Windows 7...64-bit or 32-bit

Introduction Windows 7 comes in a number of different editions, from a Starter edition through to a fully featured Ultimate edition. However, each of these editions also come in two versions... 32-bit and 64-bit. This article will list or explain :

  • 64-bit processor benefits
  • 64-bit processor brand and models
  • 64-bit processor limitations
  • 64-bit operating system requirements
  • Windows 7 (64-bit) advantages
  • Windows 7 (64-bit) disadvantages
  • Recommendation for new PC buyers thinking about 64-bit

64-bit processor (CPU) benefits In a nutshell, if your computer has a 64-bit processor, it's capable of accessing a lot more memory than 32-bit processors (which are limited to 4GB RAM). It's going to be a few years before 4GB of RAM starts feeling like a ridiculously small amount of memory, but if you're buying a new computer, we recommend "future proofing" yourself by ensuring your new computer has a 64-bit processor. 64-bit processor brands and models All recent AMD and Intel chips support 64-bit out of the box. The Via Nano processor is also 64-bit. AMD have been pretty clear with their branding of 64-bit processors. It the logo shows AMD64, it's a 64-bit processor. Intel have been less clear with their branding, but generally all Core 2 chips, all Core i7 chips, plus most Xeons and many Celerons are 64-bit. It's a bit of a minefield out there though. This list of processors at Wikipedia may help identify whether your computer has a 64-bit processor. 64-bit processor limitations You'll be pleased to hear that if your PC has a 64-bit processor, you're able run both 64-bit and 32-bit operating systems. 64-bit operating system requirements Most of you will have guessed this already. To run a 64-bit operating system, your computer must of course have a 64-bit capable processor. Windows 7 (64-bit) advantages Although there are many different 64-bit operating systems available, let's focus on the advantages of Windows 7 (64-bit).

  • Speed
  • As 64-bit processors are capable of processing 64 chunks of data per single operation (as opposed to 32 chunks with a 32-bit processor), you might expect everything to work twice as fast when using Windows 7 (64-bit). This isn't the case, but there are significant performance improvements when running 64-bit programs which perform complex numerical calculations (e.g. data encryption software). 64-bit versions of CAD (Computer Aided Design), video editing and other resource hungry programs see marginal increases in speed, but this can be attributed to their ability to access more than 4GB RAM.

  • Flexibility
  • Windows 7 (64-bit) can handle the bulk of 64-bit and 32-bit programs.

Windows 7 (64-bit) disadvantages This the the question most of you want answers to. From our experience, we have encountered just 3 problems :

  • You can no longer use 32-bit drivers with your hardware
  • If you have existing devices or peripherals that you'd like to use with Windows 7 (64-bit) such as a wireless card or printer, you'd best check whether there are 64-bit drivers available first. The manufacturer's website should be your first port of call. If you find there are no 64-bit drivers for your device or peripheral, you can wait for the manufacturer to release updated software, though it might be more time efficient to just buy a new printer or wireless card that comes with 64-bit drivers.

  • Some 32-bit security software will not work
  • Programs hooking into the operating system at a low level such as anti-virus software may not work.

  • 16-bit applications will not work
  • However, unless the program you are trying to run dates from the Windows 3.1 era, this is unlikely to be an issue.

Recommendation for new PC buyers thinking about 64-bit Certainly do buy a PC fitted with a 64-bit processor. This will free you from the 4GB maximum memory limit found in 32-bit processors. You're still free to choose whether to run either a 64-bit or 32-bit operating system. If you are the trailblazing type and don't mind facing-up to potential problems/ limitations encountered whilst loading drivers for peripherals or security software, we recommend taking the Windows 7 (64-bit) option. If you want minimal hassles & don't plan to do large amounts of video editing, CAD work or high-end gaming, we tentatively recommend taking the Windows 7 (32-bit) if available. Final words Future operating systems and programs will grow in size and the 4GB memory limit with 32-bit processors and operating systems will undoubtedly become an issue in the future. Sure - in a few years, 3 or 4GB of RAM will start to seem ridiculously small, but for the majority of you emailing, browsing web pages and writing letters, the 4GB memory limit won't pose much of a problem. However, 64-bit operating systems and programs are undoubtedly the future and because of this 64-bit programs and drivers will start to become more commonplace. Until that day though, stick with your 32-bit operating system and be happy.