5 Ways to Play Old Windows and DOS Games on Your Mac

So you want to play classic Windows and DOS games on your Mac, but you’re unsure where to begin. Fortunately, there are quite a few options open to you if you’re craving classics like Thief, Age of Empires 2, and Unreal Tournament but have made the switch to Apple hardware.

We’ll look at all of your available options below, and how to choose between them.

But First: Get The Games Themselves

Before you can play old games on your Mac, you need to get them on there first. There’s a good chance you’ve moved on from optical media, particularly if you’re using a modern MacBook without a CD/DVD drive. But old CDs and DVDs of games can still help you out here.

Apple sells an external optical USB SuperDrive that will allow you to use your original CDs and DVDs to play games. For quickness, you might want to just use disk images though, which contain all the data found on a CD or DVD as a file stored on your computer.

If you do have a SuperDrive, or you’re using a Mac that is blessed (cursed?) with an optical drive, here’s how to extract a disk image and convert it to an ISO disk image file:

  1. Insert your CD or DVD into your optical drive, and launch Disk Utility .
  2. Head to File > New Image > Image From “Device” and choose your optical drive.
  3. Name your file and select where you want to save it. Make sure you select “DVD/CD master” in the Format dropdown, and ensure Encryption is set to none . Click Save , disabled , and begin the process.
  4. You’ll be left with a CDR file that will mount on your Mac like a hard drive or DMG file. The file needs to be in ISO format though to use most of the methods to play it below. You can convert a CDR file to ISO using a quick Terminal command. You’ll find Terminal in Applications > Utilities , or just search for it using Spotlight (or a Spotlight alternative).
  5. Once Terminal is open, input the following command but replace home/username/disk.cdr with the path to the file you created with Disk Utility, and home/username/disk.iso with the destination path and name for the ISO file you want to create:
                              
                                hdiutil convert /home/username/disk.cdr -format UDTO -o /home/username/disk.iso
                              
                            

If you can’t get the .ISO file off of your CD or DVD because it’s too broken, or if you can’t because your CD or DVD was meant for another platform, you might be able to download some old PC games for free elsewhere and get the ISO files that way.

If these sites don’t work out, or if they don’t have the games you want, you can also get ISO files from torrent sites. No need to feel guilty about this if you already own the original media. This method can also save you the need to purchase a SuperDrive, as you’d only end up with the same file if you were to extract it yourself.

With your ISO file in hand, you can now use one of the methods below to actually play your game.

1. DOS Emulation and Source Ports

This is best for: Old MS-DOS games and golden oldies.

If your games are old enough, you’ll have an easy time getting them to work by way of emulation. Running an app natively on your Mac that’s optimized for your hardware running the game you want to play within it is one of the most stable ways of reliving old games.

The one piece of software that has transformed DOS gaming over the last decade or so is DOSBox. DOSBox is an emulator that can run tons of old games, and since it can be ported to any platform, it makes lots of games available to Linux and Mac that weren’t before.

Another DOS emulation option for macOS gamers is Boxer, which uses a graphical user interface to mount, play, and display correct box art for your games.

If you want to play a much-loved classic like Doom or Quake, then instead of needing an emulator, you might be lucky enough to find a source port. When developers release the source code to the engines that power their games, anyone can take that code, modify it, and port it to new platforms—hence the term source port. Many source ports can be found by searching the web for game titles, and checking out the Emulation General Wiki .

Whether you use a DOS emulator or a source port, it’s very likely you’ll need to provide a copy of the original files or game assets to play anything. Though many old titles are now classed as abandonware, you can find these files and assets via our steps and suggestions in the previous section.

Download: DOSBox (Free)

Download: Boxer (Free)

2. Virtualization

This is best for: Windows 95, 98 and XP titles or games that use software or hardware rendering.

What better way to run classic Windows than using a native environment? Virtualization allows you to install and run Windows on your Mac, inide macOS. You’re essentially emulating the hardware and running Windows on top of it. Using specially designed software you can scale your “virtual machines” based on your requirements.

Virtualization does come with a few drawbacks, however. There have been big leaps forward in terms of virtualized 3D graphics performance over the past few years, but you may still encounter compatibility problems like glitches, poor performance and some games refusing to run.

It’s also quite draining in terms of processing power and available memory to run two operating systems at once, as you’ll need to provide the VM with a portion of your available power. For this reason, older versions of Windows (like Windows 98) can run better than more modern versions like Windows 7 or 10.

MacBook users may also struggle with space allotment, as you’ll need to give your VM some hard drive space to function like a real computer.

Lastly, you will need a valid copy of the operating system you’re trying to install. If you’re keen on going down the virtualization route, you’ll want to use one of these solutions (or to check out our other favorite virtual machine apps for Mac).

VirtualBox

VirtualBox is a completely free and open source virtualization software from Oracle, available for Windows, Linux, macOS and Solaris.

It provides good support for Windows NT 4.0 through to Windows 10 (including XP and 7) but isn’t optimized for Windows 98. You’re going to need to disable hardware acceleration (and use software rendering) or find a third party VESA driver for improved graphical performance.

For that reason VirtualBox is probably best for Windows XP games and those that maintain good compatibility with the Windows 2000-era platform. Think games like Age of Mythology, Call of Duty ,and Medal of Honour: Allied Assault.

