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Should I choose 32 or 64 bit for Linux?

I have a three-years-old Dell box with an Intel Core 2 Duo CPU and maximum 4GB RAM. I want to install Linux on the system but am unsure whether to use a 32-bit or 64-bit base.

I have a feeling that 32-bit is the way to go because 64-bit will consume more memory since 64-bit address pointers are double the size of 32-bit address pointers.

My main aim is applications should run as fast as possible. I usually have several dozens applications running at the same time.

What's your take on this from your experience?

  • Since you've got 4GB of RAM, if you go with 32-bit, you'll want to use a kernel with PAE support so you can use all of your RAM. – rakslice May 18 '11 at 8:35
  • on the other hand, linux will run fast on 3gb of ram, so you might as well just stick with a normal kernel unless you find yourself hitting that limit often. Which on an old dell box seems unlikely. – Sirex May 18 '11 at 9:10
  • The pointers don't make that much practical difference. How much of your memory consumption at any given time is filled with address pointers? (I don't know, but I'm positive it's a relatively small percentage) – Shinrai May 18 '11 at 14:20
  • possible duplicate of Should I choose 32 or 64 bit for Linux? and/or 32-bit vs. 64-bit systems – Ƭᴇcʜιᴇ007 Jun 6 '11 at 20:22

As has been noted before, it won't make much difference.

Pros for 64:

  • Programs may run a bit faster.
  • Can use all 4 GB RAM without any special kernel.
  • Allows running virtual machines with 64-bit guest OS. Newer VM versions may allow this on 32-bit hosts as well, though.

Pros for 32:

  • Less hassle using 32-bit applications and packages, allthough running 32-bit applications should work in 64-bit environment too.
  • Allows development linking to 32-bit (usually proprietary) libraries.
  • I can run 32-bit applications just fine. And you missed the cons. – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams May 18 '11 at 8:44
  • Also, for most virtualization software (e.g. VirtualBox 2.1+, VMware Server 2 beta 2+), if it supports 64-bit guest OSes on your hardware with your current BIOS, it supports them on both 32-bit and 64-bit host OSes. – rakslice May 18 '11 at 8:55
  • @Ignacio Hm, it's true. I have bad experience installing 32-bit packages, though. I'll edit the post. Wouldn't the cons be just the pros of the alternative? ;-) – maxelost May 18 '11 at 8:59
  • @rakslice OK, it's improving, then. But it used to be the case. – maxelost May 18 '11 at 9:00

Unless you're running heavy math/science/multimedia software, you won't really gain much from going 64-bit. I'd stick with 32-bit if I were you.

$ uname -a
Linux localhost.localdomain #1 SMP Thu Feb 17 15:03:58 UTC 2011 x86_64 x86_64 x86_64 GNU/Linux
$ lsb_release -a
LSB Version:    :core-4.0-amd64:core-4.0-noarch
Distributor ID: Fedora
Description:    Fedora release 13 (Goddard)
Release:    13
Codename:   Goddard

As you have 4GB RAM, I recommend installing 64-bit Linux. I've been using Arch Linux 64-bit myself at the moment and don't have any problems with speed. Like you, I also have a lot of applications running at the same time.

If you are a geek, you should use a window manager like dwm instead of a heavy desktop environment - this will increase the performance A LOT. Arch Linux is a good distribution for better performance. :)

uname -a      
Linux nXqd 2.6.38-ARCH #1 SMP PREEMPT Tue May 3 07:40:34 CEST 2011 x86_64 Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Duo CPU T6400 @ 2.00GHz GenuineIntel GNU/Linux

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