Platforms: 32-bit or 64-bit?

Technology moves fast. It’s sometimes tough to keep up with all the changes that are happening in the industry today. One of the biggest questions I’ve been asked is what is the difference between 32-bit operating systems and 64-bit operating systems and is there any benefit? Today, I’m going to cover some of the pros and cons of using a 64-bit operating system over a 32-bit one.

One of the major key benefits of a 64-bit OS is the fact that you can use more than 4GB of RAM. Let’s say that you have 6GB of RAM in your system, but are running a 32-bit OS. In that case, you will only be able to use around 3GB of that RAM which is an incredible waste. This is due to the 32-bit addressing space, which can only address a maximum of 4GB of RAM. Unfortunately, you will usually never see the full 4GB being used. There are many factors that attribute to this such as your hardware, but the general rule is that your computer will utilize 3GB – 3.5GB of that RAM. Most, if not all current 64-bit operating systems impose an artificial limit on the maximum RAM that is able to be addressed. A true 64-bit system can utilize about 16 exabytes of RAM. That is the same as roughly 17.1 BILLION gigabytes. The artificial limits by operating systems that are currently in place are still way above the amount of RAM consumer motherboards can handle, so there is no need to worry about hitting those limits. For example, Windows 7 Professional can accept up to 192GB of RAM!

Another great benefit of using 64-bit (especially Windows) is the improved security you get. An example of this would be the fact that the 64-bit version of Windows requires any drivers that are installed to be digitally signed. This may not sound like a big deal until you remember that most rootkits install their own malicious driver(s) and need those drivers to be effective. Since a lot of rootkits are rendered ineffective on a 64-bit platform, you may want to switch from a 32-bit platform sooner rather than later.

Support and compatibility is probably one of the biggest reasons why many people don’t make the switch to 64-bit computing. Not everything is supported on a 64-bit platform yet. For many users and administrators, this is a key concern. If you frequently use a lot of old software, there’s a chance that you may experience bugs or crashes, or the software may not run at all. 64-bit support has gotten a lot better over the past few years, and I’ve found it rare to come across something that works inconsistently or doesn’t work at all.

Overall, the pros of a 64-bit operating system far outweigh the cons. There are other pros and cons that I have not covered here, so if you have any questions, feel free to contact us.