What is the best Windows emulator for Mac?

No matter how much you love your Mac, there are times when we have to run Windows. And to do that, you have a couple of choices. You can keep a Windows PC handy or you can run Windows on your Mac using a tool, like BootCamp.

Some people need Windows for gaming, some for the specialized apps exclusively designed for Windows PC. Thankfully, there are tools that can help you run Windows on Mac and I'm about to cover the best of them in this article.  

What is a Windows emulator?

The term emulation goes back to the days before the Mac started using Intel processors. In those days, because of the Mac PowerPC hardware, running Windows was much more complicated than it is today. The software had to emulate the Intel hardware in order to install the software.

Now that the Mac is based on Intel hardware (at least until the whole range moves to Apple Silicon), it’s much less of a challenge to run Windows. Software that allows you to install Windows is now more accurately referred to as virtualization software rather than emulation. But that’s a technical distinction we don’t need to worry about too much.


Windows virtualization tools or emulators will create a special partition on your drive. They need enough room for themselves, as well as space for the Windows installation and the Windows applications you want to use. Before you go down that road, free up some space. I personally like using CleanMyMac X by MacPaw. It’s a good junk cleaner that really focuses on storage.  

1. Download the free edition and install CleanMyMac X if you don’t have it. 

2. From the menu on the left, choose Smart Scan. 

3. Press Scan. 

4. When it’s finished, press Run to remove the files it has found and perform the task it has identified to speed up your Mac. Alternatively, press Review Details to examine what CleanMyMac X has found and choose what to remove.

Best Mac Windows emulators

Boot Camp

If you need a solution that doesn’t cost anything other than the license for Windows, this is it. Every Intel Mac ships with Boot Camp which allows you to partition your startup disk and install Windows.

Boot Camp’s main advantage, other than cost, is speed. In Boot Camp, you don’t run Windows on top of macOS, so it uses less RAM and fewer processor cycles than other solutions. However, you need to reboot your Mac every time you want to switch between Mac and Windows.

Advantage: It’s pre-installed on your Mac.

Parallels Desktop

This is the other popular way to run Windows on a Mac. And like the other tools here, you can install not just Windows, but almost any OS you like. Its main benefit is super easy setup and fast sharing of files and hardware resources like a printer between Mac and Windows.

Parallels updates every year so it runs smoothly on the latest macOS versions (even with Apple constant changes to support Apple Silicon-based Macs). It’s also available in several different editions which support a different number of users.

Advantage: Works fast, no need to reboot.

VMWare Fusion

VMWare Fusion doesn’t get updated as often as Parallels Desktop but it shares many of its features. You can run it full-screen so your Mac looks and feels like a Windows PC. Or you can run it in a window so that the whole Windows interface runs like a Mac app. And the third option you have is to run individual Windows apps alongside Mac apps while keeping Windows itself hidden.

The latest version of Fusion supports Dark Mode and Sidecar, as well as the MacBook Pro Touch Bar.

Advantage: You can run not just Windows, but also other operating systems.

Virtual Box

Virtual Box is an open-source tool. That means it's free to use for individuals but also, that it’s much less polished than Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion. What's more, it doesn't offer the kind of support or help during setup that you get with those apps.

If you’re comfortable with the manual setup and don’t need assistance then Virtual Box could be a good choice for you.

Advantage: It’s free.


The first thing to say about Wine is that if you’re running a new macOS version, forget about it. Wine is a bit ancient. The official version of Wine won’t run on Catalina and newer as it’s not a 64-bit app. There are unofficial ‘forks’ of Wine that allow you to run 64-bit Windows apps on later macOS versions, but nothing official.

The second thing to mention is that Wine is an acronym for "Wine is not an emulator". So why include it here? Because it does the same thing as an emulator: allows you to run Windows apps on your Mac. However, it doesn’t run Windows itself, so you don’t need a Windows license to use or install Windows on it. Like Virtual Box, Wine is free to download but you’ll need to do your own research to get the help and support you need.

Advantage: Doesn't require a Windows license and works as a Windows app.

Crossover for Mac

CrossOver is a version of Wine made by CodeWeavers. It’s not free, but it has been tested to ensure compatibility with a wide range of Windows apps. 

Advantage: Supports some popular apps and games.


Running Windows apps eats up a lot of memory. So when your Mac slows down (which it will eventually), I suggest trying my personal favorite CleanMyMac X to speed it up. 

There are lots of different options to run Windows applications on your Mac, from Boot Camp, which almost turns your Mac into a PC, to Wine which doesn’t even need a copy of Windows. The best solution for you depends on how much money you are ready to spend and how confident you are in setting up/using emulation or virtualization software. Whatever tool you choose, remember to clean up your Mac first to make plenty of room for Windows or applications you want to use.

Laptop with CleanMyMac
CleanMyMac X

Your Mac. As good as new.