How to Dual Boot a Macbook Pro with Windows XP Using Boot Camp

I recently installed Windows XP on a Macbook Pro running Mac OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.6. Here’s my experience, why I did it and what you can expect when doing something like this.

Running Windows on a Macbook Pro

Yes, you can run Windows XP on a Macbook Pro.  You can also run Windows 7 on a Macbook Pro too.  But for this story, I’m using Windows XP.

I’ve got a Macbook Pro that’s freakin’ cool and was purchased in January 2011.  It’s got a 500 GB hard drive, so there’s a plenty of space to run two Operating Systems.

The person who will be using this is NOT an experienced computer person and is the only person who will be using his Macbook Pro.

Virtual Machines

Virtual Machines or VMs as they’re known are great.  VMs allow you to run two operating systems on one machine.  In this case we’ll be running Mac OS X and Windows XP.

More specifically, you can run Windows XP in a window on the Mac OS as it’s running.  So you would fire up your Mac, and start a VM that would run Windows XP at the same time.

This allows you to use both operating systems at the same time.

However, because the person who will be using this setup is a novice computer user, we’re going to setup Windows XP as a dual-boot setup.

The person only needs to use one application that requires Windows XP, so when he’s done using that application, he can reboot the machine into the Mac OS.

For some people, this is simpler.  Some folks have a hard time understanding the VM concept and it becomes a bit more confusing to them.

In review then, a VM allows you to run two operating systems at once, and a dual-boot setup allows you to run one OS at a time.

With that said, here are two products you could buy if you want to setup Windows as a VM under Mac OS X.  As a side note, I have set this up for two people who are more experienced Mac users and they totally understand the VM concept.

VMware for Mac ($79.99) (not an affiliate link) – You can download a free trial.

Parallels for Mac ($79.99) (not an affiliate link) – You can download a free trial.

You can also use the freely available Virtual Box software as well.  I have not used Virtual Box so I won’t talk about it in this article.  But check it out if you don’t want to plunk down $80.00 or so for one of the other two solutions.

I’ve used both VMware and Parallels and they both work great.

Apple’s Boot Camp

Apple’s Boot Camp is a free utility that comes with the Macbook Pro and is located in the Utilities folder.  This is the software that controls dual booting for the Mac.


First, let’s get our stuff in order to pull this off:

  • A Ton of Patience
  • One Western Digital 1 TB External Hard Drive to Backup Mac OS
  • One External Hard Drive to Backup Windows XP
  • Windows XP SP2 CD with valid key
  • Apple Mac OS X Snow Leopard Install Disk
  • Apple’s Boot Camp Installation & Setup Guide (link opens in a new window)

Okay, let’s get dirty.

Steps to Install Windows XP on a Macbook Pro

Here are 10 steps to make it through the process of setting this up.

First Things First: Before doing any of this, I used the Western Digital 1 TB External Hard Drive FIRST to backup my Mac OS.  I used Time Machine to do a complete backup. It works great and restores great too.

1. Run Apple Boot Camp

As I pointed out, Boot Camp is an Apple product and it’s free.  It’s also located in the Mac Utilites folder.  You use it to partition space for Windows XP on the same hard drive as the Mac OS.

For this installation I used 100 GB out of a 500 GB hard drive because I knew the person was only going to be running one application under Windows XP and besides he doesn’t like Windows XP anyway.

2. Follow the Instructions

The downloadable PDF Boot Camp Installation & Setup Guide mentioned above is a great guide for this process.  I had it open all the time on another PC during the whole process.  Read through it before you begin.

3. Format Your Windows Partition

After the 100 GB partition was created, I rebooted into Windows XP SP2 CD.  I had previously tried Windows XP SP3 but ran into a problem during the installation.

Windows XP SP3 could not find the hal.dll driver even though it was there.  I tried to edit a system file to point directly at it but it just wouldn’t work.

I knew if I went back to Windows XP SP2 that later the Microsoft Updates would install SP3.

I formatted my Windows XP drive as an NTFS partition.  One note on this, you won’t be able to transfer files between the Mac OS and Windows XP OS because of NTFS.  If you pick FAT32 you can transfer files between the two operating systems.

4. Finish the Windows XP Install and Enter the Windows Install Key

At this point there are a lot of screens you’ll fill out as Windows XP installs, so I won’t point out any details during installation.  They’ll be dependent on your own installation requirements.

Probably the most frustrating thing is to get almost all the way done with an install and have Windows ask you for the install key – and you don’t have it or you don’t have the right one.

With all my Windows install disks, I’ve always written the install key on the CD with a Sharpie.  That way I don’t go running around everywhere trying to find it.

Reminder: During reboots, hold down the “Option” key to select which operating system you want to boot into.  This is easy to forget while working with Windows.  When you go to reboot into Windows, you might end up in the Mac OS.  So just remember that handy-dandy “Option” key.

5. The Apple Support Software

Once I had Windows XP SP2 installed, I inserted the Mac install CD under Windows and let it run automatically.

The Apple Support Software tools will be installed under Windows XP that allows you to setup networking, the display and other features to help you make Windows work properly in this environment.

Side Note: I ran the Apple Support install three times before it completely installed correctly.  For some reason (I think it was during the audio drivers being installed), it created a blue screen of death two times before it finally installed everything from the Apple Support CD.

6. Run Windows Updates

At this point you’ll have a bunch of Windows Updates.  Let them all install, as well as SP3 and IE 8 if you so desire.  I had around 74 updates one time and had to reboot, and then another 59 updates before they all finished.

If Windows requires multiple reboots as you install the Windows Updates, remember to hold down the “Option” key during reboots so you can select which operating system to boot into.

7. The Boot Camp Windows Driver

The Boot Camp Windows Driver will allow you to set how you want the mouse pad on the Macbook Pro to behave in Windows XP.  It will also let you restart the machine in Mac OS as well using the Taskbar icon it places in Windows XP.  There are a few more setting you can set to your liking.

8. Install Windows Applications

At this point you’ve got a full-working dual boot Macbook Pro that runs both Mac OS X and Windows XP.  Time to start installing the Windows applications you’ll need and any other tools you might need to run in Windows XP.

Reminder: During reboot, hold down the “Option” key to select which operating system you want to boot into.

9. A Word About Windows Security

I also install Microsoft’ Security Essentials on the Windows XP OS.

For Windows, I use the freely available and downloadable PDF called (big breath) – Windows XP Professional Operating system Legacy, Enterprise, and High Security Benchmark Consensus Baseline Security Settings – Whew!!

You can download it from the Center for Internet Security.  You might have to fill out a small form in order to download the PDF.

At this point I’d also do a full backup of Windows XP.  Backups come in handy when a drive fails and has to be replaced.  All you have to do is a restore the Mac OS, create a partition with Boot Camp for Windows XP and restore that too.

10. You’re Good To Go!!

Burn a mental note into your brain on pressing and holding the Mac “Option” key right after you hear the Mac OS bootup sound and see the smoky-white screen.  You’ll be presented with two images of hard drives, one for the Mac OS and one for Windows.

Wa-lla!!  That’s it.  Not so bad for a few bumps and bruises along the way.  You’ve now got a Macbook Pro that boots into Windows XP or the Mac OS X operating system.

Let’s hear from you in the comments about your experience with dual boots or VMs.


Previous post:

Next post: