Apple Boot Camp (beta)

Apple gives the people what they want: Windows on Macs. Geeks proved it could be done through a variety of complicated hacks, and now Apple makes it a breeze with a free download. We take Boot Camp for a test run.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
6 min read

Boot Camp in action

Editor's note: We have updated this preview with more-comprehensive benchmark results. (4/7/06)

Apple released Boot Camp today, a free download that lets you run Windows on an Intel-based Mac. The 83MB download is available as beta software, and Boot Camp will be included in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard later this year. We don't, however, expect to see Windows preinstalled on Macs anytime soon (Apple makes it very clear it will not support Windows). Interest in running Windows on a Mac has been evident ever since Steve Jobs announced the Intel-based iMac this past January, and it reached a crescendo last month with various contests for finding a hack to run Windows on an Intel Mac. Boot Camp, therefore, isn't the first time the world will see Windows running on a Mac, but it certainly makes the process much easier.

We installed Boot Camp on the iMac Core Duo; the software will also work with the Mac Mini and the MacBook Pro. Before we could run the app, we first had to update our iMac to Mac OS X 10.4.6, followed by a quick firmware update. We were then prompted to burn a disc of Windows drivers (for the iMac Core Duo's video and audio adapters, peripherals, wired and wireless networking adapters, and so on), which are included in the Boot Camp download. After ejecting our newly minted driver disc, Boot Camp then asked us how we'd like to partition our iMac's 250GB hard drive. The default was a paltry 5GB for Windows; we upped it to an even 100GB, then inserted a Windows XP Pro with Service Pack 2 disc. Note: You must supply your own copy of Windows; you can use either Home or Pro, but Apple's documentation states that it must include SP2. The Windows installation proceeded per its norm, the iMac restarted, and we were looking at the strange site of the glossy white iMac framing the familiar XP Bliss wallpaper. It's alive!

A quick scan of the Device Manager showed that we were a few drivers short of a full deck. We installed the contents of the driver disc that Boot Camp had us create, which filled in most, but not all, of the gaps. We were still missing a USB driver and a PCI driver, along with some unknowns. From our first pass with Windows on the iMac, however, the system appeared to be fully operational. We were able to connect to our LAN and the Internet, and even play a game of Minesweeper.

What Boot Camp doesn't let you do is run both operating systems at the same time. You must shut down one before booting to the other. Whichever OS you had running last will boot upon the next start-up. To halt that from happening, simply hold down the Alt-Option key while the system powers on, and after a few seconds, you'll be presented with a gray start screen with two images of hard drives: choose the one of the left for Mac OS or the one on the right for Windows.

Boot Camp also installs an icon labeled Startup Disk in the Control Panel in Windows and in the System Preferences window in Mac OS. It opens a window that lists the Mac OS and Windows XP partitions. Choose one to shut down the current OS you have running and boot to the other. Switching between the two operating systems was fast and easy. Also, Windows appeared to be stable; it crashed only once when we were investigating DirectX settings, not an unusual occurrence on any Windows-based PC.

There's more to this than playing Minesweeper on a Mac, of course. Aside from the wow factor, Boot Camp, especially when it becomes a standard feature of the Mac OS, should usher in a new era for the Mac platform. Though you'll need to pony up for a copy of Windows, your Mac will be able to run any software that its PC competitors can run, not too mention all the Apple apps that PCs can't run. With Boot Camp, for example, you can run the iLife apps and the latest 3D game, say, F.E.A.R., on the same system.

As surprising as the Boot Camp development might be, the performance results are decidedly boring. Given the Intel processor and motherboard, the iMac Core Duo's performance when running Windows was right about where we expected compared to other Windows PCs'. On CNET Labs' Photoshop CS test, it trailed dual-core PCs from Dell and HP, but only by a small percentage. We didn't expect it to top either of these systems, given their more powerful Pentium D 900-series desktop processors. Compared to the same iMac Core Duo system running Mac OS X, the system showed a large but not unexpected jump in performance with Photoshop. Where the iMac Core Duo in Mac OS X took 6.5 minutes to complete the test, because it must use the Rosetta translation software, the same system running Windows XP Pro took less than 3 minutes.

Adobe Photoshop CS test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)

We're also not shocked by the iTunes, video-encoding, and Doom 3 tests. As it was written with the Mac OS X in mind, iTunes has historically run slower on Windows PCs. The same holds true for the iMac hardware running Windows: the Windows partition on the iMac took 26 seconds longer to finish our test. Our Sorenson video-encoding test looks much better on the Windows partition than on the OS X side for the same reason the Photoshop results skewed in favor of Windows: Sorenson runs natively in Windows XP and is emulated via Rosetta in OS X.

Apple iTunes MP3-encoding test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)
Sorenson Squeeze 4 video-encoding test (in seconds)
(Lower times are better)

The release of Boot Camp doesn't change our opinion of the iMac as a gaming system. No matter which OS you run, its weak ATI Radeon X1600 graphics chip, which shares memory with the system itself, isn't going to deliver high frame rates. The iMac Core Duo performed better under Windows than under OS X (25.9 frames per second vs. an even less playable 16.2), but we still don't recommend it for serious 3D gaming.

Doom 3 (Custom Demo) (in fps) (Higher scores are better)
Doom 3 1,024x768 4XAA 8XAF

Finally, on our SysMark 2004 test, the iMac Core Duo shows that when running Windows XP, it can hold its own against any other standard Windows desktop on common productivity apps. The Dell XPS 400 wins on the SysMark 2004 Overall test, largely due to its faster Pentium D 940 processor. The iMac running Windows, though, takes out HP's newest Media Center PC, 214 to 200 on the Overall test. In short, anything Dell or HP can do, an Apple iMac Core Duo can do almost as well, if not better.
Application performance
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
SysMark 2004 Overall
SysMark 2004 Internet Content Creation
SysMark 2004 Office Productivity

System configurations:
Apple iMac Core Duo (Mac OS X)
Macintosh OS 10.4.4; 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 PCIe; 250GB Maxtor 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive

Apple Apple iMac Core Duo (Windows XP Pro)
Windows XP Pro SP2; 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo; 1GB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X1600 PCIe; 250GB Maxtor 7,200rpm Serial ATA hard drive

Apple iMac G5 2.10GHz
Macintosh OS 10.4; PowerPC G5 2.10GHz; 512MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 128MB ATI Radeon X600XT PCIe; 250GB Serial ATA hard drive

Dell XPS 400 (Viiv)
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 3.2GHz Intel Pentium D 940; Intel 945P chipset; 1,024MB DDR SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6800 (PCIe); two Maxtor 250GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA; integrated Intel (RAID 1)

HP Pavilion Media Center TV m7360n
Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005; 2.8GHz Intel Pentium D 920; Intel 945G chipset; 2,048MB DDR2 SDRAM 533MHz; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 6200 SE (PCIe); Maxtor 300GB 7,200rpm Serial ATA