Last Updated Oct 27, 2009 10:45 AM EDT
Every few years, we encounter a massive change in computing standards, like when televisions went from black and white to color, or when serial and parallel ports were replaced with USB. These days, we're in the midst of a transformation from 32-bit to 64-bit computing, and a lot of folks still don't understand it. We're here to help.
What is 64-bit?First of all, when we talk about 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems, we're referring to a very geeky aspect of technology - it refers to how long, in bits, the data can be. That has far-reaching implications, including how much memory your computer can use and how fast it can process certain kinds of calculations. Until recently, Windows was a 32-bit operating system, but now it comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit varieties.
Can any computer run either version?No. 64-bit Windows will not run on 32-bit architecture, and, in fact, you can't even install it. That said, you can install and run 32-bit Windows on any hardware, both 32-bit and 64-bit.
What are the advantages of 64-bit?32-bit Windows can only access about 3GB of memory (even if you install 4GB), but if you install 64-bit Windows, there's no practical limit to how much memory you can install. (The real memory limit varies by version of Windows, but you can run anywhere from 8GB to a couple of terabytes.)
Not only can you install more memory, but some programs will run faster in 64-bit. And due to the way that 64-bit drivers are written, Microsoft claims that they're more stable and more secure.
In addition, you aren't necessarily blocked from using 64-bit Windows if your favorite program isn't yet available in a 64-bit version. 64-bit Windows can accommodate both 32-bit and 64-bit programs, generally without any problems at all.