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With Windows 7 imminent and 64 bit capable hardware more common, many people are wondering if it's time to make the switch to 64 bits with Windows 7.

My computer has the 32 bit version of Vista Home Premium on it. I've ordered Windows 7 Professional. My computer is actually capable of handling 64 bits. Should I install Windows 7's 64 bit version, or stick with 32 bits when the new software arrives?

This is actually a fine question, and one that I've been struggling with myself. My primary desktop machine is currently running 32 bit Windows XP, my laptop is running 32 bit Windows Vista, but both are quite capable of running 64bit operating systems, and in doing so perhaps using up to 8 gigabytes of RAM.

It's lucrative, at least for me.

I'll walk through my thinking, the steps I plan to take, and the one major roadblock that was removed for me just this week.

My concern, as usual, is all about compatibility - more specifically device compatibility, along with some software.

Until recently I'd planned on sticking with the 32 bit version because I knew that one of the tools that I rely on - Parallels for Windows - explicitly did not support 64 bit platforms. Parallels is the virtual machine technology I rely on to run other operating systems - including Windows 7, Vista and Ubuntu - within Windows XP.

"My concern, as usual, is all about compatibility ..."

This week Parallels announced Parallel's Desktop 4 for Windows (at this writing it's not yet on their web site). Not only does it support 64 bit platforms, but it does so in both directions: for example I'm running 64 bit Windows Vista in a virtual machine on my 32 bit Windows XP machine, and I'll similarly be able to run both 32 and 64 bit virtual machines after I upgrade to 64 bit Windows.

For me, using virtual machines is an important way to be able to run, test and play with different operating systems without having to dedicate a machine to each, or perform some time consuming backup and restore each time I want to switch. Now that I know it's available, I'm more likely to make the 64 bit switch when I install Windows 7.

I use that scenario as an example for two reasons:

  • You may have software that you rely on that will not work in 64 bit Windows. To be clear, most applications will work just fine - Windows 64 includes 32 bit backward compatibility for programs, just as 32 bit Windows contained 16 bit backwards compatibility until recent years. However, some applications - typically special purpose applications like Parallels - may not work, or may not work as expected in a 64 bit environment. You'll need to do a little research.

  • Virtual machines might actually be an answer! Windows 7 is already coming with a "Windows XP mode", which as I understand it is nothing more than Microsoft's own virtual machine technology running Windows XP within Windows 7. If you do have an application that is for whatever reason problematic in 64 bits, running it in a 32 bit virtual machine might (I do have to stress might) be a viable solution.

The other area of concern is hardware compatibility. Hardware vendors need to update their drivers for 64 bits, and some have not. Hopefully, more and more will over time, but it's the most likely area of concern, particularly for older machines. Hardware vendors will of course focus their efforts on newer hardware and are less likely to provide updated drivers for their older equipment.

Personally, I'm hoping that my printers and other devices will work. But since it's only a hope, I'll be making that leap to 64 bits very carefully. In short that means:

  • Take a full backup

  • Install the new 64 bit OS

  • Test the devices and software I care about

  • Revert to my backup, or start over and install the 32 bit OS if there are insurmountable problems with the 64 bit version.

The good news is that I hear regularly from many people who are running 64 bit Vista with few problems. Since that's been out for a while I think it bodes well for the possibilities of Windows 7 64 bit also working well.

But clearly the compatibility issues you may or may not run into will vary on a case by case basis.

Article C3855 - August 28, 2009 « »

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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.

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27 Comments
AguilaFan
August 28, 2009 12:30 PM

Leo, good plain English. Again.
You might like to mention that "...Virtual machines might actually be an answer! Windows 7 is already coming with a "Windows XP mode"..." WILL NOT WORK on ALL Intel cpus. There are some Intel cpus that can not run the MS virtual machine technology.

Ed Bott at zdnet had an article listing the affected cpus. Used it as a guide when upgrading 2 home PC's last month.

Chris
August 28, 2009 5:04 PM

There are plenty of free, open source or otherwise, application that can replace almost any $$ app that does not support 64-bit applications. In your case Leo, you could use Sun's VirtualBox, which is not a step down from any VM software (rather a step up since it supports almost every OS/virtualization).

Unless your a corporation that uses specific software that is not frequently supported, or are sure your printers/etc do not support 64-bit OSes, then you shouldn't really worry.

