Should I Choose 32-Bit or 64-Bit Windows 7?

Window 7 is the first version of Windows where a 64-bit version of the operating is easy to come by. Sure Vista had a 64-bit version, but that was generally quite hard to find unless it was pre-installed, and the XP version was one of those mythical products that did exist, but relatively few people actually saw.

So, what do the terms 32-bit and 64-bit mean, and how do I know which is best for me?

32-bit and 64-bit are terms uses to describe the architecture the processor uses to specify the length of data types and addresses that are supported. For the average user, the major difference in the two architectues is the amount of memory each is able to utilise. 32-bit systems can in theory use 4gb of RAM, however in practice it is usually around 3.2gb. 64-bit systems on the other hand can utilise a whopping 128gb of RAM.

The question of should I buy one or the other comes mainly down to two factors:
  1. Software / hardware compatibility.
  2. Performance requirements.

Software / Hardware compatibility.
Because the two different chip architectures work in entirely different ways hardware drivers and some low level software applications may need special versions for 64-bit, so if you have older hardware or software that absolutely have to use, check to see if it’s compatible before going the 64-bit route.

Performance Requirements.
Using a 64-bit system with a healthy chunk of RAM will give you a nice speedy system. However If you only use your PC for web surfing, sending email, ans the odd simple game then 64-bit with its associated potential compatibility issues might not be worth it. However if you’re into video and picture editing, music ripping, video conferencing and other high end uses, 64-bit is much more of an option.

Advantages to using 64-bit Windows 7

  • The ability to use more RAM – as stated above, the amount of RAM you can have is virtually limitless, which means that it’s easier to upgrade in the future if you need it.
  • Increased system performance – because 64-bit systems process data quicker and can use use more RAM than their 32-bit counterparts they will fly through tasks that make a 32-bit system struggle. If you’re video editing, manipulating pictures, or just have a need to run lots of different applications at the same time, 64-bit is for you.
  • Increased security – one of the nicest (in our opinion) but undersold features is that digital signing is required for all drivers and other very low level software. This means that the software will have had to undergo rigorous testing, and is also very unlikely to contain any malware. You also get more advanced features such as Kernal Patch Protection.

Times when 64-bit isn’t appropriate.

  • If you only do simple tasks on your PC and have 2gb or les of RAM installed and don’t intend to upgrade then 32-bit is probably fine.
  • You have the need to run old hardware that doesn’t have a specific 64-bit driver – 32-bit driver just don’t work on a 32-bit operating system, so don’t even bother trying.
  • You have old 16-bit or even DOS programs you need to run, just like drivers, these simply won’t run.

Overall we would recommend anyone upgrading to Windows 7 or buying a new PC to make sure they get  64-bit operating system if they can, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages, and you have all that potential for future expansion.

Useful Resources

There are number of useful resources available on the web that will help you check hardware and software compatibility for 64-bit if you’re interested in going that route, two of the most useful are the Windows Upgrade Advisor which will tell you if your system can run 64-bit. If you have any worries about your hardware then the Windows 7 Compatibility Centre will help you check for 64-bit drivers for all your devices.