When you’re out buying a new operating system, you’ve probably noticed a suffix attached to the OS. This suffix could either be a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. For example, Windows 10 32-bit operating system or Windows 10 64-bit operating system.
But what exactly do they mean? What is a 32-bit operating system? What is a 64-bit operating system? Why is the 64-bit operating system more expensive than the 32-bit? Why do a lot of technicians and programmers swear by the 64-bit OS?
We’ll find out more in this article…
What Does 64-Bit Mean?
A 64-bit operating system is designed to work for a PC that processes 64 bits at a time. A lot of personal computers today operate at 64 bits, and a lot of mobile devices are now starting to run at 64 bits. Now, a 64-bit operating system will not work in a PC built for 32-bit, but a 32-bit operating system will work in a system designed for 64-bit. Older hardware will have limited support for 64-bit operating systems, but it doesn’t mean that you’ll have major compatibility issues.
A 64-bit processor refers to the microprocessor responsible for processing instructions and data in chunks of 64 bits. To put it simply, 64-bit microprocessors can handle larger amounts of calculations per second than their 32-bit counterparts.
A microprocessor has two key criteria: its memory addresses and the corresponding instruction or data present in each memory address. So your microprocessor will always be tied to memory space where the data and applications are executed along with the corresponding number of bits available on the processor.
What’s The Actual Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Processors?
64-bit processors are capable of handling the following technologies:
- hyper-threading and faster data exchanges
- larger internal cache (compared to a 32-bit)
- advanced instruction sets
- faster bus speeds and system clock speeds
But the features are not a result of having 64-bit registers. The actual difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit processor is that the latter has a larger and more increased bus width.
More About 64-Bit Computing And Compatibility
If you’re building a new PC, you’re investing in a lot of hardware and software. How much RAM you need, the kind of computer graphics card you want to use, the memory size of the CPU, and most importantly, the kind of operating system you’ll most likely use to avoid compatibility issues.
However, you’re always going to be plagued by whether or not the new hardware you have now will work with the newer hardware in the future. For example, you have the latest motherboard capable of running the new Nvidia RTX 4000-series GPUs. How confident are you that your motherboard will still be able to accommodate the RTX 5000-series or RTX 6000-series down the line?
It’s pretty much the same concept when you’re moving from a 32-bit computer architecture to a 64-bit computer architecture. So, here’s what you can expect when you do decide to do that
64-bit processors will not be compatible with 32-bit processors. Having said that, a motherboard that can only accommodate 32-bit processors can’t run a 64-bit processor. However, you can run a 32-bit processor on a motherboard with a 64-bit processor slot. If you’re going to use a 64-bit processor but you have a 32-bit processor socket on your motherboard, you’ll need to get a new motherboard.
But it’s not advisable that you run a 32-bit processor on a 64-bit socket because that’s like putting a Toyota engine under a Lamborghini.
A quick glance over my Device Info will show you what kind of processor and operating system I’m using in the System Type tab. As you can see, I’m using a 64-bit processor together with a 64-bit operating system.
64-bit processors can easily support both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. If you have a licensed Microsoft Windows 10 32-bit operating system, you should be able to use that on a 64-bit computer. But you may not be able to maximize the 64-bit functionality and advanced features because you don’t have a 64-bit processor.
Drivers allow the operating systems to recognize hardware devices installed on the motherboard. Almost every piece of hardware will have its corresponding driver, which you’ll find under Device Manager. For example, you’ll see my device driver info for my USB wireless adapter.
Much like operating systems, drivers have their own 32-bit and 64-bit version. If you run a 32-bit operating system, you should be using a 32-bit driver. And the same thing applies for 64-bit operating systems. A 32-bit driver is not compatible with a 64-bit operating system, and vice versa.
Unlike programs and applications, drivers are always going to have options between 32-bit and 64-bit. There’s no middle ground even if you are using new technology.
Applications and programs will run depending on the operating system. A 64 bit operating system will need to run 64 bit applications and programs, and likewise for 32 bit operating systems. For example, you’ll need a 64-bit word processing program for a 64-bit version of Windows or Mac OS.
Just like drivers, you’ll have compatibility issues running a 32-bit application on a 64-bit operating system. Note that you might find several programs out there that won’t matter if you install it on a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows.
Advantages and Limitations of 64-Bit Processors
Using a 64-bit processor has its own advantages.
More Memory Space
You have more memory space that gives you more computing power so to speak. With a 64 bit version of Windows or Mac OS, you can maximize programs that rely on heavy processing power such as database management tools, 3D rendering programs, and so on.
Data Transfer Is Better and Faster
Running a 64 bit processor with a 64-bit operating system will allow you to move and transfer data. And because you need bits for both addressing and data, you actually have double the capacity with a 64 bit processor compared to a 32 bit processor.
But with these advantages, you also have some limitations.
Catch Up Is Still Difficult
64-bit processors are more common in the market now compared to what it was a couple of decades ago. But even today, 64-bit processors cannot access all of the memory space that it has to offer. With newer operating systems, new technology, and better supporting hardware, you’re still looking at about 48-bits of memory space being used by 64-bit processors. But the industry is getting better when it comes to giving you improved processor performance, so we’re more or less going to see this issue disappear within the next few years.
Waste of Memory Space
64-bit is backward compatible with 32-bit computing, but it often results in wasted memory space. To support compatibility, some programs and data sets need to pad their data to address the additional 32 bits. It works, but it’s not going to be as effective as it should be.
But this issue is often resolved by downloading a new version of a 32-bit legacy software and is replaced by their 64-bit counterparts respectively.
The Wrap Up
Using a 64-bit processor on a 64 bit operating system is always going to be the most ideal route, even if it means having to spend a few extra dollars on buying the OS. You have more memory space and higher memory size, improved security, and overall better performance.