Differences Between 32-bit and 64-bit Architecture

The two main architecture of processors are 32-bit and 64-bit. The type of processor a computer has not only affects its overall performance, but it can also dictate what type of operating system and software it uses.



Previously we covered How to Find if Windows is a 32-bit or 64-bit System.

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.

32-bit processors are capable of handling a limited amount of RAM, 64-bit processors are capable of utilizing more. This Microsoft page is listing the memory limitations for all Windows editions.

If you have under 4GB of RAM in your computer, you don’t need a 64-bit CPU, but if you have 4GB or more, then you do. Many users may find that a 32-bit processor provides them with enough performance. in contrast image and video editing software, video games will make better use of a 64-bit architecture and operating system.

32-bit architecture

The 32-bit processor was the primary processor used in all computers until the early 1990s. Intel Pentium processors and early AMD processors were 32-bit processors. The Operating System and software on a computer with a 32-bit processor is also 32-bit based, in that they work with data units that are 32 bits wide. Windows 95, 98, and XP are all 32-bit operating systems that were common on computers with 32-bit processors.

Note: A computer with a 32-bit processor cannot have a 64-bit version of an operating system installed. It can only have a 32-bit version of an operating system installed.

64-bit architecture

The 64-bit computer has been since 1961 when IBM created the IBM 7030 Stretch supercomputer. However, it was not put into use in home computers until the early 2000s. Microsoft released a 64-bit version of Windows XP to be used on computers with a 64-bit processor. Windows Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 also come in 64-bit versions.

Note: A computer with a 64-bit processor can have a 64-bit or 32-bit version of an operating system installed. However, with a 32-bit operating system, the 64-bit processor would not run at its full capability.

Differences between 32-bit and 64-bit architecture

  • Speed: The big difference between 32-bit processors and 64-bit processors is the number of calculations per second they can perform, which affects the speed at which they can complete tasks.
  • Memory: 32-bit computers support a maximum of 4GB of memory, whereas a 64-bit computer in some cases can support up to 512GB.


The Benefits of 64-bit

Pros:

  • Menory: 32-bit versions of Windows and other operating systems are limited to 4GB. 64-bit versions according to Microsoft are capable to support up to 512GB of RAM (Windows 7 64-bit Home edition up to 16GB and Windows Professional and Ultimate edition up to 192GB of RAM due to licensing).
  • Efficiency: Not only can you install more RAM in your system but also you will see more efficient use of that RAM.
  • Virtual Memory: Your computer will be able to allocated more virtual memory per process. Windows 32-bit architecture is limited to assigning 2GB of memory per application.

Cons:

  • Drivers: is hard to find 64-bit drivers for devices on your system. Vendors are increasingly supporting 64-bit operating systems.
  • Motherboards: sometimes does not support more than 4GB of RAM.
  • Software: sometime the software does not make the transition to 64-bit smoothly.

Below I am listing most of the frequently asked questions between a 32-bit and 64-bit versions from Microsoft’s webpage

What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows?

The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the way a computer’s processor (also called a CPU), handles information. The 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit system.

How can I tell if my computer is running a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of Windows?

Check this article

Which version of Windows 7 should I install: the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version?

To install a 64-bit version of Windows 7, you need a CPU that’s capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows. The benefits of using a 64-bit operating system are most apparent when you have a large amount of random access memory (RAM) installed on your computer, typically 4 GB of RAM or more. In such cases, because a 64-bit operating system can handle large amounts of memory more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system, a 64-bit system can be more responsive when running several programs at the same time and switching between them frequently.

How do I tell if my computer can run a 64-bit version of Windows?

To run a 64-bit version of Windows, your computer must have a 64-bit-capable processor. To find out if your processor is 64-bit-capable in Windows 7 or Windows Vista, do the following:

Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start\Control Panel\Performance Information and Tools\Performance Information and Tools.

Do one of the following:

In Windows 7, click View and print detailed performance and system information.

In Windows Vista, click View and print details.

