What You Need to Know About Running Autodesk Products on a Mac

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The popularity of Apple’s Mac computers has undoubtably increased in recent years, and that increase in popularity has brought with it several questions about running Autodesk’s Windows-based applications on a Mac. While it’s absolutely possible to run many of Autodesk’s Windows-based applications on a Mac, there are several decisions you ne​ed to make before you do.

What Autodesk products are supported?

The most up-to-date list of supported products can be found on Autodesk’s Mac Compatible Products page, however the product list as of August 2013 includes:

  • AutoCAD & AutoCAD LT
  • Autodesk Inventor * Autodesk Inventor LT
  • Autodesk 3ds Max & Autodesk 3ds Max Design
  • Autodesk Revit (Design Suite, Architecture, MEP, & Structure)
  • Autodesk Building Design Suite

How can Windows applications run on a Mac?

Since the Mac OS X operating system cannot run Windows applications (.exe files), you must find a way to run Windows on your Mac to subsequently run your Windows-based applications. There are two basic ways of accomplishing this; you can boot directly into Windows using Boot Camp, or you can run Windows as a Mac OS X application in a virtualized environment using either Parallels Desktop®or VMware Fusion®.

What is the difference between Boot Camp and virtualization with Parallels Desktop® or VMware Fusion®?

The core difference between BootCamp and virtualization is rebooting. Boot Camp is the absolute easiest way to run Windows on your Mac, but requires you to reboot (choosing Windows instead of Mac OS X) to run any of your Windows-based applications.

By contrast, virtualization tools such as Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion avoid the need to reboot altogether by running Windows as a Mac OS X application. Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion are run as applications in much the same way you might choose to run Microsoft Word or iMovie on your Mac.

What are the pro’s and con’s of Boot Camp?

Boot Camp is a utility included with Mac OS X that allows you to run Microsoft Windows on an Intel-based Mac.

Boot Camp Pro’s:

  • Pre-Installed: Boot Camp is already installed on your Mac (post-2006), so you already have what you need to run Windows
  • System Performance: When running Windows with Boot Camp, you’re taking full advantage of your hardware (RAM, graphics card, etc).
  • Mac File Access: Although you cannot run Mac applications in Windows, Boot Camp does provide read-only access to files stored on your Mac OS X partition.

Boot Camp Con’s:

  • Windows XP and 32-bit Support: Boot Camp 5 (the current version) only provides support for 64-bit versions of Windows 7 & Windows 8.
  • Hard Drive Partition: Boot Camp requires you to divide your hard drive into two partitions; one for the Mac OS X operating system, and another for the Windows operating system.
  • Access to Mac Applications: Since OS X is not “on” when running Windows in Boot Camp, you cannot run your Mac applications from Windows.

What are the pro’s and con’s of virtualization with Parallels Desktop® or VMware Fusion®?

Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion are applications that let you run Microsoft Windows as an application within Mac OS X. This process is known as “virtualization,” and allows you to run Mac and Windows applications concurrently.

Virtualization Pro’s:

  • Access to Mac Applications: Since Windows is run as an application similar to the way you might run Microsoft Word or iMovie, virtualization allows you to run Mac and Windows applications at the same time.
  • Hard Drive Partition: Although virtualization tools can run Windows from another partition, it’s not required. Your virtual machine can exist on the same disk (partition) as Mac OS X.
  • Windows XP and 32-bit Support: In addition to the 64-bit versions of Windows 7 and Windows 8 supported by Boot Camp 5, virtualization tools also provide support for 32-bit versions of Windows and Windows XP.

Virtualization Con’s:

  • System Performance: Since virtualizing Windows means you’re running two operating systems at once, it also means you’re dividing your hardware in two when running Windows. Since both operating systems have to run, your Mac with a 1GB graphics card and 8GB of RAM is like having two machines with a 512MB graphics card and 4GB of RAM.
  • Price: As of August 2013 a new license of Parallels Desktop costs $79.99 and a new license of VMware Fusion costs $49.99.

Which method (Boot Camp or Virtualization) is best for getting “real work done”?

The bottom line is that virtualization tools like Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion provide the greatest versatility, whereas Boot Camp provides the best system performance. Although the versatility of being able to run your Mac applications at the same time you run Windows-based applications like Autodesk Revit is incredible, our experience has found this is not always the most practical solution.

Our experience testing Windows-based Autodesk applications on a Mac has found virtualization is only plausible when working with basic designs. For most production designs, we’ve found Boot Camp is the best choice for running Autodesk applications on a Mac.

Note: A Windows license is not bundled with Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, or VMware Fusion. A valid license must be obtained separately to run Windows on your Mac with any of these tools.

BONUS: CAN I HAVE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?

For the best of both worlds, it’s worth mentioning Parallels Desktop can read a Boot Camp partition. This configuration allows you to boot into Boot Camp when performance is paramount, and run Windows in with Parallels Desktop (virtualized) when versatility is paramount.

Parallels Desktop Knowledgebase: Can I run my Boot Camp partition with Parallels?

Note: Although this method will let you run Windows in both Boot Camp and Parallels Desktop, you may need to activate some products twice; once in Boot Camp, and another in parallels Desktop.

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5 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Running Autodesk Products on a Mac”

  1. Hi,
    Thank you for an informative article.
    I’m running Autocad 2016 on Win 10 via Vmwear Fusion 8.5.6 on a late 2016 MBP 16gig Ram, 2.9i7. What split of cores and RAM would you suggest for the virtual machine?
    Thank you.

    Regards

    John

    1. It really depends on the type of drawings you’re working with, but as a general rule I like to run Autodesk applications with at least 8 GB of RAM. Much of AutoCAD is single core, so additional cores will largely assist with running other applications (including the Windows OS itself) more so than AutoCAD itself.

    1. Hi John. The PLOTSTAMP command inside AutoCAD for Mac will let you configure all the various options for the Plot Stamp. If you would prefer not to have a Plot Stamp, uncheck the Include Plot Stamp checkbox within the Output Options of the publish dialog.

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