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64-bit CPUs have been around for about 10 years now, maybe more. Most computers have such CPUs (I don't think 32-bit CPUs are even manufactured anymore).

And there are a lot of computers that have more than 4GB of RAM (especially in the consumer sector), which 32-bit OS-es can't work with (let's ignore PAE for the sake of conversation).

In these conditions, why is there a 32-bit version of Windows 8 ? All editions (regular, Pro, Enterprise and RT) have a 32-bit and a 64-bit version. Aside from the RT edition, having a 32-bit version just doesn't make sense to me.

Shouldn't we completely give up on 32-bit OSes ? Is it still too early ?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Tog, Kevin Panko, Jeff F., Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007, random Mar 4 at 4:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This question is largely opinion based. –  Sickest Feb 19 at 20:51
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@Sickest I'm sure there is an objective answer out there ;) –  Radu Murzea Feb 19 at 20:52
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@RaduMurzea - The logical explanation is there were enough Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 users that were running 32-bit versions of those operating systems ( which were all supported at the time ) and thus Microsoft was required to still support. In other words because they were able to, and it required very little additional work on their end, they decided to still support it. –  Ramhound Feb 19 at 22:43

5 Answers 5

up vote 2 down vote accepted

As an administrator of Virtual Machines, I don't entirely mind 32bit builds. If you're making a machine that doesn't need over 4GB of memory, then by using a 32bit OS, all your software consumes less memory when it runs. That's because for 64bit builds, the software keeps 64bit address pointers, not 32bit ones. So they end up eating more memory just to do the same thing.

In the case of Windows 8, it may also have a bit do with backwards compatibility, which is a long-running Microsoft thing. Perhaps some older (but pimp) 32bit server would benefit from an upgrade from an older version of windows? It's a lazy case, but so are a lot of Windows admins.

Finally, I'll offer the idle speculation that Windows 8 is a software project evolved out of a long running series. The 32bit branch may be more of a barnacle than a serious product.

Edit:

Perhaps the best answer would be people pay for 32bit Windows 8. Whether or not it makes good sense probably doesn't matter that much to the people doing the selling. I wager if no one bought it, it'd vanish pretty fast.

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OK, but if an older server only supports 32-bit OSes, won't it be too old to run an OS like Windows 8 ? Just like you wouldn't install Windows 7 on a 10 year old PC that has just 512 MB RAM ? –  Radu Murzea Feb 19 at 20:57
    
Not necessarily. There are quite a few combinations of hardware out there to consider. My main answer though is the VM case. It's more efficient when you don't need >4GB of address space. Still, it's been a while since I personally spun up a new 32bit VM. I'm tending towards 64bit now even if I don't need the space so that I can scale up later. But my case is not all cases. –  Doc Feb 19 at 21:01
    
It's not so much memory consumption as occupied disk space. All those "duplicate" DLLs sure take some space. –  Daniel B Feb 19 at 21:08
    
VMs with 512MB or less might run better on a 32bit OS, but for anything with more address space I think 64 bit is the way to go. (4GB is RAM + virtual address space + PCI address space, so I really would not use 32 bit OS's on machines with more than 512MB memory) –  Hennes Feb 19 at 21:11
    
64-bit software performs better because the 64-bit extensions provide more registers, which means the program can actually access RAM less. The length of pointers, etc. is not the only difference between x86 32-bit and x86-64 64-bit software. –  ultrasawblade Feb 19 at 21:21

32bit is still required for low spec Tablets like Baytrail ATOM 8" Tablets. They only have 2GB RAM and the 64Bit uses too much RAM and this makes them slower.

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There's one objective reason that I have not seen mentioned in the other replies yet: drivers.

Even if your CPU is 64 bit, there may some device that you can't live without, for which there are only 32 bit drivers. Without a 32 bit version of Windows, you would be out of luck, since Windows requires drivers of the same bitness as the OS.

But even so, Windows 8 runs quite decently on the higher end 32 bit only CPUs. For example, recently, I installed the 32 bit version of Windows 8 on a Thinkpad T60 after realizing that its 2 GHz Core Duo processor didn't have 64 bit support.

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The answer is very simple: Backwards compatibility.

When 128 bit machines become the standard, one can ask the same thing for 64 bit software. Windows 7 was originally supposed to be 64 bit only, but there are so many people using 32 bit only software that Microsoft had to back down and make 32 bit versions.

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I remember reading articles that Vista was going to be the last 32-bit OS Microsoft would produced, but evidently they did not do that... That was right around the time UMPCs, which would later become netbooks, were starting to gain traction. –  ultrasawblade Feb 19 at 21:20
    
When a critical mass of customers are no longer using 32-bit operating systems support for 32-bit operating systems will be announced by Microsoft. When a critical mass of customers no longer require 32-bit application capability support that also will be retired. This has not happen, your average personal computer, still only comes with 8GB or less of memory. –  Ramhound Feb 19 at 22:47

The only reason I can surmise is to give Intel or AMD an opportunity to produce a super low-powered processor, which may be easier to get to ARM-like power consumption levels if it's a classic 32-bit processor, for use in a tablet, smartphone or other portable device.

Intel has been trying to break into the phone market for years and this may be Windows trying to help them out.

Shouldn't we completely give up on 32-bit OSes ? Is it still too early ?

Since 64-bit x86 CPU's can run 32-bit code, and since Windows 64-bit versions will run "legacy" 32-bit based programs, there's not much need to worry if you are running relatively modern programs.

32-bit Windows editions did allow the execution of old 16-bit based programs. This capability was dropped in 64-bit versions of Windows starting with Windows XP x64. Software of this nature is very old, though.

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Often if you need to run 16 bit programs on a 64 bit windows you can try running them in dosbox and they may still work. In fact you can run windows 3.1 inside it. –  Scott Chamberlain Feb 20 at 6:18

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