ran into several unexpected questions. The first was whether I wanted to “auto-activate Windows while online.” I'd seen reports of people receiving a request to reauthenticate every time they ran Windows, and as I didn't want to lose an authentication and have to call Microsoft to plead my case, I chose not to enable this option until things were stable. The installer next prompted me to select which partition I wanted to install on (all of my system's partitions appeared on the available list), and it was easy to find the Boot Camp partition, as it was clearly labeled. (Picking the wrong partition could hose your Mac OS.)

I also selected the Advanced Drive Options so I could format the partition as NTFS, which would allow me to use files of unlimited size under Windows but also meant that the Mac OS could read but not write to the drive (see the online bonus material “Move It” at for some work-arounds). So to provide better integration of files between operating systems, I installed a 120 GB Maxtor external drive and formatted it on the Mac as FAT32, which both operating systems can access. (Be sure to choose the Master Boot Record option when creating the FAT32 partition using the Mac's Disk Utility program.)

After about 10 or 15 minutes, the Vista interface appeared on my Mac and I was prompted for User and Computer names. Following a few more reboots, during which time Vista detected my Mac's network and built-in audio settings, I was up and running with Windows. I immediately checked Windows' Device Manager, and sure enough, it reported I had two 3 GHz processors and 15.9 GB of RAM. Nice!

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FIG. 2: You can pick the operating system you want to load by holding down the Option key when you start your Mac or by setting the default behavior in the Startup Disk window shown here.

See It My Way

Of course, not everything was perfect at the outset. My monitor, a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display (ACD) with an nVidia 8800 GT display adapter, was maxing out at 1,600 × 1,200 (it can reach 2,360 × 1,770 on the Mac side), and some of my keyboard's functions weren't working — pressing the Eject button on the Mac keyboard could open the drive but not close it, among other things. As instructed in the Boot Camp documentation, I put my original Leopard install disc into the DVD drive and followed the prompts to load a number of Windows drivers, and sure enough, the problems went away. Just for good measure, I went to the nVidia Web site and got the latest Vista x64 drivers, which installed without a hitch. I also tweaked Vista to improve its audio performance using various tips I had been collecting just for this purpose (see the online bonus material “Tricked Out”).

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FIG. A: To send audio from a Windows app to a Mac program, set the Parallels Desktop audio output device to Soundflower (2ch).

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FIG. B: This screen shot shows Live''s Preferences panel, where you''ll choose the audio I/O device.

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FIG. C: When running in Parallels'' Coherence mode, your Windows applications open directly inside OS X.

I looked into the Boot Camp Control Panel to see what other options were there, but it listed only choices to pick which OS would start by default, whether I wanted to dedicate my Function keys to be used by PC applications, and some other minor tweaks. (You can also set the default startup behavior by accessing the Startup Disk in the Mac's System Preferences and choosing whichever OS you want. See Fig. 2.) It does, however, allow you to reboot directly from Windows into the Mac OS without holding down the Option key at boot time, which is the normal way you'd determine how you want your Mac to start.

Now Hear This

Very few true 64-bit audio programs are available, but Cakewalk Sonar 7 Producer Edition x64, which I own, happens to be one of them. I grabbed my Sonar 7 Producer Edition DVD and, with Vista running, got it installed in no time. Sonar scanned my system for audio interfaces and found the built-in option, which comes up as Realtek Audio. But when I ran some tests by loading a few audio tracks and triggering a few supported soft synths (several of Sonar's included synths don't run under x64), I encountered unexpected problems.

