Tentatively wondering whether it’s worth setting up Windows 10 as an alternate boot option on your Mac? I’ve taken the plunge for you and here’s what I found.
To give you an idea of where I’m coming from and how easy or otherwise this is, I’m an occasional Mac OS X user and a first-time Boot Camp user. And before we get started, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t attempt this without backing up first and understanding that you could cause some serious damage by following in my footsteps.
Good? Let’s begin.
The Installation Process
My test machine for this experiment was a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (bought March 2014) with a 2.6GHz dual-core Intel i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage. To further the Gizmodo cause, it’s already running the latest beta of OS X 10.11 El Capitan.
On the Windows side, I used a 27-inch Dell XPS One, recently upgraded from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10, to create a new copy of Windows 10 for the Mac. I used Microsoft’s official Media Creation Tool to create a bootable USB version of Windows 10 Home (64-bit), which took around 20 minutes from start to finish.
With that done, it was time to launch Boot Camp Assistant on the MacBook Pro. With the lower two options ticked on the opening splash screen and the USB drive connected, I readied myself for the worst and clicked Continue.
Pass me a magnifying glass.
The installation process was largely uneventful (though the setup dialogs were pretty tiny on the Retina screen, as you can kind of see above). I clicked Skip whenever I was asked for a CD-key / product code; I got a free Windows 10 upgrade on my Windows PC, but of course that doesn’t cover Mac installs, even for testing purposes.
One small hiccup was having to format the partition created by Boot Camp as NTFS from inside the Windows setup routine. Be very careful when selecting partitions to pick the right one, otherwise you run the risk of overwriting whichever partition holds Mac OS X.
The Windows 10 Boot Camp Experience
Once I got into Windows proper, the resolution issue righted itself and there were a flurry of driver downloads, Windows seemed to know what was needed without any prompting from me. The OS felt fast and snappy with everything in its right place.
By default Windows 10 switched to a 200 per cent zoom view, so I’m effectively using it at a 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. I was able to knock this back to 100 per cent but everything went tiny (we’ve written about this problem before).
Signing in with my Microsoft account got me my wallpaper and access to my OneDrive, and I can change the backdrop of my Windows machine and see the same change automatically applied on the MacBook Pro within seconds... which is kind of impressive.
Fewer pixels or tiny text?
Cortana works fine and syncs information across both devices without breaking a sweat. Windows 10 doesn’t seem to have any trouble with my Mac’s microphones. Of course, having both computers in the same room means my cries of “hey Cortana!” are answered by two machines simultaneously. (If you’re wondering, native Windows usually answers a split second earlier.)
Trackpad performance, which is a particular bugbear for Boot Campers, isn’t too impressive. Scrolling is jerky and clicks occasionally don’t register. It’s fine, it’s usable, but it feels like you’re using a trackpad or mouse with the wrong drivers installed. Volume and brightness hotkeys work fine, meanwhile.
Overall, it’s a perfectly fine experience – better than I was expecting, despite a few niggles. I haven’t tried anything serious yet though, and it’s too early to judge the battery life impact, but broadly speaking I found it trouble-free. That “Windows 10 is not activated” message is a problem to consider, but not for a short-term experiment like this one.