Boot Camp: Ultimate compatibility

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Editor’s Note: This is the fifth and final installment in our five-part series looking at the best software for running Windows on Intel-based Macs.

While Parallels, Fusion, and CrossOver are good for running Windows apps from within OS X, if you want the complete Windows experience, you need Apple’s Boot Camp.

In free public beta at the time of this writing, and slated for inclusion in Mac OS X 10.5, Boot Camp is unlike the other three programs: it doesn’t let you run Windows apps alongside your OS X apps. Instead, it converts your Mac into a full-blown Windows computer.


When installing Boot Camp, the first thing you do is let the Boot Camp Assistant partition your hard drive into two pieces—one for OS X and another for Windows (see “Partitioning for Windows”). The partition size you specify will depend largely on what you plan to do with Windows; if you’re installing big apps or you’ll be using big data files, you size the partition accordingly. None of your existing data is lost in this process and, if you change your mind later, the Boot Camp Assistant will also merge your split disk back into one, deleting the Windows data while keeping your OS X files intact.

The next step is to burn a CD with Mac drivers. This CD is the key to Boot Camp’s great Windows support: it adds specific drivers for your Mac’s hardware to Windows.

Boot Camp Assistant then asks you to insert your Windows CD (XP Service Pack 2, Home or Pro only), and the installer starts. I expect that Boot Camp will also support Vista by the time Apple releases OS X 10.5.

Once Windows is installed and you reboot, you choose which OS you want to use by holding down the option key. You pick your new Windows partition and then use the Mac drivers CD you burned earlier to install the Windows drivers for all your Mac-specific hardware. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got a real, honest-to-goodness Windows XP computer.

Software support

Pretty much anything that runs on Windows will now run on your Mac. Nothing is being emulated, nothing is being simulated.

The main downside is that you have to reboot your machine to run your Windows software. So if you’re involved in a project in OS X and want to quickly run a Windows application that Parallels or Fusion can’t handle, you’ll have to save your work, shut down your Mac, reboot, do whatever it is you wanted to do in Windows, and then repeat the whole process to get back to OS X. Unfortunately, until Fusion, Parallels, or CrossOver supports your program, Boot Camp is your only option.

The other bummer is that it’s trickier to share files between Windows and OS X in Boot Camp than in the virtualization apps. You’ll need a FAT32-formatted drive, or access to a file server that both Windows and OS X can connect to. The other alternative is to purchase MacDrive for Windows, which will let Windows read from and write to your Mac partition. MacDrive works quite well but will set you back $50.

Hardware support

Thanks to the Windows driver CD, all your Mac-specific hardware—Bluetooth, AirPort, and even the built-in iSight camera—will work perfectly in Windows.

Boot Camp is especially great for gamers, because it fully sup-ports accelerated 3-D graphics. So stop hop-ing that all those Windows-only games will get ported to the Mac and start playing; they’ll work well on any Mac that supports advanced 3-D acceleration (which means pretty much any Mac except for the Mac mini and the MacBook).

Who It’s Good For

If you want to play 3-D games on your Mac, or if you use hardware that’s not yet supported in Parallels or Fusion, then Boot Camp is for you. It’s also your best bet if you need full access to all your Mac’s hardware.

Boot Camp 1.1.2 beta

Pros: Runs Windows natively with full hardware support; 3-D graphics acceleration.
Cons: Requires rebooting; hard to share files between OS X and Windows; supports only two versions of Windows.
Price: free
Company: Apple

[ Senior Editor Rob Griffiths runs the Web site. ]

Partitioning for Windows: When you run the Boot Camp Assistant, the first thing you have to do is split your hard drive into two pieces—one for OS X and one for Windows.
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