Is It Worth It To Go 64-Bit?

I’ve mentioned on the PCMech Live show many times my disdain for the fact that if you’re one of the few running a 64-bit processor, your options for native 64-bit applications are few and far between on the consumer end.

Chances are very high that the computer you’re using right now has a 32-bit CPU in it.

Here’s the short-short definition of the difference between 32 and 64 concerning your CPU:

“32-bit” refers to the number of bits that can be processed or transmitted in parallel – or – the number of bits for single element in a data format. In relation to microprocessors, it indicates the width of the registers (a storage area within the CPU). 32-bit CPUs process data and memory addresses that are represented by 32 bits. 64, on the other hand, has registers that store 64-bit numbers.

In plain English: 32-bit is the reason your PC can only hold 4GB of RAM and nothing more. If you have 64-bit – and a motherboard that has enough slots – you could put up to 1TB of RAM in your box, and I’m not kidding because 64-bit can address that much RAM.

But 64-bit is not just about RAM.

Supercomputers have been using 64-bit for years and it’s definitely not a new method of computing. You could feasibly have the power of a mainframe sitting right on your desk with a 64-bit system.

So what’s the deal? How come we’re not all using 64-bit processors now?

Given the fact that 64-bit CPUs are just as affordable as the 32-bit versions and there are tons of motherboards that have 64-bit support – one would think we’d all by using them by now, but we’re not.

The hardware support is there. The problem is that the software support isn’t.

On the Windows side, Windows XP has more or less always had a 64-bit edition. Vista also has a 64-bit edition.

If you run a Mac, the current Mac Pro does house a 64-bit processor in it so technically you are running a 64-bit OS… mostly (more on that in a moment).

Linux has had 64-bit support for quite a long time also.

But even with all this great 64-bit hardware support, the software side as noted above is just not there.

I’ll give you a tiny example: The Adobe Flash player has no support for a 64-bit web browser so you must run it in 32-bit mode, completely defeating the purpose of having a 64-bit processor when you have to “dumb it down” like that.

And that’s just the beginning.

The Mac Pro is natively 64-bit, but the vast majority of apps for the Mac are still all 32 so you can’t even take full advantage of that super-awesome 64-bit Intel multi-core proc under the hood.

On the Windows side it’s even worse. Sure, you can run 64-bit Windows, and it works well, but even more apps are “32-bit only club”.

With Linux it’s generally agreed that for best desktop use (meaning not server use), 32-bit is still the best choice for the most app support.

Should you go 64?

I would say this is highly dependent on what OS you choose to use.

If it’s Windows – no. Stay 32 for now. Don’t start thinking about 64-bit until Windows 7 is released.

If it’s a new Mac you’re already running 64-bit. Just keep your fingers crossed that more native 64-bit apps are made for the Mac.

On the Linux side the vast majority of Linux distros have both 32 and 64-bit releases so you can pick whatever you want. However on a desktop system you’re better off staying with 32 for the time being because desktop-style software agrees with it much better.

Recommended reading for Windows and Linux people: www.start64.com. You can get up to speed on native 64-bit software and drivers. Very nice.

If you’re all about the 64, bookmark that. :-)

Comments

  1. Gael Aime says:

    Hi Rich, thank you for this info. I’m thinking of buying a new computer and this is exactly was stoping me. I was thinking buying for the future, my question is can I install a 32bit OS into a 64bit Processor and wait till everything catches up, or how is it going to be if I run Vista 64bit – will I be only be able to run 64bit edition of software?

    Thanks Again!

    • The best way to go is 64-bit processor with 64-bit OS. I personally wouldn’t put a 32-bit OS on a box using a 64-bit processor. There’s nothing that says you can’t, but I haven’t tried it so I don’t know what the result would be.

      If anyone has put a 32-bit OS on a box with a 64-bit CPU – and it worked well, please feel free to follow up this comment.

      • I run 2 computers; both with a 64-bit processor running 32-bit software:

        The first is an AMD Athlon 64 single-core on a Shuttle motherboard with a 160GB Hitachi hard-drive, 2GB DDR2 RAM, and a 500MB graphics card.

        The second is an AMD Athlon 64×2 dual-core processor on an Asus motherboard with 150GB HDD, 2GB DDR2 RAM, and a 256 MB graphics card.