Even with a single track of audio, I got glitching and hiccups during playback. The same problems occurred with a single soft synth playing just a few notes. I adjusted the buffer settings and tried Sonar's WDM driver mode, but nothing really helped. A quick check of Cakewalk's Sonar forum revealed some major problems with the Realtek driver that Microsoft originally shipped with Vista. According to Cakewalk, that driver does not support Event/Notification mode, which is the only acceptable protocol that Sonar can use in this scenario and the only way to achieve low-latency performance with the Realtek audio interface. The work-around is to install a new driver recently released by Realtek itself, called the Realtek HD audio driver, available at

You'll have to agree to a disclaimer before downloading, and as you install the new driver, the old one will automatically be uninstalled. You'll then be prompted to reboot and asked to install the new one yet again, but just be patient and you should be all set. (You can follow the thread on this subject at

With the new driver installed and Sonar running happily, I still figured I would get better performance with an external interface running 64-bit ASIO drivers. Many of the more popular devices — for example, those from M-Audio and Digidesign — aren't yet x64 compliant, but I noted on the 64-bit compatibility list at Cakewalk's site ( that most of MOTU's hardware runs under x64. I borrowed an UltraLite FireWire interface from MOTU and, after downloading the newest drivers, reran all my audio tests using the UltraLite's ASIO drivers. In this new configuration, I easily got a dozen audio tracks playing, several with Sonar's CPU-intensive Perfect Space convolution effect, as well as low-latency input from my MIDI keyboard controller triggering the Rapture soft synth. I also installed Sony Vegas 8, a 32-bit app, to see how it would perform, and after running ten stereo tracks, each with two Track inserts (and a 10-minute animation for good measure), I figured I was in good shape. Overall, both programs seemed very responsive, and since installing the UltraLite, I've had no further problems.

It's worth noting that there are many reports on the Web of people having trouble with their audio apps while running Vista under Boot Camp. It seems that either disabling AirPort or updating the Broadcom 802 Wi-Fi drivers (available at and elsewhere) has helped in several cases, so if you do run into problems, you might try those two options. Another common fix is to disable your wireless adapter in Windows' Device Manager (no guarantees, though). The RME Web site ( is really up on this topic, so be sure to do a search there for any specific issues you come across.

Virtual Worlds

Creating a “virtual machine” with a program such as VMware Fusion or Parallels Desktop adds a lot of options that you won't find with Boot Camp. For starters, you can drag-and-drop files between an open Windows desktop and your Mac's desktop, and, with the right setup, pass audio between applications running simultaneously on the different platforms. You can also save setups to capture the state of your virtual machine and restore it to that state if your computer crashes or becomes corrupted, and create shared folders that appear under both systems.

To try out this approach, I decided to run a 32-bit version of Windows XP SP2 under Fusion 1.1.2. (Unlike Parallels, Fusion also supports 64-bit versions of Vista and XP.) Fusion's installer recognized my Boot Camp partition and I could have saved some disk space installing Windows XP there, but I chose to create a new 50 GB partition on my external RAID array because that hardware runs extremely fast. When you're setting the partition size with Fusion, you can choose to either allocate the entire amount when installing or let Fusion manage the drive space dynamically, increasing the size as needed. Though I knew it would add a minor performance hit, I selected the dynamic option because I wanted to check how much space I was actually using once all my programs had been installed.

I made the new FAT32 partition read- and write-enabled so I could more easily move data between the two OSs, and I chose the option to make my Mac's Home folder accessible to Windows for the same reason. After allocating 3.5 GB of RAM for XP (Fusion offered to allocate up to 8 GB) and enabling both my processors for use by Windows, I entered my product code and started the installer. Keep in mind that you need to install a version of XP that has Service Pack 2 included — you can't update to SP2 after the install of an older XP. See the article at on how to slipstream an old XP disc to SP2.

The XP install went off without a hitch: the Setup program rebooted Windows several times, and it was great to see XP booting in less than 10 seconds. Fusion installs a utility called VMware Tools that improves graphics performance and manages some other housekeeping, such as drag-and-drop and copy and paste between Windows and the Mac. It appeared to be doing its job, as my network card was working (all of the machines in my Windows workgroup were detected), the right mouse button was enabled, and my display adapter worked fine at its highest resolution.

