How to Choose Between 32-bit & 64-bit Windows Operating Systems

Ben Stegner 02-12-2016

When you’re downloading Windows from Microsoft’s site or installing from a disc, one question you’ll have to answer is whether you want to install a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system (OS). If you’re not sure what these mean, this question might confuse you. Worse still, choosing the wrong option could limit your upgrade options in the future.


Let’s discuss the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows, and which one you should choose next time you install Windows.

32-bit and 64-bit Differences

We’ve discussed all the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows What's the Difference Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Windows? What's the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows? Here's a simple explanation and how to check which version you have. Read More , but we’ll review the points briefly here. Whether your copy of Windows is 32-bit or 64-bit depends on your processor (CPU) What Is the Difference Between an APU, CPU, and GPU? Confused about computer processor acronyms? It's time to learn the difference between an APU, CPU, and GPU. Read More . Like Windows, modern processors are either 32-bit or 64-bit. 64-bit machines can process much more information at once, making them more powerful.

If you have a 32-bit processor, you must also install the 32-bit Windows. While a 64-bit processor is compatible with 32-bit versions of Windows, you’ll have to run 64-bit Windows to take full advantage of the CPU’s benefits.

To see what your copy of Windows and your processor are on Windows 10, open the Start Menu and type About to open the About your PC menu. Here, under System type, you’ll see if Windows and your processor are 32-bit or 64-bit. To check this on older versions of Windows, type System into the Start Menu to open the System Control Panel entry. Under System type, Windows shows whether your system is 32-bit or 64-bit. Here are more ways to tell if you have 32-bit or 64-bit Windows.



Note that x86 refers to 32-bit architecture, while x64 refers to 64-bit.

Which Version Do I Need?

Whether you should install 32-bit or 64-bit Windows depends on your current setup.

If you bought a PC ready to go from a store, Windows is likely 64-bit. As 64-bit is becoming the standard, only low-end machines will ship with a 32-bit processor. Since you’ll have a 64-bit version of Windows installed on a 64-bit processor, you don’t need to do anything else.

When you’re upgrading Windows, it’s a different story. If you’re upgrading to Windows 10 from an earlier version of Windows, first check to see if your processor is 64-bit using the above method. If it is, you should install the 64-bit version of Windows when you upgrade. This future-proofs your machine and ensures you won’t have to go through another upgrade later.


The two main ways to buy Windows are on a flash drive/DVD How to Make a Bootable CD/DVD/USB to Install Windows Need installation media to reinstall Windows? Our tips show you how to create a bootable CD, USB, or DVD with an ISO from scratch. Read More so you can install it physically, or simply by purchasing a product key Everything You Should Know About Windows Product Keys 25 characters govern your Windows system. Your product key is worth $100 or more, whether or not you upgraded to Windows 10. We explain what you can and can't do with your Windows license. Read More . Some boxed editions of Windows 10 include both editions, but others only include one or the other, so make sure you check before you order.

If you want to go the digital route, anyone can download Windows 10 for installation using the Media Creation Tool How to Create Windows 10 Installation Media Regardless of how you arrived at Windows 10, there's a way to create your own installation media. Sooner or later you might need it. Let us show you how to be prepared. Read More . When you do this, you’ll choose if you want to install the x86 or x64 version of Windows. Purchasing a product key simply entitles you to activate and use Windows legally The Ultimate Windows 10 Activation & License FAQ One of the big confusions surrounding Windows 10 concerns its licensing and activation. This FAQ will shed some light, explain what has changed with Windows 10 version 1511 (Fall Update), and translate activation-related error codes. Read More . These product keys don’t care whether Windows is x86 or x64.

What Are the Advantages of 64-Bit Windows?

We’ve talked about the gritty details, but what does using a 64-bit edition of Windows 10 actually do for you?

The most obvious change is that x64 Windows can handle much more RAM than a 32-bit edition. 32-bit operating systems limit you to using 4 GB of RAM or less. Thus, any RAM that you have installed above 4 GB isn’t used on 64-bit Windows. 64-bit systems can use more RAM How Much RAM Do You Really Need? How much computer memory do you need? Here's how to check your installed RAM and how much RAM your computer needs. Read More than you’ll ever see in a lifetime (about 18 billion GB).


