I have a 2011 iMac and I’ve installed Windows on it successfully before. The process was extremely straightforward. I popped in my Windows disk and let Bootcamp do its thing. Recently though I had to reinstall and I found that my built-in Superdrive is broken. Installing Windows went from being a breeze to being a nightmare in an instant.

This guide is for those of you who have tried every solution – and upon reading the numerous forums which conclude that Windows “can only be installed via Bootcamp” – have given up.

It took me a while to stumble on to the solution, which uses a combination of different tools, but it works like a charm and once you’ve done it once, it’s not that difficult. Skip ahead to the “What Does Work” section if you want to get down to work.

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What won’t work…

During the course of my Windows install venture I figured out at least 6 ways which didn’t work. They all have their eureka moments, but don’t work out in the end.

1. Cleaning the superdrive

Apparently you can drape something like a lens cleaner over a thin business card, stick the thing into the slot and get to work on it. The business end of the drive is at the bottom so if you wiggle it just right, and you’re lucky, you could be successful in cleaning the thing. You can also try blowing some compressed air into it.

If you were successful in doing so you can basically skip this guide and install via Basecamp, well done!

2. Bootable USB via bootcamp

The only snag with this was that I didn’t have this option. Apparently this is only available for computers without an optical drive. There is a way in which you can enable this pretty easily though. This is something we will need to do further on as a part of our installation, but it still doesn’t work on its own.

When I saw the option, I promptly clicked on it and let Bootcamp create a startup USB for me. It worked at first, but then refused to even acknowledge it in the boot menu. I tried this with and without Bootcamp drivers and I even tried checking the “Install Windows” options which would automatically start the process for me.

I was a bit downcast but I thought: hey, let’s create a bootable USB in Windows! I found a Windows laptop and created an USB using Rufus. Of course, it didn’t work, it wasn’t seen by the boot manager. I went back and used the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool which was made by Microsoft. Still nothing. Changed another pen drive. Nope. Sigh.

3. Firmware update

Good news, my iMac model has a firmware update, and what’s more, this update has to do with “booting” stuff (is luck finally on my side?). I downloaded and installed the firmware update and after a terrifying BIOS beep, everything was back to the good old not working ways.

Oh well, at least my firmware is updated.

4. rEFInd Boot Manager

After reading a whole lot of forums I saw that using rEFInd, an alternative boot loader may help.

Once installed and loaded on startup it “saw” the USB, however, while it was able to access the drive, I always receive a “No bootable disk found” message. This was weird since the message obviously came from the boot device, why is it looking for (maybe) a CD? Try as I may, rEFInd was not the answer, although just like Bootcamp, it is a part of the final solution.

5. Using an external drive

Nope. This was the second thing I tried but it didn’t even see the CD. Once I had rEFInd installed I tried again; the CD showed up in the boot manager, but it refused to boot from it. All I got was a horizontal cursor and nothing more. One thing I didn’t try was an Apple-made external drive but while it’s possible that (for some unknown reason) this would work, I have read that it doesn’t.

6. Virtual machines

I remember from using Parallels that it can use a Bootcamp partition, allowing me to use the bootable partition as a virtual machine. I had a feeling this wouldn’t work, but it was worth a shot. Parallels (and other virtualization apps) can’t install Windows as boot partitions. They can use them once created, but only if created separately.

Again, virtual machines will be a part of our solution, but not THE solution.