Best Practices for Running ArcMap/ArcGIS Desktop/ArcGIS Pro on a Mac in Parallels

04-07-2017 09:48 AM
New Contributor III
11 16 9,345

While many parts of the Esri ArcGIS Platform are able to run natively on Macs, such as ArcGIS Python API, AppStudio, Workforce for ArcGIS, and the Web GIS tools, Esri's ArcGIS Desktop products are not supported for native use on Mac OS.  Many of my sciences customers ask me how to optimize the performance of their ArcGIS inside their Parallels instances, so I wanted to publish a post with some best-practice recommendations.

  1. MacBooks and MapBook Airs are probably not going to have the power inside needed to run ArcGIS in a performant manner if you're running intensive processes.  Starting off on the right foot with a MacBook Pro will help to ensure the best performance possible.
  2. Power down your Mac, and then turn it back on (you can't do the next steps if you're already running/have run Parallels since your laptop has been turned on for some reason). 
  3. Before launching Parallels, inside your Mac OS launch your Parallels Desktop Control window. 
  4. Click on the Gear/Cog to open the settings
    1. Under Optimization:
      1. Set Performance to Faster Virtual Machine
      2. Check the box to Enable Adaptive Hypervisor
      3. Check box to Tune Windows for Speed
    2. Under Power:
      1. Set it for Better Performance (and try to always be plugged in when using Parallels)
  5. Use Parallels in Fullscreen instead of Shaddow Mode
  6. Make sure sufficient cores and RAM have been allotted to your Parallels instance
  7. Running Parallels via Bootcamp will also enhance performance when you're working heavily in ArcGIS, allowing Windows to use as many system resources as possible.  If you're gearing up for a significant amount of work in ArcGIS, rather than just quickly jumping in and doing things, consider Bootcamp.
  8. If you're using ArcMap, make sure you have the free 64-bit Background Geoprocessing Add-On installed from MyEsri to eliminate out-of-memory errors when running certain GP tools.  Remember ArcMap is native x32 bit.
  9. While ArcGIS Pro is native x64 bit, it won't necessarily run faster, it just means it can handle bigger, more complex data.  ArcGIS Pro more heavily leverages the GPU onboard, so make sure it's spec'd appropriately.  Also, if you're switching back and forth between using Pro in your Parallels and your Mac OS again and again, it can impact the acceleration, having an impact on performance (see recommendation about using in fullscreen )
  10. For those of you running ArcGIS Enterprise (previously ArcGIS Server), consider using the free Python API, which you can use natively on your Mac without Parallels to do the processing Server-side.

Are you a Mac owner who runs Parallels to leverage ArcGIS Desktop?  If so, please post any additional tips you've found for enhancing performance in the comments.  Let's turn this into a resource for the Community!

Esri Regular Contributor

Great info! Thanks so much Tripp! So much of our science community is Mac-based and I hope this information will be helpful to them. Parallels (or similar emulators) is the way forward as there will never be a native version of desktop released for MacOS or iOS (it would take too many human hours to catch the Windows train that left the station years ago )

New Contributor II

This blog post is a bit old but maybe someone will see my comment.  With ArcGIS Pro 2.1, my 2011 iMac running 10.13.3, Windows 10-64 and Parallels 13 is finally not going to cut it even with the SSD & RAM I installed that gave me extra 2 years of life.  With the unknown timeframe for the i7-6 core "regular" iMac and ArcGIS PRO 2.1 optimal config now up to 10 cores I am going to buy an iMac Pro. My use is 2D maps for printing with minimal geoprocessing except for geo-referencing very large (20 gb, 8 bit) rasters, maps with many large rasters and complex symbology and labels with halos and callouts (which seem to particularly slow things down to the point I changed them) and my ArcGIS PRO RAM usage is typically <6gb.  The base configuration iMac PRO with 8 Core Xeon, 32 gb RAM, 8 gb VRAM is way above the optimal hardware (except for the cores) even with splitting the resources between the MacOS and Win10. I would LIKE to get 6 years out of my new machine too (with hardware upgrades bring difficult or impossible and no crystal balls) but I am wondering if I need to add to the base configuration.  I got bounced around and talked with 5 techs at ESRI regarding the options best suiting my needs, but I could get no answer other than use the online hardware requirements. So would increasing to 10 or 12 cores, 64 gb ram or 16 gb VRAM (or any combination of these) potentially give me better long term performance.

New Contributor III

Hi Robert Muller,

As you know from speaking with the other techs, this is a very hard question to answer.  You're looking for another opinion though, so I'll give you mine as an Account Manager

ArcGIS Pro needs a GPU to run efficiently.  Without a GPU, your CPU will try to pick up the slack at only a fair (read not good) rate of efficiency because of how CPUs are designed.  Why are we calling them GPUs instead of Video Cards now?  Well (again my simplified Account Manager understanding) because folks have figured out that while originally designed for graphics rendering, these are also good at certain types of compute.  Read this Pro doc page on GPU processing with Spatial Analyst for more.  BLUF-ish, my recommendation would be to spend some additional money upgrading your GPU rather than spending all of it on the CPU/RAM.