In the System section, you can see what type of operating system you’re currently running under System type, and whether or not you can run a 64-bit version of Windows under 64-bit capable. (If your computer is already running a 64-bit version of Windows, you won’t see the 64-bit capable listing.)

To see whether a computer running Windows XP is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, do the following:

Click Start\right click Computer, and then click Properties.

  • If “x64 Edition” is listed under System, your processor is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows.
  • If you don’t see “x64 Edition” listed, your processor still might be capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows. To find out for sure, download and run the free Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor from the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor webpage.

Can I upgrade from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or from a 64-bit version of Windows 7 to a 32-bit version of Windows?

You can use the Upgrade option during Windows 7 installation, which preserves your files, settings, and programs, only if you’re currently running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista and you want to upgrade to the 32-bit version of Windows 7. Similarly, if you are running a 64-bit version of Windows Vista, you can only perform an upgrade to a 64-bit version of Windows 7. For more information, go to Upgrading to Windows 7: frequently asked questions on the Windows website.

If you want to move from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version of Windows 7 or vice versa, you’ll need to back up your files and choose the Custom option during Windows 7 installation. Then, you’ll need to restore your files and reinstall your programs.

Note: To install a 64-bit version of Windows 7 on a computer running a 32-bit version of Windows, you’ll need to start, or boot, your computer using a 64-bit Windows 7 installation disc or files.
If you start your computer using a 64-bit Windows 7 installation disc or files, but your computer isn’t capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, you’ll see a Windows Boot Manager error. You’ll need to use a 32-bit Windows 7 installation disc or files instead.
Windows Easy Transfer can’t transfer files from a 64-bit version of Windows to a 32-bit version of Windows. If you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows Vista but you plan to install a 32-bit version of Windows 7, you can move your files to an external location manually or use Backup and Restore in Windows Vista. For more information, go to Back up your files and Restore a backup created on a previous version of Windows on the Windows website. (If you’re running a 64-bit version of Windows XP, you’ll need to move your files to an external location manually.)

Can I run 32-bit programs on a 64-bit computer?

Most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows will work on the 64-bit version of Windows. Notable exceptions are many antivirus programs.

Device drivers designed for the 32-bit version of Windows don’t work on computers running a 64-bit version of Windows. If you’re trying to install a printer or other device that only has 32-bit drivers available, it won’t work correctly on a 64-bit version of Windows. To learn how to check for drivers, see Update a driver for hardware that isn’t working properly or go to the device manufacturer’s website. You can also get information about drivers by going to the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor webpage.

Can I run 64-bit programs on a 32-bit computer?

If the program is specifically designed for the 64-bit version of Windows, it won’t work on the 32-bit version of Windows. (However, most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows do work on the 64-bit version of Windows).

Device drivers designed for the 64-bit version of Windows don’t work on computers running a 32-bit version of Windows. To learn how to check for drivers, see Update a driver for hardware that isn’t working properly or go to the device manufacturer’s website. You can also get information about drivers by going to the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor webpage.

How can I find programs and devices that work with the 64-bit version of Windows 7?

To find programs and devices that work with Windows 7, look for products that display the “Compatible with Windows 7” logo. They’ve been tested to be compatible with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 7.

You can also go on-line to the Windows 7 Compatibility Center and check to see whether the program or device is compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows 7. Hardware and software manufacturers continue to update this information, so check back often.

If I’m running a 64-bit version of Windows, do I need 64-bit drivers for my devices?

Yes. All hardware devices need 64-bit drivers to work on a 64-bit version of Windows. Drivers designed for 32-bit versions of Windows don’t work on computers running 64-bit versions of Windows.

To learn how to check for drivers, see Update a driver for hardware that isn’t working properly or go to the device manufacturer’s website. You can also get information about drivers by going to the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor webpage.

Please leave your comments below with your thoughts.

Nik

Experienced IT Consultant working and living in the UK. In early years he was born and raised up in Greece and been to the UK since studies. He is passionate with technology, gadgets and computers, he really likes the internet and IT in general.

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