How To Install FreeBSD On Parallels Desktop [2021]

In this short guide, we’re going to set up and install FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop 16.0.1 – which is the latest Parallels Desktop release at the time of writing this post. In this setup, I am using a MacBook Pro (15-inch, 2017) and macOS Big Sur Version 11.2.2. In this installation guide, we are going to install the FreeBSD 13 release. 

If you read this post and don’t know what Parallels Desktop is, Parallels is software similar to VMWare, Xen™ or Bhyve (FreeBSD’s hypervisor/virtual machine manager) that provides hardware virtualization for Macintosh computers with Intel processors. The Parallels Desktop version for the M1 chipset is under development/test at this time. 

Note: Parallels Desktop is the best bang for the buck in my experience with virtualization on a Mac computer – fast, light, and excellent resource sharing with the host. Don’t take my word for it – go check out this detailed article on Macworld. Parallels Desktop runs discounts and promotions quite often: check Parallels Desktop latest price or use the 15 days trial.

Installing FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop is quite a straightforward process, with some VM adjustments that need to be made to boot the FreeBSD image.

Let’s get to work.

Step1: Download FreeBSD 

Head over to the FreeBSD Download Page, click on amd64 and download the latest FreeBSD 13.0 Release. You can follow this guide is you prefer the older FreeBSD 12.2 Release. In this case, I’m going to download the latest FreeBSD-13.0-RELEASE-amd64-dvd1.iso

Download FreeBSD 13.0
FreeBSD 13 on Parallels Desktop – Download

Step2: Setup Parallels Desktop

Open Parallels Desktop and go to File -> New

Install FreeBSD on Parallels – Create New VM

1. The Installation Assistant will pop-up. Click on the “Install Windows or another OS from a DVD or image file” box and click Continue.

Install FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop – Create New VM

Click on the Image file box or drag-and-drop the FreeBSD-13.0-RELEASE-amd64-dvd1.iso downloaded in Step 1 above on this window. 

Install FreeBSD On Parallels Desktop – Installation Assistant

Parallels will complain that it is unable to detect the operating system. Ignore this message and click Continue.

Parallels Desktop – Image selection

In the “Please select your operating system” drop-box, select Other -> FreeBSD and click OK.

Parallels Desktop – Select OS

Give a name to your VM and click “Customize settings before installation.” Click Create.

Install FreeBSD On Parallels Desktop – Name and Location

The “FreeBSD Configuration” window will pop-up. Click on Hardware.

If you plan to run FreeBSD in text-mode only, the default memory/CPU settings are enough. However, if you plan to install a Window Manager or Desktop Environment, you will need to allocate more RAM to your VM. You can adjust the CPU allocation to higher than the recommended settings if you run Parallels Desktop on a multi-core machine. 

Install FreeBSD Parallels Desktop Configuration Memory RAM
Install FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop – CPU & Memory configuration

Move to the Graphics tab. The recommended 32MB settings are OK for a FreeBSD setup running in text-mode. Still, if you plan to install a graphical environment later, you should increase the video memory to something higher. 

Install FreeBSD Parallels Desktop Video Memory
FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop – Video Memory configuration

Move to the Hard Disk tab. Under Advanced Settings, make sure the Location is set to SATA x.x. Click on Properties. Move the slider to adjust your virtual disk capacity to your needs.

Note: Accordingly to FreeBSD Minimum Hardware Requirements documentation, minimum of 1.5 GB of free hard drive space is enough for a minimal installation but will leave your setup with almost no free space to install additional packages afterward. Since hard disk space is no longer a big issue today, we can adjust the disk capacity to something higher. 

Install FreeBSD Parallels Desktop HDD Settings Space Setup
Install FreeBSD On Parallels Desktop – Hard Disk configuration

Move to the Boot Order tab and click Advanced Settings. By default, your BIOS setting will be set to Legacy BIOS. From the drop-down menu, select EFI 64-bit 

Note: On most cases I tried, booting into Legacy BIOS will result in: 

“ERROR: cannot open /boot/lua/loader.lua: no such file or directory.” error and the FreeBSD installation DVD won’t boot. 

Install FreeBSD Parallels Desktop Boot Lua Loader Error
FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop – /boot/lua/loader.lua error

Note: FYI, this is a known bug, and it was documented here and here.

You can remove your Floppy Disk from Boot Order if you don’t use one.

These are the most critical settings for installing the FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop. Feel free to experiment more.

Now close this the Configuration window and start your VM. If you followed all the settings above, you should be greeted by the FreeBSD welcome screen. 

FreeBSD on Parallels Welcome
FreeBSD on Parallels Desktop: Welcome

You are ready to install FreeBSD 13 on Parallels Desktop now. Choose one of the guides below to install GNOME, KDE Plasma 5 or XFCE 4 on your FreeBSD system:

How To Install FreeBSD 13 with GNOME Desktop

How To Install FreeBSD 13 with KDE Plasma 5 Desktop

How To Install FreeBSD 13 with XFCE 4 Desktop

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