When running ArcGIS Pro in a Virtual environment, which it basically is on a Mac as you're running in Parallels or ideally Bootcamp, there are special considerations you need to keep in mind, a GPU being one of them.  See more on the Esri blog post here.  Above you've talked about upspec'ing the CPU, RAM, and Storage on the machine---I don't want to discount these ideas, as you will see in the blog post they are all important too.  CPU will help with compute, RAM with working with lots of different parts in-memory so you're not getting an I/O bottleneck, and SSD storage will help to accelerate your I/O.  Bootcamp will reduce overhead and is recommended for best performance.  You have my recommendations on running in Parallels above.

At some point though, you're going to bypass the performance capabilities if you have bottlenecks in other areas (like an insufficient GPU).  It's like having a car that is perfectly aerodynamically designed, you've got racing tires on it, and a little Smart car engine inside.  You could spend an extra $300 to upgrade your $400 tires to the $700 ones, but what you actually needed to do was upgrade the engine, so your money wasn't used as well as it could've been.  So do you need a Toyota Camry to get where you need to go, or do you need a 4x4 Land Rover equipped to go off-road? 

I know your original question is whether you need a Camry or a Land Rover to get through the next 6 years. I know you already likely know this, but if you look at if your current system is maxing out in any of these areas, that can help you to know where you need to increase.  One way to explore this is with Amazon's N-series virtual workspace.  Amazon now has a virtual workspace with a powerful NVIDIA GPU built in.  Since you're looking at a multi-thousand $ purchase of a super-Mac here, spending ~$40 to test to see if a GPU on Amazon will make a difference might be worth it (assuming you could move a couple of your data files into Amazon).

Going back to your original question, I can't give you specifics on what is going to last you 6 years, as that is a very long time in Esri time, let alone the tech industry.  The reason for this is because Esri is privately held, we are reinvesting about 1/3 of our annual revenue back into R&D for you guys as our users (one of the top in the entire tech industry), the rest pays staff, puts on the conferences, etc. 6 years ago for example, Pro was just a twinkle of an idea in Jack & Dev's minds...what could 6 years bring us?  Hopefully not spatially aware terminator robots.  The reality is if you follow the Optimal specs on the ArcGIS Pro System Requirements Page and you use Bootcamp and you take into account extra advice around upspeccing to support virtualized environments (like a good GPU) you will be in the best shape predictable at this point.  Remember you can use this tool to troubleshoot performance in Pro.

My snarky Windows colleague would like me to point out that you could spend as much as you intend to spend on this super-Mac once on a couple of lower grade Windows machines every 2 years for the next 6 and probably be in the same shape with more flexibility.  He's given me some of the above advice so I am obliged to include this (beggars for advice here internally can't be choosers ).

OK, so with the above we've talked about your hardware, but I also want to talk about your workflows (As I'm sure you know from your own Account Manager, we can be a bit like dads, so I am going to take the chance to drag this into a different direction because I think it will benefit you!).  Note that ArcGIS Pro has a tool on georeferencing rasters to other rasters if you don't already know about it.  More info here.  Also, it sounds like you're working with bulky uncompressed raster imagery.  If your workflow doesn't require this, consider converting the raster data into NASA's MRF format and using Esri's open sourced controlled lossy compression algorithm, LERC.  Github page for NASA MRF here and LERC here.  No guarantees, but those steps could increase performance.

I hope this all helps.  Thank you for being our user.  We really do appreciate you and your work, and look forward to continuing to support you over the next 6 years.  If your schedule allows, I hope you'll join us at User Conference in a few months and say hi.

Have a great weekend!


MVP Esteemed Contributor

My snarky Windows colleague would like me to point out that you could spend as much as you intend to spend on this super-Mac once on a couple of lower grade Windows machines every 2 years for the next 6 and probably be in the same shape with more flexibility.

Yes, "flexibility" that's one name for spending hours configuring printer drivers.

You mention setting up a separate Windows partition even if using VM software. Is this so you can choose which mode (bootcamp or OSX+Windows) depending on your need from day to day?