On a 64-bit Windows system, you’ll also notice two Program Files folders under your C: drive. Because 32-bit programs are inherently different from 64-bit software, Windows keeps them separate. Thus, whenever you install software that’s built for x64 systems, it goes to the Program Files folder. 32-bit software goes into Program Files (x86) instead. On a 32-bit system, you’ll only see one Program Files folder, as they can’t use 64-bit software.

Some software, like Chrome and Firefox, is available in a 64-bit flavor. These versions don’t provide massive improvements over the 32-bit versions, but are a bit more efficient and stable. We’ve compared the two versions of Chrome Chrome 64-bit Vs 32-bit For Windows - Is 64-bit Worth Installing? Anyone who is using Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 on a computer with a 64-bit processor can use Chrome 64-bit. What's the difference? I'm glad you asked. Read More if you’re interested. Additionally, heavy software, like video editors, runs better on 64-bit Windows. Multi-tasking becomes more efficient, too.

Under the hood, 64-bit Windows is also inherently more secure. Most of the enhancements come from low-level tweaks, so we won’t discuss them in detail. However, 64-bit Windows includes additional protection against rootkits Viruses, Spyware, Malware, etc. Explained: Understanding Online Threats When you start to think about all the things that could go wrong when browsing the Internet, the web starts to look like a pretty scary place. Read More , and forces drivers to be signed. While these don’t make it immune to attack, it’s a more modern architecture that isn’t held back by old exploits.

Other Considerations With 64-bit Windows

As long as your computer/processor is within a few years old, you shouldn’t have any issues upgrading to a 64-bit version of Windows. If your computer’s processor was one of the earliest with 64-bit architecture, it might be missing support for a few minor features. This can cause issues with 64-bit Windows, but you can run a tool like 64bit Checker to make sure your hardware is ready to go for 64-bit Windows.


If you’re currently on a 32-bit version of Windows and are planning to upgrade, you must do a clean install. There’s no easy upgrade path like when you update Windows 7 to Windows 10. Check out our full guide on upgrading Windows 10 from 32 to 64-bit How to Upgrade from 32-Bit to 64-Bit in Windows 10 Is your Windows 10 installation limited to 3.75 GB of RAM because it's the 32-bit version? We show you how to upgrade to 64-bit, so you can finally enjoy advanced features and performance. Read More once you’re ready.

Finally, when running 64-bit Windows, you must ensure that your hardware is compatible. Windows Update should automatically find drivers for your internal components, but ancient printers or other peripherals might not have a 64-bit driver. Know that archaic 16-bit applications, like DOS games How to Run Really Old Software on a 64-Bit PC: 6 Methods Windows reverse compatibility is fading with every advance. Here's how you can run 16-bit programs on your 64-bit Windows. Read More , won’t work on 64-bit versions of Windows, either.

Should I Use 64-bit Windows?

For most people, 64-bit Windows is the new standard and you should use it to take advantage of security features, better performance, and increased RAM. The only reasons you should stick with 32-bit Windows are if:

  • Your computer has a 32-bit processor. Since you’d have to buy a new machine to install 64-bit Windows, stick with what you have for now. Be sure to buy a x64 machine for your next computer.
  • You use ancient software or devices. Since 32-bit Windows was more common for years, older devices only had 32-bit drivers. If your printer is fifteen years old, it probably won’t work on 64-bit Windows. Hopefully, you don’t do daily work with 20-year-old software, but if you do, you should probably hold off on 64-bit Windows. In either case, consider updating those tools so you can modernize your system.

Next time you install Windows, you’ll know which bit option to pick! And if you go with the 64-bit, take a look at how you can run old software on that 64-bit PC How to Run Really Old Software on a 64-Bit PC: 6 Methods Windows reverse compatibility is fading with every advance. Here's how you can run 16-bit programs on your 64-bit Windows. Read More .

Originally written by Mahendra Palsule on October 21, 2009.

Related topics: 64-Bit, Computer Maintenance, Windows 10, Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows Upgrade.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. Geoff Pomeroy
    May 31, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    This article is excellent! Just one more thought... If you intend to run old 16-bit programs from the "archives", Win 10's 32-bit compatibility mode is much better. There is virtually no chance of running 16-bit programs in the 64-bit environment without the complexity of Virtual Machines, etc. If you know that you intend to run older 16-bit programs, it is much simpler to load Win10 32-bit. I've wasted untold time to make this determination.

  2. Sumit Rawat
    October 1, 2017 at 7:30 am

    I have ×64 bit processor and 2GB RAM should I installed Windows 10 of which version ARM64, 64 bit, or 32 bit?

