64-Bit Operating System – Do I Need One?

Have you been considering upgrading to a 64-bit operating system? 64-bit operating systems are en vogue, but do you know why? Can your computer run a 64-bit operating system (or OS)? If so, what are the advantages and disadvantages of running a 64-bit OS?

To run a 64-bit OS, your computer must have a 64-bit processor. Most modern processors are 64-bit capable. The other hardware in your computer must also be usable with a 64-bit OS. Generally this isn’t a limitation of the hardware itself but rather the driver–or the software that tells your computer how to use a particular hardware device–that may not be available for a 64-bit OS. Check with the hardware manufacturer to see if 64-bit drivers are available for your devices before considering updating to a 64-bit operating system.

The first major difference between 32 and 64-bit OSes is how much memory–or RAM–each OS variant can access. 32-bit operating systems are only able to use a maximum of 4 Gigabytes of RAM. This is a technical limitation of 32-bit architecture.

64-bit OSes are able to utilize much, much more RAM. A 64-bit OS can theoretically utilize up to 16EB (exabytes) of memory. This limit is currently unattainable and thus major CPU manufacturers have placed a soft-limit on the amount of RAM the processor can use. This soft-limit is more than can currently physically be placed in any home computer or server. This is likely to change over the next several years.

The software you’re currently using on your 32-bit OS will most likely run fine on a 64-bit operating system. However, many software applications now come in a 64-bit version as well. The 64-bit version will almost certainly perform better than the 32-bit version of the same software. It is worth noting that 64-bit software will not run on a 32-bit system.

So is it worth it to upgrade? That depends on what you’re doing. If you’re a gamer then the answer is a resounding yes. Gamers will see tremendous benefit from having more than 4GB of RAM at their system’s disposal. Expect the ability to run games with high video quality settings enabled–assuming your video card can handle it.

If you’re doing any kind of video or photo editing then you will also see modest performance gains from switching to a 64-bit operating system. Video encoding will be considerably faster. Most commercial-grade photo editing software comes in 64-bit versions now. Working with large datasets where you would normally run out of physical RAM will now be faster due to the ability to use more RAM.

It’s important to note that applications won’t necessarily be faster merely because they’re running on a 64-bit operating system. A 32-bit version of an application running on a 64-bit operating system will likely be slightly–nearly imperceptibly–slower. However a 64-bit application running on a 64-bit system will almost always be faster. This becomes even more true when running memory-hungry applications.