Computing

Understanding the Difference Between 32-bit and 64-bit Processors

You’ve probably come across the options of choosing between 32-bit and 64-bit when downloading apps or installing games. Maybe you’ve even noticed a sticker on your PC claiming it has a 64-bit processor. But what does it all mean? And does it really matter when most new PCs boast a 64-bit processor? Let’s dive into the real difference between these two options.

Here’s Why It Matters

To put it simply, a 64-bit processor outshines its 32-bit counterpart because it can handle a larger amount of data at once. With a 64-bit processor, you have the capacity to store and process more computational values, including memory addresses. In fact, a 64-bit processor can access over 4 billion times the physical memory compared to a 32-bit processor. Now, that’s no small feat!

The key disparity lies in RAM handling capabilities. While a 32-bit processor can manage a limited amount of RAM (usually 4GB or less, depending on the Windows version), a 64-bit processor can utilize a much larger RAM capacity. However, it’s worth noting that your operating system must also be designed to take full advantage of this increased memory access. Thankfully, if you’re using the latest Windows 10, you needn’t worry about any limitations.

Embracing the Advancements

As 64-bit processors and larger RAM capacities become more readily available, both Microsoft and Apple have upgraded their respective operating systems to fully embrace this new technology. In 2009, Mac OS X Snow Leopard became the first fully 64-bit operating system. On the other hand, the iPhone 5s made history as the first smartphone to incorporate a 64-bit chip, known as the Apple A7.

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To help you visualize the power of these advancements, take a look at this image:

AMD Ryzen 5 2400G & Ryzen 3 2200G Review
Image credit: Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Software Compatibility Matters

While the basic version of Microsoft Windows imposes software limitations on the amount of RAM applications can utilize, even the ultimate and professional versions of the operating system can only handle a maximum of 4GB in the 32-bit version. However, the real game-changer lies in software specifically designed for 64-bit architecture. Applications and video games that demand high performance can tap into the increased memory, making a significant difference. That’s why we often recommend 8GB of RAM for optimal performance.

Most software is backward compatible, allowing you to run 32-bit applications on a 64-bit environment without any hassle. However, antivirus software and drivers may require the appropriate versions to be installed for smooth functioning.

The Same, Yet Different

One way to grasp the disparities in data processor capacity is by examining your computer’s file network. In Windows, you’ll find two Program Files folders: Program Files and Program Files (x86). These folders share resources called DLL Files, which are structured differently depending on whether you’re running a 32-bit or 64-bit application. If a 32-bit app attempts to access a 64-bit DLL version, it usually causes the application to cease functioning.

While many applications still operate on the 32-bit operating system due to its long-standing presence in the market, things are slowly changing on certain platforms. Developers have found a solution, allowing modern 64-bit systems to run both 32-bit and 64-bit software. This is made possible by utilizing two specific Program File directories. If your 32-bit app is located in the designated x86 folder, your computer will access the correct 32-bit version. Beyond that, applications in your Program Files directory can access other available content.

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