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32-bit [x86] and 64-bit [x64] Windows: Everything you need to know

Mostly, all the PC users are aware of the 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) operating system (OS) architecture versions of existence, but they hardly pay attention towards the difference between the two. Keeping the bigger-is-better philosophy aside, sometimes you might consider that which OS version you should actually install and how it will be affecting the performance of your PC? Some tech geeks may recommend that you should you use a 64-bit version of Windows, but here comes a big question — why? According to some researchers and PC experts, the 64-bit version is more efficient and rates higher on performance over than the less capable 32-bit version.

The terms 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) refer to the way a computer’s processor (also called a CPU), handles information. The 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit system.

In this article, you’ll read about various aspects of 32-bit (x86) and 64-bit (x64) versions of Windows with a conclusion to draw a clear picture about which one you should install and why?

How to check which OS architecture version do you have?

To check out that which version of Windows you are currently running on, all you need to do is reach the ‘System Properties’ in ‘Control Panel.’ You can also right-click on ‘My Computer’ icon, and choose ‘Properties’ from the drop-down menu. Always remember that in order to make your system run on a 64-bit OS version, your CPU must support the same. PCs running on a modern CPU should be fine, but some of the budget PCs don’t include/support for a 64-bit processor.

Do 32-bit PCs really have a memory limit?

Since the 32-bit operating system doesn’t support more than 4096 MB of RAM, the memory is limited to that value only. If you’re running on a 32-bit system, each running process will be given not more than 4 GB of virtual memory to play with, out of which 2 GB of user space is already fixed. Apart from this, your video card and motherboard BIOS will also take some place in that same 4 GB space, which makes your system slow and lagging. According to tech experts, the modern chips support PAE, a processor technology to permit OS to use a little bit more memory. But, it also requires special application support that needs to be installed on the system.

It’s a myth that only Windows-specific users will face this issue however, the fact is 32-bit Linux and Mac OS X users also have the same limitations and the same workarounds. To prove the same, experts tested the 32-bit Linux that comes with a facility of mapping table to access the extra memory. Apple’s OS X Snow Leopard is shipped with a 32-bit kernel, by default, and can’t access all the memory.

What’s different in 64-bit and why is it better?

Packed with super-performance features, a 64-bit OS version provides access to 17.2 billion GB of the system’s memory. This clearly means no matter how heavy your video cards and other devices will be, it will neither steal the usable memory space not it will impact the performance of the device. Windows 64-bit Home editions can only have up to 16 GB of RAM, but the Professional and Ultimate editions enjoy the liberty to use up to 192 GB of RAM.

Giving importance to the per-process limit, Windows 64-bit version has offered each application the ability to access up to 8 TB of virtual memory without adding any special API or installing any software. Therefore, users can easily choose this OS architecture version for performing various heavy tasks such as video editing, running heavy application with graphics, or creating systems into virtual machines.

Windows 64-bit versions are more secure and user-protected as they come with a technology that restricts hijacking the kernel, and provides support for data execution protection (hardware-enabled).

Do 32-bit applications work on 64-Bit?

Fortunately, you will find that all your 32-bit applications work just fine on 64-bit Windows version. Since, 64-bit version includes WoW64 compatibility layer, the entire system switches the processor back and forth between 32-bit and 64-bit modes to access the thread that requires to be executed. This back and forth switching of the processor makes a 32-bit software run smoothly on the 64-bit environment. Nothing comes without exceptions in this world and so does the OS architectural versions. The 32-bit device drivers and low-level system applications may not work without a 64-bit equivalent.

The verdict: Which one should you actually use?

If your budget is not a concern and you’re ordering a new PC with more than 4 GB of RAM, then you should go for a 64-bit version of Windows. Since the version supports a lot of features and performance enhancements, opting for 32-bit version will be a biggest mistake that you can ever make. Buying a 64-bit version will make you use all of the available memory and let you install large video cards and other devices without impacting the performance of the device. You should always remember that Windows Home editions can only support RAM up to 16 GB hence, if you wish to go for more then buy Professional or Ultimate Windows editions.