Running Windows within a virtual machine (VM) on a Mac has always
required planning. Users must choose the virtual environment (VMware and Parallels are two leading options), the
Windows version, and the applications (including Office productivity tools)
required within the Windows installation. Although virtualization solutions
continue to become more efficient, easier to load, and simpler to operate, users
must still allocate and fine-tune the resources necessary to properly power the
Windows virtual machine.

When my office changed professional services automation
software, I installed Windows 8.1 Professional and Office Professional Plus
2013 within a VMware Fusion 6 VM. My MacBook Pro — a mid 2012 system running OS
X 10.9 (Mavericks), a 2.9 GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, 8 GB RAM, an Intel HD Graphics
4000 video card, and a 750 GB SATA hard drive — is a common business model.
Further, my need to run Windows 8.1, Office, and a single vertical application is
a common business challenge for many Mac users.

Microsoft’s Windows 8.1 64-bit OS system requirements specify a GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, and 20 GB of
disk space. Microsoft’s Office 2013 32-bit requirements specify similar resources, including a 1 GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM, and
3 GB of free disk space. The Windows vertical application, meanwhile, calls for a
Pentium D CPU, 3 GB RAM, and 50 MB of free disk space.

When I initially configured Windows 8.1 within the VMware
Fusion VM, I allocated a single CPU core and 20 GB of disk space to the Windows
installation, knowing that I wouldn’t be storing files or other data within the VM. I
also dedicated 3 GB RAM to the VM, believing that would prove
sufficient for running a clean Windows install with a single application
typically active. I ran the vertical application within the VM for several
weeks that way, and it mostly worked well. Windows booted quickly and the PSA
program functioned properly.

But following the installation of Windows updates and Office
patches, performance began suffering noticeably. A quick check confirmed the
problem; insufficient resources were dedicated to the Windows VM, which had
exhausted all available disk space. Windows 8.1, Office 2013, and my
organization’s 50 MB PSA tool had consumed 20 GB of disk space. Adding an
additional 5 GB of disk space addressed the free space and page file

While making the change, which VMware makes easy (just click
Virtual Machine, select Settings, choose Hard Disk, move the slider to the
right to increase the disk space dedicated to the Windows VM, and click Apply),
I began thinking about the way I used my Mac. I suggest other Mac users do the

When configuring the Windows 8.1 VM, I allocated 3 GB RAM to the Windows
machine, wanting to reserve remaining resources for OS X. Yet, whenever I use
the Windows VM to access my organization’s PSA program, that program becomes my
focus. If I’m actively accessing the Windows application, I don’t need
multiple other OS X programs active, and neither do many other users who load a
Windows VM in order to access a single Windows-based program. In such cases, users
can do as I did and increase the Windows RAM allocation. Again, VMware makes it
easy. Just click Virtual Machine, choose Settings, click Processors and Memory, and move the memory slider to the right. Boosting the Windows 8.1 VM’s RAM
resources to 4 GB resulted in better, more fluid Windows application

Consider dedicating one CPU core, 20 GB disk space, and 4 GB RAM when loading Windows 8.1, Microsoft Office, and a typical
Windows-based business application within the VM. If you’re going to be
storing photographs, videos, databases, and other files within the Windows VM,
then allocate additional disk space. I recommend always ensuring the VM
possesses 5 GB of free disk space to enable storing new files and updates and
providing adequate page file space. Fortunately, as reviewed above, VMware
makes it easy to adjust the disk space allocations after the fact, should the
need arise.

If you run a more demanding Windows application, such as a
three-dimensional drawing tool or a database-intensive program, consider
purchasing a more powerful Mac. Seek a model possessing a discrete video card
(to minimize burdening system RAM for video graphics operations), which can’t easily
be added to an iMac or laptop with only integrated video. Also seek a quad-core
CPU and 16 GB RAM to ensure sufficient resources can be dedicated to the more
demanding Windows environment. An SSD drive is another recommended (but expensive) upgrade, as the faster technology (vs. the SATA counterpart) improves read/write

What recommendation would you make when configuring a VM on a Mac to run Windows applications? Share your experience and advice in the discussion thread below.

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