32-bit Vs. 64-bit Operating Systems

32-bit Vs. 64-bit Operating Systems

With 64-bit processors hitting the market, and vendors releasing 64-bit operating systems, many people are confused which OS to install, or opt for. In this Techspirited article, we tell you the differences between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of an OS.
Before we proceed towards the 32-bit vs 64-bit comparison, let's first understand what 32-bit and 64-bit mean, and what both of these terms pertain to in computing context. Most of the time when we talk of 32-bit and 64-bit, we usually refer to either microprocessors or operating systems. In the context of microprocessors, these bit values refer to the breadth of the process registers, which are small data storage components that are a part of the CPU architecture. In the context of operating systems, 32-bit and 64-bit refer to memory addresses which locate the state information, also known as the memory of the computing system, where either computer hardware or a computer program can deposit data, and later retrieve it.

Processors

A 32-bit processor is one which has process registers or data buses wide enough to process data and memory addresses that can be laid out in 32 bits. Similarly, 64-bit processors have process registers or data buses wide enough to process data and memory addresses that can be laid out in 64 bits. As can be inferred from the number of bits, a 64-bit processor is capable of carrying double the amount of information to and from the computer's memory. Therefore, when it comes to speed, 64-bit processors come out as clear winners.

Operating Systems

So, what is the difference between 32- and 64-bit operating systems? Theoretically, a 64-bit operating system will run faster than a 32-bit operating system due to the same logic as mentioned in the previous segment. However, there is one hitch here. While the processing capacity of a 32-bit operating system is limited to 4 gigabytes of RAM at a time, the theoretical processing capacity of a 64-bit operating system extends to a maximum of 16 exabytes of RAM at a time. Confounded? Perhaps the following conversion to bytes would clear the scene and help you better compare processing RAM capacity of these two operating system variants.
  • 1 gigabyte = 1073741824 bytes
  • 1 exabyte = 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes or 1018 bytes
  • 1 exabyte = 1 billion gigabytes
Got the idea? Now, wondering what the aforementioned hitch is? Well, for a 64-bit OS to unleash its true processing potential, your system must have more than 6 GB RAM or else it might actually appear slower than a 32-bit OS. However, a 64-bit operating system can easily run all 32-bit applications and processes. Due to its large memory and faster processing capacity, a 64-bit processor improves the process and memory handling capabilities of your computer, enhancing your system's speed. You may not be able to tell the difference externally, but rest assured, a 64-bit processor does give your computer performance a phenomenal boost!

Also, besides higher and faster processing prowess, a 64-bit operating system harnesses way more virtual memory, and can accommodate almost double the paging file size than what a 32-bit operating system can handle. Also, the hyperspace limit is also more than double in a 64-bit operating system. Similar proportions apply to system caches, paged pools, and PTEs. For instance, if you compare a 64-bit version and a 32-bit version of Windows, you will find such proportions, indicating the superior operating capabilities of the higher bit version. The same is true for any other operating system like Ubuntu, Linux, etc.

Considering the processing and performance capabilities, a 64-bit OS is the clear winner. However, depending upon your requirements and budget, you may find a 32-bit system more beneficial and economical if you intend to use it for basic personal, office, and household computing purposes. However, if it's heavy duty animation, graphics, multimedia, or gaming that your system is going to be used for, a 64-bit processor is the wisest option, as faster processing translates into better multimedia quality, superior animation functions, and hitch-free gaming experience.