New Contributor III

Hi Curt,

My colleague above is also a Mac user, so he appreciates your comment.  We just have to give impartial advice, so we had to include the comment about the native windows machines

You're spot on!  Booting directly into your Windows partition through Bootcamp will allow the Windows OS to use native drivers and work directly against the steel, which should enhance performance for heavy jobs, 3D visualization in the Desktop clients, etc.  At the same time, it would be a major pain to have to reboot every time you needed to do something simple in ArcGIS Desktop, which is where Parallels comes in.  Because Parallels can read your Windows partition without you having to reboot, having both available (bootcamp or OSX+Windows) will allow you maximum flexibility to access your ArcGIS Desktop from your Mac depending on what's needed that day/hour. 

I know this is still not as good as it just natively running on OSX, but the best advice we can give as an account team on how to work with what is available now.  Hopefully that helps?


New Contributor II

Thanks all for the advice.  I've been out with the flu a few days so just getting back to work.

My job requires me to see what's on the ground in historical aerial photos going back to the 1940's so I don't even bother much with ones with a scale greater than 1:36,000 and using 1:14,500 scale aerials, my land areas require quite a few frames to provide coverage.  I find even building pyramids compromises the quality as I zoom in and out and I also regularly manipulate the stretch, contrast etc. to tease out what I can see.  Tripp you had several suggestions on using some compression methods which I will give a try although I'm not optimistic.

I decided to buy an iMac Pro 10-core, 32GB RAM, 16GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD. One big criticism of the iMac Pro is the upgrade issue.  Since it seems the processor and video "card" cannot be upgraded I chose to bump the cores from 8-10 and VRAM from 8-16GB from the base config which hopefully will give me plenty of life. Apple RAM is very expensive and it is upgradable so I stayed with the base.  Upgrading the SSD is also very expensive from Apple but when I need more space a Thunderbolt 3 external drive should be plenty fast enough to offload lesser used files onto.  I'm doing a clean install of all software, (getting rid of more than 10 years of bloat)  so I will definitely put my windows machine on a boot camp partition this time.

Good to open up this discussion again for the few MacOS outliers in the wilderness like me, Thanks again!


New Contributor III


According to my SE, when you compute your pyramids, you should have the option to preserve quality at the expense of storage.  It will give you the ability to select your compression quality.  Changing your resampling method is another option that might help.

If you have not already made sure your all images are in the same coordinate system, you should try to do that so the software isn't trying to dynamically reproject them (slowing things down).  This includes possibly making a custom basemap projection that matches your image projection.  A Mosaic Dataset will also likely help to increase the speed if you're not already using one.  My SE told me she knows you can create pyramids when you create an MD and after, but wasn't sure about before.

I hope you'll report back to this thread in the future so folks can see how your path worked out with your iMac Pro!

Believe me, we have plenty of Mac users in my customer space, so you are far from alone.

Have a great week,


Occasional Contributor

I am also running ArcGIS Pro on a Mac machine with 4GHz Intel Core i7, 32 GB RAM and an AMD Radeon R9 Graphics with 4GB of VRAM.  I wouldn't recommend using specs any lower than this in a dual OS environment, especially if both systems run graphics intense software.  

The upgrade timeline question above is interesting.  I have been running a system like this since 2013.  I have upgraded my equipment twice in that time, and am close to needing a third--so about every 2-3 years.  My previous machines get reallocated to other users in our organization as they still function well for normal use.  Remember--you have TWO OS's worth of apps and updates, each one usually upping the minimum specs, two OS's running backup routines, two of pretty much everything.  Would I consider two separate machines?  Not for my personal workflow. 

I can say that installing Windows on Bootcamp is essential to using the software successfully, and that Parallels has been the best product for virtualizing the Bootcamp partition.  I had problems using VMWare for this purpose and needed to change.

I had to experiment with several settings under the CPU and Graphics menus on Parallels to optimize performance.  Once the settings on Parallels were "dialed in" I found near-native performance.  

I have also found that on occasion, software updates can throw things out of whack again.  The trouble is finding which software is responsible:  ESRI, Windows, or Parallels.  This usually results in my CPU frequently hitting 100% when the map redraws--or even when the mouse pointer is moved across the screen.  Certain updates seem to require me to increase the RAM and CPU that I dedicate to the virtual machine.

Another helpful thing is to watch where you save your project and source files with this setup.  I had been saving to what I thought was my "My Documents" folder.  If I inspected the pathway, I noticed that the path began with my Mac computer.  If you manually browse to C:\Users\User Name\Documents, you are without a doubt saving on what the system considers to be the C:\ drive (aka local).  At minimum, it is a good practice that helps rule out one cause of potential problems.

New Contributor II

An update a year on on my iMac Pro 10-core 3GHz Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 16GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD running Parallels with Windows 10 Pro and using ArcGIS Pro exclusively.

