Will this 32-bit software run on my 64-bit operating system? or
Will this 64-bit software run on my computer?
If you have asked these questions then this article could help you to understand the concepts of 32-bit and 64-bit computing.
What are bits?
The number of bits in a processor refers to the size of the data types that it handles and the size of its registry. A 64-bit processor is capable of storing 264 computational values, including memory addresses, which means it’s able to access over four billion times as much physical memory than a 32-bit processor.
The 32 or 64 bit architecture refers to the memory address length that can be referenced by the processor. This also has an impact on the maximum amount of memory that can be utilized, which is 4GB for a 32 bit CPU (but in reality the maximum accessible ram is often closer to 3.4 GB due to other hardware allocations such as graphics card memory).
We will look at your computer system as three parts: the hardware, the operating system and the application programs.
Since 1995, when Windows 95 was introduced with support for 32-bit applications, most of the software and operating system code has been 32-bit compatible.
Here is the problem, while most of the software available today is 32-bit, the processors we buy are almost all 64-bit.
How Many Bits?
Having a 64 bit OS doesn’t automatically make all applications faster because much of today’s software is written and optimised for a 32 bit era. You’ll need software specifically optimized for 64 bit processing to take advantage of any speed improvements. Fortunately, many games are already including such enhancements.
As a general rule, if you have under 4 GB of RAM in your computer, you don’t need a 64-bit CPU, but if you have 4 GB or more, you do. While many users may find that a 32-bit processor provides them with enough performance and memory access, applications that tend to use large amounts of memory may show vast improvements with the upgraded processor. Image and video editing software, 3D rendering utilities, and video games will make better use of a 64-bit architecture and operating system, especially if the machine has 8 or even 16 GB of RAM that can be divided among the applications that need it.
You may think that using a 64 bit OS for a 64 bit processor is an obvious decision, but it is not so straightforward.
Introducing a new architecture will cause new compatibility and driver problems that wouldn’t exist under the old 32 bit version.
Pros and Cons of a 64 bit system:
• You can address much more than 4GB of memory, which is ideal for avid gamers, CAD, video editors and heavy multi-taskers. However, any 32 bit software you use will still be restricted to 4GB memory – you need a 64 bit CPU, OS and applications to take full advantage of the extra RAM.
• 16 bit applications will no longer run. Although this is unlikely to be a problem, if you use very old software (from the Windows 3.1 days!) then it will not work under a 64 bit OS.
• Existing 32 bit drivers no longer work.If you have older or poorly supported hardware you may find that it can no longer be used. Got a 7 year old scanner that just about works in Vista? You may not be able to get it working in 64 bit Windows 7.
• Unsigned kernel-mode drivers no longer work. Along with the issue above, the inability to run unsigned kernel mode drivers will cause problems for old hardware. (There is reportedly a way to bypass this check).
• Running some 32 bit applications on a 64 bit OS could actually be slower. The additional overheads in running 32 bit software in 64 bit mode could cause a slight degradation in performance. It will take some time for 64 bit software to become the norm.
The conclusion? Well, it depends on what you use your system for. If you have a 64 bit capable CPU but use older hardware, it would be safe to stay with a 32 bit version for the time being to ensure that you don’t need extra upgrades.
If you’ve got the latest hardware and drivers are available, then it would be worth while taking the step up to a 64 bit OS. If you regularly work with resource hungry applications that are 64 bit optimised (such as video editing, CAD, image packages, development applications) then it would be especially beneficial to be able to work with over 4GB of RAM amongst the other improvements.
Operating System Differences
With an increase in the availability of 64-bit processors and larger capacities of RAM, Microsoft and Apple both have begun to develop and release upgraded versions of their operating systems that are designed to take full advantage of the new technology.
Software & Drivers
Applications with high performance demands already take advantage of the increase in available memory, with companies releasing 64-bit versions of their programs. This is especially useful on programs that can store a lot of information for immediate access, like image editing and software that opens multiple large files at the same time.
Video games are also uniquely equipped to take advantage of 64-bit processing and the increased memory that comes with it. Being able to handle more computations at once means more spaceships on screen without lagging and smoother performance from your graphics card, which doesn’t have to share memory with other processes anymore.
Most software is backwards compatible, allowing you to run applications that are 32-bit in a 64-bit environment without any extra work or issues. Virus protection software and drivers tend to be the exception to this rule, with hardware mostly requiring the proper version be installed in order to function correctly.
In the case of Microsoft Windows, the basic versions of the operating systems put software limitations on the amount of RAM that can be used by applications, but even in the ultimate and professional version of the operating system, 4 GB is the maximum usable memory the 32-bit version can handle. While a 64-bit operating system can increase the capabilities of a processor drastically, the real jump in power comes from software designed with this architecture in mind.
In the not too distant future, 64 bit computing will be a common standard – as all hardware from the last couple of years has been designed with this in mind. Until a complete upgrade cycle has passed for the majority of users, there is still a strong case for some users to stick with 32 bit Windows for the time being. Once more 64 bit applications start to appear, it would be a good time to make the switch to the new architecture.
Well, at the end I tell you the simple rule to remember that if you have a processor which supports 64bit architecture and RAM <=4GB then go with 32bit OS and if you have RAM more than 4GB then go with 64bit OS.
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