How to run OpticStudio or other Zemax applications on an Apple Mac computer

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

Authored By Don Dickinson


All Zemax software requires a recent Windows-based operating system (OS) to run properly. See our system requirements for Opticstudio as an example. Zemax does not develop applications to run natively on the Mac OS. However, some Apple hardware does allow users to run Windows and this article documents some methods to run Zemax software on these platforms.

As the Apple platform is not officially supported by Zemax, we do not conduct ongoing compatibility tests. Therefore we cannot guarantee our software will continue to work in this environment going forward as things change. Consider this information as a guide and to be taken as-is. 

Important note on Softkey licenses: ​Softkey licenses (those without a physical USB key) are not compatible with Bootcamp and should not be activated. Softkeys are supported if you using Parallels, VMware or Virtualbox .

Zemax software and Apple ARM CPUs  - M1, M2 M3 processors

As of 2020, Apple starting releasing new machines with their own ARM based processor rather than an Intel CPU, called the M1, and have also released the M2 CPU's.  These do not support Bootcamp (duak boot) so have to have a native ARM supported version of Windows 11 installed using Parallels or other third party software.

Also, Zemax does not develop an ARM-native version of OpticStudio, only one for X64 CPU's such Intel CORE and AMD Ryzen. This means that the ARM version of WIndows has to attempt to emuate X64 support for OpticStudio. 

As of Jan 2024, legacy Zemax July 2023 or newer and Ansys OpticStudio 2023 r1 or newer have been reported to be able to be emulated properly, though older versions may work. Your mileage may vary depending on your machine hardware, version of WIndows and license type (see below)

See this community post for some details and any updates from customers using Macs. 

  • Please be aware that Zemax is not testing nor developing it's products for any Apple platform, so cannot guarantee full functionality nor fully support any issues you may have.

  • Those using physical USB dongles (Sentinel black, green, or red) for their licenses are unlikely to work due to lack of driver availability and compatibility with the ARM version of MacOS and Windows. those configuring their machine to use a shared / network license or activating a softkey license on their machine will have the best chance of success. 


 Zemax software on Intel-based Macs

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 most popular third-party virtualization software packages are Parallels Desktop VMware Fusion and Virtualbox (free).

Please note that Zemax LLC cannot provide support on installing Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, Virtualbox or the Windows OS on your Mac computer. You would need to download or purchase your preferred VM software and a Windows license to attempt this. 


Boot Camp vs. Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion or Virtualbox

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, VMware Fusion and Virtualbox allow you to use Windows as if it were another program running in the Mac OS (virtualization). The user creates "virtual machines" that runs 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, VMware Fusion and Virtualbox 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. 

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.

Recommendations when setting up Bootcamp, Parallels, Vmware Fusion or Virtualbox

  • We recommend installing Windows 8, 10 or 11 as it has better graphics support, drivers, and built-in prerequisites needed for Opticstudio. The newest versions (10 and 11) also are kept up to date with security patches. 
  • If you have to specify a specific size of the Bootcamp partition or virtual hard drive for Windows, we recommend something like 100 GB to leave room for Windows updates and Opticstudio's working files. 
  • Allocate a minimum of 2 GB RAM. If your Mac has 16 GB or more RAM installed, you should be able to allocate 4-8 GB RAM for the VM without impacting overall performance too much.
  • Allocate 512 MB or more video/graphics memory if possible rather than any  "Automatic" setting.
  • In Virtualbox, be sure to install the "Guest additions" primarily for graphics support.
  • In Vmware fusion, install "VMWare tools" primarily for graphics support - 

Installing OpticStudio or other Zemax software

Once you have set up 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). If your Mac needs to reach a network license on a server, see this article in the "Client" section.  

Important note on Softkey licenses: ​Softkey licenses (those without a physical USB key) are not compatible with Bootcamp and should not be activated. Softkeys are supported if you using Parallels, VMware or Virtualbox .
Note on USB licenses: If you are attempting to run OpticStudio using the Macbook Air, Parallels Desktop, and a BLACK USB (rather than red or green) license key, there is an additional step required; see the Tips and Tricks section of this article. If you have a red or green USB license, no additional steps are required. 

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


Reaching a network license server from your virtual machine

If you are trying to use a license on your organization's network rather than activating a license directly on your virtual machine , you will likely need to specify the name of the license server in the settings per this article.

If doing that doesn't allow you to see the license, you need to ensure the license server is able to be “pinged” from the VM client.

If not, this is likely something with the network settings in the VM software itself rather than Windows. I’ve sometimes had to set the VM to “bridged” mode. This enables sharing the network connection directly with the VM.  Here’s an example from VMware 14:


Performance: Boot Camp vs Parallels Desktop vs VMware Fusion

As described previously, partitioning versus virtualization is 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 Setup...Diagnostics...Performance with the file "Samples\Sequential\Objectives\Double Gauss 28 degree field". The criteria were ray surfaces per second (RSS) and larger values indicate better performance.

Non-sequential raytracing was compared using Analyze...Trace Rays...Ray Trace with the file "Samples\Non-sequential\Geometry Creation\Boolean Example 3 - a diffractive scattering boolean object". The criteria were 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) 1.72 1.65 1.8


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.


Layout plot display blank or crashes in Parallels, Vmware Fusion or Virtualbox. 

On some (not all) computers, layout plots (2D, 3D shaded model) do not display correctly (they typically blank or crash) when using Parallels. Newer releases of Parallels should not require this adjustment as they have better-integrated graphics support. There are several options that may help:

In Virtualbox, be sure to install the "Guest additions" primarily for graphics support.

n Vmware fusion, be sure to install "VMWare tools" primarily for graphics support - 

Workaround if none of the above help. Open Setup...Project Preferences...Graphics in Opticstudio. Check Enable Classic Mode and set Disable Modern Graphics to All Plots. Note this disables the
"Shaded Model" option in Opticstudio as that feature depends on Modern graphics being enabled. 


Tips and tricks

Although we cannot provide full support on Boot Camp, Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion, we are happy to provide the below information as-is to help with any problems that are discovered. if you are running in this environment and have any workaround or tips that may help others and have a Zemax account, please post them in the Zemax Community . Also feel free send any useful tips to and we'll include them on this page.

Problems Finding a Black USB Key
Using keyboard shortcuts on a Mac keyboard
Linking the USB Hardkey with Parallels Desktop
Folder sharing with the Mac file system in Parallels


Problems Finding a Black USB Key

This section applies for those with a black USB license for Opticstudio. If you have a Green or Red-colored Zemax USB license, this section does not apply to you.

After properly installing OpticStudio under Windows, you need to download the Apple OS/X 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.
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!


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.

For example, Macs don't have an "Insert" key directly, so one option is use the mouse. Right-mouse-click ( or CTRL-Click ) on the number of the line you want to insert in an editor.
There's also some additional options here that may help if you want to define another key to Insert in your VM:,that%20Mac%20keyboards%20handle%20it.


Linking the USB Hardkey with Parallels Desktop

On Parallels Desktop, when a peripheral such as a USB key is plugged in, you may need to specify whether to connect the device to the Mac OS or Windows in your virtual machine. 

New External Device Detected

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


Folder sharing errors with the Mac file system in Parallels

Opticstudio copies it's sample files and catalogs to Documents\zemax upon first use. If you get any errors when copying these files, "access denied" errors or errors referring to "\\Mac\Home\Documents" when opening Opticstudio,  you may need to remove the Windows “Documents” folder from the Shared folders list to get Opticstudio to copy the sample files or start properly.'s%20Guide/32922.htm


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