Your M1 Mac Can Run Windows Faster Than a PC

But don’t get too excited

Key Takeaways

  • Parallels virtualization software now runs on Apple Silicon Macs.
  • M1 Macs run Windows 30% faster than Intel Macs.
  • Windows on ARM isn’t yet officially available for virtualization.
MacBook slightly open with screen on in the dark

Will Porada / Unsplash

Could Parallels run Windows faster on M1 Macs than on PCs? Maybe, but not legally. Yet.

Parallels is software that lets you virtually run other operating systems on your Mac. Instead of booting up a PC, you could just double-click and launch a Windows PC right there on your Mac, and it could do everything a “real” PC could do. Now, Parallels runs on Apple Silicon, so you can use it on your M1 Mac.

“The Apple M1 is capable of running Windows 10 on ARM almost two times faster than Microsoft's own hardware,” Bram Jansen, chief editor at tech site VPN Alert, told Lifewire via email. “The Apple M1 runs Windows 10 even faster than the Surface Pro X, which runs the OS natively and has a Snapdragon 8cx-based CPU. The M1 processor is built on the ARM architecture.”

Virtualization, Not Emulation

Parallels is virtualization software, not emulation software. An emulator recreates a piece of hardware as an app. For instance, a SNES game console emulator is an app that creates a software version of the game console, with all circuits mimicked as code. You can then run an original game ROM on that machine, and the game won’t know the difference. 

Microsoft Word and Excel running in Parallels on an M1 Mac

Parallels

Virtualization is different. It only runs software on hardware that also could run it natively. For instance, the old Intel Macs also could run Windows. You’d just install it like on any other PC. All Parallels does is allow Windows to run inside an app window in macOS, instead of having to reboot into Windows. Virtualization is also faster than emulation for this reason.

And it’s not just Windows. You can virtualize other operating systems, most likely a version of Linux. In fact, right now you cannot legally use Windows on an ARM Mac, because Microsoft doesn’t yet offer a license to do so.

Speed

Officially, Parallels lets you run Windows or Linux on your Mac at “native” speeds. That just means it runs at a speed comparable to if you installed Windows the old-fashioned way. But how about real-world use?

Apple’s M1 Macs are far ahead of Intel’s x86 chips in terms of both performance and power use. So how fast does Windows run on an M1 Mac? The answer is, pretty fast.

"The Apple M1 is capable of running Windows 10 on ARM almost two times faster than Microsoft's own hardware."

Parallels’ official numbers are impressive. They say M1 Macs use 250% less energy than a 2020 Intel MacBook Air, and get up to 60% better DirectX 11 performance than an Intel MacBook Pro. And running Windows on an M1 Mac? Thirty-percent faster than running it on a Core i9 Intel MacBook Pro.

In other words, it’s fast. More than fast enough to get your work done. But there are some hitches.

ARMed and Ready

To install Windows in Parallels, you have to first track down a version of Windows built for ARM, so it actually can run on your ARM-based Mac. Technically, you’re not allowed to install it, because Windows 10 on ARM is only available pre-installed on computers. However, you can sign up for Microsoft’s Windows Insider program and download a copy from there.

Even then, you may be unable to run the Windows apps you want.

With Parallels, you’re running an instance of Windows for ARM natively on your Mac, and this requires all the Windows apps inside this virtual machine to be compiled to run on ARM. The problem is not many of them are available. Whereas Mac developers largely have embraced the switch to Apple Silicon, and tweaked their apps accordingly, Windows isn’t so lucky.

To mitigate this, Microsoft has put an emulator inside Windows 10 on ARM to emulate x86 PCs. Just to keep count, you could run an Intel Windows app, emulated inside a virtual copy of Windows for ARM, on your ARM-based M1 Mac. Got it?

This is far from ideal, as emulated software runs slower, but given the speed gains of the M1 Macs, it may all work out. The takeaway is it’ll be quite practical to run a Parallels setup on your Mac, if you really need to run that legacy app. If not? Don’t bother. At least not until Microsoft gets its ARM game together.

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