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Should I go with a 32bit or 64bit computer system?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / June 20, 2008 6:06 AM PDT
Hi! I hope you can help me out. I'm in the process of buying a new computer and it's already pretty difficult to figure out what's what with specs and all, but the two bit (pun intended) is figuring out the differences between 32bit versus 64bit processors. I can only assume the 64bit processor is faster, or am I wrong? I'm not very tech savvy, but I would like to know if it's something I need to consider when making my new system purchase. The other one bit (pun intended again) has to do with Windows Vista, do I go 32bit or 64bit version? Are there any advantages of going with Vista 64bit? Please help me out, I'm really confused here and I would love if you could give some simple explanations to clear up this whole bit between the processor and Vista. One more thing, will buying a 64bit PC be somewhat future proofing my new desktop purchase? Thank you all for your help!

Submitted by: Jack W.

Here are some answers from our members to get you started, but please read through all the submission within this discussion thread for more helpful advice and information.

New Computer --Submitted by Zouch

32 vs. 64 bit... --Submitted by Wolfie2k5

32-bit vs. 64-bit Processors --Submitted by Watzman

I run 64 bit XP --Submitted by pixelsmith

If you have any additional advice or explanation for Jack please click the reply link below and submit your answer. Please be as detailed as possible in your answer and if you have examples, please provide them. Thanks!
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64bit good and bad
by rthrelkeld / June 20, 2008 11:57 AM PDT

64 bit is really faster. I don't have exact numbers, but I've run 32bit and 64bit version of XP Pro, Vista, and 2003/2008 server - each test on the same hardware for 32 and 64bit. The 64 bit feels about twice as fast for my admittedly unscientific tests.

The other major pro is it can use all the memory your box can handle. 32bit machines are limited to about 3.25Gb of memory. I have 4Gb installed on all my servers, desktops, and laptops due to my development environment. The 32bit systems cannot effectively use i all. More memory usually means faster applications.

The cons mostly come down to the lack of 64bit drivers and a few programs that don't run well on 64bit machines. If you have older equipment or moderately rare equipment, the supplier probably does not have 64bit drivers and never will. If you are using fairly recent and popular equipment, then you probably can find drivers.

As to availability, I think all the recent dual cores and above are really 64bit. You can (and most people do) run 32bit operating systems on them, but then they basically run in emulation mode. This is part of the speedup in moving to 64bit.

Microsoft is moving to all 64bit for servers starting with 2008. I'm guessing desktops are not far behind. That will also fix the driver issues long term.

Richard Threlkeld

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64 bit is crazy fast
by hvypetals / June 27, 2008 1:27 PM PDT
In reply to: 64bit good and bad

Ive got my rig setup with xp pro 64 and 4gb of ram and two sata drives in RAID 0. yes i said RAID 0.

Windows updates in a minute flat. no joke.

nosebleed fast.

fallout 3 here i come

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Raid 0 is nothing new.
by angrykeyboarder / June 27, 2008 5:56 PM PDT
In reply to: 64 bit is crazy fast

It was the deefault on my box I got in late 2004 (AMD Athlon 64 3500+, 2GB RAM, XP Pro 32 bit).

And honestly I think you're overstating your speed.

Switch to RAID 1 or no raid at all and you'll see little difference.

BTW, I disabled RAID and saw little difference. It was more problematic for me to have it.

But we digress...

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64 bit vs 32 bit
by Themisive / June 28, 2008 1:12 AM PDT
In reply to: 64bit good and bad

I did have a 32 bit system for quite a few years, however, I decided to invest in a 64 bit O/S recently after doing some research. One the things that made the idea attractive was the fact that a 64 bit system usually has a sort of emulator, allowing you to use older 32 bit programmes. Also another factor was that I didn't want to upgrade to Windows Vista as yet for a variety of reasons so I decided to stick with Windows XP - the Pro edition; this allows me quite a bit of choice, though of course older programmes just will not run.

At the same time, most makers of the various peripheral systems do have 64 bit drivers out now for their products, so if you're still in a quandry, I'd say go for 64 bit, you'll gain more than you lose.

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Yes, and XP Pro x64bit Edition....
by JCitizen / June 28, 2008 11:02 AM PDT
In reply to: 64 bit vs 32 bit

is built on the Server 2003 kernel so it is even more secure that the origninal XP! I tried the introductory CD on my laptop and it ran like a top! The only problem was HP didn't want to admit they had any drivers and I had to run around and do some armtwisting to get them but they are there!

I will try Vista, but I'm not worried if it doesn't work, as I would be happy to return to XP x64!

