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32bit & 64bit explained

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32bit & 64bit explained

Post by Admin on Tue Oct 18, 2016 12:02 am

Will this 32-bit software run on my 64-bit operating system? or

Will this 64-bit software run on my computer?

If you have asked these questions then this tutorial should help you to understand the concepts of 32-bit and 64-bit computing. We'll look at your computer system as three parts: the hardware, the operating system and the application programs. At the end we'll look at some of the common questions people have. Just be aware that this article mainly provides examples and FAQs for Windows.

32-bit versus 64-bit

As the number of bits increases there are two important benefits.

More bits means that data can be processed in larger chunks which also means more accurately.
More bits means our system can point to or address a larger number of locations in physical memory.
32-bit systems were once desired because they could address (point to) 4 Gigabytes (GB) of memory in one go. Some modern applications require more than 4 GB of memory to complete their tasks so 64-bit systems are now becoming more attractive because they can potentially address up to 4 billion times that many locations.

Since 1995, when Windows 95 was introduced with support for 32-bit applications, most of the software and operating system code has been 32-bit compatible.

Here is the problem, while most of the software available today is 32-bit, the processors we buy are almost all 64-bit.

So how long will the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit systems take?

The main issue is that your computer works from the hardware such as the processor (or CPU, as it is called), through the operating system (OS), to the highest level which is your applications. So the computer hardware is designed first, the matching operating systems are developed, and finally the applications appear.

We can look back at the transition from 16-bit to 32-bit Windows on 32-bit processors. It took 10 years (from 1985 to 1995) to get a 32-bit operating system and even now, more than 15 years later, there are many people still using 16-bit Windows applications on older versions of Windows.

The hardware and software vendors learnt from the previous transition, so the new operating systems have been released at the same time as the new processors. The problem this time is that there haven't been enough 64-bit applications. Ten years after the PC's first 64-bit processors, installs of 64-bit Windows finally exceeded installs of 32-bit Windows. Further evidence of this inertia is that you are probably reading this tutorial because you are looking to install your first 64-bit software.

Your computer system in three parts

Now we'll look at those three components of your system. In simple terms they are three layers with the processor or CPU as the central or lowest layer and the application as the outermost or highest layer as shown below:



To run a 64-bit operating system you need support from the lower level: the 64-bit CPU.

To run a 64-bit application you need support from all lower levels: the 64-bit OS and the 64-bit CPU.

This simplification will be enough for us to look what happens when we mix the 32-bit and 64-bit parts. But if you want to understand the issue more deeply then you will also need to consider the hardware that supports the CPU and the device drivers that allow the OS and the applications to interface with the system hardware.

What 32-bit and 64-bit combinations are compatible and will work together?

This is where we get to the practicalities and can start answering common questions.

The general rule is that 32-bit will run on a lower level 64-bit component but 64-bit does not run on a lower level 32-bit component:

A 32-bit OS will run on a 32-bit or 64-bit processor without any problem.
A 32-bit application will run on a 32-bit or 64-bit OS without any problem.
But a 64-bit application will only run on a 64-bit OS and a 64-bit OS will only run on a 64-bit processor.

if you have a question of your own post a comment below.

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