        Both work perfectly well: The only unrelated fault I’ve had on either was this last weekend when the HDD popped its’ clogs on the dual-core comp.

        I’ve never tried 64-bit software on either.

        A 64-bit processor will run 32-bit software without a problem.

  2. Speaking as a Windows x64 user, if your looking at a mid to high end machine, and you don’t have some archaic hardware that won’t work under a 64-bit OS, there is absolutely no reason to get 32-bit Windows.

    4GB of good DDR2 RAM can be had these days for well under $100, even in laptops, and by choosing a 32-bit OS you are crippling a machine with 4 GB of RAM because hardware that uses DMA further eats in to the address space, especially modern video cards with 256 and 512 MB vram. I have the original, 640 MB, version of the GeForce 8800 GTS in my machine, and along with some other memory space eating hardware, I only have 2.8 GB of addressable memory space under a 32-bit OS.

    Even if all the apps you use are 32-bit, having a 64-bit OS still gives you the option to have total RAM, which means less paging when multitasking with memory eating applications. And on top of this, a properly coded, compute heavy, native 64-bit application (which is admittedly quite rare these days outside of the server area, though not nonexistent) will run circles around its 32-bit counterpart.

    The only thing you might loose by going with a 64-bit OS is support for some older hardware from some companies that have not yet updated their drivers. And by taking advantage of the extra address space provided by your 64-bit operating system, you can run a 32-bit one under VMWare Player (free) or VMWare Server (also free) which allows you to connect USB devices to your virtual machines.

    • Note that I am using 64-bit Vista. I haven’t used 64-bit XP so I can’t speak for it, but it’s built on the 64-bit Server 2003 kernel, so I would imagine it’s pretty good as well.

      • Whether you’re using XP or Vista, they both do the job well in the 64-bit world, no question. As noted in the article, it’s not the hardware that’s lacking and certainly not the OS offerings we have available – it’s the apps. We need more native 64-bit apps (for all platforms) to truly unleash all that 64-bit is capable of.

  3. Sorry Rich but what you are saying is simply not true.

    I am running XP32, Vista 32 and Vista 64 on the same computer.

    Have you run Vista 64 yet or are you quoting from someone else?

    Every game I have loaded runs fine under Vista 64 and this includes COD4, Crysis, Half-Life (all versions), FEAR, and quite a number of other newer and older games including Descent 3 which was made in 2000, at least five years before WIndows 95 came out.

    I am also running Picasa and a bunch of other non-gaming software. The only think I have found out I cannot run is Zone Alarm. Thats it!

    I am also running from an old version of Microsoft Office, Word and Excel.

    My computer is running in SLI just fine as well.

    I just dont see the problems you are describing.

    I really don’t think it is fair to trash Vista 64 unless you have actually tried it…and I have and I like it because it does work..and works very well.

    David

    • COD 4 has major issues with 64-bit Windows Vista. That was a really bad example on your part. http://www.google.com/search?q=call%20of%20duty%204%2064-bit

      Most of the other apps you mention have no 64-bit releases. You’re running them in emulated 32-bit mode, a waste of your processing power.

      I did not state there were problems with 64. Nowhere in the article does it even say the word “issue” or “problem”. I stated there is not enough native 64-bit software application support.

      And not once did I “trash” Vista. I said stick with 32-bit Windows (and of course, as you know, Vista does have a 32-bit edition). When Windows 7 is released there will be more native 64-bit support, hence I instruct people to wait until that time.

      • The 32-bit emulation mode when running a 64-bit OS is actually taken care of by the processor at the hardware level and is part of the x86-64 instruction set.

        There is almost no overhead involved in running a 32-bit application on a 64-bit operating system.

        • You are absolutely correct, but as you know native 64-bit apps is the best way to go with that architecture. If 64 wasn’t able to run 32-bit apps it would be particularly worthless hence the reason it’s part of the instruction set.

        • So if Vista 64 runs 32 bit software just fine (which it does)…then I am still left wondering, what is the problem with Vista 64? I just don’t see these vast problems with Vista 64 on my computer.

          David M

  4. Yeah, I concur with David here, most of the facts laid out in this article, don’t fly with reality. Frankly, they sound like they were pulled from some kind of “Problems with Windows Vista 64-bit” Wikipedia article. And people wonder why Microsoft started the Mojave Project. :(

    I can’t speak for OSX or Linux, by I’m running Vista Ultimate 64-bit myself, and have only had one, single, solitary program NOT function properly (though, it still ran in general, it’s a web app and browsers just won’t “see” it).