Fusion lets you start up Windows applications directly from the Mac interface — you'll find a mirror image of the Windows Start→Programs menu in the Fusion menu bar at the top of the Mac desktop — and you can run Windows apps without seeing the entire Windows desktop (only the application and its interface appear). Its Unity View utility also lets you put other Windows components, such as the Control Panel and Taskbar, directly onto the Mac desktop. You'll find links to My Computer, My Documents, My Network Places, Control Panel, Run, and Search in Fusion's Applications menu (see Fig. 3).

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FIG. 3: Fusion''s control panel is where you choose the options you want. It''s easy to add or remove shared folders, configure peripherals, and alter RAM and processor settings.

Sound It Out

To explore audio performance under XP, I installed Adobe Audition 3.0 and drivers for an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra USB interface. I used Fusion to enable the USB ports on my ACD, then plugged in the Fast Track, which was immediately detected. Audition's Audio Hardware menu gave me the option of using either the “Creative Sound Blaster” drivers, yet another name for the Mac's internal audio, or the M-Audio drivers, which I chose. I loaded several WAV files from my RAID drive, all of which played with no problem.

As a test, I tried to run audio under the Mac OS using Apple Soundtrack Pro while Audition was looping its audio, but at first that was a total no-go. I couldn't select the M-Audio drivers in Soundtrack, even though I had also installed them on the Mac, while Windows was running. (M-Audio confirmed that the drivers are not accessible to both OSs simultaneously.) But as a work-around, I was able to play audio in Soundtrack using the Mac's built-in while Audition used the Fast Track. Too bad there aren't more options for this type of interaction. (Perhaps other audio interfaces provide this capability?)

Parallels Desktop with Vista 32

Like Fusion, the Parallels Desktop installer lets you use an existing Boot Camp partition or create a new partition for your Windows OS. After updating to the newest version, 5584, I ran the Parallels installer and was presented with three installation options: Express, Typical, and Custom. Each offers a different level of customization, and because I wanted more than the default amount of RAM (512 MB) the first two provided, I chose Custom and elected to create a new partition.

The Custom option gave me the chance to go beyond 512 MB of RAM but offered only a total of 2 GB, hardly the maximum of what a 32-bit OS can handle. I accepted the default of 32 GB for the hard-drive size and chose the Fixed option, which allocates the space in advance (as opposed to constantly changing the size). I also chose to let Windows share the Mac's networking capabilities, then named the new computer and set the Mac's Home folder to be accessible to Windows. Other than a few trivial housekeeping options, the final choice was to optimize the system for better performance under Windows or the Mac OS, and I chose Windows.

Installing Vista came next; here you just follow the prompts to load your Vista DVD, and Parallels takes it from there. When prompted, I again chose not to autoactivate nor to enter my product code. I had to partition the 32 GB drive space — it came up as Unallocated — and I also chose to format it. As the installation neared its end, I was prompted to install all the recommended Vista updates and did so. When the install finished, Windows' System Properties reported only 2 GB of RAM, one processor, and a standard VGA display adapter.

With Vista running, I wasn't able to access my network under the Mac OS, and the mouse wasn't working very well, so I installed Parallel Tools, which manages numerous things, including various peripherals, network connections, and file-sharing and drag-and-drop options. Vista complained about a lot of the drivers Tools installed, but I blew past the warnings and the installation completed fine. One of the more interesting tools is called Shared Profile; it redirects files you copy to Windows' Documents, Picture, and Music folders to the similarly named folders on the Mac and does the same for files copied to the Windows desktop.

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FIG. 4: Parallels Desktop Explorer lets you access Mac audio programs while under Windows and vice versa. Here I''m using Apple''s Soundtrack Pro to open an AIFF file while Windows is running.

