Parallels Desktop 9 for Mac lets you seamlessly run Windows and Mac applications side-by-sid

10 ways to improve Windows running

on your Mac

By John Rizzo

Running Windows on a Mac is commonplace, but can be frustrating. Whether you're booting your Mac with Windows or running a virtual machine, there are plenty of ways to get in trouble. (If you haven't decided which method is best for you, see How to Run Windows on Macs, a Comparison of Available Solutions.)

Windows can bog down your Mac, or create uncertainties on backing up, and create general hassles that you won't experience with OS X alone. Here are my top ten tips to take charge of performance, battery power, back up and recovery strategies, and other ways to make Windows shine on your Mac.

1. Use recommended RAM settings for virtual machines

Virtual machines are not real machines. Assigning more RAM to a virtual machine in the settings dialog is not like adding RAM to a real PC. In fact, assigning too much RAM in your virtual machines settings can slow your whole Mac down, OS X included. Stick with a setting that is within the range of RAM that is recommended in the virtual machine settings box.

2. Give your Mac enough real RAM

When you're running a virtual machine (Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or Oracle VirtualBox), you are running not one, but two operating systems: OS X and your guest OS. If you don't have enough RAM in your Mac, both OS X and Windows will grind to a halt.

Regardless of what the virtualization companies say, 4 GB is the bare minimum of what is practical. But having 4 GB is not enough to prevent your Mac from slowing when running a virtual machine. I recommend having at least 8 GB in your Mac. This should be adequate for most ordinary business apps. Consider more RAM if you are using memory-hungry Windows apps, such as graphics editors.

When running Windows with Boot Camp, you Mac only runs one operating system at a time. For this situation, 4 GB of RAM should be plenty for average tasks.

3. Get the latest virtualization software

It's annoying being asked to buy an upgrade to a new a version of software. But with virtualization software, newer is always faster. Parallels Desktop 9 is faster than version 8, which is faster than version 7. The same is true with VMware Fusion. And, unlike some other types of software, new versions of Fusion and Parallels are not known to break things or add incompatibilities.

With Boot Camp, major new versions don't add performance. Instead, they add compatibility with the latest Mac hardware and Windows software. For instance, Boot Camp 5 added compatibility with Windows 8. You should not, however, automatically upgrade your Boot Camp drivers without checking to see if the new version supports your Mac. For instance, Boot Camp 5 does not run on Macs older than a few years. (To see which Macs Boot Camp 5 supports, see this article.)

4. Buy the right version of Windows

Windows 7, Windows 8, Home, Professional, System Builder, Upgrade; the choices and combinations of choices are staggering. Buy the wrong type of Windows, and you may spend too much, or not get features you need, or you may not be able to run the Windows application you need, or you may not be able to run the Windows you bought at all.

If you using a standard Windows applications, your best bet is Windows 7, which is still the most popular operating system in the world. It comes in six versions (including two with the word "Home" in the title. Windows 7 Professional is a safe bet for most people.

Go for Windows 8 if you need to run an app that requires Windows 8 or just want to have Microsoft's latest. Shopping for the right edition of Windows 8 can be more confusing than buying Windows 7. To make sure you get a version that you can actually install on your Mac, see Choosing a Windows 8 version for your Mac.

Boot Camp 5 supports fewer versions of Windows than do virtualization applications. Boot Camp 5 can run Windows 8.0 (64-bit) (regular and Pro), and Windows 7 Home Premium, Professional, and Ultimate (all 64-bit). As of this writing, Boot Camp 5 did not support Windows 8.1. Parallels Desktop 9 and VMware Fusion 6 do.

5. Turn off Windows eye candy to save battery power

Whether you're booting with Boot Camp or running a virtual machine, you can save some battery power and improve performance by turning off Windows' visual effects. These include:

  • Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing
  • Animations in the taskbar
  • Enable transparent glass
  • Fade or slide menus into view
  • Show shadows under windows
  • Slide open combo boxes
  • Fade out menu items after clicking
  • Fade or Slide ToolTips into view

In Windows 7 and 8, you turn these off in the Advanced tab of the Performance Options dialog. Getting there is similar in both OS's. Type View Advanced System Settings in the Start screen in Windows 8 and 8.1 (or Start menu in Windows 7). Click Adjust for Best Performance to turn off all the effects, or click the Custom box to select individual effects to turn off.

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