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If you have a 64-bit capable machine, you may want to upgrade from 32-bit Windows to 64. Unfortunately, the upgrade, while quite possible, isn't easy.

I'm using Windows 7, 32-bit Home Premium on a computer with 64-bit hardware. Can I buy a copy of Windows 7 64-bit and install it on my system? I have 10 GB of RAM on a Gateway computer.

Yes, you can. And in fact, you'll really want to in your case, for reasons which I'll explain shortly.

Unfortunately, the path to get there from here isn't nearly as easy as we might want.

There is no "upgrade"

The first and most important thing to realize about upgrading from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows is that regardless of the flavors involved (XP/Vista/7, Home/Pro/Ultimate), there is no upgrade installation.

The only way to switch from 32-bits to 64-bits is with a clean install.

“64-bit versions are the only versions of Windows that have the ability to use more than 4 gigabytes of RAM.”

Unlike a Vista-to-7 upgrade, there is no path for the 32-to-64-bit upgrade, which preserves installed programs and settings. You must start from scratch.

"Upgrade" steps

A so-called "upgrade" from 32 to 64-bits is really a clean install from scratch. That boils down to these these steps:

  • Backup your machine, completely.

  • Reformat the hard disk so that it's empty (this can be part of the next step).

  • Install the new 64-bit version of Windows from scratch.

  • Install and update all of your security tools and applications from scratch, and update Windows itself.

  • Restore data from your backup or other sources.

Why you want to

OK, I'll admit it. I'm jealous.

10 gigabytes of RAM is pretty nifty. My two current machines are maxed out at eight and more would be handy on my desktop.

If you're running 32-bit Windows - any version, as long as it's a 32-bit version - then you're using less than half the RAM you have installed. By the very nature of being 32-bits, the 32-bit version of Windows can access at most only four gigabytes of RAM, and typically much less.

64-bit versions are the only versions of Windows that have the ability to use more than four gigabytes of RAM.

I strongly suggest you move to 64-bits.

Software compatibility

A lot has been written about compatibility concerns when moving to 64-bits. Most of the concerns are over stated.

The majority of software that runs in 32-bit Windows 7 runs in 64-bit Windows 7 - even if that software itself is written for 32-bit. Windows 64-bit has a compatibility layer specifically designed to allow 32-bit software to run.

In my experience, most software just works. Personally, I have never encountered a failure, although I have heard of rare specific cases where software fails - typically, it's a failure to run in Windows 7, regardless of version, but occasionally, it's a failure to run in 64-bit Windows.

Next steps

My advice is pretty simple: bite the bullet and upgrade. Do the backup, reformat, and install-from-scratch described above. Plan to spend a little time with it.

But the result should be a nicely working machine that takes advantage of all the RAM that you've given it.

Article C5031 - January 7, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

13 Comments
Len Carusi
January 10, 2012 9:12 AM

You mention that you max out at 8 gig and would like more on your computers. That's a lot of memory. Under what circumstances could you use that much memory?

Thank you,
Len

I happen to run Virtual Machines (for example I have an XP VM that I can fire up to research XP-related questions), and right now can only reliably run one at a time. I'd like to run more.
Leo
10-Jan-2012
jim green
January 10, 2012 9:24 AM

I would add that you should locate the 64 bit drivers for your hardware before switching. With any luck, the built in drivers will offer enough functionality to get your network up so you can surf and download the correct drivers directly to the new install, but that is trusting a lot in luck. At a minimum I would try to locate the network card (or wifi) and video drivers...

Douglas Harding
January 10, 2012 9:33 AM

I ran into one problem with 64 bit software, and it was MS Office 2010, esp Outlook. 64 bit will not sync with my MS based phone, ie Windows Mobile Device Center. A real disappointment in MS. I had to unload the 64 bit version and load the 32 bit version of Office to get everything to work and sync.

Martin Cepin
January 10, 2012 10:00 AM

I am rather new to computing and went crazy trying to get the newest adobe flash player. A friend gave me a link and it worked to install the flash player on both 32 and 64 bit.