You can also try enabling Microsoft’s own compatibility modes to run Windows 98 and 95 games by right-clicking the executable file, and choosing Properties .

Download: VirtualBox (Free)

VMWare Fusion

Fusion is a commercial product from VMWare, and one of the best in terms of 3D performance. Though VirtualBox has improved massively over the last few years, you’ll probably have more luck using Fusion when it comes to compatibility with Windows 98 and more demanding Windows XP DirectX titles.

Best of all you can download a 30-day free trial to see if it does what you need it to.

VMWare make some pretty bold claims on its website, claiming good compatibility with recent versions of DirectX and offering a fusion mode which allows you to run Windows apps in a windowed mode on your Mac desktop.

It’s best for games from the Windows XP-era, but you can try Windows 7, and if your hardware can handle it even Windows 8 or 10.

Download: VMWare Fusion ($149, free trial available)

3. Wine

This is best for: Some games, but not all—you’ll have to make a call on a game-by-game basis.

Wine, which was initially shorthand for Windows Emulator but now stands for “Wine Is Not an Emulator” is a compatibility layer that allows software written for Windows to run on modern UNIX systems like Linux and Mac OS X. It’s a free, open-source project and as such compatibility with software can vary from good to patchy.

Since Wine isn’t an emulator, there is no virtualization involved. This means the software places no additional strain on your hardware, like VirtualBox or VMWare Fusion will. You don’t have to run two operating systems at once, nor do you have to share processing power or memory with two systems.

Unfortunately, as software isn’t running in its native environment, you may encounter issues along the way depending on what you’re trying to run.

Stability has always been an issue with Wine, whether it’s glitchy graphics, unpredictable behavior, or frequent crashing. You might not be able to get sound working, or network access may be broken. You can at least consult the WineHQ app database before you try.

If you’re serious about using Wine to play games, install the latest version of XQuartz. The project is updated frequently and the latest version will usually yield the best results. Next, download and install Wine for macOS. Once installed, EXE files will be associated with Wine and you can run them as you would on Windows.

You may also want to consider getting an additional program like Winery or Wine Bottler to optimize Wine for the software you’re trying to run using “skins” or “wrappers” to make things run smoother. If vanilla Wine isn’t cutting it for your chosen games, you might want to try these tools.

Download: Wine (Free)

Download: XQuartz (Free)

Download: Winery (Free)

Download: Wine Bottler (Free)

4. Run Windows Natively on Your Mac

This is best for: New titles, post-Windows 7 games, and demanding games that require plenty of power to run.

You simply can’t beat running games natively in the operating system they were designed for, which has full access to your processor, graphics card, and all the RAM you can provide.

Boot Camp is Apple’s answer to running Windows on your Mac, and it’s how you’ll get away with playing the latest PC releases on your Apple hardware. Apple even provides all of the drivers you need to get things working—wireless accessories, media keys, touchpads, the lot.

Unfortunately, Boot Camp isn’t available for the Macs running on Apple silicon chips.

The main drawback here is that you’ll need to reboot your machine from macOS into Windows to play games, as well as sacrificing the hard drive space that Windows requires to function properly (along with providing room for games).

If you intend to use Windows on a laptop, you might find that battery life is about half what it is with macOS. Otherwise, Boot Camp provides a great way to use the full potential of your Apple hardware on the latest and greatest titles.

You’ll need a valid copy of Windows and, of course, the game you’re trying to run. Get started by running Boot Camp Assistant from Applications > Utilities and read our guide to creating a bootable USB disk using Boot Camp Assistant for one way of using the program to get Windows on your Mac.

5. Steam, GOG, and Mac Versions of Games

As macOS has grown in popularity, Mac versions of games are becoming much more common. This is apparent if you browse through the video game distribution service, Steam. If you get Steam for your Mac, you can buy and download tons of new and classic games and play them right on your Mac with almost no issues.

GOG, or Good Old Games, is another online video game retailer that particularly specializes in classics. Unfortunately, GOG isn’t in the business of porting old Windows titles so most Mac games available either have Mac ports already available or they’re DOS games that ship with a copy of DOSBox ready to go.

Lastly it’s always worth checking out whether any old Windows games received ports to the Mac by searching for games in the Mac App Store. The Mac App Store will often have copies of old Windows games, such as ones by Aspyr, who have a catalogue of over 70 Mac ports.

Which Will You Choose?

The choice you make of how to play old Windows and DOS games on your Mac will surely depend on the game in question, the age of your Mac and its hardware, and the operating system the game was initially designed for.

Running an app natively is always best—whether that’s a source port, Mac version, emulation via DOSBox, or running your title using Windows via Boot Camp or a virtual machine.

Virtualization is great for those older games that aren’t too demanding, but it might serve you well if you’ve got a recent Mac with an i7 or better processor and more RAM than you know what to do with. Provided you can get everything working—sound, 3D acceleration, network access if required—you’ll have a stable experience and you won’t have to reboot your system.

Choose Wine if the game in question is well-supported, or you’re having trouble going down the virtual machine route. For modern games without a Mac version though, you’ll want to use Boot Camp to install Windows alongside macOS to take full advantage of your device’s hardware.

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