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Understanding 32bit vs 64bit Operating Systems

Whoever you are reading this, you have definitely seen PCs or mobile devices labeled as 64bit. You may be wondering what’s the deal between 32bit vs 64bit versions of operating systems.

Again what does it matter to you? For you well know that when you boot up these operating systems you just cannot visually tell the difference. They both seem to start up and look the same.

Before we go further I want to inform you if that for those who want to understand the underlying technology behind these operating systems architecture we have a more detailed article on what 32bit is and another one explaining 64bit here.

The differences are a little in-deep right down to the computer’s architecture. When someone mentions 32bit and 64bit in relation to operating systems they are basically referring to the way the underlying CPU handles information.

64bit operating systems handle large amounts of Random Access Memory (RAM) more efficiently than 32bit systems. Typically we are defining large amounts of RAM as 4 GB or more.

Advantages of 64bit vs 32bit

To get the benefits of a 64bit Operating System you need to have a 64bit CPU and ideally more than 4 GB of RAM. These differences are inherent in the fact that programs will be more responsive when running several of them at the same time and switching back and forth frequently.

Operations involving large amounts of data will also benefit from the 64bit CPU being able to work with larger chunks of data at the same time again making more efficient use of CPU cycles.

Now it is true many users on 32bit systems find the performance and memory need adequate. However, with an upgraded CPU and operating system, 64bit applications or application in general that have large memory demands begin to show vast improvements in performance.

These applications are generally in the area of Video editing suites and 3D rendering. Video gaming also benefits from this.

Image editing software also tends to take advantage of the increased memory capabilities. Running database servers also takes a performance boost by switching to 64bit operating systems.

All this sounds nice and exciting. The important thing to note here is that as long as you do not invest in the additional memory you may actually take a performance hit. 32bit systems generally perform best with little memory (2 GB or less). Ideally, on a 64bit system, you would be happy with at least 8 GB to 16 GB in most cases.

Summary of 32bit vs 64bit Operating Systems Capabilities

Now we know you cannot install a 6bit operating system without the 64bit requisite CPU. So here is a mini-guide to show what you can and cannot do with 32bit vs 64bit systems based on the CPU.

Assuming I have a 32bit CPU including Virtualization

Virtualization with 32bit systems doesn’t make a difference. You generally cannot emulate 64bit CPUs on a 32bit CPU. Technically you can but the performance drop would make it impossible to function so for purposes of this article we leave it at that.

Assuming I have a 64bit CPU

  • I can run both 32bit and 64bit Operating Systems
  • I can run both 32bit and 64bit Application Programs. Note: the exception here is If I ran a 32bit Operating system then I must run a 32bit application program

Assuming I have a 64bit CPU with Virtualization

This would have the same rules as without virtualization except if I had a 32bit host Operating system then the guest OS can be 64bit and application software can be 64bit. The only issue here lies where I use a 32bit guest operating system then I would not be able to use a 64bit application software.

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