Sunday, October 2, 2011

Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit

What is my version? 32-bit or 64-bit ?

If you are a Windows machine, right-click on your Computer icon in the start menu or desktop, and choose Properties from the menu. Windows 7 or Vista users will be able to check the System type in the list, while the few XP users with 64-bit will see it on the dialog.

Keep in mind that your CPU must support 64-bit in order to be running a 64-bit operating system.

More Problems with 32-Bit

Not only does 32-bit have a hard limit for the amount of memory it can address, there's also another problem: your devices, like your video card and motherboard BIOS take up room in that same 4 GB space, which means the underlying operating system gets access to even less of your RAM.

What's Different About 64-Bit?

While 32 bits of information can only access 4 GB of RAM, a 64-bit machine can access 17.2 BILLION gigabytes of system memory, banishing any limits far into the future. This also means that your video cards and other devices will not be stealing usable memory space from the operating system. Windows 64-bit Home editions are still limited to 16 GB of RAM for licensing reasons, but the Professional and Ultimate versions can use up to 192 GB of RAM, so keep that in mind when building that killer system.
The per-process limit is also greatly increased—on 64-bit Windows, instead of a 2 GB limit, each application has access to 8 TB of virtual memory without any special API, a huge factor when you consider applications like video editing or virtual machines that may need to use enormous amounts of RAM.
On Windows, the 64-bit versions also come with a technology to prevent hijacking the kernel, support for hardware-enabled data execution protection, and mandatory digitally signed 64-bit device drivers. You also won't be able to use your 16-bit apps anymore, which hardly seems like a loss.

Do 32-bit Applications Work on 64-Bit?

The vast majority of your 32-bit applications will continue to work just fine on 64-bit Windows, which includes a compatibility layer called WoW64, which actually switches the processor back and forth between 32-bit and 64-bit modes depending on which thread needs to execute—making 32-bit software run smoothly even in the 64-bit environment.
There are some exceptions to that rule, however: 32-bit device drivers and low-level system applications like Antivirus, shell extensions that plug into Windows, and some media applications simply won't work without a 64-bit equivalent.
In practice, the vast majority of your favorite applications will either continue to work, or provide a 64-bit version you can use instead—but you should check to make sure.

Does 64-Bit Use Double the RAM?

A common misconception about 64-bit Windows is the amount of RAM that is actually used—some people seem to think it will use double the RAM, while others incorrectly assume a 64-bit system will be twice as fast as 32-bit.
While it's true that 64-bit processes will take a little extra memory, that is a result of the memory pointers being a little bigger to address the larger amount of RAM, and not an actual double in size. Imagine, if you will, an ancient library filing system that has a card to tell you where to find the book in the library—if you got a bigger box to hold the cards, the library would not double in size, you'd just be able to find the book you were looking for more easily.
What will increase with 64-bit Windows is the amount of drive space needed for the operating system—with a compatibility layer in place, the base OS will take up a few extra GBs of space, though with today's massive hard drives that should hardly be a concern.

The Bottom Line, Which Should I Use?

If you are ordering a new PC with 4 GB or more of RAM, you should probably be running a 64-bit version of Windows so you can use all of the available memory, especially if you want a rig with a large video card just keep in mind that the Home versions only support 16 GB of RAM (for most people a 16GB limit won't be a problem, but it's worth keeping in mind).

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