Running Windows on a Mac (Part 2): The good, the bad and the ugly

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The ugly

There are some downright ugly things you need to consider when running Windows on a Mac.

The price!

No, I won't rant about the Apple tax here. Back in February of 2009, I did spend a fortune for the maxed-out 17" MacBook Pro with a 256 GB SSD. I basically paid twice as much for the device when compared to a similarly spec'd Windows laptop, but -- according to hard disk statistics tool HDTune -- it's been running for 17888 hours (that's a total of 745 days of uptime in 2 years and 7 months) and it's been turned on 8900 times. And despite that and many dozens of trips, it feels like a brand-new machine and to me that's worth every penny spent. What you, as a Windows user, need to consider is that you're buying an expensive machine with no Windows or any software preinstalled. So in addition to paying $999 for your MacBook Air 11" you need to add in the cost of Windows 7 Home Premium ($180) and even Office ($210).

The AHCI disaster

This is where it gets really ugly: Mac uses a form of BIOS emulation to install and run Windows, which has the negative side effect that AHCI mode is disabled. As I briefly discussed in part 1, AHCI gives hard disk performance a boost as it enables higher transfer rates, Native Command Queuing and the TRIM command on SSDs. In part 3, I'm going to dive into some pretty hefty instructions on how to get AHCI working under Boot Camp.

No switchable Intel/Nvidia/ATI graphics in Boot Camp

One of the many reasons MacBooks don't get quite the battery life running Windows as running OS X is the missing ability to switch between the more powerful dedicated GPU and the low-powered Intel/Nvidia/ATI graphics. The BIOS mode emulation disabled the integrated graphics altogether, so your GPU is essentially running at full steam -- even if you're sitting on an airplane writing a document. To get the IGP to work would require an exremely risky BIOS mode hack and some reworked drivers, and not even the hacker community has managed to do that.

Bottom line

Let's be clear about this: Running Windows on a Mac is a compromise and it's good to know what you're getting yourself into. But for me, none of these issues are actual show stoppers -- with the exception of the price issue, of course. I've dealt with some of these quirks for years and can honestly say, that the benefits outweigh the downsides 2:1.

If you're ready to take the plunge, there's a lot to look forward to in part 3 of this series, including:

  • Setting up Boot Camp and install Windows 7

  • Get ReFit and install Win7 from a USB thumb drive (MacBook Air users rejoice!)

  • Learn the 5 most important Windows settings on Macs

  • Why it's a bad idea to completely wipe Mac OS X Lion, even if you're living 100% in the Windows world

  • Enable AHCI – a dirty hack

  • Fix quirks such as trackpad issues

  • Redistribute disk space after you've set up Boot Camp

  • ...and more

Stay tuned!

This article, "Running Windows on a Mac (Part 2): The good, the bad and the ugly," was originally published at ITworld. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

Sandro Villinger is a contributor to ITworld. For more by Sandro, see: Running Windows on a Mac (Part 1): Lion vs. Win7 performance shootout
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