Your shiny and speedy new Apple Silicon Mac is missing something – the ability to run virtual machines. While you might be spending most of your time in macOS 11 Big Sur, your job might require you to use Windows-only apps, Perhaps you need a Linux VM for development work. UTM (which I believe stands for Universal Turing Machine) is an open source virtual machine environment.
UPDATE (July 9, 2021): Parallels Desktop now runs on Apple Silicon, a solution that was not available in March of 2021 when this article was first published. VMWare has pledged an Apple Silicon version of Fusion, but it won’t support Windows virtual machines! There’s still no word on whether the free VirtualBox VM environment will ever be updated to run on Apple Silicon.
That’s why I was happy to see that there is a VM environment that works on M1 Macs – UTM. It’s free to download or $9.99 on the Mac App Store. UTM also works on “the other Apple Silicon”, with versions of both iOS and iPadOS. If you’ve ever had a burning desire to run Windows on an iPhone or iPad, UTM does the job. However, your devices must be running iOS 11 – 13; iOS 14 requires a jailbreak. Let’s see an example of how UTM works on M1 Macs.
It’s quite simple to download UTM for Mac. To download the app you go directly to the app download page and either click the Download button or click the Mac App Store button to pay $9.99 for the app.
Why would you want to pay $9.99 when the app is free? Because you’ll get automatic updates just like any other Mac app downloaded from the Mac App Store. Your purchase also funds the future development of UTM. I would suggest downloading and using UTM for Mac for free; if you end up using it regularly for work or pleasure, purchase it.
If you purchased UTM from the Mac App Store, installation is done for you. If you download the app directly, a disk image file named UTM.dmg appears in your download folder. Open it to mount the disk image. Press the Command Key, then drag the UTM application icon from the disk image to the Applications folder.
That was easy, wasn’t it? Now launch UTM, and a screen similar to this appears:
You’ll notice that this startup screen has four buttons: Create a New Virtual Machine, Browse UTM Gallery, User Guide and Support. Clicking the User Guide button launches a web page in your default browser displaying a succinct user guide.
Probably the most useful button for new UTM users is Browse UTM Gallery. Click this to display a web page with links to download pages for a number of virtual machines (screenshot above). At this time, ARM native VMs are available for:
- Debian 10.4 (Custom i3, LDXE, Minimal or Xfce)
- ReactOS 0.4.14
- Ubuntu 20.04
- Windows 10 (requires free membership in the Windows Insider Program)
Creating a Windows 10 Virtual Machine with UTM
As an example, I’ll be creating a Windows 10 virtual machine. Click Windows 10 in the Gallery to display a web page showing requirements. Those consist of an Apple Silicon Mac, UTM for Mac, Windows for ARM, and SPICE Guest Tools. Links to the software components appear in the Gallery. Download each file to your Mac prior to starting the installation.
The Windows link downloads a VHDX (Hyper-V Virtual Hard Disk) with the installer. SPICE Guest Tools are a collection of utilities and drivers to aid running Windows on Apple Silicon.
UPDATE: In a previous version of this article, UTM booted from the VHDX file to install Windows. There’s a new critical step — that file must be converted to QCOW2 format. Here’s what the UTM team had to say about the conversion (from https://mac.getutm.app/gallery/windows-10-arm):
Due to an issue with QEMU handling of VHDX images, sometimes Windows will be corrupted from normal usage. This would result in BSOD or random application crashes/errors. To work around this issue, it is recommended that you convert the VHDX image to a QCOW2 image. Currently, UTM does not provide this functionality in the UI so you have to do it directly from QEMU.
- Install Homebrew if you do not have it already.
brew install qemu
qemu-img convert -p -O qcow2 /path/to/Windows10_InsiderPreview_Client_ARM64_en-us_21286.VHDX /path/to/output/Windows10_InsiderPreview_Client_ARM64_en-us_21286.qcow2replacing the paths with your own.
- Use the QCOW2 image with UTM. It is recommended you do this with a fresh VHDX from Microsoft in case your image was already corrupted.
Now comes the fun part! With UTM open on your M1 Mac, click the Create a New Virtual Machine button. I gave the VM the name “Windows 10”, added a note that this is “Windows 10 on Apple Silicon”, and added an optional operating system icon (see image below).
Next, click the System tab. Here, select ARM64 (aarch64) as the architecture, and select at least half of your system’s memory for the virtual machine. For an M1 Mac, that can be as much as 8GB (8192MB).
UPDATE: Note that you should use QEMU 6.0 ARM Virtual Machine (alias of virt-6.0) (virtual) rather than the 5.2 version shown below.
