I already showed you how to get Windows running on your M1 Mac, but is it any good for work and everyday tasks? I’m also using Surface Pro X for almost a year now, so I will be comparing Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini with Windows on Surface Pro X.
As I already mentioned in the article where we went through Windows installation on M1 Mac , I use beta version of Windows on ARM. I’m using Windows in Insiders Program – only way I’m aware of, which you can get Windows ARM version for your M1 Mac in this moment.
In order to get x64 app support on Windows for ARM I’m using Dev Channel, which is a bit more unstable than regular Beta Channel in Insiders Program.
Parallels for M1 Mac is also in Technical Preview. Why am I writing all this? Because I experienced crashes both with Windows on M1 Mac and also with Parallels. Nothing too scary, but still, something to be aware of, especially if you have important work and data.
Since I use Surface Pro X for email, light office work, video, reading, remote work on my servers and remote play on Steam – I did the same setup on the Windows VM inside M1 Mac to get a better feeling of performance and stability.
Performance and “feeling” of Windows VM on M1
I already mentioned specs of the M1 Mac Mini I got in my previous article. I got 16GB version with 512GB of storage. For the Windows VM I allocated 8 CPU Cores, 8GB of RAM.
I installed standard set of apps I use, and they all work. Apps that are x86 work fine, with x64 ones I had mixed results, some would not even start. Windows on ARM is still in early preview with x64 apps, so that is to be expected. Good example for this behaviour is Firefox. I was able to install Firefox in x64, it started, then after a reboot or two, it wouldn’t work anymore. At the same time, Firefox in x86 version works perfectly.
Notepad++ and Libre Office at the other hand, work perfectly in x64 versions.
I already mentioned random crashes and unresponsiveness of Windows and also sometimes Parallels software. It happens from time to time, and that is something you need to count with.
Besides random crashes, sometimes while you start an app or want to do something (save, reboot…) Windows just become slow or unresponsive for some period of time.
When it works, it works (most of the time) well and is surprisingly quick and responsive.
In the video below you can see that from the boot until applications ready to work takes only 31 seconds. I started usual apps I start first after boot – Firefox and Libre Office Writer…
All the apps I use in my daily work are able to start in this setup. If you use some specific, especially enterprise apps, you should test out yourself if everything works.
I’m also using my Surface Pro X for streaming video games from Steam while at home. I wanted to test not only streaming inside my Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini, but also gameplay in the VM itself. And wow, was I in for a surprise.
I tired to start two of my favourite games – Stardew Valley and Frostpunk. Stardew Valley runs on almost anything, so I didn’t expect problems there – it works great.
Second game which I tried was Frostpunk. Frostpunk is a game that developers promised they would also port to MacOS, but in the end, we never saw it coming to the Mac. It is also pretty demanding game, but I wanted to try it in my Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini. It works, and it works very nice in FullHD resolution with Medium details.
More than I expected to get from the Windows VM inside M1 Mac Mini.
How does the Windows VM inside M1 Mac Mini stack up against Surface Pro X?
First, the specs of the Surface Pro X I’m using – it is a first model (not the refreshed one) with 8core SQ1 CPU, 16GB or RAM and 256GB of internal storage.It is currently running Windows 10 v 20H2.
At the same time, Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini has also 8 cores, 8GB or RAM and 256GB of storage assigned. It runs Windows 10 v 2004 Build 21277 on Dev Channel in Insider Program.
I’m comparing M1 Mac Mini with Surface Pro X, which are different form factors, M1 Mac Mini has better cooling and thermals than Surface Pro X, that is for sure.
All in all, this isn’t “Apples to Apples” comparison since we are comparing OS installed on hardware vs virtual machine. Hardware specs are not identical (Windows on SP X have double amount of RAM) and Windows versions are slightly different.
Have that in mind.
Now that we cleared technical stuff I can only say that my “feeling” is that Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini is equally fast, or faster than Surface Pro X.
I was patching and updating both Windows in VM on M1 Mac and Windows on Surface Pro X. Windows on M1 finished every update faster (I’m not counting patches and upgrades download phase).
In the upper section of this article there is a video which shows how fast Windows boots on M1 Mac and how long does it take to start Firefox and Libre Office Writer after boot – cca 31 second.
Surface Pro X completed same task in 45 seconds.
Usual work feels the same on both machines most of the time – maybe Windows on M1 Mac feels somehow faster at the moments.
Surface Pro X is much more stable, without any stability problems – since I’m not using Insiders Build on it.
That also means that only x86 apps are working on my Surface Pro X, there is still no support for x64 is official Windows on ARM build.
In the end, how does Surface Pro X compares to Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini in synthetic benchmarks.
Surface Pro X Geekbench 5
Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini
Yes, if you look at the Geekbench CPU benchmark – M1 is much faster, although running as virtual machine, and not directly on hardware.
Geekbench 5 results
Surface Pro X 756 3031
Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini 1476 5511
And as always, simple graphics test.
Surface Pro X
Windows VM on M1 Mac Mini
Unigine Heaven Benchamrk 4.0
Surface Pro X 454
Win VM on M1 Mac Mini 979
Even in GPU performance, although in VM, Windows on M1 Mac Mini is faster. I already showed you that Frostpunk is running nice inside Windows VM on M1 Mac, that game will not run at all on Surface Pro X.
Could you use Windows on M1 Mac as a daily driver for your work?
If you use Windows because, for example, your bank has only support for internet banking on Windows – in that use case – yes.
In all simple scenarios where you do simple tasks, this Windows installation inside VM will be more than useful, and if it is crashing, no big deal, just repeat the task.
If you have extensive work that needs to be done, be careful, crashes can cost you your work, or your data may get corrupted if random crash of the Windows VM happens.
If you have serious projects that can cost you time and money, I would still recommend using Intel based Macs and virtualization on them. If only simple tasks (like internet banking) are depending on Windows in your daily routine, I think you can get by with Windows on ARM setup.
Although not completely stable, I’m impressed with performance of Windows on M1 Mac Mini. I’m even more impressed when I compare it to the Surface Pro X. I think future is bright for this project if Microsoft doesn’t give up on Windows on ARM.
If you have very important projects to do and your existence depends on your Mac, I would still advise to use Intel based Mac until this gets more robust and stable.
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