It took me a little while to notice that MacOS recognizes 20 CPU's on my 10 core machine and when I assigned 10 CPU's the VM, there was a major performance boost over the 5 I had originally assigned. I assigned 16GB of RAM to the VM but the VRAM has been more involved.  I had always assigned 1/2 my VRAM, 8GB in this case to the VM.  However Parallels 14 came out with a new VRAM/Graphics Auto Memory Management scheme  KB Parallels: Use automatic graphics memory in Parallels Desktop 14 for Mac that is noticeably faster but I don't fully understand what's going on.  

Of greater concern is that ArcGIS Pro 2.3 is apparently not compatible in a VM environment.  Run ArcGIS Pro on a Mac—ArcGIS Pro | ArcGIS Desktop.  In practice I have not encountered any problems running ArcGIS Pro 2.3 on my Parallels 14 VM but I am half expecting that at some point it won't work.  I have greatly simplified my VM on the iMac PRO, as it had been on an external Thunderbolt drive on my previous iMac.   I did a totally clean install iMac PRO when I got it and I installed Windows in a Boot Camp partition so I can fall back to booting into that if necessary.  As for my projects folder I learned ArcMAP with zero previous experience with GIS so I followed the folder scheme recommended at the time when I first installed ArcMAP (9.2),  starting with a C:\geodata folder and then I create new project folders in it when needed.

New Contributor II

New Update August 14, 2019...

System:  iMac Pro 10-core 3GHz Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 16GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD running Parallels (now 15) with Windows 10 Pro and using ArcGIS Pro exclusively.

Parallels now supports DirectX 11 (Ver 15 released yesterday) and from my initial testing ArcGIS Pro is running smoothly again in the VM.  Prior to 15, ArcGIS Pro had slowed to a crawl in the VM, forcing me to boot into Bootcamp for almost everything.  Under 15, ArcGIS Pro loads and runs well, re-draws of aerials are quick, and my somewhat detailed labels pop up fast.   My VM configuration has stayed the same: 10 processors & 16 GB RAM assigned to the VM, Graphics set to Auto.  I have the Parallels Pro subscription and the/all updates are included.


Occasional Contributor

ESRI had reported on Run ArcGIS Pro on a Mac—ArcGIS Pro | ArcGIS Desktop that it was the underlying MacOS that didn't support the minimum DirectX version--can you confirm that you are running ArcGIS Pro 2.3 or higher?

If so...the new Windows machine I broke down and purchased last month due to the DirectX version problem is no longer needed?!  Eeeesh, how to explain THAT to the boss?

Glad to hear that the Parallels VM is working for you again!  I know I really miss having the simplicity of a one-box workflow.

New Contributor II


I'm running ArcGIS Pro 2.4.1.

Parallels was able to support DirectX 11 by moving from OpenGL to Metal which allows direct access to the GPU.  Metal only became available with MacOS 13 last year but it didn't take much time for Parallels to adopt it which is good on them.   

You needed the new machine anyway with a Metal capable GPU and VRAM...  all you needed was a good excuse, really, I promise.


New Contributor II

I looked and didn't find any updated information for running ArcMap on a Mac.

ArcGIS Pro runs well but I am now noticing delays in rendering aerial images, both NAIP .sid images and georeferenced .jpg images.  With ArcMap Pro version 2.5.0 is anyone else seeing this?  Any comments on updated configure options for running ArcGIS Pro in a Parallels 15.1.3 VM?

System:  iMac Pro 10-core 3GHz Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 16GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD running Parallels (now 15) with Windows 10 Pro and using ArcGIS Pro exclusively.

My VM configuration has stayed the same: 10 processors & 16 GB RAM assigned to the VM, Graphics set to Auto.  I have the Parallels Pro subscription and the/all updates are included.

Thanks Robert

MVP Regular Contributor

This is an excellent blog!

So much good information, such as talk about GPU's, AWS virtual workspaces, troubleshooting performance in Pro, NASA and Esri github open source image tools, recommendations on bootcamp and parallels, suggestions on gp tools available and their!

Thank you to all who participated.

It helps tremendously.

There is a free virtualization option called Oracle VirtualBox:

Oracle VM VirtualBox 

Here are additional resources:

Run ArcGIS Pro on a Mac—ArcGIS Pro | Documentation 

ArcGIS Pro in Mac OS X 

Virtualbox + ArcGIS 10 

Installing ArcGIS Desktop on a Mac | Cal State Monterey Bay 

Running ArcGIS Pro in a virtualized environment—ArcGIS Pro | Documentation 

Parallel Desktop:
Support service:

Support Service:

Occasional Contributor III

Any updates from anyone running Pro on a recent MacBook Pro?

New Contributor III

Any input from the user community on the value proposition of Parallels Standard vs. Pro in terms of ArcGIS Pro performance? I'm planning to upgrade to Parallels v16 with MacOS Big Sur's release on the horizon.mac os# #vm

About the Author
I'm the NASA, FCC, and GSA Account Manager at Esri! Follow me on Twitter at @EsriTripp