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32 vs 64
by jdp06 / June 20, 2008 11:58 AM PDT

Hello Jack!

Well my personal preference when building a PC is 64bit it is also more compatable with most downloads I find.
However I would strongly recommend staying away from Vista. I use XP at home and Vista at work and my XP PC outperforms the Vista machine (which I might ad has more faster components than my home PC as it is newer). Here is what disturbs me the most the faster machine is so slow with Vista on it I could go to sleep while waiting for even the browser to open. I have taken my maintenance software to work and used it BUT Vista being Vista just uses TOO many resources for my liking.I could go on and on but this is my opinion in a nutshell. Those Mac ads aren't far off with the workings of Vista as it asks you everytime you do something for permission to do it! REAL PAIN! Good luck in your search and I hope I have helped.

P.S. There are still alot of program compatabilty issues with Vista still as well.


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32-bit vs 64-bit Processors
by Watzman / June 20, 2008 12:08 PM PDT

Jack, the simple answer for almost anyone who asks this question is to ignore the whole issue and simply go ahead and install a 32-bit version of your OS (both XP and Vista come in both 32- and 64-bit versions).

The distinction between 32- and 64-bit relates to the instruction set executed by the CPU (in which all software must be written), 32-bit and 64-bit instruction sets are different.

Almost ALL current processors (both Intel and AMD) support both instruction sets, the exceptions mostly being "low end" processors (some Celeron and some other low-end CPUs), but, again most CPUs from both Intel and AMD now support both 32- and 64-bit instruction sets. So, on that basis, on most system, you could run either the 32- or 64-bit version of either XP Pro or Vista (both come in both versions, although they are different OS' in each case (there is not a 64-bit version of XP Home as far as I know).

Aside from the CPU, there are no other hardware issues with the computer itself .... that is, if your CPU supports 64-bit instructions, you can use a 64-bit OS if you want to.

But the point is that for far more than 90% of typical computer users, you don't want to.

For the typical average computer user, 64-bit offers no advantage and quite a few disadvantages. The disadvantages include the fact that drivers for the 64-bit OS' and a LOT of hardware DO NOT EXIST (at all), most programs do not come in a 64-bit version and while 32-bit software will run on a 64-bit OS, in that configuration it frequently runs SLOWER than the 32-bit version on a 32-bit OS, and there are a lot more compatability problems and issues with older software (as well as older hardware).

Given that, you might wonder why anyone would use the 64-bit OS and/or whether it is right for anyone. There are relatively few software programs available in 64-bit versions. But there are SOME applications for which 64-bit versions are available and which do show a significant performance gain when the 64-bit version is run compared to the 32-bit version (on either a 32- or 64-bit CPU). However these are not "normal" applications ... rather they are very specialized applications like CAD (computer aided design) and certain graphics and 3D rendering applications. The people who use these types of applications are generally VERY knowledgeable (mostly engineers, scientists, graphics professionals and mathematicians) and they know what they need and what they want. For ALMOST everyone else .... if you are asking the question, you are an "average" user and you want to stick with a 32-bit OS and 32-bit applications (e.g. you want to stick with plain old normal, garden variety, software).

Hope that helps.

Barry Watzman

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I concur with Barry Watzman
by ytvette / June 27, 2008 12:33 PM PDT

Barry's answer is the most accurate and correct answer. Go with that one. Someone else here said a 32-bit processor can't support 4gigs of memory. I'm pretty sure that's not the case.

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No it is the case.
by angrykeyboarder / June 27, 2008 6:05 PM PDT

(sort of)

A 32-bit CPU can support a maximum of 4GB of RAM. But 32-bit Operating Systems will only see 3GB of of that 4GB.

So if you've got less than or equal to 3GB of RAM then a 32-bit os is cool.
With 3 to 4 GB of RAM either 32 or 64 bit works but you won't get the benefit of that last GB of RAM in a 32 bit OS.

So basically, if you're going with more than 3 GB of RAM you need a 64-bit OS (and that's mandatory for over 4 GB).

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4GB of RAM on a 32 bit Vista
by monsdomain / June 28, 2008 1:23 AM PDT
In reply to: No it is the case.

Microsoft must have already addessed this with recent Vista updates because I have a 32 bit Vista OS with 4GB of RAM. When I look at my system information (Computer Properties), it indicates "Memory (RAM): 4.00 GB". Is this not the case with other 32-bit users?

