Let’s face it: Even the most diehard Mac fan needs a little dose of Microsoft sometimes. Whether you want to run some obscure engineering software, experiment with the dark side, or just want to fire up Modern Warfare 3 on your Mac, the ability to dip your toe in the Windows software pool is a major advantage. And these days, getting that means installing Windows 7.
Step 1: Buy a copy of Windows 7.
Check out our guide to different Windows 7 versions before dropping too much money on the rather unnecessary “Ultimate” package, and don’t forget you can grab a student copy at a significant discount with a .edu e-mail address.
Step 2: Upgrade to the latest version of Boot Camp.
Since older versions of Boot Camp didn’t explicitly support Windows 7, intrepid Mac owners who decided to install it beside Snow Leopard suffered from slow startup times, Magic Mouse malfunctions, and other glitches. Not anymore. The most recent version of Bootcamp includes full support for Windows 7, which should save you from all these headaches. Simply go to the Apple menu on your Mac and select Software Update, which will grab the latest version for you.
Step 3: Create a new partition for Windows 7.
Since Max OS X and Windows 7 can’t live happily together, you’ll need to create a new partition on your hard drive (or a separate partition on a separate hard drive) to install it. Think of it like putting up a new wall to split one bedroom into two so that a pretentious hipster and a stiff corporate dud can both live in peace.
Open Boot Camp Assistant by looking in the Utilities folder under Applications. The intuitive software will walk you through the process, just make sure to create an NTFS partition, since you won’t be able to install Windows 7 on any other type, and make it a minimum of 16GB. Keep in mind that you’ll want to install all your Windows software on the same partition, so plan accordingly.
Step 4: Install Windows 7.
With Boot Camp Assistant still open, choose the option to “Start the Windows installer.” You’ll need to pop that fresh, legally purchased copy of Windows 7 in the drive and click Continue to start installing. From here on out, the installation looks a lot like any other Windows 7 installation. In other words, follow the instructions. When it asks whether you want to do a standard or custom installation, be sure to choose “custom” and select the partition labeled BOOTCAMP. You’ll also want to click “Drive options (advanced)” after highlighting it and choose “Format” to ensure you install on a nice, squeaky clean partition.
Grab a cup of coffee while your Mac lays down all the Windows 7 files. (Hint: Don’t go with a Venti, the Windows 7 installer blazes compared to past versions.)
Step 5: Configure Windows for your Mac.
You now have Windows 7 installed, but it doesn’t know how to interface correctly with all your Mac’s strange in exotic hardware until you install the right drivers. Fortunately, Apple has made this pretty easy: They’re all located on your OS X install disc. With Windows running, eject the Windows 7 disc, pop the OS X disc in, and let it load (double click on the CD-ROM drive if it doesn’t start automatically). It will do almost all the work automatically, but you may have to click a few foreboding boxes warning you that the drivers haven’t passed Windows Logo testing. Don’t sweat it, just keep tapping those Continue boxes.
Step 6: Start Windows 7 at will!
Congratulations, you now have a fully functionally copy of Windows 7 running on your Mac! Keep in mind that it will still boot into OS X automatically unless you hold down the option button at startup, which will produce a menu allowing you to choose which operating system to use.
For further questions, or if you run into any problems along the way, be sure to consult Apple’s Boot Camp installation guide, which has more comprehensive instructions and should be able to get you out of a bind.
In the spirit of being thorough, we feel obligated to inform you that Boot Camp isn’t the only option available if you’re looking for a way to run Windows software on a Mac. There are also two other options:
If you’d rather not reboot every time you want to use a windows program, check out Parallels or VirtualBox. Both are virtualization software that will allow you to quickly switch between Windows and Mac operating systems. Beware though, as this takes quite a bit of processing power. For most newer macs with advanced processors, this shouldn’t be much of an issue.
The other option is to take the Windows program you’d like to use and transform it into a Mac application. This can be done using WineBottler, CrossOver and a number of other programs. This option would work best if you’re only planning on running a couple Windows-based applications on your Mac.
This guide to installing Windows 7 on a Mac has been updated to reflect software updates, new features and more.