Normally to install Windows on a Macbook Air through Boot Camp, you require an external SuperDrive. What a pain - I'm not prepared to pay for something I won't use for any other purpose. Of course I could (and have) installed Windows in a VM but it just isn't as speedy; sometimes I need good performance for my Windows apps.
The "normal" way to install apps on a Macbook Air is to use downloaded versions or Remote Disc. Neither will work for your Windows install. However after much experimentation I have come with a solution that will work.
Disclaimer: The solution I am proposing requires you to be both technically literate and careful. You could completely destroy your data if you are not careful so create full backups of everything before you begin. I'm not responsible for anything you do. Additionally, you shouldn't assume that I've done anything the "right" way - this process was created through trial and error, not an expert knowledge of the software or processes in question.
Here's what you need:
- A Macbook Air with plenty of free hard drive space.
- A full, legal copy of Windows Vista or Windows 7 (I haven't tried this with XP).
- Parallels Desktop (A trial version should be enough).
- A USB drive of any size.
- Another computer with a DVD drive and Remote Disc software.
- Your Macbook Air OS X install disc.
If you don't have it already, you should download and install Parallels now. If you already have Parallels, be sure to get the latest Parallels updates. Earlier releases don't work with Windows 7, for example.
Now we need to get our Windows installation files onto the Mac. Use another computer to create an ISO disc image of your Windows DVD (unless your Windows is an ISO already). I like ImgBurn (a Windows app) for these purposes. Copy the ISO to your Mac in your favourite way (network, usb drive etc).
Now it's time to launch the Boot Camp Assistant. Follow the process as normal, right up to the point where it's time to start the Windows installation.
Hint: Check now that your Boot Camp partition has not decided to mount itself, otherwise Parallels sometimes gets upset. You can unmount it from Disk Utility if needed.
Start up Parallels and create a new virtual machine.
Here comes the tough part. If you were to reboot now and try to force your Mac to boot Windows it won't work. A typical PC's hard disk has code right at the beginning of the disk which tells it where to find crucial operating system files - the MBR. Windows has gone ahead and installed the MBR but it's installed in its VM, not to the real hard disk. We have to copy this MBR to the real hard disk and at the same time be careful not to mess up the Mac install.
First we need to find the VM's MBR. To do this, locate your Windows VM on your Mac hard drive. Typically this will be in your Documents/Parallels folder. To get to the MBR, right click your VM and choose Show package contents. Repeat this for your VM hard drive which will share the name of your real hard drive (mine is called SAMSUNG HS082HB.hdd). The PhysicalMbr.hds file is what we need. Copy this to your USB drive.
We'll use Fdisk to view and modify our MBR as necessary. Let's start by running sudo fdisk -e /dev/disk0. Enter your password.
Type print followed by pressing return to view your current MBR information.
It's important now to note this information, just in case. Note specifically the id column - notice how there's an EE? That's for the GUID Partition Table the Mac uses. You might want to read up about GPT. The takeaway point is that the first sector of the drive is reserved for the MBR, even though we've also got a GPT partition. Note that the Boot Camp partition is listed as Fat-32 despite the fact that I used NTFS on my Windows partition. This is because the real MBR has not been updated with the new partition information.
Type exit and return.
Now we're going to write the new MBR. This part is very dangerous if done incorrectly. Additionally, Mac OS does not allow you to write a new MBR from within the OS. If you try, you will find that access is denied (even for the super user). Instead, we need to boot the Mac OS X Installer and write the MBR from there. So reboot your Mac and use Remote Disc to start the Mac OS X Installer
Hint: Sorry, you can't use your wired ethernet here, only wireless. This is because we have to keep our one USB port free for the USB flash drive. A hub might work if you have one though.
When the OS X installer is ready to go, do not proceed with it. Instead, go to the Utilities menu and open Disk Utility. Click each of your hard drive's partition and unmount each.
Now we will open the Terminal. Make sure your USB drive is plugged in.
Hint: In case you don't know, you must press return after every command in the terminal.
Navigate to your flash drive. To do this, first type
Type ls and identify which is your flash drive. Type
The first thing to do is back up your old MBR.
Be very careful entering these commands.
This will back up the MBR to a file called backup.mbr on your USB drive.
Now we replace the physical MBR with the one copied from the VM.
This assumes you didn't rename the VM MBR when you copied it to your USB drive.
Hint: If something bad happens and you need to restore your MBR, type the same command as directly above, but substitute PhysicalMbr.hds for backup.mbr.
Now that we've replace the MBR we need to check it looks ok. Type
Type print to view your MBR. The most important thing to check which Windows may have stuffed up is the id of each partition. Your first partition must have an id of EE, your Mac Partition must have an id of AF. If either of these is wrong you must change them (don't worry, this doesn't modify the data on these partitions). For each that is wrong, type setpid n where n is the number of the partition whose id you are changing. Then, when prompted, type the correct id.
When you are done with fdisk, type write and then exit.
You can quit the Mac OS X Installer now.
As the computer boots, just after you hear the chime, hold down the option key on the keyboard. Windows should now be one of the options in your boot menu, so choose it.
Windows should start and continue with installation.
When Windows restarts, remember that you will have to hold down the option key again and choose Windows.