There's other nice integration as well. For instance, if you have shortcuts (aliases) on the Mac, they'll show up on the Windows desktop, and you can start up programs for either OS from either side. I also like Parallels Desktop Explorer, which lets you access Windows files and folders from the Mac side without even starting up the virtual machine, and the SmartSelect feature, which allows you to open a Windows file with a Mac app or vice versa. You can even create a default configuration so that, for example, all Windows WAV files will open with your preferred Mac audio program, even if you access them while under Windows (see Fig. 4).

I did have to modify my network settings on the Mac side, though, as I wasn't getting network access under Vista. Changing the Network Emulation option in the Parallels Setup window to Bridged Ethernet got the job done. Like Fusion, Parallels places icons on the borders of the Windows desktop screen that give you easy access to numerous functions (see Fig. 5).

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FIG. 5: Parallels and Fusion both place icons on the edges of the Windows display that provide you with quick access to a number of their most common functions. Icons to start, stop, and pause (among other things) are shown at the middle right, and icons to enable or disable various ports on your Mac are shown in the bottom right corner.

Let's Hear It

In this configuration, I wanted to test an audio program with a hardware dongle, so I installed Magix Samplitude Pro 10. The installer asked me to insert the CodeStick dongle, but for some reason, it didn't show up as a new USB device on the Windows desktop. At that moment, I just happened to minimize my Windows screen and noticed that the dongle had appeared on the Mac desktop, under the Windows display. I ejected it from the Mac and sure enough, Parallels then popped up a prompt asking if I wanted the dongle to be available under Windows. Once I said yes, the Samplitude install completed.

With Samplitude running, I tried to load an AIFF file from my RAID drive, but when I pointed to the file, Samplitude told me that my system didn't have QuickTime installed and that it didn't support AIFF without it (I'd forgotten that Windows does not install QuickTime automatically). Fortunately, there was a QT installer on Samplitude's own distribution disc, so that was easy to resolve.

For audio I/O, I installed the drivers for the MOTU UltraLite and hooked up the interface to the FireWire port, but this was a no-go. It turns out that Parallels doesn't support FireWire devices under the guest OS — a huge pain, to be sure. Luckily, I had the M-Audio Fast Track on hand. After plugging in the device and answering Yes when Parallels asked if I wanted it to be available for Windows use, the Fast Track was ready to roll.

Note that if you don't have an extra USB interface around, you can squeeze a little better performance out of the Mac's internal audio chip when running under Windows by using ASIO4ALL (, which I installed with no trouble. When I reopened Samplitude Pro 10, I set the Audio Devices option to ASIO4ALL, played back a few tracks, and saw no problems of any kind.

Open Windows

Running Windows on a Mac can add a ton of options to your studio. In addition to loads of Windows-only freeware and shareware, there are some very powerful commercial Windows programs, including Sony Vegas and Adobe Audition, that don't have exact Mac equivalents. And if you don't want the (minimal) hassle of setting it up yourself, you can find ready-to-purchase Macs preloaded with different flavors of Windows. (See MacOutfitters at, for example.)

As to whether you should run Vista or XP on your Mac and whether to go the 32- or 64-bit route, that becomes more of a personal preference, and deciding what audio hardware and software you plan to run might make those decisions more obvious. Personally, I had some trepidation about running Vista (all of my Windows computers run XP), but after a little tweaking, I found it to be snappier and rather pleasant to use.

Keep in mind that this article just scratches the surface and that you might run into other problems with your configuration, or, hopefully, none at all. Be sure to look at the online bonus material “For More Information” if you want to learn more before deciding which way to go or if you do encounter problems once you've completed the installation. Also check out the demos at both the Parallels and VMware sites. Whatever route you choose, good luck with the undertaking. No doubt you'll find many creative and practical uses for adopting a two-in-one approach.

Associate Editor Dennis Miller is enjoying the benefits of cross-platform computing. Chad Beckwith is a composer, sound designer, and editor of PatchArena (, an online community for sound designers and electronic musicians.


Web Clips: Hear audio examples that demonstrate running Windows on a Mac
Read Bonus Material From This Feature.