I've been using 64-bit Vista since the beginning, with 0 problems at all except for a very old printer that needed to be replaced anyway. All software that was compiled for 32-bit still work with 64.

bill
September 1, 2009 8:31 AM

I'm running windows 7 RC build 7100 64 bit. Works great. What determines wheather you can use 64 or 32-bit? Is it on the computer or in the hard drive? I other words when my windows 7 disc comes in Oct can I load either version 32 or 64?

It depends, specifically, on your computer's CPU.
Leo
02-Sep-2009

Tony M.
September 1, 2009 8:37 AM

Perhaps a commenter can answer this related question. I know that the 64-bit version of Windows is required to support and fully use RAM exceeding 3 or 4 GBytes. However, is a special class/type of CPU and motherboard required to support a 64-bit OS?

Thanks!

PeterM
September 1, 2009 8:51 AM

Having struggled with Windows 7 for a couple of weeks and seen what elementary bugs it contains (joining a domain, adding printers, etc) I recommend NOT upgrading to Windows 7 until it has been sorted. I estimate this will take until SP 2 or 3!!!!!!!
Coprorates will soon treat it the way they have Vista - ie: as JUNK!

Ian Ross
September 1, 2009 9:04 AM

I am running Win7 x64 RC7100 and all my old progs work no problem. Even found software for my bluetooth dongle. Most of my old games still run on it under 32bit mode.
Re the question about which version to use from Bill. You need a x64 bit cpu(core2duo or dual core) 2ghz and above for performance. With the relative motherboard of course.
That will also help to answer Tony M's question about which cpu to use.

Ian Ross
September 1, 2009 9:14 AM

Sorry PeterM, but I think thats a little harsh considering you only tried it for 2 weeks. I have only ever tried an x64 bit OS once, and it did not leave me with a good impression- until I got a copy of Win7 in June. It is x64 and installed as my main OS. From the first moment of start up I was very impressed. All drivers found for my board and even installed my 3 dongle for mobile broadband. It booted quicker than xp which I was using prior.
Maybe you should try it again and take your time with it. You might be pleasantly surprised.

pat
September 1, 2009 9:25 AM

what are the advantages of using 64 bit OS. I mainly use Adobe CS for photography and web site building.

Chris
September 1, 2009 9:29 AM

It's only the CPU that must support the 64-bit architecture. All 64-bit means is that the CPU can access 64-bits of memory at a time. This becomes important because it means that your CPU can access a memory reference up to 64-bits wide, hence it can support a memory map of:

2^64 = 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 (16 million TB or 16 exabytes) vs
2^32 = 4,294,967,296 (4 GB only)

JohnnyBee
September 1, 2009 9:58 AM

One problem that has not been resolved for several years now by Adobe, is that they have not, and may not, be providing a 64-bit version of Adobe Flash!!!!! So you can forget about IE * 64-bit doing what you would like for it to do!!!

Bob
September 1, 2009 12:49 PM

My CPU is a Core2duo 6600 socket 775. The specs say it is a 64 bit archetecture, does that mean it will run a 64 bit OS as it sits?
Oh yeah, my board is an EVGA 680i SLI board, if that's important.

Ian Ross
September 1, 2009 1:04 PM

Hi Bob
Just install Win7 x64. That chip is fine for it :)

Ray
September 1, 2009 2:50 PM

Thirty two bit has a limit of 3Gb RAM. Sixty four bit can access 4Gb and upward RAM. What other advantages does sixty four bit bring, if 32 bit programs run in it ? Noticeably faster processing,
program loading ?

32 bit processors can address up to 4 gigabytes of memory. (Other limitations of the PC restrict the amount available to Windows to less than that).

The biggest single advantage is the ability to address more then 4 gig of memory. Everything else being equal, 64 bit processors are not inherrently faster, though many external factors - like RAM, motherboards and the like - allow the 64 bit processor to access resources that the 32 bit cannot.

I would not make the decision to go to 64 bit solely for speed today - primarily for RAM usage (which, if overloaded in 32 bits, can manifest as a speed issue).
Leo
01-Sep-2009

Tim Hohs
September 2, 2009 12:43 PM

Hmmm, my wife is looking forward to the 64-bit Windows 7/Photoshop CS4 combo so she can use gobs of memory to speed her graphic works along. It's probably too much to hope that her giant Microtek SCSI scanner will work with Windows 7 64-bit. Does Vista 64 work with SCSI?

I'd be shocked if SCSI weren't supported, however specific scanners models I can't say.
Leo
03-Sep-2009

Bob
September 2, 2009 3:26 PM

My PC is capable of handling windows 7, but service pack 1 will not install on my computer. Can I still install windows 7?

