With the release of Windows 7, the question was raised again on whether you should install the 32-bit version (x86) of the operating system or move up to 64-bit (x64).
The 32 or 64 bit architecture refers to the memory address length that can be referenced by the processor. This also has an impact on the maximum amount of memory that can be utilised, which is 4GB for a 32 bit CPU (but in reality the maximum accessible ram is often closer to 3.4 GB due to other hardware allocations such as graphics card memory).
Having a 64 bit OS doesn’t automatically make all applications faster because much of today’s software is written and optimised for a 32 bit era. You’ll need software specifically optimised for 64 bit processing to take advantage of any speed improvements. Fortunately, many games are already including such enhancements.
You may think that using a 64 bit OS for a 64 bit processer is an obvious decision, but it is not so straightforward. Introducing a new architecture will cause new compatibility and driver problems that wouldn’t exist under the old 32 bit version.
Pros and Cons of a 64 bit system:
- You can address much more than 4GB of memory, which is ideal for avid gamers, CAD, video editors and heavy multi-taskers. However, any 32 bit software you use will still be restricted to 4GB memory – you need a 64 bit CPU, OS and applications to take full advantage of the extra RAM.
- 16 bit applications will no longer run. Although this is unlikely to be a problem, if you use very old software (from the Windows 3.1 days!) then it will not work under a 64 bit OS.
- Existing 32 bit drivers no longer work.If you have older or poorly supported hardware you may find that it can no longer be used. Got a 7 year old scanner that just about works in Vista? You may not be able to get it working in 64 bit Windows 7.
- Unsigned kernel-mode drivers no longer work. Along with the issue above, the inability to run unsigned kernel mode drivers will cause problems for old hardware. (There is reportedly a way to bypass this check).
- Running some 32 bit applications on a 64 bit OS could actually be slower. The additional overheads in running 32 bit software in 64 bit mode could cause a slight degradation in performance. It will take some time for 64 bit software to become the norm.
The conclusion? Well, it depends on what you use your system for. If you have a 64 bit capable CPU but use older hardware, it would be safe to stay with a 32 bit version for the time being to ensure that you don’t need extra upgrades.
If you’ve got the latest hardware and drivers are available, then it would be worth while taking the step up to a 64 bit OS. If you regularly work with resource hungry applications that are 64 bit optimised (such as video editing, CAD and image packages) then it would be especially beneficial to be able to work with over 4GB of RAM amongst the other improvements.
In the not too distant future, 64 bit computing will be a common standard – as all hardware from the last couple of years has been designed with this in mind. Until a complete upgrade cycle has passed for the majority of users, there is still a strong case for some users to stick with 32 bit Windows for the time being. Once more 64 bit applications start to appear, it would be a good time to make the switch to the new architecture.
………..Which one to Install..(*86) 32 bit…. or (*64) 64 bit????
This is something that’s been asked since the introduction of consumer-level processors bearing the “x64” nomenclature. It feels like just yesterday that Intel and AMD fanboys were at odds over the Athlon 64. At that time and even as recently as the introduction of Windows Vista, software and drivers for 64-bit setups were slim-pickings.
Analogous to the shift from 16 to 32-bit computing, the jump to 64-bit has been a slow one. Windows XP x64 never took off, though 64-bit versions of Vista did, thankfully. The ride was a bumpy one, but hardware manufacturers and software developers alike have finally widely adopted the 64-bit architecture – and there’s no turning back now.
At this point in time, nearly everyone is on the same page about the transition. If your old video card and printer have yet to receive 64-bit compatible drivers, odds are they won’t be getting any. A boatload of legacy hardware support was dropped with Windows Vista, and Windows 7 certainly won’t pick it back up, regardless of which version you install.
Now, you’re probably wondering why 64-bit operating systems are being phased in and what benefits they deliver over their 32-bit predecessors – both legitimate questions. One of the most commonly cited differences is that the 32-bit architecture has a memory access limit of 4GB (2^32 bytes). This permits you to use about 2.75-3.5GB of RAM after IO reservations are factored in.
On paper, the 64-bit architecture can address 16 exabytes of memory (2^64), or more than 4 billion times that of its precursor. Consumer editions of Windows Vista permit from 8GB to 128GB of physical memory to be accessed, depending on the version. Windows 7 bumps that up to 192GB with the Professional version and above.
Other benefits of running a 64-bit OS include enhanced security with hardware-backed DEP, Kernel Patch Protection and mandatory driver signing.
This is all just scratching the surface, but I suppose the real question should be:
Why shouldn’t you install Windows x64?
The short answer is that you should go with Windows 7 64-bit unless you’re running a system well into its antiquity where driver support is going to become an issue.
Did you know?
Retail versions of Windows 7 will include both 32-bit & 64-bit discs on the box in case you are undecided or prefer to make the jump to the 64-bit version of the OS at a later time.
....and thats I.T for you…