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32-bit vs. 64-bit systems

I know that there are 2 types of OSs, 64 bit and 32 bit What is the main differences between them?

And if I am buying a new laptop, which one should i install?

It will be able to run all applications if I installed either of them?

I am talking mainly about windows Operating systems, but you can answer about others as well.

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marked as duplicate by quack quixote, BinaryMisfit Feb 27 '10 at 7:37

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

propose closing this as a duplicate of – quack quixote Feb 27 '10 at 5:38
up vote 13 down vote accepted

mainly the amount of RAM accessible. In most 32bit OSs there is a 4gb (closer to 3gb actually) ceiling. I believe vista x64 can access up to 128gb.

Realistically, unless you're a power user it won't matter. Very few activities you'd do on a daily basis will require more than 3gb of memory. Also, driver support for 32bit OSs is slightly better.

64bit apps will not run in a 32bit environment. However, you probably won't find very many apps that are exclusively 64bit. 32bit apps will run fine 99% of the time in x64.

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At my vista installation at work (32-bit), my 3 GBs of ram are switfly eaten by just a firefox session, Eclipse and whatever the sysadmins run in the background. It's highly recommended to switch to 64-bit if for no other reason than that if everyone runs a 64-bit OS, driver support and the amount of applications adapted for 64-bit are bound to improve. – Stefan Thyberg Jul 21 '09 at 21:29
@Stefan: There's something wrong if Firefox and Eclipse eat up 3GB together... – Sasha Chedygov Jul 22 '09 at 0:12
@musicfreak, I rather think there's something wrong with the additional tools that his administrators are running on his system in the background. I've had some bad experience in my past where administrators would run a daily backup over the network of every system, and my system would always start making a backup around noon, thus slowing me down for about 45 minutes. (Long enough for lunch.) – Wim ten Brink Jul 28 '09 at 5:34
Don't forget that your video card also occupies the same address space, so even if you only have 4GB of memory installed, it won't all be accessible in a 32-bit environment. – Ryan Fox Aug 7 '09 at 7:40

The bottom line is that there probably isn't a perceptible difference for most end users, but 64-bit is the wave of the future (present?) and does offer significant improvements. You'll be able to run lots of apps concurrently with either 32-bit or 64-bit, but with the 64-bit and lots of RAM, performance will be better.

The previous answers have correctly stated that the amount of usable RAM ("addressable memory" in nerd-speak) is a key difference between 32-bit and 64-bit. It should be obvious that your can only run 64-bit code on a 64-bit processor. However, even an OS that is not "fully" 64-bit can run 64-bit processes. For example, OS X has added 64-bit support in stages with 10.4 and 10.5, and now 10.6 ("Snow Leopard") pretty much everything from the kernel to the included applications are 64-bit.

As far as classifying operating systems based on 32/64-bit, it's actually somewhat of a false dichotomy. Windows ships separate 32/64-bit versions, but (for example) OS X ships as a single OS that can run in either mode. The reason Apple can do this is because they invested in Rosetta and also developed and promoted universal binaries. At first this was to make the PowerPC → Intel transition work, but now they can also leverage the technology to bundle 32/64-bit binaries in the same application, and the OS can choose which to launch as necessary. Windows support is likely to be somewhat different.

The vastly increased memory limits aren't really that important to end users (at least not now), but are critical for high-performance and memory-intensive applications. Even so, if a 64-bit machine and OS work for you, it's smart to buy with an eye to the future, because that's where computing is headed.

(Disclaimer: Nerdy details follow...)

One low-level but important detail that has been left out is that the 64-bit Intel (nee AMD) architecture (aka "x86_64") has a different CPU structure that adds some efficiency over the 32-bit architecture. There are twice as many "program registers", which is basically wicked fast memory that the CPU can use to cache information, resulting in a performance gain. Also, 64-bit code and language runtimes can discard years of backward compatibility with 32-bit cruft and make some new optimizations to code and execution pipelining that were previously impossible, and ongoing compiler development will continue to increase the gap.

Edit: See this post now that Snow Leopard has been released:

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32 bit vs 64 bit refers to the address space, and as others mentioned this translates into the amount of RAM you can use: 32 bit = 4GB, 64bit has a theoretical ceiling of 16, 384 petabytes. Wow.

The fact that you are posting on superuser probably indicates that you aren't a "normal" user. If all you're doing is checking email and writing word docs, you are probably ok with 32-bit; however, if you are buying a new computer and you're not looking for a cheap netbook, I see no real valid reason NOT to go with a 64-bit system. There are, however, many reason to get a 64-bit and thus as much RAM as you can get your grubby hands on, including : compilation performance if you're a programmer, multitasking performance, heavy duty video/graphical editing performance, VM performance, and high-end gaming performance. Notice the keyword performance? If that is important to you in the future, go for 64-bit.

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Good point, Nick. But if he was posting on superuser, you'd expect him to know the difference between 32bit and 64bit? – NoCarrier Jul 21 '09 at 23:37

32 and 64 are references to the word size, or basically, how many bits the CPU can work with at a time. It affects how instructions are composed, passed and manipulated.

The computer is able to reference a larger amount of memory due to this reason, as cited in other answers. If you can, you should go with the 64 bit system, although the most gains are seen in really CPU intensive work, such as video editing/processing.

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The major difference for every day use is that 64-bit will allow more than 4GB of RAM. You should be able to run 32-bit applications on your laptop with a 64-bit OS too. Just like you can run 16-bit applications on your 32-bit OS.


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