What is the difference between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Windows OS ?
A common confusion occurs when we have to choose between a 32-bit Windows and a 64-bit OS because many of us have no idea about what is the difference between them. After reading this article, you get an upper hand while choosing one of them.
Microsoft Windows comes in many variants with barely visible feature differences. A noticeable variation is observed when we have to choose between a 32-bit or a 64-bit version. Lack of knowledge regarding the basic difference between a 32-bit and a 64-bit operation system adds to the puzzlement when it comes to deciding the appropriate version.
Microsoft started releasing 64-bit versions shortly after the launch of their well-liked and fantasized Windows XP, which had the longest product lifespan of around 14 years. Time-traveling into the history reveals that the very first implementation of the 64-bit operating system was a Unix-like UNICOS created by the supercomputer-maker Cray Inc. in 1985. The development continued and many operating systems — Mac OS X, Windows, Solaris, and the most recently Google’s Android — were baked into their 64-bit versions.
The operating system variants are designed to utilize a kind of processor architecture and named so accordingly. A 32-bit OS is designed to take advantage of the resources facilitated by a 32-bit processor (like Intel’s x86) and same is the case for a 64-bit OS. So, the topic that should be discussed first is the processor.
What does a "bit" stand for?
The smallest piece of data in a computer is known as a bit or binary digit. We know that computer only understands binary language (the 0s and 1s), so, each and every bit can have only one binary value, either 0 or 1. A computer stores data in a collection of such bits known as a byte. 8 bits make up a byte, also called an octet.
Something about the 32-bit vs 64-bit processors
A processor or CPU includes a number of registers and logical circuits. Also called the brain of the computer, people often confuse CPU with the cabinet of a desktop computer. The size of the register is 32-bit in a 32-bit CPU and similar for 64-bit. The number of values that can be stored in its register are 2^32. These values are used to map the address of the memory locations present in the physical memory. So, 2^32 = 4 gigabytes is the amount of memory or RAM a 32-bit processor can access during its operation.
In the case of 64-bit, the register can store 2^64 values that amount to 16EB (exabytes) of RAM. A grand figure when to compared to 4 GB memory that could be accessed by its 32-bit older counterpart.
A 32-bit CPU can process 4 bytes of data in one CPU cycle as 8 bits are equal to 1 byte. So, if the size of the data to be processed is greater than 4 bytes, it would require the CPU to go for another cycle to process the remaining data. In the case of a 64-bit CPU, the whole data, if less than 8 bytes, could be processed in a single go. Even if the data is more than 8 bytes, the 64-bit processor would require less time than the other one. You’ll not be able to notice much difference in normal day usage, except that you are the one who likes to multi-task between heavy applications. A 64-bit processor comes in multi-core options enabling more processing power without increasing the size of the hardware.
Also Read: 4GB, 8GB Or 16GB; How Much RAM Do You Need?
The difference: 32-bit vs 64-bit Windows OS
The 64-bit operating systems are designed to support more RAM than the 32-bit ones. Heavy applications like image editing software, AutoCAD, and games could have a considerable performance boost after your machine is packed with 16 exabytes of RAM, at least theoretically. The limit of physical memory that can be used, depends on the fact whether your motherboard will accept it or not. Practically, you don’t need hundreds of gigs of RAM for gaming sessions. Read here about how much RAM do you need for gaming.
The minimum amount of RAM required for a 64-bit OS is 2 GB in comparison to 32-bit Windows which requires 1 GB RAM. It’s somewhat obvious because with large-sized registers more memory will be required. You should pack a memory chip of size 4 GB if you wanna experience the 64-bit Windows in action. The Home edition of Windows 10 can deal with 128 GB while the Pro has some serious limits, up to 2048 GB. You can stuff your machine with as much RAM you like.
Another reason that accounts for its widespread adoption is that it has now become more difficult to map files in the physical in memory. This is because the average size of the files is rocketing by the tick of the clock, usually more than 4 gigabytes.
One thing that you need to keep in mind is that a 32-bit OS works fine with a 64-bit processor but it won’t do any wonders. You’ll have to install a 64-bit OS on your machine to take full advantage of the 64-bit CPU. Also, the drivers and applications used should be designed for 64-bit processors.
Windows 64-bit version offers Kernel Patch Protection which prevents unsupported changes to the kernel of the Windows OS along with Data Execution Prevention at the hardware level. A digital signature for all the drivers is a must in order to prevent installation of modified drivers which may be used to inject malware on the machine.
The lack of software availability is a major downside for the higher bit operating system. Most of the older legacy software and drivers may not run on the 64-bit Windows. Many developers and companies are coming up with newer versions of their software products with improved compatibility. Mozilla released the 64-bit version of their Firefox browser back in December. Its adoption rate has made a considerable jump in the last decade as various manufacturers and the Windows-maker have made continual efforts to ship the 64-bit Windows either pre-installed or along with the 32-bit Windows if bought separately.
On a conclusive note, I would recommend you to go for 64-bit Windows because you need to keep in mind the future scenarios for your machine. As of now, almost every computer comes with a 64-bit processor packed in. If you’re using the older 32-bit operating system, you’re wasting the computing resources you have paid for. As far as the software availability is concerned, it is not a deal-breaker, be assured there will be plenty of them.