Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit CPUs and OSs

Whenever you download any driver software for any hardware such as printer you are given two options whether you want to download the 32-bit one or 64-bit one. You might be confused what to choose and what they are in fact? It is important for you to know the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit. In this guide we demystify the long standing confusion of typical computer users.

The concept of 32-bit and 64-bit CPUs are referred in terms of processors’ accessibility to memory or processing capacity. What they technically mean is how much memory they can have access to from CPU registers. The more access a processor has to memory the more is the performance and efficiency of the processor. It means a smooth user experience and quicker processing time for multi-tasking.

More precisely, the CPU register stores memory addresses through which the processor gets access to RAM.

A memory address is a reference or a unique identifier by CPU to track data associated with the address.

Memory Addresses
Memory Addresses

Here, 1 bit in register can reference 1 byte in memory. So 32-bit can refer 232 bytes (4,294,967,296) that is equal to 4GB of RAM. On the other hand 64-bit can reference 264 bytes (18,446,744,073,709,551,616) theoretically that’s equal to 16 Exabyte. In simple terms much higher (over 4 billion times) than 32-bit.

Simply put in context, assume you are using a 32-bit CPU and have installed 8GB RAM. Since the 32-bit can have maximum reference to 4GB RAM or physical memory, the rest of it will be unusable. Meaning it’s useless to have more than 4GB RAM in a computer that has only 32-bit CPU or processor.

Of course, here comes the ecosystem requirement. For the optimum use of the capability of processors, the software system should also go in hand. It’s where we need to design Operating systems to take advantage of the greater access to memory and considerations of 32-bit and 64-bit operating system comes into play.

32-bit Operating Systems

Earlier it was common and everyone relied on a 32-bit memory management architecture. However, with the advancement of technologies, research and development, use of 32-bit CPUs and OSs are decreasing in a fast pace.

Interestingly, in your local drive where you have installed Operating System, you should have seen two program files. Program Files and Program Files (x86). This x86 is a reference to 32 versions in line as 286/386/486 and so on.

Few operating systems that run on 32-bit architecture

  • Microsoft Windows: Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, and Server
  • Linux: These include Red Hat, Mandrake, and Ubuntu
  • Solaris: Versions 1-10
  • Mac OS: Classic (84-2001) and OS X

64-bit Operating Systems

At present, it is very common that all operating systems are designed to support 64-bit because hardware vendors produce CPUs that are 64-bit.

2002 was the year when commercial Operating systems with 64-bit were released to the market by Microsoft and Linux. Microsoft released windows xp 64-bit and Linux released Red Hat 7.1. At the beginning these OSs were used by server administrators and users who had been using high end applications that required more processing and large memory management.

64-bit on Mobile Devices

Apple is the one who introduced 64-bit processor for mobile devices through A7 chip which was used in their IPhone 5s smartphones that enabled smartphone to have more than 4GB RAM. Then apple enforced that all iOS had to go with 64-bit. Then it displayed warning as “not optimized” when opening apps based on 32-bit. Through apple’s closed system if you have either iOS 10 or higher you won’t be able to use 32-bit apps if you do not update the app to 64-bit.

Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Processor

  • The primary difference between these 32-bit vs 64-bit processors is the way they handle memory. While 32-bit can theoretically handle up to 4GB RAM, 64-bit processor can manage up to 16 terabytes. This is relatively important when you make a purchasing or system requirements decision.
  • Another key difference between both 32-bit and 64-bit is the number of calculations they can perform in a given time which correlates with the speed at which they perform tasks. Therefore, 64-bit processors are available in multiple cores such as dual-core, quad-core and so on for home users. Multi cores allow faster calculations performed and helps make computer run faster. So, you can understand that any software application that require several calculations and processing power will work more efficiently in a 64-bit processor than 32-bit processor.

Advantages of 64-bit processor over 32-bit processor

  • Above differences are also the advantages of using 64-bit over 32-bit.
  • 64-bit processor has the backward compatibility meaning systems or applications that were designed for 32-bit will also run on 64-bit processor whereas applications developed for 64-bit will not run on 32-bit. However, certain applications based on 32-bit will still not work on 64-bit processors and legacy versions.

How to check which type of processor are you using?

Now, let’s see how you can check whether you are using 64-bit processor or 32-bit. In couple of ways you can recognize.

One way is that if any software based on 64-bit runs on your computer be it an Operating System or an application software you have a 64-bit CPU.

The solid way to confirm it is to go to Control Panel then go to Settings.

You can see all your basic hardware and OS related information there as shown in the screen below. As highlighter below you can check your operating systems’ version and your processor whether it’s 64-bit or 32-bit. Here x64 based processor means processor is based on 64-bit and x86 would mean processor is based on 32-bit.

Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit processors - How to Check the processor
Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit processors – How to Check the processor

Things to consider

In summary, 64-bit processors are more common in home computers today. Manufacturers produce 64-bit processors and software vendors also produce applications targeting 64-bit processors. Soon 32-bit may not be available from the market. Further, vendors produce driver software also limit to 64-bit supportive drivers as the demand for 32-bit is very less these days.

We hope through this guide you have clear understanding about the Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit. We hope you make better decisions based on your hardware and software requirements hereafter.


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