32-bit Vs. 64-bit Systems: What's The Difference?

Dennis Faas's picture

Not so long ago, we received a query concerning buying a computer and what all the hype was about concerning 32-bit vs. 64-bit, and so on. Since the gift giving season is rolling around and prices for computer equipment is going down, I decided to try and give you all some help.

32-bit vs 64-bit Computing

To start, let me explain the difference between 32 and 64-bit systems, and the 'why' behind it.

In your computer, you have several 'items' that, normally, you don't concern yourself about. One of those is the 'data buss'. It doesn't go across town or anything like that, but it does provide transportation. Basically, It connects memory to the rest of the system including the processor, which does all the thinking in your computer.

The 'data buss' is used to move the data around inside your computer. In a 32-bit computer, the width (or size) of the data buss is 32-bits wide. A 64-bit buss is twice as wide so the system can move twice as much data around. Being able to process more data means a faster system -- but only for specific things. Normal office productivity and web surfing will show no advantages at all, whereas graphics processing and scientific calculations will go much faster.

Processor manufacturers are working out ways to provide 64-bit processors that are faster and cooler running temperatures so you may hear about multi-core processors and other highly technical terms that are related to 64-bit computing. So, as they say, the band is in the bandwagon, playing a bouncy tune, the parade has started, and 64-bit is being touted as the up and coming technology for computing.

Windows 64-bit

However, it is also said that the thing about bandwagons is that it never takes you where you want to go! For example: Windows for 64-bit is not where it should be.

It has been reported that Vista 64-bit, Microsoft's next Windows release, already has severe problems. It already has had critical updates applied, prior to release. Nothing like getting a head start, is there. Other problems with 64-bit is the general lack of stable software to run on these Ferrari of the computer world. The entire system has to be designed and built for the wider data buss, too, so the system will cost more. On the contrary, most 32-bit software will run on a 64-bit system, but that causes one to wonder why one spent the money in the first place.

Pricing: 32-bit vs 64-bit

One good thing, however, is that the price of the 32-bit systems has been dropping. Looking around the web nowadays is disclosing some really surprising price drops almost across the board, even on laptops.

Already, prices for desktop systems are running about half of what they were this time last year. Over the next few months, those prices will drop even further what with the retail sales rush during October through December. If you need (or want) to buy a new system, this is the time. Start looking for good deals on new equipment now.

It's also a good time for the used computer market. Lower prices on new systems will cause more used equipment being made available and at rock bottom prices. Don't ignore them!

Who needs 64-bit?

I suppose the question now is ,"Who would benefit for buying a 64-bit system?" The answer: mostly businesses, universities, scientific groups, and government. If you produce videos, computer art, or develop programs, 64-bit systems will be helpful. But for the home user, 64-bit is currently a bit overkill. You won't see faster activities like writing, spreadsheet processing, or web browsing so (in my opinion), save your cash for something else (like a bigger hard drive or more RAM).

Have Fun!

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