In recent years, you may have noticed the terms 32-bit and 64-bit bandied about, especially when discussing software and hardware requirements. These terms refer to the type of computer processor you have in your machine. In a nutshell, a 64-bit CPU handles RAM more effectively than 32-bit processor, which allows you to run multpiple programs more smoothly. However, in order to enjoy these benefits, the software must also be designed for a 64-bit processor.
How to Tell if You Have a 64-bit Processor
In Windows, you can determine if your computer is 64-bit capable by clicking the Start button and choosing Control Panel. Click System and Maintenance and choose Performance and Information Tools. Next, click View and print details. Scroll down to the System section. If your computer is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, you will see a field that reads “64-bit capable” with the word “Yes” next to it.
On this same screen, you can see what version of Windows you are currently running under the field that reads “System type.” It should read 32-bit or 64-bit.
If you have a 64-bit capable computer, you should take advantage of your processing power by installing a 64-bit operating system. Note, however, that if you are currently running a 32-bit version of Windows, you cannot upgrade from an older version of 32-bit Windows to a newer version of 64-bit Windows. Instead, you’ll have to do a clean install of Windows.
Running 32-bit Programs on a 64-bit Computer
Applications are often designed for either 32-bit or 64-bit processors and operating systems. In general, most programs that are designed for 32-bit processors will work fine in a 64-bit operating system. However, a 64-bit program will not work on a 32-bit operating system.
32-bit Drivers and 64-bit Drivers
There are two key exceptions to the above compatibility rule. Most 32-bit anti-virus programs will not work on 64-bit systems. Furthermore, 32-bit drivers will not work in 64-bit systems. As such, if you’re installing a printer or another peripheral, you’ll need 64-bit drivers. Make sure that your manufacturer offers 64-bit drivers before moving to a 64-bit operating system.
Should You Invest in a 64-bit Computer?
At this juncture, there’s still a considerable compatibility gap between 32-bit and 64-bit computers, hardware and software. Aside from the increased upfront costs, a 64-bit computer may require you to upgrade old hardware that won’t work with your 64-bit operating system. Choosing between a 32-bit system and a 64-bit system is a matter of balancing out your priorities—would you rather have a system that is more efficient at multitasking (a 64-bit system), or would you rather have a system that is more compatible with your existing hardware (32-bit system)?