My opinion on the 32 bit vs 64 bit: My recommendation is to stick with 32 bit like what most have already explained. Upgrading to a 64 bit OS will likely require you to upgrade all your peripherals. AMD and Intel are just setting up the stage for the future of computing and it will take several more years before softwares and drivers catch up with 64bit compatibility. Bottomline, save yourself some frustration and stick with a 32bit. I am a gamer and do some personal video editing and I find 32bit adequate for my needs.

Quad Q6600
4gb Ram
nVidia 8800 GTS

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by petite1945 / June 28, 2008 1:57 AM PDT

I couldnt agree more!

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It is kinda the case
by 3rdalbum / June 28, 2008 6:06 PM PDT
In reply to: No it is the case.

Operating systems can see all the RAM that's in the computer, but they will only be able to access between 3 and 3.4 gigabytes of it. This is due to hardware that directly accesses memory, and some kernel cache.

But (and this is a big but) most modern processors support a feature known as Physical Address Extension or PAE. This is especially useful on 32-bit processors, but all 64-bit processors support it too for some unknown reason. A 32-bit operating system that recognises PAE can actually address more than 4 gigabytes of memory, but no program will be able to individually use more than 4 gigabytes of RAM.

If you had 6 gigabytes of RAM installed, you could run three programs that take up 2 gigabytes of RAM each; but you could not run a program that takes up 5 gigabytes of RAM. For that, you still need 64-bit.

This all depends on you having a compatible operating system. If you're running Windows XP or Vista, or a basic Windows Server operating system, you're out of luck. Linux users have been enjoying PAE for years.

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64 bit vs 32 bit
by wheatonview / June 27, 2008 7:05 PM PDT

my pc, has vista basic, i have a 32 bit pc, with 4 GB ram,it runs fast. my friend on the other hand has a pc 64 bit with vista pro. we did a test while on the phone, both keyed in the same website, guess what? with the 32 bit vista basic, the website was up 3 seconds faster than his big ole 64 bit 4 gb. GO WITH THE 32 BIT, ALONG WITH VISTA BASIC, SAVE YOURSELF SOME MONEY.

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That may change with IE 8...
by JCitizen / June 28, 2008 3:17 AM PDT
In reply to: 64 bit vs 32 bit

Some programs like IE 7 may work with x64 systems but they are not optimized for them yet, many of them run in an emulation mode that does not work as well as a dedicated x64 application.

That being said, unless you just like being on the bleeding edge, you might as well save your money and go for x32.

Myself, I'll buy the retail box version of Vista so I can have both modes depending on how I install them. I will definitely make sure my equipment is expandable to full x64 ability.

Why get caught flat footed when all the really cool 64bit games and applications come out!?!

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I also concur with Barry
by koolkinkajou / July 18, 2008 12:25 PM PDT

He's right on the money. Unless the person buying the computer has some high end purpose requiring a lot of memory they should stick to 32 bit for now. They will have a lot less headaches.

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64-Bit Sux...
by Rj032 / June 29, 2008 8:18 PM PDT

Rather go with the 32-Bit operating system, there are stil too much problems with the 64-Bit system

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32-bit vs 64-bit Processors (for GIS/CAD)
by joshebrum / June 30, 2008 12:36 AM PDT
In reply to: 64-Bit Sux...

This thread couldn't be more timely (eventho I'm entering late) having just returned from vacation and am now shopping for a new PC to handle my GIS (geographic information systems) data and programs. Like CAD, GIS also fits what Barry mentioned early on in terms of "specialized applications" and (again, following Barry) i THINK i know what i want/need, but would still like to hear from other GIS or CAD users. Are there any out there with direct experience on 32 vs. 62-bit systems using ESRI or other similar products?

I currently have a 32-bit XP pro system and am tired of it running out of memory on my when it processes spatial data for 2-3 days and then craps out. Processing w/AMLs in A/I (or batch scripts in ArcGIS/View 3.x) turns out to be either too complex (for the amount of memory I can utilize w/a 32-bit system) or the datasets are too large that I have to subset the data to avoid runnin out of memory, and would rather have the comptuer chew on a single task/dataset for a longer period than have to deal with additional workspaces (i.e., filesets). From what I understand 64-bit will take care of this (mostly because of the memory utilization compared to 32-bit systems) ...or maybe it will just arrive at the "out-of-memory" error faster?! Also, I think I have a pretty good handle on what kind of graphics card I need for this machine (i.e., for better rendering of GIS 2D/3D displays) but am less sure about things like dual vs. quad core and whether having RAID would help when memory use approaches its threshhold (and whether I might need a 2nd OS to handle older apps).

