The Differences Between Windows 7 64-bit And 32-bit


23.03.2011

The Differences Between Windows 7 64-bit And 32-bit

So you went to buy yourself a new computer. You find yourself in the position of asking everyone you know want kind of PC should you buy and maybe your friends tell that it’s cool to have one with a 64-bit OS. But do you even know what the “64-bit” label means? With this article we try to explain what’s the deal with Windows 7 64-bit and why should you use it instead of 32-bit.

From the moment Windows 7 appeared on the market, 64-bit computer has become more and more popular among worldwide users. But most of them don’t know the advantages and the downsides of using it, and some, don’t even realize that they already running it.

64-bit computing history

First of all, the 32-bit and 64-bit terms refer to the width of the CPU’s register. The register is a small quantity of storage where the CPU’s data is kept. The CPU uses this data for optimum computer performance. Considering that the bit represents the width of the register, it’s obvious that a 64-bit register has the capacity to store more data than a 32-bit one. When it comes to utilizing system memory, the bigger space in the register the better. The CPU with a 32-bit register can support up to 4GB of RAM. This seemed like a big dial a few decades ago, 4GB being considered huge amount of RAM, but these days when we are using modern computer it is rather an inconvenient limit.

Many people think that 64-bit computers is something that has just been invented. In reality it is used for a long time. The Cray UNICOS is actually the first computer that used a 64-bit technology. In its time Cray 1 was considered the most revolutionary device of all. The 64-bit computers were used as large servers and super devices for a long time. During time people weren’t very aware of the 64-bit systems but they definitely were using them (here we remind the PlayStation 2 and the Nintendo 64 which had 64-bit processors).

In the early 2000′s the 64-bit computers were not very appreciated due to the bad support for drivers and the confusion. Even Microsoft had problems, when in 2001, they released the 64-bit edition of Windows XP. The lack of success was imminent because the driver support was very limited which gave lots of headaches. In 2002, several Linux distributions along with OS X Panther with support for 64-bit processors were released. The OS X Leopard was the first release from Mac with full support 64-bit, but it didn’t came to light after five years. Even though Windows Vista had a pretty fair 64-bit version, this kind of operating system wasn’t really adopted (at a large scale) among home users until the release of Windows 7 which clearly made a big difference because many of the computers sold nowadays contain Windows 7 64-bit.

How do I know if my PC can run 64-bits

Now for the interesting part. There are a few methods you can use to check if your machine can deal with a 64-bit OS, whether you own a PC which runs Windows 7 32-bit and you want to upgrade it to Windows 7 64-bit, or you have the old Windows XP and you want to give your computer some modern “clothes”.

The first way is actually the easiest. You can see if already have a 64-bit OS, by checking the Windows installation. If you use Windows 7 or Vista hit the Start menu, right-click on Computer and select Properties. The System Properties menu will be displayed and you’ll be able to see want kind of OS you have under System type.

In case you have Windows XP running on your PC, the method to check is similar, but Windows 64-bit was sold in a small number so you have little chances to own such a system. However, you can test your XP machine in order to find out if the processor is even able to support a 64-bit OS.

SecurAble is the perfect app for you to use when performing the test. SecurAble will first check if you have a 64-bit CPU, then it will tell you if the chip has support for D.E.P. (which has the ability to keep computers safe from “unchecked buffer” attacks). Finally, SecurAble will tell you if you computer can deal with Windows XP virtualization under Windows 7.

Advantages and downsides of a 64-bit system

After you found out a little bit about the OS versions and checking if your computer if it can run Windows 7 64-bit, now lets talk about the advantages of using a 64-bit OS. Here we present some of the benefits:

  • More RAM support (a lot more). As I said before, when using a 32-bit version of Windows, the maximum amount of RAM you can have is 4GB. What I’m about to say next will definitely dazzle you: in theory, thanks to the vast register system, the 64-bit operating systems are able to support more than 17 billion GBs or RAM. In reality the things are different. Because of the licensing problems, the Windows 7 64-bit  Home editions are limited to 16GB of RAM. Instead, the Professional and the Ultimate editions can handle up to 192GB of RAM, which is really something if you ask me.

  • The computer will be more efficient when using a 64-bit operating system. You will be able to add as much RAM as the computer’s motherboard can support, and you will be able to use it more efficiently. The secondary systems such as the video card will consume a lot less system memory due to the 64-bit address system in the register. So, the efficiency of your system will be highly noticeable.

  • Every process will have more virtual memory allocated. When using 32-bit systems, because its limitations, Windows can only assign 2GB or memory for every app. That’s why you have problems when running software such as virtual machines, video and photo editing applications or the newest video games. Such applications need more and more memory in order to properly function, and considering that the 32-bit Windows versions are limited it’s better to run Windows 7 64-bit for example, because this OS can have up to 8TB of virtual memory (at least in theory). This sounds excellent for hardcore gamers (which are fans of Crysis for instance) or Photoshop users.

  • Comes with advanced security features. The Windows 64-bit versions have some security features which are not available in the 32-bit Windows. You will be provided with protection against kernel exploits with the help of the Kernel Patch Protection, the driver-related infections won’t be a problem anymore because the device drivers must be digitally signed.

But enough with the benefits. Let’s see the downsides as well. Luckily the shortcomings are fewer but they still exists. Here’s some of them:

  • 64-bit drivers for older devices are very hard, even impossible to find. The good thing is that the manufacturers are now focusing on devices which work on 64-bit systems. So, if your devices are not older than a year or two, you won’t have any problems. The problems will seek you in case you own an older camera or a scanner (lets say from 2004). It’s very unlikely to find 64-bit drivers for such gadgets. This is caused by the hardware companies’ strategy as well because they can’t make much profit if they support older hardware. For them it’s better to promote new products and in a way force you to buy them. If you wanted to upgrade your hardware anyway this aspect won’t concern you that much, but keep in mind that some hardware can be very expensive and you have to think twice before taking the leap to a 64-bit operating system.

  • Some motherboards may not support more than 4GB or RAM. Even if they have support for early 64-bit processors, some motherboards do not support more than 4GB of RAM. Yes, you will be able to enjoy a 64-bit CPU, but when it comes to RAM, 4GB is not so much considering that the memory is becoming more and more important. These kinds of motherboards are quite rare, but even if you own one, it’s time to buy a new motherboard because the hardware is getting cheaper and cheaper and almost everyone can afford a decent computer part.

  • Very old applications may not work. Some applications don’t work very well on 64-bit because Windows 7 64-bit doesn’t support 16-bit apps at all. In case you still use one of these application you better say goodbye to it when you install a 64-bit OS. Also, some applications’ plugins and extensions may not work on 64-bit even if the main apps do. People that use Firefox or Photoshop have often encountered this issue.

I’d like to conclude with a personal opinion. I have been using Windows 7 64-bit for some time, and I must say that I didn’t had any problem so far, and I’m using my PC up to 12 hours per day. So, I truly recommend Windows 7 64-bit because is the best operating system on the market and I wouldn’t change it for anything.

Windows OS

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