    And this part?: “In plain English: 32-bit is the reason your PC can only hold 4GB of RAM and nothing more.” Wow.

    Maybe it’s different on other motherboards, but for me, in XP 32-bit (I setup a dual-boot system because of all the Vista/32-bit myths that were going around), Windows only “sees” around 3GB of RAM. Total RAM, that is. As in, my my 512GB graphics card takes up a portion of that, leaving 2.5GB of usable “actual” RAM listed in the system properties.

    Maybe there’s some kind of weird way it still uses the RAM I’m not aware of. But the fact it doesn’t report it inside Windows, is troubling.

    In fact, as far as I’ve been able to determine, even Vista 32-bit has this same issue.

    I even have old games from the Windows 98/Me days that WON’T run in XP-32 (even in compatibility mode) that WILL run in Vista-64 (sometimes in compatibility mode, sometimes not; so long as they’re not 16-bit, cause those really don’t run in 64-bit, except in a Virtual PC OS.) In fact, Vista 64 even has two separate Program Folders: one for 64-bit apps and one for 32-bit. Which should tell you that 32-bit apps are alive and well in a 64-bit environment.

    “Should you go 64?… If it’s Windows – no. Stay 32 for now. Don’t start thinking about 64-bit until Windows 7 is released.”?!!!

    Um, no. The “ability” of a Vista 64-bit OS to handle 32-bit apps is already here! Again, I cite the Mojave Project for highlighting supposedly “Windows 7 only” features that are already in Vista.

    So why isn’t everyone running a 64-bit OS by now? Honestly: articles like this.

    • Yes I’ve done the experiment to prove that 32-bit OSs can only see <4GB RAM:

      With all unused components, I used a Gigabyte GA- funny-alphanumeric-sequence motherboard, fitted an AMD Athlon 64×2 CPU, used the onboard ATI 250MB graphics, a 500GB IDE HDD,and fitted 4 x 1GB sticks of Crucial DDR2 667MHz RAM.

      The OS I used was Windows XP Home, which saw 3.5 of the 4GB RAM; but since 0.25MB of that amount was being used by the onboard graphics I read 3.25GB.

      You may find this forum discussion answers some of your questions maybe?

      http://www.msfn.org/board/4GB-RAM-32bit-OS-t113847.html

  5. This is just my experience and I’m not going to debate anyone, but I have 64-bit vista and I do recommend it to future PC builders.

    • I beg to differ there:

      64-bit Vista may be a good thing for current PC builders who have orders for 64-bit systems or are building their own; but Vista isn’t the future.

      Windows 7 is the future, the not-so-immediate but also not-so-distant future. I can say not-a-lot nore on that right now, other than it’s simply got to be better than Vista – Therefore I’d be inclined to agree with Rich and say at least wait until 7 is released in final retail format before going fully 64-bit.

  6. Excellent article, and thanks for the link. I was wondering about all this 64-bit stuff earlier.

  7. Wow, is this article ever misleading. Seems Rich has no real-world experience with 64-bit OSes, and if that’s the case, maybe he shouldn’t be writing about them.

    I’ve been running XP x64 for YEARS now without a problem. Sure, there are some apps that don’t run in 64-bit, but the vast majority (90%) do. The ones that don’t can be easily replaced with ones that do. What’s the big deal?

    XP x64 is DESIGNED to run 32-bit apps. That’s what SysWow64 is for, Rich.

    Flash player? It may not run in a 64-bit browser. So run it in a 32-bit browser. Is that a problem?

    On the *x side, there is also no reason not to go 64-bit. I’ve been running Ubuntu x64 since Dapper and the only “hitch” has been installing 32-bit Firefox to use flash. No big deal.

    64-bit is here today and when you consider that right now you can run up to 8 GB RAM with it, there is absolutely NO reason not to use it right now.

    Get a clue, dude, and get your facts straight. People come to PC Mech trusting they’ll get good advice. Articles like this betray that trust.

    • “Sure, there are some apps that don’t run in 64-bit..”

      EXACTLY. And where do you get this “90%” figure from? Did you make that up? Of course you did. You have no real figures.

