32-Bit vs 64-Bit : What’s The Difference & What Does It Mean For Your PC?
You’ve probably seen 32-bit and 64-bit options available whenever you download a programme, or install a game. Your PC might even have a sticker that says it has a 64-bit processor. But does it really matter? Nearly every modern PC has a 64-bit processor now, so why should you care about the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems?
Well, for starters, if you’re a Windows user, you’ve probably noticed that you have two Program Files folders — one labelled simply “Program Files” and the other labelled “Program Files (x86).” Understanding the difference between these two folders and why you have them in the first place is pretty important, especially if you’ve ever installed the wrong program in the wrong folder. It’s the kind of thing you’ll never notice until you accidentally do it and your apps start misbehaving.
So why does it even matter, why do we have these two different architectures at all?
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. Simply put, a 64-bit processor is more capable than a 32- bit processor because it can handle more data at once.A 64-bit processor is capable of storing more 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. That’s just as big as it sounds.64-bit processors are to 32-bit processors what the automobile is to the horse-drawn buggy.
The key difference: 32-bit processors are perfectly capable of handling a limited amount of RAM (in Windows, 4GB or less), and 64-bit processors are capable of utilizing much more. Of course, in order to achieve this, your operating system also needs to be designed to take advantage of the greater access to memory. A horse-drawn cart will get you to work just as easily as a car will, barring any equine issues, but a car is a lot more capable – it can get you to work, or across the country and it can do it a lot faster than a horse can.
How many bits?
As a general rule, 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, 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 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 8GB or even 16GB of RAM that can be divided among the applications that need it.
Through hardware emulation, it’s possible to run 32-bit software and operating systems on a machine with a 64-bit processor. The opposite isn’t true however, in that 32-bit processors cannot run software designed with 64- bit architecture in mind.
Operating System Differences
With an increase in the availability of 64-bit processors and larger capacities of RAM, Microsoft and Apple both have upgraded versions of their operating systems that are designed to take full advantage of the new technology.
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, 4GB 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.
Software and Drivers
Applications with high performance demands already take advantage of the increase in available memory, with companies releasing 64-bit versions of their programmes.This is especially useful in programs that can store a lot of information for immediate access, like image editing 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.
[Source www.digitaltrends.com taken from SeniorNet Hutt City Newsletter with thanks]