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. 🙂