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32-Bit vs. 64-Bit

Friday, August 24th, 2007 by | Filed Under: Computer Terms
 
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Karen from AL. asks:

Can you tell me what the difference is between the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows? I’ve tried to research it online, but I’m not getting any concrete answers, so I thought you might have some information you could share. Please help!

I think this question is popping back up again because more and more people are buying new Windows 7 computers and they need to know if they should buy a 32-bit or a 64-bit version.

The easiest way to decipher the difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit operating system is to think about it in terms of your computer’s processor speed. The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to how well a computer’s processor can handle the information it is given. So, if you purchase a computer with a 32-bit processor, you’ll want to install a 32-bit operating system and vice versa. Those two items go hand in hand when you’re dealing with the way a computer handles certain things.

So, if you’re in the market to buy a new computer, you’ll want to match those two parts up. For example, if you go out and buy a computer with a 64-bit version of Windows 7 installed on it, the computer better have a 64-bit processor as well. Or, if you’d rather go with a 32-bit rate, make sure all of that adds up as well.

Now, if you already have your computer with, let’s say, Windows XP on it and you’re thinking about upgrading to Vista or 7, how can you tell which version you’re going to need? In this case, you would need to check on your computer’s processor speed.

To do so, go to Start>Control Panel>Performance and Maintenance and then click on the System link. From there, look under the General tab and you will be able to see your computer’s processor type and speed. So, if you have a 32-bit processor, you will only be able to upgrade to a 32-bit version of Windows 7 or Vista. You have to stay within the same elements at all times. So, basically, you can’t have a 32-bit processor and upgrade to a 64-bit operating system. It just doesn’t work that way!

This also applies to the types of programs you use on your computer. Most programs are designed to work with both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems without any problems. However, there’s always a chance of something getting mixed up if you try to combine the two bits together. If you have a 64-bit computer, it’s best that you run 64-bit programs on it if you want the best performance out of both components. Otherwise, you can just take your chances.

Along with all of that, I’m sure you’re also wondering what a 64-bit computer can do that a 32-bit can’t. Well, for starters, a 64-bit processor can process your information twice as fast as a 32-bit. Yes, that’s nice, but is it really necessary? It only is if you’re working with large video files, bigger database searches or if you use your computer for a lot of gaming. All of those things take up a lot more memory and a 64-bit processor would really help out in those situations. Other than that, if you just use your computer to do the basic things (check your e-mail, play a few games online, writing Word documents, etc.), you’re going to be just fine with a 32-bit computer.

Well, there you have it. The concept between these two is pretty basic, but I’m really glad you asked this question. This is very important to understand, especially if you’re thinking about buying a new computer in the near future. With this knowledge, you can now go to the computer store and know exactly what you’re looking for. Isn’t that a great feeling? Hope this helps a lot of you out!

~Erin

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