Running Windows 8.1 on MacBook Pro 15 with Retina display

No, there is no mistakes here, my new official working machine is now a MacBook Pro 15 with Retina display running Microsoft Windows 8.1. I am very surprised myself with myself, but at this point, I totally understand why Microsoft decided to do what it did with its own line of hardware devices because offerings from companies like Dell, Lenovo, HP with respect to a high performance /demo machine are, quite simply, pathetic right now. The closest laptop from a standard Windows ecosystem perspective was a Dell XPS 15 Touch; however, I could not afford to wait five weeks for it to arrive (supply chain issues perhaps?), so, instead, I stopped by an Apple store and, after five minutes there, walked out with a significantly more powerful alternative from Apple albeit at an almost $1k premium.

Coming from one of the biggest Apple haters out there, this is saying something.

The first thing I did after I unpacked this admittedly very impressive piece of hardware was to attempt to install Windows 8.1 on it.  I have to admit that prior to this purchase I have NEVER ever used Mac before. I had no clue how to do anything. However, I had done about a day worth of research about installing Windows on Mac before making the purchase and I knew that a lot of people ran into many issues trying to install Windows 8.1 on it; regardless, I decided that my better than average technical acumen will help me overcome whatever Apple contrived adversity I may encounter during this noble undertaking.

Generically speaking I was right, although I think that dumb luck had a lot more with the successful outcome of the endeavor than any supposed technical prowess that I might claim to have. Having tried and repeatedly failed at installing Windows 8.1 using Bootcamp utility that comes bundled in with every Mac following the official Bootcamp guide, I was lucky to find a kind of a cryptic post on the Apple care site that eventually shun enough light for me to get the install working.

This is a high level description of the problem and also a description of how to solve it.

  1. For whatever reason (definitely a bug on Apple side with Bootcamp utility), when Bootcamp creates a new partition for Windows install, that partition is created incorrectly and when one tries to boot into the windows install one gets an error message informing him/her that there is an issue with the partition and that installation cannot continue.
  2. The way to solve this problem is the following – right after the Bootcamp wizard is done creating the partition it will attempt to restart the laptop and continue with windows installation (as described in Step 1 above). This process will fail because the partition is not created right, it is essentially corrupted. Therefore, one should hold the “OPTION” key while the laptop is rebooting which will instead of automatically booting into the Windows set-up, will provide a user with a choice of boot options.
  3. At this point, one should boot back in Mac OS, go to Utilities (I believe it’s GO->Utilities from the main menu bar, again I have no clue about anything when it comes to Macs) and then go to the Disk Utility instead of Bootcamp. The Disk Utility will allow you to see the newly created Windows partition that will probably be named BOOTCAMP. Since this partition is corrupted, it’s not enough to Erase it. You have to click on the disk, not individual portion, and then Delete this BOOTCAMP partition which will leave some unallocated space on the disk. After that, go ahead and create a new partition, name it whatever you want it to be named and then make sure to format it as ExFAT. After that, restart the laptop again, hold the OPTION key and make sure that you boot into the USB Windows option. Bootcamp wizard will have created this USB option in the very first steps before requiring the initial restart of the computer.
  4. Once the Windows install gets to the partition screen, select the newly created partition and click on Format button which will format it for NTFS, after that’s done, the installation should proceed without hiccups.

Several things to note for those who are considering this Mac as their Windows machine:

  1. The display is gorgeous, but there are some scaling issues. Things like Internet Explorer work beautifully, but SQL Management Studio does not scale well for the native resolution unless you are going with 100% scale option which renders most text too small to read (the default font scale is 200% and as I said before it mostly works… with exception of the cases when it doesn’t)… some Silverlight modules look funky.
  2. Battery life is nowhere close to the advertised 8 hour limit. I think realistically, if you load your typical BI tools on it, you can expect around maybe 3.5 hours of battery life, provided the screen is dimmed significantly
  3. The keyboard is strange, I know, those who are regular Mac users are probably laughing right now, but a lot of keys that I am used to on my Windows machine are missing. Has not been a big issue for me yet (this entire post is typed on it) but nonetheless, it is definitely something to consider.
  4. The hard drive is crazy fast (mine has 1TB). Loading large CSV files into SQL Server or Power Pivot is now a breeze.
  5. The mouse pad is solid but does not support Windows gestures
  6. Again, I am in no way an expert in Mac OS, but it does totally feel dated compared to Windows 8.1; I genuinely enjoyed several features that I thought were neat, I appreciated the fact that I was able to navigate the OS well enough with no prior experience in it at all, but at the same time, the OS does not feel as crisp as Windows 8.1 at all. I will be first to admit that this is a very subjective personal opinion, but I will take Windows 8.1 over Mac OS any day of the week.

10 thoughts on “Running Windows 8.1 on MacBook Pro 15 with Retina display

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. This is something I was really looking for. I understand, it was written long ago but I hope you will respond to me.

    I am also facing same choice. I am a freelance developer and work on quite a few platforms including: primarily Salesforce. com Apex Development, PHP cloudstacks, Windows desktop and web apps. Primary IDEs I use are: Eclipse, Netbeans, Visual Studio along with SQL Server Management Studio, Microsoft Visio and Office suite.

    My main reason for going for a Macbook Pro (13 Inch or 15 inch quad core) is/would be for:
    1. better/longer lasting machine
    2. some inclination towards iOS development with the ability of using both Windows and Mac OSX.
    3. I have heard non-microsoft platforms tools work well on Mac such as Eclipse and console based tools such as github, dotcloud/heroku deployments.
    4. Mac OSX provides better experience for casual usage with its app store.

    Do let me know if you feel its a good move considering above requirements?

    Also, do share your up-till-now experience with me.


    1. I am not a big fan of Mac OS at all but at the time this was the fastest laptop I could get and Apple store had it in stock so I went with it… The battery life is not great at all in Windows mode though

      1. Good solution if you only need to use Windows occasionally. In my case, I have no intention of ever using Mac OS and I don’t want to incur the performance expense of running my main OS in a VM

  2. “Coming from one of the biggest Apple haters out there, this is saying something.”
    Then in the very next paragraph:
    “I have to admit that prior to this purchase I have NEVER ever used Mac before. I had no clue how to do anything.”
    So what were you basing your hatred on?

  3. I see… so you hate Apple on behalf of pretty much everyone else who has a relationship with the company?
    lol – bizarre.

  4. Can I use a Windows 8.1 digital download to install Windows in the Windows partition created by Bootcamp or do I need the physical copy of Windows 8.1 to install Windows in the Windows partition? Is there any value in using VMWare too if I don’t need to run Mac and Windows apps at the same time?

  5. i had an asus 15 inch gamer laptop with a 256 gb ssd hard drive. the display hinge on one side broke off, cheap plastic material indeed. I have a 2010 apple mac book pro 17 inch with 8 gb RAM with a 512 gb ssd hard drive. I decided to partition the ssd drive and install windows 8.1 on one partition and keep mac os x on another partition. I did find out that you do need to hold the OPTION key down during boot up so that you can choose between the two operating systems. I even did the “free” upgrade to windows 10, but found that there are multiple driver issues in windows 10, so I elected to go back to windows 8.1 which has fewer “bugs” in it. I find myself using the macbook pro in windows mode exclusively and enjoying the absolutely rock solid build of the macbook pro. They just don’t build any laptop like a macbook pro in terms of quality and durability IMO. I did find that going back and downloading the bootcamp file from apple and then manually updating drivers really helped the functionality of windows 8.1.

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