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I have a 64 bit laptop (i.e. it came preinstalled with Win 7 64-bit Version). You know, I could have bought a 32-bit system but I was looking to upgrade the RAM to 8 GB in a year or so. I know already that I cannot run 16 bit programs in a 64 bit environment, however my question is this:

Will I be able to run 16 bit programs on this same machine if I install Win 7 32-bit version on it?

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possible duplicate of Why 64 bit OS can't run a 16 bit application? –  KronoS Jul 22 '12 at 6:29
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If you run a virtual machine with a 32bit OS in it that can also run 16bit software. Windows 7 Professional includes XP Mode which is a fully licensed Windows XP Professional 32bit virtual machine. Runs old 16bit Windows software without problems but is a bit slow. –  Brian Jul 22 '12 at 10:18
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4 Answers

Yes, the restriction on 16-bit code is when the processor is running in "long mode". A 32-bit OS won't put the CPU into long mode.

You can also use emulation (such as DosBox) for running 16-bit programs.

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I would recomend dosbox over going to 32bit. you loose 4gb+ memory access when you go to the 32bit. virtual machine like xp mode is also a good posibility. It would end up frustrating to have to go back to 64bit just because you had a new program that needs the extra memory etc. –  Kendrick Jul 22 '12 at 3:34
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Yes, 32-bit Windows 7 can run 16-bit programs. 64-bit Windows 7 cannot.

"64-bit versions of Windows do not support 16-bit components, 16-bit processes, or 16-bit applications" http://support.microsoft.com/kb/896458

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Yes, you can run 16-bit programs in 32-bit Windows 7, even if the processor is 64-bit.

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Yes, you can run it in 32-bit Windows 7.
If you really want to run it in 64-bit OS, you can try dosbox or install a dos/32-bit OS in VirtualBox

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