How To Choose Between 32-bit & 64-bit Windows 7 Operating Systems

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corner_spotWindows 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.

MS 64-bit Computing

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.

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Win7 SysInfo

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.

ProgramFilesFolders

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.

Win7 Upgrade Advisor

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!

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28 Comments - Write a Comment

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Chris McQ.

I liked the article. Sure it was kind of short & high level, but perfect for the home user who may not be that tech savy. To the point & simplistic. Great job.

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Lee | Money4Invest

This article really clear my mind about the mystery of 32 bit and 64 bit. Now I know the difference between both of them and if possible, I will use 64 bit to have better performance.

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Lisa

With an aging PC with only 3GB of RAM and a ScanSnap scanner that Fujitsu hasn’t bothered to make 64bit drivers for, I’ll be installing the 32 bit. Thanks for making the choice a bit easier.

Computer Video Tutorial

I’ve tested windows 7 32 bit final, and it support fully 4 GB RAM!
If your version of windows 7 can not support more than 3.2 GB RAM, you can follow this article to break the limit for 32 bit version of windows: vtechtip.com/2009/10/force-windows-32-bit-support-more-than.html

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Rob

just to let people know, 64-bit operating systems and applications typically use more RAM than 32-bit OSs and applications, which may result in actual decreases in performance when running RAM heavy tasks

shylo

is that why they want you to have a minimum of 4 gigs of RAM??

Rob

They recommend at least 4 gigs because just about the biggest advantage of a 64-bit OS is that it can actually use 4 gigs of RAM or more, whereas technically 32-bit OS’s should be able to use up to 4 gigs (however its been my observation, both with Vista and Ubuntu, that 32-bit versions see something closer to 3 gigs). So if you don’t have 4+ gigs or RAM (or aren’t at least planning on upgrading relatively soon), it’s almost pointless to use a 64-bit OS imho. [/wall of text]

Rob to

But if you have 4gb of RAM you should install the 64 bit version??? Or it doesn’t add up? So is 32bit with 4gb RAM faster then 64bit with 4gb RAM? Because if this is true, there is no reason to use 64 when you are running with 4gb RAM.

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Marcelo

Very good job!

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Jshm2

Don’t see the bother really as Linux has been supporting up to 64GB of RAM on 32-bit for years and Macs have been supporting 32GB of RAM for years. Ol’bloaty has been playing catchup all along and it’s only at W7 that’s it got anywhere close – but on 64-bit.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physical_Address_Extension

Also see how it compares:

tuxradar.com/content/benchmarked-ubuntu-vs-vista-vs-windows-7

NomDeGuerre

It’s a good thing that the average person is using Linux, and hardly anyone uses Windows. I don’t see the bother either.

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paul in adk

The added windows confusion made my decision even clearer. Run Ubuntu linux.

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paul in adk

The added windows confusion, made my decision easy, run Ubuntu linux.

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leek

You run old 16-bit applications that were developed for Windows 3.1 or DOS. These won’t run under 64-bit Windows.

Misleading. You can run 16-bit applications with DOSBox.

Reply

TuneUp

Users should also be aware of some issues that may pop up when using the 64-bit version of Windows 7. There could be possible driver issues, higher memory consumption and no compatibility with 16-bit software. For users who are trying to choose which version of Windows 7 to get, if you currently have a 32-bit operating system and you don’t work with resource intense applications, you should stick with 32-bit. If you are thinking of buying a brand new computer, you might as well go with 64-bit version. Check out this post with more info- http://bit.ly/1XCLPT

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Daryl

Cheers for that article. Clarified the basic issues for me very nicely. Good work, thanks.

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Gino

Thanks for the intel. I have Microsoft Office 2000 and i loaded it on a Win 7 64 bit OS. The silly goose does not want to open any word documents, unless i open the main word program and then open it within. In Win XP i was able to open a word document by itself, but not in Win 7 64 bit. Please advise. Thank you.

Mahendra Palsule

@Gino: This doesn’t sound like a 32/64-bit problem, but rather a file association problem. Try right-clicking on a Word document in Windows Explorer, and go to “Open With…”, and choose Microsoft Word while keeping the option “Always open files of this type with this application” selected.

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gaz

hi, just bought a new laptop and stupidly chose the 32-bit os instead of the 64-bit os option when setting up. i know i have to do a fresh “clean” install to choose the 64-bit os, but will i lose all the trial programs that came with the laptop if i do so? any help would be very much appreciate! thanks heaps

Mahendra Palsule

@gaz: The trial programs will be reinstalled when you install the 64-bit version, so you won’t lose them.

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Allan

Hi,
Perhaps some one can help me. Just bought a Sony VGC-JS35GJ_S. I can not send/receive any email on Outlook. Tried Windows live mail, no good, say error server not responding etc. This all happen after I installed Windows 7! Internet Explorer is working.
Is it this 32bit and 64 bit thing? Not sure if vista was 64bit but on the control panel it is showing on the icon that mail is 32bit and java is also 32bit. I aalso bought 2007 small business software using Outlook.
Would appreciate any comments.
Regards Allan

Mahendra Palsule

@Allan: I’m almost certain this is not a 32/64-bit issue, but rather an email configuration issue. Sorry, can’t help you with that. Check out support/forums for Windows Live Mail or try with another email client.

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Dedoy

I’ve installed W7 ultimate on my computer. Clean Free. according to Windows 7 Upgrade advisor, my PC can support 64 bit.
After complete installation, i checked it was 32 bit that intalled.
i repeated installation process and there’s no option to choose between 32 and 64 bit. Or should be??
can anyone help me how can i install 64 bit of Window 7??

Mahendra Palsule

@Dedoy: The installation discs for 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 are separate. Use the one labelled 64-bit.

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Nerdinsidestud

the article was gud n too the point…it cleared my doubts regarding my windows usage…….keep it up bro….

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Roni

Thank you for the article. I’m planning to buy a new system with 64-bit win7. My question is, will I be able to open my old word 32-bit (office 2007) documents on the new system, and save them again as 32-bit? I save my documents in .rtf format as I do transcription work and have to submit documents in .rtf format. Thanks again!

Mahendra Palsule

@Roni: 32/64-bit has nothing to do with your documents. You will be able to open the same documents created in either version in either version.

Roni

Thank you so much for the reply, much appreciated.

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