What is 32-Bit and 64-Bit?
The computer terms, 32-bit and 64-bit, refer to the way a processor, the CPU, in the computer, handles information. (Note a bit is either a 0 or 1. Everything that is on the computer must be reduced to that binary number sequence.) Everything like documents, music, videos, and pictures must be reduced to bits so that the CPU can process them. To learn more about CPUs in general, please see What’s Inside a CPU?
Both types of processors handle data that comes from another hardware device - memory, otherwise known as RAM, or Random Access Memory. The 64-bit version of the Windows 7 operating system handles large amounts of RAM more effectively than the 32-bit system version of Windows 7. There is even talk that 128-bit CPUs and operating systems will be the next big thing to come.
A 64-bit version of Windows 7 can access physical memory (RAM) that is above the 4-gigabyte (GB) range. This is a limitation of 32-bit Windows 7. It cannot address physical memory above 4 gigabytes.
Windows 7 can be installed as a 32-bit operating system or 64-bit. So, depending on the version, an installed version of 64-bit version of Windows 7 supports from 1 GB of RAM up to 128 GB of RAM. The ability to act on more physical memory lets Windows 7 reduce the time needed to swap processes in and out of RAM. This means that the operating system can manage and control the processes more efficiently. This memory management capability helps improve the overall performance of Windows 7.
Source: 32-bit and 64-bit Windows
Applications and the 32-Bit or 64-Bit Operating System
The biggest difference between Windows 7 32-bit and 64-bit is in the ability to address large amounts of RAM. This is one of the main advantages of the 64-bit operating system. However, in order to take advantage of the processing power of 64 bits, applications must be written to work in conjunction with the OS. This unfortunately has not been done.
Many applications like Office 2003 or Office 2007 are still written for the 32-bit operating system only. (However, note that Office 2010 will have a 64-bit version.) Re-writing many commercially successful applications is challenging and software business enterprises may not actually see any significant improvement in the operation of their software. This has lead many to conclude that the 32-bit operating system is fine.
However, there are applications that would stand to benefit from using a 64-bit platform. These are:
- Applications that are used for science or engineering that may require high mathematical precision and floating-point performance.
- High-performance databases, like medical or finance applications.
- Artistic and visual or auditory acquisition and analysis applications with large amounts of data moving directly into memory at rapid rates.
This is the second article in the Bright Hub series on the 32-bit/64-bit platform. The operating system that is efficient will work closely with the CPU. A 32-bit operating system was designed to work with a 32-bit CPU, but it will also function on a 64-bit CPU. A 64-bit operating system is designed to work with a 64-bit CPU, and it will not work on anything less. The most salient feature occurs at the application level.
Applications must be rewritten to work with the operating system. For many applications, the 32-bit platform will still do well. Other applications, which require high amounts of data moving in and out of the CPU or have strong mathematical requirements, should be rewritten for the 64-bit platform.
This post is part of the series: 64 Bit Computing vs 32 Bit Computing
As CPU’s get more sophisticated, so do the operating systems that support them. This is happening now with the 64 bit computer and the older 32 bit computer. Understanding how the size of the CPU affects the operating system is the goal of this series of articles.