Curious About the Difference Between 32 Bit and 64 Bit? We Explain Everything

The curse of big numbers is real. And there are few places it is more real than in computing. Every other week a new component or system comes out boasting a larger number of something for some reason.

Before it seems too much like mockery, there’s a reason behind these changes, computer engineering keeps getting better. The real problem stems from understanding what the numbers mean to know if there is real value applied. For now, this guide will go over the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit computing.

For starters, you might wonder what’s the reason that the former architecture was 32 bit and the newest is 64 bit. That has to do with the octal system used to quickly translate binary information into usable chunks. Essentially, computers work in base 2 and working in 8s is faster.

Keep reading for a deeper dive into the how and why behind 64 bit computing.

Difference Between 32 Bit and 64 Bit

The swap over from 32 bit to 64 bit has been in the works for a while. The first 64 bit operating systems started to show up in 2003. Like all things in computing, this started a clock on when 32 bit would become obsolete.

In the last year, with Microsoft closing down on support for the 32-bit Windows 7 OS, the time has come to learn why you now must use 64 bit programs and components.

Since most of the differences between the systems are in how the registry operates and how the programs modulate the processes based on the increased ceiling, the limits of 32-bit programs become quickly apparent when running on 64-bit hardware.

Architecture

While the bits may have doubled, the performance opened up considerably more than that.

A bit, which is a single string of binary information, provides information to the computer. The bandwidth of information that can be processed at the same time throttles the speed of programs.

At one point this was necessary because running too many processes all at once would overheat the delicate silicon chips. Newer architecture in 9th generation microprocessors no longer requires the slower speeds to keep from melting down.

So, when you go from 32 bits to 64 bits the computer can access and transport more information which results in higher speeds. Because it can safely acquire this information, it can also be allowed more.

computer bits

In a 32-bit system, the RAM was limited to 4GB. With 64 bit processing, the limit has been raised to 16TB of memory allocation. That’s a 4,000% increase in available RAM.

Since RAM allocation and retrieval is far faster than from hard disks, even the newer NVME drives, this gives the processor a lot of oomph. This is on top of the ability for multiple cores to further increase processing speeds/power by allowing more processes to run simultaneously.

Since the newer architecture supports much higher speeds, the newer software can also be designed to work faster and use shorter pathways to achieve the same end goals.

Operating Systems

With more calculations that can be done per second, and higher access to RAM enabling those calculations to be stored and retrieved, the programs utilizing these 64 bit processors needed to be changed.

operating systems 32bit 64bit

Windows 7, as already noted, is being phased out. Even though it has a 64-bit version. Like any software, the ability to utilize the hardware gets better the further along the current system it is developed.

The biggest difference in how a 64 bit OS works is how memory addressing functions are set. A computer does not store nor retrieve information in a linear fashion. It does so in the most convenient way at the time it needs to store, writing a table that tells it where each bit is as it goes along.

With more bits being written per second, the system needs to be able to track and retrieve that data in a more fluid fashion. This is referred to as floating-point data management.

An older 32 bit OS can still run on a 64-bit processor but the inverse is not true.

 

Applications

One place that application compatibility runs into a problem with 64 bit systems is in the use of drivers. Older drivers to run older systems, especially hardware like printers or something like a fax machine, are not written to be used by 64 bit systems.

Moving forward, more programs will be limited to 64 bit only. This is especially true with applications that are designed for the transportation and storage of data.

Mac users experienced this when the macOS Catalina came into place. This limited the ability to use PirateBay, UTorrent and other torrenting and data upload utilities.

You can read more about workarounds for these issues at https://setapp.com/how-to/folx-as-the-best-alternative-to-utorrent-for-macos-catalina.

Overall, you will find that in the fight between 32 bit vs 64 bit, 64 bit wins on all fronts. The inability to run certain ancient drivers can be annoying for a business that can’t afford a newer piece of hardware but is unlikely to come up often.

Hobbyists and pro-users will still find workarounds for integrating older tech for whatever reasons they may need them.

Hardware

On that note, any newer hardware will be built for 64-bit processors. This mostly means that an older piece of equipment can be repurchased in the newer, faster format. A few select things that don’t have a modern equivalent, like fax machines, will be a problem but only affect a few select industries that need to rely on the transmission of hard copies.

64bit 32bit hardware

In general, computer hardware wears out in 3-5 years, meaning that the last of the 32-bit anything will be breaking down and out the door by mid-2022 at the latest.

Get Technical

So you see that, like most things in computing, the difference between 32 bit and 64 bit computing provides an enormous increase in performance. The specifics get overly technical for your individual needs, but it’s good to know that engineers grasp it.

Keep coming back here for more information and guides into technical concepts and emerging technologies.

 

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