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 32-bit or 64-bit Operating System? – That is the question!!
James (Jim) Hill...
Dec 22 2009, 10:54 PM
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With the advent of Windows 7 and Microsoft?s increasing push for 64-bit systems, many users will be pondering this choice.

If you are purchasing a new computer including Windows 7 the question is redundant?.why?....because if it supports 64-bit, the new computer will be shipped with the 64-bit version pre-installed. So this scenario applies mainly for those, with older machines, who wish to migrate to a 64-bit system.

In basic terms, 32-bit and 64-bit are computer architectures that specify the length of data types and addresses that are supported. For the average user this equates to more available physical memory and slicker implementation of processes and applications.

32-bit operating systems are limited to 4GB of RAM (physical memory) max, in truth the OS is seeing only around 3.12GB RAM. For compatibility reasons the OS reserves memory for devices even if they don?t exist in your computer. Silly I know, but that?s Microsoft!!

A 64-bit system will, in theory, support up to more than 128GB RAM. In practice, however, each 64-bit version of the OS has its own limitations, restricted by licensing. So, only the advanced editions actually support the full amount. Home Basic supports up to 8GB RAM, Home Premium up to 16GB and the advanced editions ( Pro, Enterprise and Ultimate) up to 192GB.

Now 192GB is way overkill for the average home user but even if we only have 4GB RAM installed, a 64-bit system will recognise and utilise the full quota?.a distinct advantage over the 32-bit version.

The first step in making the decision is, of course, to verify whether or not your computer supports 64-bit. If you have bought or upgraded your computer in the past couple of years, with an Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent/higher processor, your PC is already equipped to run 64-bit Windows 7. If you want to make sure: you can confirm 64-bit compatibility and check for other possible issues by using the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor here:

There are very obvious advantages to running a 64-bit system; the support for more RAM and fully utilising the CPU?s capabilities are going to make for a more responsive, proficient system and overall slicker experience. There are also enhanced security features; all 64-bit device drivers are digitally signed, which means you will not have random crashes. You also get more advanced security features like ?Kernel Patch Protection? with 64-bit Windows 7.

Okay, so what are the negatives? I guess the one major drawback is driver support for older hardware. It is imperative, before you jump in boots and all, to make sure there are 64-bit supported drivers available for any of your existing hardware. Contacting the manufacturer, with exact details (such as model number) in hand, would be the best way to go.

There have, in the past, also been software issues with some of our favourite programs not supporting 64-bit architecture but this problem has largely been overcome with most (if not all) popular titles now including full 64-bit support.

There are some situations where you would be actually better off sticking with 32-bit, these include:
? If you are currently using 2GB of RAM and do not plan to upgrade anytime soon. To really take advantage of 64-bit Windows, you need 4GB RAM minimum.
? You have legacy devices, such as scanners and printers, that do not have 64-bit device drivers. 32-bit drivers are not supported under 64-bit Windows 7, so (as mentioned previously) you should make sure all the devices you need to use are compatible with 64-bit.
? You run old 16-bit applications that were developed for Windows 3.1 or DOS. These will not run in a 64-bit environment.

In closing, provided your computer and peripheral hardware meet the criteria, there really is no decision to make?.64-bit is the future and definitely the way to go.

Dec 23 2009, 06:41 AM
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Really interesting article Jim, and I've learned something about 64-bit I didn't know before, particularly the support of additional memory!. I, myself, was toying with 32/64bit this Christmas when deciding on my daughters new computer but alas for all she uses it for (mainly web, messenger, etc) I opted for the 32-bit option, my son on the other hand would definately make use of the 64-bit but his machine still does it's job so maybe next year for him (IMG:style_emoticons/default/smile.gif)
Great article for those who always wondered about the difference (IMG:style_emoticons/default/good.gif)
Dec 23 2009, 02:45 PM
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Well put together Jim and very useful I must say.

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