64-Bit or 32-Bit Operating System?

32bit_64bitIn the past, it seemed that the 32-bit operating system was the dominate OS among most personal computers. Microsoft Windows, Apple Macs, and most flavors of Linux/Unix ran on 32-bit systems. With the modern CPUs now having 64-bit capability, I’m seeing more and more use of the 64-bit OS. Recently, Apple released their Snow Leopard OS which is apparently completely 64-bit (for the Intel processors). Microsoft offers 64-bit for both their Windows XP and Windows Vista OSes, with the same for the upcoming Windows 7 OS.

I started using Windows XP 64-bit for the first time on my company’s work laptop, and it does seem to run fine. The biggest benefit, is that I’m no longer restricted to 2 GB of memory per application (the 64-bit OS can use all the installed memory). The only issue I have, is that some applications and device drivers won’t work properly. For example, I have a 32-bit version of a PDF creator software that simply crashes when I try to run it. My only recourse, is to find an equivalent 64-bit version or try a different application. It can be a pain, since you don’t know if the application is crashing because it is incompatible or if you’re missing something from the OS installation.

Recently I ordered a new Dell laptop for my son, and I noticed that Dell is installing Windows Vista 64-bit OS on their machines that have more than 2 GB of memory. This seems to be a new standard policy for Dell, since all of their Intel CPU machines are 64-bit compatible. Thus, it appears that the 64-bit OS is now considered a mainstream commodity.

With Windows 7 about to be officially released in 2 months, I’m contemplating whether to install the 32-bit or 64-bit version. I have 4 GB of memory on my Desktop PC (running a Intel Quad 2 Core processor), so my hardware could certainly make use of the 64-bit OS. My only concern is that my existing software won’t run on the machine. Critical software includes my Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 compilers, recorded TV video processing tools (e.g., DVRMSToolbox), TV Tuner card and IR Blaster devices, and Palm WebOS SDK. That’s why I’m leaning a bit toward the Windows 7 Home Professional version, since it has a “Windows XP Compatibilty Mode” which should run applications designed for the WinXP under Windows 7. Whether this will also take care of older 32-bit applications, I’m not sure.

In any case, the distribution CD for Windows 7 comes with both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions, so if the 64-bit OS doesn’t seem to work out for me I can always drop back down to the 32-bit version.

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