ComputingComputing: Guides

32-bit vs 64-bit: What’s the Difference?

32-bit vs 64-bit

Even if you do not know anything about tech, you have probably still heard about the 32- vs 64-bit debate when it comes to processors. But since 64-bit clearly seems to be dominating modern computing, does the debate even matter and should you care? Keep on reading to find out.

How Do Bits Work Anyway?

For you to better understand the differences between how 32-bit and 64-bit processing works, you need to first have a general grasp on the concept of bits. A bit is the smallest increment of data possible on a computer. Since computers count only in binary language (0 or 1), where every 1 counts as a bit.

So for (hypothetical) 1-bit computing, you would get two possible values, then four possible values for 2-bit computing and so on. Keep going like this exponentially until you 32-bit and you will have 4,294,967,296 possible values. That is really high-speed computing, sure, but hold your horses for a second. If you still keep going and get to 64-bit, you will have 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 possible values! This is the rate at which most modern processors work.

Since this means that 64-bit computing can store more computational values than 32-bit, 64-bit is much faster and much more capable than 32-bit computing. It can handle more data at once, and it can also access physical memory that is more than a few billion times what 32-bit computing can access.

The Bit Evolution

To help you understand this concept even better, let’s take a quick look at how processors have evolved over the years. In the 1970s, Intel introduced a humble 8080 chip that supported 8-bit computing. Windows was the first to introduce 16-bit computing for desktops. AMD was the first to introduce 64-bit computing for desktops. Apple was the first to release a 64-bit mobile chip for the iPhone.

Identification for 64-bit vs 32-bit Systems

First things first, how do you even know if your processor is 32-bit or 64-bit? The nomenclature itself is not so confusing; 64-bit is sometimes written as x64 and 32-bit is sometimes written as x86 (to pay homage to the Intel chip series that began with 8086 and carried through to 80486).

You can check which kind of processor you have by going to your device’s settings and looking for the About section that describes its specs. Each new version improves on its predecessor by multiples rather than simply doubling that capacity.

The Differences, and How They Transition into Practical Use

In simple words, 32-bit processors are capable of utilizing a limited amount of RAM as opposed to 64-bit processors. This means better results with processes like gaming. For instance, apps and games that demand high performance also need more available memory, and 64-bit processing can help provide that.

64-bit is also better for programs that need to be able to store a lot of information for immediate access, like intensive image-editing software which allows you to work on many large files at the same time. 32-bit vs 64-bit for MS Office is a good example here because while 32-bit is sufficient for most Office users, 64-bit will make life easier for users that are working with a lot of data.

Most software itself is backward compatible for both 32-bit and 64-bit processors. The only exceptions could be virus protection software and some drivers. However, hardware will definitely need proper installation to transition from one system to the other. The biggest difference occurs within the file system on a computer, but this is expanded on in the next section.

32-bit vs 64-bit Systems for Windows and Macs

Most of the recent versions of Windows (7, 8, 8.1, and 10) come in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. If you have a Windows computer that is less than ten years old, then you are guaranteed to have a 64-bit chip, but you may have the 32-but version of the actual OS installed (again, you can check this in your device specs). For most devices, the specs have the OS labeled using 32- or 64-bit and the processor as ‘x64 based’ and so on.

The DLL files on a Windows system may be in two separate folders (the Program Files and Program Files x86) if you have 32-bit applications still in your system. If the files in these folders are mixed up, it can be problematic because Windows will then not know which version to retrieve for a specific DLL file. Windows can only serve up the right DLL if files are properly organized.

This problem is not present in Macs. The Mac OS has been exclusively 64-bit for a long time now, and the latest versions do not even support 32-bit applications in the slightest (although you can still run them if you absolutely need to).

64-bit for Mobile

The first mobile chip that Apple introduced and we have mentioned above was the A7. iPhones are not the only mobile phones to use 64-bit now; many android phones have it as well, although only iPhones have it as an actual requirement since 2015. 64-bit smartphones have their pros and cons as well, and may not suit all users.

Conclusion: Why Use 32-bit at all?

So the question in your mind, after reading all of this, is probably: why do people even use 32-bit at all in this day and age? It depends; some people might actually be using an older system that has a 32-bit processor. Such a system, while rare today, is not unheard of. Some users may be using a 32-bit OS still because they just are not aware of the difference. Many of the improvements offered by 64-bit are not noticeable for most casual users.

About author

A finance major with a passion for all things tech, Uneeb loves to write about everything from hardware to games (his favorite genre being FPS). When not writing, he can be seen in his natural habitat reading, studying investments, or watching Formula 1.
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