      “Flash player? It may not run in a 64-bit browser. So run it in a 32-bit browser. Is that a problem?”

      Yes, it is. You’ve got this wonderful 64-bit system and have to purposely go legacy with 32-bit just to operate a widely used software.

      I’m glad I betrayed your “trust”. You state statistics that don’t exist, claim to have run systems with no proof of tenure and end it with a “dude”.

      Oh, yeah. I really feel put-in-my-place by you. I’m so ashamed *sniff*.. someone give me a tissue.

      • Even if all you ever run are 32-bit apps, 64-bit is still the way to go, so running a 32-bit browser so you can use flash is not an issue.

        A 64-bit OS allows you to use all 4 Gigs of RAM in a system that has it or more in a system that has more. So, even though individual application still suffer from memory restrictions, you can still run more of them.

        The overhead from running 32-bit application under a 64-bit OS is so negligible it’s not even worth considering.

        There is a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about the differences between 64-bit and 32-bit operating systems.

      • OK, Rich, it is my subjective conclusion that 90% of the software out there runs in 64-bit. I’ve been using 64-bit since 2005 and that’s my experience. How long have you run 64-bit, Rich, and what’s your personal experience with that?

        Obviously not very long, if ever, if you think we have to go to the trouble of switching to a 32-bit browser to run flash. I and a lot of other people already have one. It’s the default version of Firefox. 32-bit IE also comes with XP x64. But if you’ve never run x64 you wouldn’t know that, would you?

        Instead, you just write about it. If you had real-world experience with 64-bit, you would make statements based on fact, not fancy.

        Being a little defensive, Rich? The consensus is your article is in error. You’re wrong, Rich. Rather than admit it you’re being really defensive in response to the barrage of criticism you earned yourself. You’ll challenge other people’s experience when it’s obviously more than yours? You’ll use infantile sarcasm (“Because you can’t read, I’m going to have to repeat myself”)instead of plain statement of fact? This unprofessional and immature behavior is hardly going to win you anyone’s respect, Rich.

        Rather than continuing to lose credibility with all these people who actually do have more knowledge and experience than you on this topic, consider admitting you’re wrong and apologizing for the ill-conceived article. Can you do that?

  8. @David M

    Because you can’t read, I’m going to have to repeat myself:

    “I did not state there were problems with 64. Nowhere in the article does it even say the word “issue” or “problem”. I stated there is not enough native 64-bit software application support.”

    Read that, then tattoo it on your forehead so you don’t forget it, thank you. Have a nice day.

  9. I’m still waiting for someone who has actually loaded and used Vista 64 on a new computer to tell me what these numerous problems are?

    Is there anyone here with first hand experience? (crickets)

    My 64 and 32 bit applications run just fine on my Vista 64 machine with SLI.

    What are all of your problems? …for those who have actual experience.

  10. Well Rich,
    You tell people its not worth it….for an OS that works no worse than XP32…in my experience So what if someone does get a native 64 bit application that they want to run? After reading your article, they would think it is not worth it. I simply disagree.

    David M

  11. OK, Rich, it is my subjective conclusion that 90% of the software out there runs in 64-bit. I’ve been using 64-bit since 2005 and that’s my experience. How long have you run 64-bit, Rich, and what’s your personal experience with that?

    Obviously not very long, if ever, if you think we have to go to the trouble of switching to a 32-bit browser to run flash. I and a lot of other people already have one. It’s the default version of Firefox. 32-bit IE also comes with XP x64. But if you’ve never run x64 you wouldn’t know that, would you?

    Instead, you just write about it. If you had real-world experience with 64-bit, you would make statements based on fact, not fancy.

    Being a little defensive, Rich? The consensus is your article is in error. You’re wrong, Rich. So you’re going to get all defensive in response to the barrage of criticism you earned yourself? You’ll challenge other people’s experience when it’s obviously more than yours? You’ll use infantile sarcasm (“Because you can’t read, I’m going to have to repeat myself”)instead of plain statement of fact? This unprofessional and immature behavior is hardly going to win you anyone’s respect, Rich.

    Rather than continuing to lose credibility with all these people who actually do know better than you, consider admitting you’re wrong and apologizing to them. Can you do that?

  12. Gael Aime says:

    Well thank you guys (Rick, Mark, Sharonn ect) I’m going Quad Core Vista 64 at least now I now what will I be facing thanks again all.

