We’ve probably seen 32-bit and 64-bit options available whenever you download an app, or install a game. Your PC might even have a sticker that says it has a 64-bit processor. But does it really matter? Most new PCs have a 64-bit processor, but why? Here’s the real difference between 32-bit and 64-bit.

32-bit hardware and software systems, at times referred as x86 or x86-32, work with data in 32-bit pieces. In contrast, 64-bit hardware and software systems, or x64 or x86-64, use data in 64-bit pieces. Theoretically, the more data in general that can be processed at any one time, the faster the system can perform.

An immediate practical advantage that 64-bit systems offer is the use of greater amounts of RAM. Most new computer systems today include new processors based on 64-bit architecture. While it is obvious that these systems support 64-bit operating systems, they are also compatible with 32-bit operating systems. The converse is not true viz. 32-bit hardware cannot support 64-bit operating systems.

The Difference between 32×64 Architecture

Number of bits 32 64
Architecture and Software Description 32-bit architecture is based on registers, address or data buses 32 bits (4 octets) wide. For software, 32-bit typically means use of 32-bit linear address space. 64-bit architecture is based on registers, address or data buses 64 bits (8 octets) wide. For software, 64-bit means code use with 64-bit virtual memory addresses.
Compatibility 32-bit operating systems (OS) and applications require 32-bit CPUs 64-bit OS requires 64-bit CPU, and 64-bit applications need a 64-bit OS and CPU
Systems Available All editions of Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP, Linux XP Professional, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, as well as Mac OS X and Linux
Memory Limits 32-bit systems are limited to 3.2 Gigabytes (GB) of RAM 32 bit Windows with address limitation do not attain to a full 4GB. It’s hardware dependent, typically 3.25GB. 64-bit systems allow up to 17 Billion GB of RAM.
Pros Fewer issues, more widely compatible • More RAM access • More efficiency • More virtual memory allocation • More security features
Cons Less RAM access, less memory, less efficiency, fewer security features • Possible driver compatibility • Some motherboard RAM limits • Legacy issues

32-bit and 64-bit are terms referencing on how a processor embedded in the computer, or CPU, handles data. A 32 bit architecture allows the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU), or digital circuit, to perform 32-bit integer arithmetic and logical operations.

For architecture with 64-bits, it allows a 64-bit version of Windows to handle large amounts of RAM better than a 32-bit system. Also a 64-bit system has 64-bit address registers, with data registers and the data bus typically equivalent in size as the address registers. So, 64-bit CPU and ALU architectures have matching registers and address, or data, buses in like values.

Why, the difference is matter?

Simply, a 64-bit processor is more capable than a 32-bit processor, because it can handle more data at once. A 64-bit processor is capable of storing more computational values, including memory addresses, which means it’s able to access over four billion times the physical memory of a 32-bit processor. That’s just as big as it sounds.

Here’s the key difference: 32-bit processors are perfectly capable of handling a limited amount of RAM (in Windows, 4GB or less), and 64-bit processors are capable of utilizing much more. Of course, in order to achieve this, your operating system also needs to be designed to take advantage of the greater access to memory. This Microsoft page runs down memory limitations for multiple versions of Windows, but if you’re running the latest version of Windows 10, you don’t need to worry about limits.

With an increase in the availability of 64-bit processors and larger capacities of RAM, Microsoft and Apple both have upgraded versions of their operating systems that are designed to take full advantage of the new technology. The first fully 64-bit operating system was Mac OS X Snow Leopard back in 2009. Meanwhile, the first smartphone with a 64-bit chip (Apple A7) was the iPhone 5s. Almost all modern CPUs from both AMD and Intel are 64-bit.Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

In the case of Microsoft Windows, the basic versions of the operating systems put software limitations on the amount of RAM that can be used by applications, but even in the ultimate and professional version of the operating system, 4GB is the maximum usable memory the 32-bit version can handle. While the latest versions of a 64-bit operating system can increase the capabilities of a processor drastically, the real jump in power comes from software designed with this architecture in mind.

Applications and video games that demand high performance already take advantage of the increase in available memory (there’s a reason we recommend 8GB for almost anyone). This is especially useful in programs that can store a lot of information for immediate access, like image-editing software that opens multiple large files at the same time.

Most software is backward compatible, allowing you to run applications that are 32-bit in a 64-bit environment without any extra work or issues. Virus protection software (these are our favorites) and drivers tend to be the exception to this rule, with hardware mostly requiring the proper version be installed in order to function correctly.

The Similarity but its difference

The best example of this difference is right within your file system. If you’re a Windows user, you’ve probably noticed that you have two Program Files folders: One labeled simply Program Files and the other labeled Program Files (x86).

Applications all use shared resources on a Windows system (called DLL files), which are structured differently depending on whether it’s used for 64-bit applications or 32-bit applications. If, for instance, a 32-bit application reaches out for a DLL and finds a 64-bit version, it’s just going to stop working. That’s the problem.

32-bit (x86) architecture has been around for a very long time, and there are still a host of applications that utilize 32-bit architecture — though that’s changing on some platforms. Modern 64-bit systems can run 32-bit and 64-bit software because of a very simple and easy solution: Two separate Program Files directories. When 32-bit applications are sequestered to the appropriate x86 folder, Windows knows to serve up the right DLL — the 32-bit version. Everything in the regular Program Files directory, on the other hand, can access the other content

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