Banyarola
January 10, 2012 11:26 AM

I used PC Mover to go from XP 32 bit to 7 64bit.

It was easy to do and I had only a few minor problems...

Almost all my programs worked fine...

I did upgrade all my drivers before making the move.

Walt
January 10, 2012 11:50 AM

I loaded 64 bit Win 7 ultimate on my PC after having run the 32 bit ver for some time. The driver problem was insurmountable and I had so many BSODs from corrupted files and constant (not responding) messages in ALL my software. I gave up and went back to the 32 bit, now my fancy ASUS/AMD Quad core works just fine.

Rohn
January 10, 2012 12:19 PM

Since you are doing an OS install, now is a GREAT time to consider partitioning the HD. Split the single large C: drive into at least 2 parts: (relatively small) C: for OS and large D: for Data files.

This way, when it inevitably comes time to re-install Windows, you don't have to worry about losing your data files. This means redirecting the default profile for "documents", "Desktop", "favorites" etc folders to the D: drive. It is easy enough to do.

It also allows you to be more selective on your backup strategy. Fewer (weekly/montly# backups for the C: drive, frequent #daily / weekly) incremental backups for the D: drive.

For Office, MS STILL! recommends sticking with 32 bit unless you have a explicit need for 64 bit due to the described lack of 64 bit addons. Specifically, handling files larger than 2GB.

John
January 10, 2012 1:15 PM

One thing to be aware of - Drivers.
You will need 64 bit drivers for your devices ie
printers.
These might not be available - check the manufacturers web site first.

njorl
January 10, 2012 2:22 PM

"64-bit versions are the only versions of Windows that have the ability to use more than four gigabytes of RAM."

Not strictly true. For example, Windows 2000 Advanced Server, a 32-bit OS, supports 8 GiB (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windows_2000).

Here's rather a deep article that suggests the 4 GiB ceiling is, apparently, contrived: http://www.geoffchappell.com/notes/windows/license/memory.htm

I haven't read the article, but there's no contriving that 32 bits can only address 4 gig of RAM. Now there are other workarounds - hacks if you will - that could be used to work around that limitation. I once wrote software for a 64k (yes "k") machine that allowed it to use 256k, but it was definitely a work-around. The only true way to address more than 4GB of RAM is with an address that has more than 32 bits. 64bit processors were the next logical step in CPU evolution, so problem was solved that way.
Leo
10-Jan-2012
GREG JACKSON
January 10, 2012 3:37 PM

Unless I'm missing something, it seems 64 bit software hasn't caught up with the concept itself. Perhaps a bit overrated at this time.

Having a 64 bit Vista with 4GB ram [AMD dual core], most of my software is for 32 bit. The only difference noticed was occasionally having to install both 64 & 32 bit programs, recommended by the manufacturer. The only issue ever was with Adobe Flash [incompatible with 64 bit systems] and was a big problem and required using a 32 bit browser [Internet Explorer] and still had crashes. A switch to Firefox a year ago, resolved all those issues [somewhat magically]. I haven't thought about 64/32 bit since.

Leo
January 10, 2012 5:49 PM

Hi,
I have 2 pairs of 2GB installed on the computer.
If it is appropriate just to repair one of 2GB with a 4GB? Will there be performance penalty?

That depends entirely on the computer itself and what the motherboard is designed to accomodate. You'll need to check with the manifacturer.
Leo
11-Jan-2012
sofiane
January 11, 2012 1:20 AM

I've installed win7-64 after running in troubles..
winXP-3 didn't support my 4G-RAM so I only had a 64-win7
but later I've tried to install my fav-games but they wouldn't
accept only a win32 platform ..( installed but unable to run and an other even not installed )
so running win7-64 is lovely ,but I need now to install win7-32..
Is it possible to have both on a single machine??

Steve Jones
January 11, 2012 6:12 AM

Programs that run on W7 32 bit but will not even install on W7 64 bit are, just to name a few:
AutoCad 2000, Filesync (excellent program for keeping data synchronized on mutlple computers on my network), Quicken 2005, Wordperfect 11 ---

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