32-bit VS 64-bit |

32-bit VS 64-bit

CompTIA A+ Objective 1.1

The terms “32-bit” and “64-bit” are commonly seen in system requirements and other technical literature, but few people actually know what these terms mean. Do they refer to hardware or software specifications?

Up until 2006, all Windows operating systems have been written using 32-bit architecture. 32-bits is simply the “width” of the data bus (think of it as lanes on a highway). As computer hardware technology has progressed, the need for faster and more efficient data-handling capabilities are quickly becoming a necessity. And as a result of these increasing requirements came new hardware and software architecture for managing these advancements, the 64-Bit processor and 64-Bit operating system. While 64-Bit technology is really nothing new, for most everyday users it has never been practical. Now that costs have been reduced for the necessary hardware, 64-Bit operating system use is on the rise.

In Windows, you can see if you have a 32 Bit or 64-Bit operating system by going to the control panel and opening the system icon or use the Windows Key + Pause Hotkey

32 Bit Operating Systems

Only a few of the computers operating in the world today use an operating system that utilizes 32-bit memory management architecture (Data bus). These are commonly referred to as X86 systems (this is in reference to the first 32 bit 286\386\486 systems). There are few remaining 32-bit operating systems on the market today. Here are a few examples:

♦ Microsoft Windows: These include Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, and Server
♦ Linux: These include Red Hat, Mandrake, and Ubuntu
♦ Solaris: Versions 1-10
♦ Mac OS: Classic (84-2001) and OS X
♦ FreeBSD: Versions 1-8

64 Bit Operating Systems

In 2002, Linux and Microsoft released the first commercial 64-bit operating systems. Linux release Red Hat 7.1 and Microsoft introduced Windows XP 64-Bit Edition. These were first used by server administrators and for users with high-end software, such as rendering applications. As larger data stores, such as 4.7 GB DVD’s, needed to be accessed more efficiently, these 64-bit operating systems are being offered to the consumer user as well. In 2016, 64-Bit operating systems are the standard.

The Difference

The main difference between 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems is the way that they manage memory. For example, Windows XP 32-bit is limited to a total of 4 GB maximum of system memory to be allocated by the kernel and applications (this is why systems with 4 GB of RAM do not show the total system memory in Windows. Kernel = 1 GB reserved, Applications = 3 GBs-viewable). Windows 64-Bit has a limit of 16 Terabytes maximum of system memory allocation. This is extremely important for performance because data in memory is accessed thousands of times faster than from a disk drive. Programs also load much faster into memory. There is also a better security in XP 64-Bit because it is written from Server 2003 SP1 code base. Users of modeling, statistical, and rendering software really benefit from the 64-Bit architecture because these programs are usually very processor and memory intensive.

While it is possible to install a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit system, it is best to install a 64-bit version if possible. The 64-bit OS will allow your computer to access more RAM, run applications more efficiently, and, in most cases, run both 32-bit and 64-bit programs.

Exceptions to this rule include system utilities and antivirus programs that are written specifically for a 32 or 64-bit operating system. In these cases, you will need to install the version of the software that corresponds to your OS (which may be different than your hardware). Additionally, device drivers are often written for specific operating systems, so it is important to install 32-bit drivers if you are running a 32-bit OS and 64-bit drivers if your operating system is 64-bit.

Here are some other possible obstacles of using a 32-Bit operating system:

Applications: Just like any legacy technology, vendors no longer develop applications for 32-Bit operating systems.

Hardware: The many processors require a 64-Bit operating system.

Drivers: Manufacturers often do not offer 32-Bit driver versions for their hardware due to a lack of market demand or their product.


Hopefully the above explanation has given you a better understanding of what 32-bit and 64-bit mean in reference to hardware and software. If you’re installing an operating system, it’s important to know what type of processor your computer has so you can install the right one. If you are installing software, it’s important to know what type of operating system your computer is running, so you can install the correct version.

Most PCs today are 64-bit. However, if you have a 32-bit computer, you have no choice but to install a 32-bit OS. If you have a 64-bit system but have some mission critical peripherals that do not have 64-bit drivers, installing a 32-bit OS might be your best option. In all other cases, it is best to buy 64-bit hardware, install a 64-bit operating system, and run 64-bit applications. This combination will provide the best possible performance.

A+ certification develops PC hardware and software troubleshooting skills. Professionals in the information technology industry may find A+ certification to be an advantage when searching for jobs. Technicians that have the certification tend to earn 5 to 15 percent more than those that don’t. Some employers require A+ certification for entry-level technical support positions. IT professionals that obtain the certification pursue many career paths, such as technical support specialist and IT support administrator.