Again, any feedback from GIS users with direct experience in this area would be greatly appreciated (eventhough i think I'm ready to pounce on an XP64 machine soon). If cost wasn't a big issue, is there something even better?

Thanks, Josh E.

PS: I already know about the issue re: AV3.3 setup on a 64-bit system, and the required work-around to get it installed.

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Solidworks propaganda.
by rasmasyean / July 2, 2008 11:21 PM PDT
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by rashidtem / June 30, 2008 12:59 AM PDT
In reply to: 64-Bit Sux...

Not with Mac, We are 64bit and still doing a wonderful job.

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My experances Vista 32/64
by Hank Wells / July 18, 2008 6:19 PM PDT
In reply to: 64-Bit Sux...

I changed to Vista 64 from Vista 32, I am sitting here with just my desktop and this page open and my memory monitor says I am using 22% of my 8190MB Which is 1802 MB, so I have 6390MB for anything else I want to run like photo editing etc.

Now if I was using Vista 32 I would only be allowed a maximum of 4GB (I would not be certain it would see all that as mine never showed more than 3GB even when the BIOS showed 4GB)! Now do you think my desk top would scale itself back? Well sort of; as it would be using 900MB with just under 3.2 GB left so it will use the hard drive as a memory location which is slower but you could 'watch the pritty little spinning circle' while it is happening!

My advice is if you use your PC for emails casual web surfing, listening to music, not video editing or gaming, while multi tasking you can be happy with Vista 32.

But if you want to do photo editing with heavy resources programs like Photoshop, video editing, gaming,CAD etc 64 bit is the way to go. In a very few years time you will have to go to 64 bit same as you had to change from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95.

I expect people are planning Windows 128-bit right now!


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Using more getting less
by petite1945 / July 19, 2008 9:50 AM PDT

64bit is great, but you need to max out you ram, and if your motherboard isn't up to what 64bit ask then what is the point. 32bit does just as well.
Now if you use dual core 64bit you have a little more useful options, doing more than one thing at a time.
by the time systems designers catch up to 64bit thay will all be dual core and I think buying single cor 64bit processors is not a good idea.
as I stated buy the time systems designer catch up the dual 64bit processer will, be the main thing.

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32-bit vs 64-bit Processors - from Barry
by melusineusa / July 1, 2008 4:31 AM PDT

Jack, I would follow the usual logical and practical information from Barry Watzman. His ansqers are a blend of sound technical knowledge and good old common sense.
Thank you Barry

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Good points but...
by rasmasyean / July 2, 2008 11:16 PM PDT

Barry has some decent points but...

He is missing the fact that Vista has SuperFetch...

64-bit lets you upgrade > 4GB TOTAL RAM (system RAM + graphics card + other devices)

And as you load more and more demanding applications (many opened at once) in the future, you will notice the difference. Because Vista has S3 sleep state built-in, you will find that you will just sleep your computer so you can turn it on in 5 seconds later and keep all your apps open for convienince instead of closing them to "save RAM".

SuperFetch explaination:
Vista uses extra RAM to store commonly used files in a new activity known as ?disk caching?. The computer uses artificial intelligence to determine which files will be used most and copies it to RAM (where it is much faster than accessing your hard disk). This includes components of the programs you use on a regular basis. When you need more RAM for programs you launch, etc. the computer purges the ?least likely used? files from RAM to make room for the new program. That?s why if you look at the performance monitor, Vista always has near zero ?free? RAM. So in theory, the more RAM (for disk cache) you have, the faster your computer will operate. This can also be augmented (to a lesser effect) with a flash drive/card with a technology called ReadyBoost. Just stick it in and select ?Speed up my system? and leave it there.

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64-bit vs 32-bit Processors...
by Wright Track / September 19, 2008 5:00 AM PDT

I've read a great deal of this thread and noticed some differences of opinion, but also a factor that hasn't been addressed.

I have a Dell Precision M90 laptop, T7200 processor (Core 2 Duo 2.0 Ghz), Nvidia Quadro FX 2500M video card (512MB dedicated), Running WinXP Pro x64 - factory installed.

I bought it with 3GB ram and decided to upgrade to a 4MB (2x 2GB) matched pair, to take advantage of the dual-channel properties.

The BIOS shows all 4GB, but the OS system windows shows only 3.25GB, and it is *not* performing as it should with my copy of Solidworks 2008 (x64 version).

I 'chatted' and emailed extensively with the Dell senior tech (the regular tech that answered the phone had NO idea what he was talking about). Within those communications, it came to my attention that although the advertisement for this unit clearly indicated it was a 64-bit system and could 'handle' 4GB of ram, the motherboard has a 32-bit chipset, which apparently bottlenecks the system to 32-bit, rather than a true 64-bit.