Connecting the Windows Drive
UPDATE: Now click the Drives tab. Click the Import Drive button, then navigate to the Windows 10 QCOW2 file you downloaded earlier. Open it, then select NVMe as the Interface to the drive (important – many people neglect this important step, resulting in boot errors!)
We need to add one more drive – a virtual CD/DVD drive to read ISO image files. Click New Drive, then add a removable drive with a USB interface (image below):
Click “Create”. The Windows Disk Image and the virtual USB CD/DVD Drive appear on the Drives tab. Click Save.
Add the SPICE Guest Tools ISO as a CD/DVD
You now see the Windows 10 virtual machine in the left sidebar of UTM. Click it, and on the right side of the screen, you’ll see the information. CD/DVD appears as “empty” – click on it and select Browse. Now find the SPICE Guest Tools ISO file that was downloaded earlier, select it, and Open it to make it available to the virtual machine (image below).
Ready to rock and roll? Click that big button in the middle of the virtual machine window (the “play” triangle in the black circle).
Sit back and watch as the Windows installer goes through its processes. You’ll be asked to select your region – in my case, the United States was selected, so I clicked Yes to continue. Note that you might not actually see the cursor on the Windows installer – if that’s the case, click the cursor button in the toolbar to make the cursor visible. You can also hold down the control and option keys to make the cursor visible in Windows.
Next, Windows wants to know if your keyboard layout is correct. Mine was listed as US, so I clicked Yes. You’ll be asked if you wish to add a second keyboard layout. I chose to skip this step.
Windows also wants you to connect to the Internet…yet there is no way at this point to actually select a Wi-Fi network. Click the “I don’t have Internet” link and continue the installation. Within a minute or so, the usual Windows 10 desktop appears:
Run the SPICE Guest Tools installer application
To load drivers and actually be able to do some useful things with the Windows 10 virtual machine, click on the File Explorer button (the file folder icon in the bottom toolbar – see below). Click the CD Drive (D:), and then double click on the spice-guest-tools-0.164 (version number might be different) application. Allow the application to write to your “Windows machine” and let it complete the installation of drivers.
This installs drivers you need for an Internet connection…although Windows may still tell you there’s no connection.
Sharing Files with your Mac
I’m not going to show you how to do everything with Windows, as where’s the fun in that? 😀 But there is one good thing to know, and that’s how to share files with your Mac (the “host” machine).
Shut down your Windows virtual machine, then with UTM running and the Windows VM selected, click on the Sharing tab. Click Enable Directory Sharing, then click Save.
You’ll see Shared Directory listed now under the idle virtual machine. Click it to browse for a Mac directory (folder) you wish to share with the Windows VM. At this point, you can launch the virtual machine again.
How Well Does UTM Work?
There are some little quirks you’ll run into using UTM and Windows. For example, it seemed like the cursor liked to disappear. That was usually resolved by using the control-option key combo to make it visible. I also noticed that after shutting down the Windows VM using the Windows “Shut Down” command, I’d lose the cursor completely. The only way I found to resolve that was to use Command ( ⌘ )-Option-Esc and Force Quit UTM.
Compared to most Windows virtual machines I’ve used, UTM and the ARM64 version of Windows seemed lightning fast. The UTM developers do mention that the app doesn’t do GPU emulation, so it’s probably not wise to try to play graphics-intensive games.
UPDATE: Fast scrolling of any window in the virtual machine also produces a somewhat pixellated image. This is normal.
Ubuntu Server for ARM
As a second experiment, I installed Ubuntu Server for ARM from the UTM Gallery. If you have followed the Ubuntu Server on Mac mini series, you’ll know that it was a rather convoluted and time-consuming process to get it running. Not so with UTM and the instructions on how to install Ubuntu Server for ARM.
I installed the server quickly following the directions, then install Ubuntu Desktop as well to give the virtual machine a friendly non-command-line interface. In less than 15 minutes, everything was up and running:
To be honest, the Ubuntu virtual machine installation went much smoother than the Windows installation, primarily because Ubuntu Linux “knew” immediately how to resize the VM screen to fit the MacBook Air at its highest resolution. The Mac mini server was no slouch in terms of speed, but the virtual machine on Apple Silicon is insanely fast.
Anyone with an Apple Silicon machine – the M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, or Mac mini who has a need to run another operating system needs to take a look at UTM (especially since Virtualbox is not yet an option). It’s not perfect and can be a little finicky during setup, but with a little patience, you can be running Windows 10, Linux, or other operating systems at full speed.
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