What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit systems?

There is no doubt that most modern PCs have 64-bit architecture, since it is generally preferred over 32-bit. Ever since the launch of Windows 7, most of them also run 64-bit operating systems. But why? You might ask. Well, there are quite a few reasons why 64-bit systems are considered superior.

First and foremost, it is a matter of speed! A 32-bit processor can only effectively access (at most) 3.2 GB, even if 4GB of ram have been installed, which means that it will have trouble handling multiple tasks at once, or even some heavy, memory-consuming applications by themselves. However, 64-bit processors can access huge amounts of memory -more than your rig can probably support!

Besides, 32-bit processors can only move data around in chunks of 32 bits, whereas their 64x equivalents work with 64 bit-long words, which mean they are faster and more efficient at handling larger amounts of data.

To top it off, 64-bit Windows systems are backwards compatible, meaning they can run x86 (32-bit) programs with no problem, because their installation files are placed in a separate Program Files folder, which is named ‘Program Files (x86)’, by default. All of the programs in that folder are automatically treated as 32-bit applications by Windows 64. The opposite does not hold true, though, since 32-bit Windows cannot run x64 programs at all.

Fun Fact: If you are running a x64 OS, you can check which of your applications are currently running in 32-bit mode by accessing the Task Manager and checking the ‘Processes’ tab. The programs that are running in x86 are marked with *32 at the end!

Will Windows 10 be 64-bit or 32-bit?

Recently, the head of the Windows Insider Program, Gabriel Aul, announced that Microsoft Windows 10 will be available in both x64 and x86 versions. Many users were amazed at this revelation; considering all of the advantages 64-bit systems have, you would expect Microsoft to invest solely on Windows 10 x64. Why would they want to waste resources to develop Windows 10 for 32-bit configurations, especially since their sluggishness could potentially ‘gimp’ their product, making Windows 10 appear slow and unresponsive?

The answer is simple: there are still more than 70 million PCs in the world with 32-bit architecture – at least according to data provided by Windows Update. Add to that the users who don’t regularly update Windows, and those who don’t have an internet connection, and you’ll realise that those people, who could easily reach 100 million, are also Microsoft’s customers who are in need of support as well.

But why would they still be using 32-bit PCs? Well, there are many answers to that. Maybe these systems belong to corporations that run predominantly 32-bit applications. Many utilitarian, business-related programs run on 32-bit, since they don’t really require a lot of horsepower, and the business sector seems to follow the ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it’ idiom! It would be unethical – and very unwise, as far as Public Relations are concerned, to leave all those customers hanging.

In the case of home users, as well as home-based entrepreneurs, 32-bit PCs can handle simple tasks just as well as x64 ones can. In fact, the only ones who seem to need x64 bit systems are gamers and digital artists, since graphic programs need a lot of horsepower in order to respond naturally – not to mention the vast amounts of memory needed for 3d rendering! So why would someone who is generally content with just browsing the internet, watching movies, listening to music and maybe writing on their blog need to upgrade to x64? They would have to upgrade their motherboard, the CPU (and its fan), their ram, and maybe their graphics card, for no practical reason at all. Not to mention the cost of the upgrade would be close to that of a brand new PC (purchasing of which would be advisable, in this case).

Besides, Microsoft seems pretty eager to push Windows 10 onto as many PCs as possible, as soon as possible, especially if you consider the fact that the upgrade to the new OS will be free of charge for a year after launch! So why would they purposely exclude such a large portion of the market?


Posted in General Computer Knowledge.

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