  13. Looks like I’m fashionably late to the party… No matter.
    In my opinion, if 32Bit apps run under a 64Bit OS, without any appreciable performance hit…why not go 64Bit? You would then have the option and ability to live in both worlds…no? I’m also not clear on the logic with the article… Running 32Bit apps under a 64Bit OS is “dumbing it down”, yet running a 32Bit OS on a 64Bit capable machine is the way to go? I must be missing something.

  14. The only way to get more 64-bit Windows programs is getting more people to purchase 64-bit Windows OS. More people are already getting the 64-bit Windows Vista with PC systems that have more than 4 GB memory. The change is happening. You can’t stop it.

    The recommendations from the article is useless. You don’t have much of a choice depending on the system you purchase at retail.

  15. Please help me! I do a lot of home video editing but recently switched over to a Gateway comp with Vista 64 Home Prem SP1 installed. I can’t seem to get my video editing app (Adobe Premiere 6.5) to install at all on this new system. On top of that, the external firewire video capture device would not install until this specific video app is installed as they were sold as a bundle. I spent almost $500 on this video app and it worked beautifully with the old XP-32 pro version of Windows, but since video editing is a very system intensive task so I thought I would benedfit a lot from Vista 64 in a Core 2 Duo box, however, nothing is working out here.

    After reading on comments after comments about 32bit apps should still work with Vista 64, then why can’t I even get the app to install into Vista 64 to start out with? Any suggestion here?

    My new Gateway does come with the Vista disk of x32/x64 therefore I do have option of re-installing either one of the two. I do really like the way Vista x64 runs and all the benefit I would gain in the future to come. Is it even possible to have both versions installed in the same system? meaning two whole separate versions of Vista running, not the x64 running the x32 apps? Or may be x32 version installed on one hardrive and the x64 installed on another as I do have more than one drive in my comp? If it is possible, when system boots, will the system ask me which OS I want to run?

    I checked with Adobe, and according to them, my only option is to either going back to XP-32 or spending another $700-$800 on the Adobe Premiere Pro that is compatible with Vista 64, but I do not need the Pro version of the app as I am only a regular home video dude, not a pro.

  16. I just purchased a laptop with 64 bit OS. How do I make it operatate on a 332 bit system so that I can play things like yahoo games? Thanks for any help that can be offered.

    • I have no idea whether Yahoo games run on a 64-bit system etc and so I won’t even go there. I’ll leave the 32/64-bit software compatibility issue for the experts above.

      What I will say is that you may or may not be able to run both a 32 and 64-bit operating system as a dual-boot on your laptop; giving you a choice of 32 or 64-bit o/s, (You’ll have to install a 32-bit version separately after partitioning your hard-drive.) or you can format your disk and install a 32-bit version from scratch.

      If you go the latter route, I’d suggest that you make a full backup of your existing installation first, before doing anything.

      HTH

  17. Angry Windows user says:

    When I built my computer in 07 I bought WindowsXP64 for its 64-bit dual-core processor. NOTHING worked on it. Anything that would actually install, would not run. So I went with XP32. A week ago I got my mits on a copy of Windows 7-64 Ultra. I tried that out. NOTHING WORKED. Not even the latest drivers for my motherboard, video card(2 month old card) or sound card would install. Only 2 programs I use would operate. Even 64-bit versions of some of my programs wouldn’t work. So I dusted off my XP64. My video card is working, my on-board soundcard will not. All but those same 2 programs work. It’s all flip-flopped. One of those two programs is a 64-bit 2009 edition. I’m getting very sick of this crap and am ready to wipe my drive yet again and just go back to WinXP32. All this talk about how awesome Vista is and how Win7 is going to be the savior of us all is total crap. I suggest to everyone who’s thinking of trying any 64-bit O.S. to only do so if the internet and email is all you use your computer for. Otherwise you’re just getting ripped off by Microsoft who puts out O.S. that are eithe rnot compatable with anyting or hardware/software companies who release drivers that don’t work just so they can look like they are high tech but haven’t done any work.

  18. Angry Windows User says:

    Oh, and I forgot. It shows a lot about Microsoft when their own website isn’t compatable with the Windows 64-bit browser. When I go there for updates, I get a “This site doesn’t support 64-bit browsers, please click HERE to switch to 32.”

    Can you believe that crap?!

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