  3. Qay
    August 19, 2017 at 5:46 pm

    How to know the prossesor can use 64bit?

    • John
      May 22, 2018 at 3:48 pm

      If your PC is newer than year 2000th Pentium 4 era (e.g. C2D cpu's or AMD equivalent or newer) than you must have 64bit capable cpu, so this shouldn't be so much of a concern. Before 10 years this question would be valid, but not today unless you are talking about pc, that originally came with windows 98/early XP installed...

      • Ben Stegner
        May 22, 2018 at 4:15 pm

        This is true in most cases, but I've seen some budget netbook-style laptops that are still 32-bit. Usually they're quite underpowered, featuring just 2GB of RAM and a paltry 64GB SSD.

  4. SS
    December 2, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    If you only have a 32-bit machine, install Windows twice and, poof, you now have 64-bits!

    • Ben Stegner
      December 5, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      If only it were that simple!

  5. karthi
    August 23, 2016 at 7:29 am

    thank you for information

  6. Ifthekhar Hussain
    August 20, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Thank you very much for your valuable info

  7. Ashfaq Ahmed
    June 25, 2016 at 7:11 am

    Very informative good work. Thanks Ashfaq Ahmed

  8. AKEEL
    May 2, 2016 at 8:33 am

    i have windows 7 professional original 64 bit DVD, can install 32 bit system to my PC from that DVD..

  9. siddarth
    March 26, 2016 at 3:29 am

    thank your, it is very useful information

  10. Ilamparithi Kaliyappan
    March 23, 2016 at 5:35 am

    Thank you for your clarification

  11. Anonymous
    August 25, 2015 at 6:47 am

    Thank you for your clarification.

  12. Anonymous
    July 18, 2015 at 7:43 am

    thank you and so 64 bit can run games faster than 32-bit or it depends upon the graphics?

  13. Anonymous
    June 7, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    thank you for this article it was really useful

  14. Keshav
    May 21, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Hi i have a cd with 64 and 32 bit windows 7 but how to install 64 bit windows 7 on my pc
    I install that but it automatically install 32 bit
    What to do. To install 64 bit windows 7

    • Vishal
      December 7, 2015 at 5:28 pm

      Quickest way is to go to the drive root. If you have a file named Bootmgr.efi you are running a X64/64-bit version.

      Next way is disk size, the x86/32-bit version comes out at ~2.32GB whilst the x64/64-bit version comes out at ~3.0GB.

      Lastly, you can go to the drive root and open the autorun.inf file.

      In notepad, the 64 bit version shows:


      open=sources\sperr32.exe x64
      The 32 bit version shows:


  15. Roni
    February 10, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    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
      February 10, 2010 at 11:31 pm

      @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
        February 14, 2010 at 2:43 am

        Thank you so much for the reply, much appreciated.

  16. Nerdinsidestud
    February 3, 2010 at 11:38 am

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

  17. Dedoy
    February 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    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
      February 1, 2010 at 8:52 pm

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

  18. Allan
    January 20, 2010 at 11:57 pm

    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
      January 21, 2010 at 3:25 am

      @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.

  19. gaz
    December 28, 2009 at 1:51 am

    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
      December 28, 2009 at 2:51 am

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

  20. Gino
    December 21, 2009 at 1:25 am

    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
      December 21, 2009 at 3:09 am

      @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.

  21. Daryl
    November 18, 2009 at 12:22 pm

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

  22. TuneUp
    November 11, 2009 at 11:24 am

    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-

  23. leek
    November 7, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    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.

  24. paul in adk
    November 1, 2009 at 6:43 am

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

  25. paul in adk
    November 1, 2009 at 6:42 am

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

  26. Jshm2
    October 27, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    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.

    Also see how it compares:

    • NomDeGuerre
      November 25, 2009 at 2:56 pm

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

  27. Marcelo
    October 23, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    Very good job!

  28. Rob
    October 22, 2009 at 9:57 am

    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
      October 23, 2009 at 11:29 am

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

      • Rob
        October 23, 2009 at 9:34 pm

        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
          December 28, 2009 at 6:30 am

          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.

  29. Lisa
    October 21, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    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
      October 24, 2009 at 7:09 am

      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:

  30. Lee | Money4Invest
    October 21, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    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.

  31. Chris McQ.
    October 21, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    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.