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How to use Windows or Ventura for free on your Mac M1 or M2

How to use Windows or Ventura for free on your Mac M1 or M2


For Mac users, UTM offers a free way to use Mac OS and Windows on ARM Mac; even Windows 7 and Mac OS 9 are supported.

Do you want to use Windows programs on the Mac? The so-called Windows virtualization has proven its worth for this, an entire PC operating system runs as a separate application on your Mac, and in seconds you have access to the company’s Access database, an industrial solution or other tool of Windows.

In addition to Parallels, VMware Fusion, and Virtual Box, the free Open UTM has become popular as a virtualizer in recent years.

OpenUTM
enables easy use of Linux, MacOS and Windows systems on Mac. The tool is available on the manufacturer’s website and in the App Store (Open UTM is subject to a fee in the App Store). Actually, this is not a sensation, many Mac users have been using virtual versions of Windows or macOS on their Mac for years.

However, with newer Macs with an ARM CPU, virtualization runs into a problem: With the newer CPU, you can only use ARM operating systems as a virtual system, like the ARM version of Windows or Linux. ARM versions of Windows are not commercially available, you can only use a trial version. This is not a problem for home users and works fine with Parallels, although there are compatibility issues with some applications. Using an unofficial version of Windows is also problematic for corporate users.

Emulation instead of virtualization

The special feature: If you make compromises in terms of performance, you can even use an x86 version of Windows. In addition to virtualization (where the CPU can be directly accessed by the system), UTM also offers what is known as system emulation, where the CPU is also simulated in software. This is the only way to use operating systems that do not have an ARM version. In addition to Windows 7, this also includes Mac OS 9.

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However, when using the “Intel version” of Windows, you have to emulate the entire CPU in software, which is why frugal operating systems like XP and Windows 7 are best suited. But how fast or lame is such a system really?

Aren’t Windows 7 and XP too insecure?

Actually, we have to advise against using Windows 7 and Windows XP. Microsoft no longer releases security updates for these systems, and these older operating systems are targeted by hackers and spammers. However, if you don’t have access to the Internet (more on that later), or if you only use the virtual environment for a special program (eg Eagle), private use can make a lot of sense. However, you use it at your own risk!

Select and download operating system

The interface is clearly designed and it is possible to download and install prepared virtual machines without any problem. Like a catalog, you can choose from various Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems on a UTM website. Installation images for Windows cannot be downloaded directly, but are referenced or linked to.

for Windows 7
and the page lists an installation file that can be found and downloaded via Google.

There is also a download button on the respective page, but here it does not load an operating system, but rather a recommended installation template. On some systems, like MacOS 9, there’s even an “Open in UTM” link that you can use to start the installation right in the app.

How to install Windows 7 as emulation

  • Installation requires an installation file, such as an ISO file or image.

  • Open the UTM app and click on the little plus symbol

  • Now a window will open with the options “Virtualize” and “Emulate”. We want to emulate a system. Click Emulate and then click Windows.

  • Under “Browse”, you should now select your installation image and click “Next”

  • Now you can choose the RAM and number of CPU cores. Click “Next”, you can also skip the next option with “Next”.

  • Now start the VM creation with “Save” and start the installation with “Run”.

The installation is very similar to a normal installation of a system. You must confirm inputs such as “Press any key” with the Mac keyboard and enter the usual information when you first start Windows. One difference: you have to activate the mouse for mouse actions to be able to use them in the virtual environment. To do this, you can use the small mouse icon at the top of the window or the Control+Option key combination.

When the Windows installation is complete, you need to install additional tools, the so-called “spice guest tools”. First load this as a setup file on your Mac. You can select this file and include it in the Windows environment using the little CD symbol in the window bar. Open this file and install the tools. You have to confirm the installation several times.

Now you can use your virtual system. You can reset it with the little arrow icon in the window bar, turn it off with the stop icon, and pause it with the pause icon.

You can choose between emulation and virtualization of a system.

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You can choose between emulation and virtualization of a system.

Easy to use but poor performance

After installing the tools, Windows 7 works reasonably well, albeit with little comfort. Unlike commercial virtualization programs like Parallels, there are no useful options, so changing the resolution is only possible to a limited extent. Data exchange between the Mac and the virtual system is also cumbersome. However, the biggest problem is the poor performance caused by the slow CPU of the software. Windows 7’s own system performance test mainly criticizes the CPU. The test, which gives values ​​between 1.0 and 7.9, gives the CPU an unusually low value of 1.7, which corresponds to a 20-year-old office computer. Above all, graphics performance receives the worst rating of 1.0, while memory and RAM show excellent performance, with 7.3 and 7.9 points.

CPU performance is only moderate in our Mac Mini M1.

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CPU performance is only moderate in our Mac Mini M1.

We were hoping that an older system like Windows 7 would be so resource efficient that it would lend itself well to emulation. In our opinion, however, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of a “real” x86 system.

An old system also has many pitfalls: With an old Windows system like Windows 7, the pre-installed browser can hardly be used due to the lack of certificates. To our surprise, the installation of an alternative browser like Chrome failed because the setup wizard froze the first time the program was launched. Graphics performance is also very mediocre. However, the performance should be sufficient for simpler special tools. Above all, the miserable CPU performance is an annoying problem, and even simple system actions are delayed. We recommend using one of the ARM versions of Windows 11 or Windows 10 if possible. UTM works much better here. For these systems, however, there are more sophisticated virtualization solutions with Fusion and VMware. Parallels, in particular, offers good comfort and decent graphics performance on ARM Macs, along with a better range of features. Installation is similar to an emulation, the website also references download options for ARM versions of Windows 11 and 10.

Conclusion:

Installing an old Mac or Windows system is very easy and user friendly. Unfortunately, the emulation performance is so poor that only simple tools can be used, even surfing the Internet is almost impossible.

We show other options for using Windows on a Mac here.