Of course Dell firmly stated that their advertisement was accurate and upheld all the claims. I've read and read about this and still don't know if I really do have a 64-bit, and if so, why is it not reading all 4GB of ram -and- why isn't my SolidWorks 64-bit application performing?

Any help would be greatly appreciated.



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Jack, Here is the best answer for your questions. Enjoy!
by SinbadSailor / June 20, 2008 12:43 PM PDT

Jack, here is a great site for a very complete answer:


I thought that after 40 years in the business, I knew it pretty well but I read the entire page at this site and then copied if off, it's that good. It answers all your questions in great detail so I won't bother to repeat it and sound like more of an expert than I am.

We have XP, SP3, Vista and even 98 in the house along with an old IBM 486 and an Apple II that brings back the memories. I also keep an old 8K CPU board from an early system I used to sell. Just think, if we toggled 4 8K boards together in those days, we actually wound up with 32K of memory --what a staggering thought at the time! Ha Ha!

We also used to write binary code sequences for addressing text strings. Who can do that today????

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Thanks for the link to the NI article. Very informative.
by Cadillac84 / June 28, 2008 1:33 PM PDT

As you said, it was very readable and well worth the effort.

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Would love to have answer
by Barker C / June 20, 2008 1:19 PM PDT

Me too, same question.

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Should I go with a 32bit or 64bit computer system? by Lee k
by dilchh / June 27, 2008 5:37 PM PDT

dear friend first
you desaid what have you work on them. you wish to work xp or vista, this run on 64bit.if you want to be used grapical game,animation so you buy c2d &c2d extream,amd atlone 2400+ i have suggest you will buy c2d extream .it featurs that

(1660fsb.L2-8MB ,2.8GHZ)

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32 vs 64 bit...
by Wolfie2k5 / June 20, 2008 1:20 PM PDT


For what it's worth, ALL CPUs these days are pretty much capable of 64 bit operation. In fact, you'd be hard pressed finding a new one from AMD or Intel that wasn't 64 bit.

The REAL question these days is do you go with 2 cores, 3 cores or 4. Forget single core chips - they're pretty much on the same evolutionary path as the Dodo. Most low end computers these days are dual core. Most of the high end are quad core. Somewhere in the middle are AMD's new triple core Phenoms.

The question you need to be asking yourself is WHAT are you going to be using the computer for? Are you going to be using it to play games, edit and encode video or simpler tasks like web surfing and word processing? The harder the task - games (and I don't mean the occasional round of Solitaire) and video editing, the happier you'll be with more cores. While a dual core chip ought to be able to handle the same task, the task WILL take somewhat longer. Meanwhile, a quad core monster gamimg beast will be overkill for simple web surfing and office tasks.

Vista... 32 or 64? That is the question. On the one hand, the 32 bit version is mostly compatible with most XP applications and games. The 64 bit version is a bit more finicky when it comes to certain apps. On the plus side, Vista 64 has better driver support than XP 64 ever did. Once again, you need to do a bit of research. Do the applications you want to use work with the 64 bit version or are they limited to 32 bits? That's about the extent of the advice I can give - given I have no idea what you plan on doing with the computer.

As far as "future-proofing" goes... It's a bit of a crap-shoot. Technology evolves and things CAN change drastically - almost overnight. As an example, a buddy of mine bought himself a huge full tower case many years ago - with an oddball AT power supply. His rationale - it would be a hedge against future upgrades - just swap out the motherboard, CPU and so forth. Unfortunately, he got maybe one upgrade out of it before the entire industry went to the ATX format making the case, the power supply and pretty much everything obsolete. Since the power supply was an oddball shape, there's no easy way to swap in a modern ATX supply. Now that his old power supply's dead, his only real option - attach a large chain to it and use it as a boat anchor for a large yacht.

If you're buying a desktop, make sure you're buying parts that are industry wide standard. That way, the odds are you'll get some extra life out of the case - even if things change.

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32 vs 64
by jambay / June 27, 2008 2:39 PM PDT
In reply to: 32 vs 64 bit...

ciao wolfie2k5,
i read about the issue regarding the 32bit vs 64bit and you mentioned about which appilcation will be used to whether it would be suitable for a 32 or 64bit processor.
i use a laptop aspire 1650 and i want to use it for edit and video encoding, i think i am using a 32bit processor running windows xp. is the 32bit just right for this application?
thank you and best regards,

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