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How to Run OpticStudio on an Intel-based Mac Computer

This article explains what is required to run OpticStudio on an Intel-based Mac computer and the differences between the methods that can be used. It also provides performance comparisons between the alternate methods.


Akash Arora
Installation and Troubleshooting

How to Run OpticStudio on an Intel-based Mac Computer

The latest releases of OpticStudio require a recent Windows based operating system (OS) to run properly; see our system requirements for details. OpticStudio cannot run natively on the Mac OS, however, Mac hardware does allow users to run Windows on these computers.

In 2006, Apple began installing Intel processors in their Mac computers. This switch allowed Macs to run native Windows based operating systems without the need for emulation software, such as Microsoft's Virtual PC. With OS/X 10.5, Apple introduced its Boot Camp (dual boot) option. Other companies followed with virtualization software for running Windows in the Mac OS environment. The two most popular third-party virtualization software packages are Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion. Please note that Zemax LLC cannot provide support on installing Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, or the Windows OS on your Mac computer.

Installing OpticStudio

Once you have setup Windows under Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, or VMware Fusion, you can install OpticStudio on your Mac using the normal installation procedure (see this article for single-user license installation instructions). Network licensed keys can also be used (see this article for network license installation instructions).  

Important note on Softkey licenses: ​Softkey licenses are not compatible with Bootcamp. Softkeys are supported using Parallels, VMware or other VM software.
Note on USB licenses: If you are attempting to run OpticStudio using the Macbook Air, Parallels Desktop, and a USB license key, there is an additional step required; see the Tips and Tricks section of this article.

Below is an image of OpticStudio running on a Mac (OS X El Capitan) using Parallels Desktop with Window 10.

Zemax on Mac

Boot Camp vs. Parallels Desktop/VMware Fusion


There are some differences between running Windows and OpticStudio under BootCamp versus Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion. The principal difference is that Boot Camp allows the user to boot into either the Windows OS or the Mac OS. Each operating system is installed on a different partition of the hard disk and the computer boots from one or the other. On the other hand Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion allow you to use Windows as if it were another program running in the Mac OS (virtualization). The user creates "virtual machines" that run on top of the underlying Mac OS. This allows the user to boot directly in the Mac OS and use Windows and its programs simultaneously. 

All three options support multiple cores, but there are some limitations when using virtualization. Boot Camp is essentially a native Windows installation, so any available cores or memory (RAM) will be detected by Windows and utilized. Parallels Desktop and VMware Fusion create "virtual machines" with certain system resources allocated to them. When using multi-core computers with virtualization software, you must specify the number of processors and memory (RAM) to allocate to the virtual machine during setup. Both Parallels and VMware allow the user to customize the settings of the virtual machine.

Note that the virtual machine is sharing the computer's resources with the host operating system. Generally the host is given priority for system resources. Be cautious when running resource intensive applications in the Mac OS while OpticStudio is running.

Performance: Boot Camp vs Parallels Desktop vs VMware Fusion

As described previously, partitioning versus virtualization are two very different methods for running Windows on a Mac computer. One might reasonably expect a performance difference when running OpticStudio as a result. To answer this question, we compared a Macbook Air (Intel Core i5 1.4 GHz, 2 GB RAM) with Windows 10 installed under Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, and VMware Fusion. Although no comparable PC laptop was available at the time of the test, all else being equal, performance should be similar to running Windows with Boot Camp.

The two tests performed were designed to gauge the speed of sequential and non-sequential raytracing under each setup. The table below summarizes performance results. The results provided were obtained by averaging four runs.

Sequential raytracing was compared using the performance test (Setup ribbon > Performance) with the file "Samples\Sequential\Objectives\Double Gauss 28 degree field". The criteria was ray surfaces per second (RSS) and larger values indicate better performance.

Non-sequential raytracing was compared using an analysis raytrace (Analyze ribbon > Ray Trace) with the file "Samples\Non-sequential\Geometry Creation\Boolean Example 3 - a diffractive scattering boolean object". The criteria was raytrace execution time and smaller values indicate better performance.



 Boot Camp 6.0 with Windows 10

 Parallels Desktop 11.0 with Windows 10

 VMware Fusion 8.0 with Windows 10

 Sequential Raytrace (RSS)

 38 million

34 million

 35 million

 Non-sequential Raytrace (Min)




One would expect virtualization to require some overhead and slow down raytracing, however it can be seen that the differences between the three setups are largely negligible.

Tips and Tricks

Although we cannot provide support on Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, we are happy to provide useful information as-is to help with any problems that are discovered. Please send any useful tips to and we'll include them on this page.

Tip 1: Problems Finding a Hardware USB Key with MacBook Air and Parallels Desktop (Some iMacs Affected).

This problem only occurs on the MacBook Air using Parallel Desktop. (Things are just fine with MacBook Pro and other Mac Desktops). After properly installing Zemax and the Sentinel key driver under Windows, you need to download the Macintosh version of the "Sentinel System Driver" (AKA SuperPro\UltraPro\SHK) from the Safenet website and install it under Mac OS. You cannot skip this step, otherwise the key won’t be recognized no matter what you do with the MacBook Air!

If you encounter any issues launching OpticStudio, there may be an extension called “sentinel.kext” which can be found in Macintosh HD > System > Library > Extensions.  This holds the key access only available under Mac OS. In order to use the key from Windows, you need to move the extension into the trash can to delete it. Once it is deleted, OpticStudio works wonderfully!

Tip 2: Using keyboard shortcuts on a Mac keyboard 

Below is a link to Apple's support page providing detailed information about using Mac keyboards with Windows. Many of the keys are different and if you are the type of person who likes to use keyboard shortcuts in OpticStudio, this information will be very helpful.

Tip 3: USB Hardkey Association with Parallels Desktop

On Parallels Desktop, when a peripheral such as a USB key is plugged in, the user must specify whether to connect the device to the Mac OS or the virtual machine (Windows).

USB Message

You must select the virtual machine in order for OpticStudio to find the key.

Tip 4: Layout plot display issue with DirectX 11 and Parallels 11

On some (not all) computers, layout plots (2D, 3D, shaded model) do not display correctly when using Parallels v11. The solution is to disable the "Use DirectX 11" options in OpticStudio. Click the Setup ribbon > Project Preferences > Graphics section. Restart OpticStudio after changing this setting.


In summary, OpticStudio can be run on all Intel-based Mac computers. You can either use Apple’s Boot Camp software or a third party virtualization software, such as Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, to run Windows (and OpticStudio) on your Mac.