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32-Bit or 64-Bit Windows, which one am I using, and what does either mean?

by Felix Omondi
32-bit 64-bit

64-Bit or 32-Bit Windows, which one am I using, and what does either mean?

When you think about Windows variants, the first thing to come into mind might be Home or Pro versions. Well, that is a variation in Windows, but there is also another category of variation equally as important. The 64-bit and 32-bit versions of Windows.

You have probably heard those two terms thrown around, but you may not know what 64-bit or 32-bit actually means. That is what we are debunking today in this article. So without much further ado

What is 64-bit, What is 32-bit?

These two terms come from the processor architecture running inside the computer. Most modern day computers fall into one of either of these two categories, but 64-bit does supersede 32-bit computers in recent times.

64-bit processors are more powerful compared to their predecessors, the 32-bit counterparts. 64-bit chips simply handle and process more information faster. Remember computers work in binary 0 and 1, anda not like in a decimal system, with ten digits per place.

Just so you get a clear an idea of how 32-bit and 64-bit operate. Think of this, 32-bit represents 2^32 possible addresses (in other words 4,294,967,296 possibilities). On the other hand 64-bit represents 2^64 (or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possibilities).

32-bit and 64-bit Windows

Microsoft has availed modern versions of Windows in two variants, the 32-bit model, and the 64-bit version. Though computers with 64-bit processors can run both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.

However, for a 32-bit Windows running on a computer with 64-bit architecture that computer will not be taking full advantage of its processing power. On the other hand, a 64-bit Windows cannot run on a computer with a 32-bit processor architecture.

Differences in Performance

The long story short, 32-bit Windows can only utilize up to 4GB of RAM. That means if you have an 8GB RAM in a computer running 32-bit version of Windows. The maximum RAM the operating system will ever utilize is 4GB RAM. The rest will just be unused computer resource.

The next difference you will note about 32-bit and 64-bit Windows is in the Program Files. A 32-bit Windows will only have one Program Files folder, while 64-bit Windows will have a second additional Program Files (x86) folder. On a 64-bit Windows system, developers have to write the codes for 32-bit programs in a much different way compared to those of 64-bit programs. Thus the two programs cannot share the same Program Files folder in a 64-bit Windows. However, in a 32-bit Windows, you notice you have just one Program Files folders since no programs designed for 64-bit architecture Windows can run 32 bit vs 64 bit

In Windows, different programs now and then need to gram some shared information such as DLLs from the Program Files folder. Since 32-bit and 64-bit programs are coded differently, there is no way they can get the shared information from the same Program Files folder. That is why on a 64-bit Windows, you will find two versions of the Program Files folder.

Ancient Windows versions

There was a time Microsoft produced Windows running 16-bit software, such as the Windows 3.1. Computers with the architecture to runs such a Windows, will also run the 32-bit version of Windows, since it is backward-compatible with such legacy programs. However, 64-bit machince cannot run the now archaic 16-bit software.

Upgrading from 32-bit to 64-bit Windows?

As for upgrading your Windows from 32-bit to 64-bit, the processor running on your computer plays the key role. Like we mentioned earlier, you can install a 32-bit Windows into a PC with a 64-bit processor. In such a case, you can easily upgrade to 64-bit Windows by downloading the 64-bit version from Microsoft web store, and performing a clean install.

However, if your PC has a chip with a 32-bit archtecture, you can only run 32-bit version of Windows but never 64-bit Windows. In this case you cannot upgrade from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows. You best bet would be to purchase a new PC, and the good thing is most recent computers come with just 64-bit architecture chips.

Why choose 64-bit over 32-bit

Well, 64-bit processors are more powerful compared to their 32-bit counterparts. Windows and software applications designed for 64-bit system are also more secure than the 32-bit versions. So always try to keep it 64-bit.


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