Windows 7 launches this week and those waiting to upgrade should first decide if they want to install the Windows 7 64-bit (x64) version or stick with 32-bit (x86) Windows. Why? Even if you install 32-bit initially, it should be possible to upgrade to 64-bit later, right? Wrong.
You can’t upgrade from 32-bit to Windows 7 64-bit without doing a fresh “clean” install, which requires you to reinstall all applications from scratch. Therefore, you need to decide on either 32-bit or 64-bit before you install Windows 7.
While I recommend you go with 64-bit, read through this article to make an informed decision.
Background: What is 32-bit and 64-bit?
32-bit and 64-bit are computer architectures that specify the length of data types and addresses that are supported. What this means for the average user is how much memory can be used effectively and how powerful the number-crunching capacity of the CPU is.
Since Windows XP was originally only released as a 32-bit operating system, and because older hardware have 32-bit device drivers, application development on the Windows platform has been slow in moving to 64-bit. However, after both Windows XP and Vista were released in 64-bit, Microsoft is now pushing 64-bit strongly, and you can expect application developers to take advantage of 64-bit computing soon.
Should You Buy 32-bit or 64-bit Windows 7?
Fortunately, you do not need to worry about all this when purchasing a computer or Windows 7. If you are buying a new PC from a vendor, it will ship with 64-bit Windows pre-installed if the configuration supports 64-bit. If you buy retail boxed versions of Windows 7, they will include both 32-bit and 64-bit editions, except for the Home Basic edition.
Advantages of 64-bit
There are several benefits of going to Windows 7 64-bit:
- With 32-bit Windows, you can use a maximum of 4GB RAM. 64-bit Windows 7 runs very fast with 4GB and you can upgrade your RAM to 8 or 16 GB later, making your system future-proof.
- A 32-bit OS can theoretically use up to 4 GB of RAM, but 32-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 see a maximum of 3.12 GB. With 64-bit Windows 7, you can use the full 4GB RAM.
- You get better security with 64-bit Windows. All 64-bit device drivers are digitally signed, which means you will not have random crashes. You also get more advanced security features like Kernel Patch Protection with 64-bit Windows 7.
- Since 64-bit systems process more information and support greater RAM, Windows 7 is more responsive when you are running complex applications or many applications simultaneously. If you use graphics applications like Photoshop, video editing, games, CAD, etc., you should go 64-bit.
- Not all applications have 64-bit versions that take advantage of the 64-bit architecture, but you can expect more of them after Windows 7 goes mainstream. Meanwhile, most 32-bit applications work fine under 64-bit Windows. If any of them don’t for some reason, you can reasonably expect the application developers to fix any issues, because a lot of people will be running 64-bit Windows.
Check If Your PC Supports 64-Bit Windows 7
If you have bought or upgraded your computer in the past couple of years, with an Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent/higher processor, your PC is already equipped to run 64-bit Windows 7. If you want to make sure, you can do any of the following:
- If you are running 32-bit Windows Vista, go to Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Performance Information and Tools. Click View and print details. In the System section, you can see whether your PC is 64-bit capable.
- You can use the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to find out if your system can run 64-bit Windows 7.
- Check the Windows 7 Compatibility Center to see if your devices have 64-bit drivers.
When You Should Use 32-bit
There are some situations in which you are better off using 32-bit Windows 7:
- If you use only 2GB of RAM, and do not plan to upgrade anytime soon. To really take advantage of 64-bit Windows 7, you need minimum 4GB RAM.
- You have legacy devices like scanners and printers that do not have 64-bit device drivers. 32-bit drivers are not supported under 64-bit Windows 7, so you should make sure all the devices you need to use are compatible with 64-bit.
- You run old 16-bit applications that were developed for Windows 3.1 or DOS. These won’t run under 64-bit Windows.
Did this post clear your doubts about 32-bit and 64-bit Windows versions? Is your system ready for 64-bit Windows 7? Feel free to share and ask any questions in the comments!