Service pack 1 for what? My guess, without more details (like how the SP fails), is that whether or not Windows 7 will work is unrelated to the SP failure.
Leo
03-Sep-2009

Pookey
September 3, 2009 12:51 AM

One other thing to consider is that this is the Last Windows Version in 32-bit. From Windows 8, which is just beginning development, there will only be a 64-bit version of Windows, except for Windows 8 Starter which will still be 32-bit. As Microsoft Plans to Release Windows 8 roughly three years after Windows 7, 64-bit should be considered the ONLY Windows version unless you have a specific reason not to use it. i.e. If your printer doesn't work with 64-bit now it is possible it will never work and you will simply have to purchase a new printer.

Speculation on what Windows 8 may or may not contain (or even MS sourced "plans" which often change multiple times prior to release) seems premature. I would not rely on any expectations of Windows 8 for buying a machine today or installing an OS version today.
Leo
03-Sep-2009

George Butler
September 3, 2009 6:07 AM

I have been using 64 bit XP PRO for years with very minor problems. So, I would guess that Windows 7 64 bit is a safe bet. The 64 bit XP PRO works so well for me that I have no need to go to Windows 7 64 bit. I run the 64 bit XP PRO on a custom made desktop computer with a mirror raid disk array and a lot of high end stuff, but the main point is that my experience with a 64 bit system has been very satisfactory with no complaints.

Bob
September 3, 2009 10:31 AM

I meant to say, my computer with vista home premimum. when installing SP1, on boot up it hangs up, with this showing on a black screen.
!!oxco1aoo1d!! 37/10/90266c\registry\machine\components\derived data.

Jacob
September 4, 2009 11:33 AM

Upgrading to a 64bit platform if your computer can do it is a great way to go. I did fear that some of my software apps and peripherals would not work but everything I use in the past still installed just fine.

I would say a year ago that would not of been the case. For instance I use Spyware Doctor with Antivirus and only 8 months ago they came out with a 64 bit version.

Going forward 64 bit will be the standard and with so many new computers being 64 bit and having 64 bit Operating systems it's a good way to go.

One big benefit of 64 bit technology besides the processing power is the ability to go over 4 Gigs. As of now I have 12 Gig's in my system and with all the high end applications I'm using I could never imagine going only having 4 gig's any more. Going forward 64 bit is the way to go.

Prince M.Kashif Khan
October 12, 2009 9:43 AM

How can i install windows xp mode in my windows 7 32-bit version(although my board supports 64-bit version)without virtualization support from the process? i mean to say that is there any other way to install windows xp mode in my windows 7?

A. Orcan
October 20, 2009 7:17 AM

I decided to try the 64 bit windows before deciding to dump the 32 bit version. I have a huge list of installed 32 bit software and some 64 bit software. I didn't have any problems with the hardware and the software. In fact my printer and scanner had the 64 bit drivers anyway. I had some trouble with the windows installer when setting up 32 bit and64 bit applications as the installer had to be configured two times. Another problem was I had to get 64 bit version of a plug-in. My main problem was the highly increased hard disk activity when running 32 & 64 bit software, although I had 16GB memory. I was worried when a couple of 64 bit software requested to replace some 32 bit system files with 64 bit versions, which fortunately did not cause problems with older 32 bit software, but I suspect this might not be the case with some third party applications. I observed brief slowdowns in some software, especially during multimedia format conversions. I would say it is still better to switch to the 64 bit windows, but only after waiting for a few months more when some possible updates and fixes are available. I am only sorry to see my 16 bit data acquisition and analysis software is not compatible with 64 bit windows and has to be replaced.

Pasquanel
October 20, 2009 3:18 PM

Why would you waste your hard earned money on old technology? 64 bit is here to stay it's twice as fast and soon all the software vendors are either going to conform or get out of the business. My experience is most programs run on a 64 bit system
with no problems. I'm running Vista Home Premium 64 bit and have pre-bought Windows 7 64 bit.
I have had very little difficulty with drivers or for that matter anything else. Good luck ;)

Jack Webster
October 30, 2009 12:16 PM

I have been trying to move from XP 32 bit to Window 7 64 bit. My Win7 upgrade can with both 32 and 64 disks.
I did a clean install. When I use the Win7 64 bit disk, it will accept it on a 32 bit system. It would be handy if you could take me through the steps to move from 32 to 64.
Thanks for any help you can give.
~Jack

As long as your hardware supports 64 bits (see How do I tell if I have 32 bit or 64? if you're not sure), then a clean install of Windows 7 64 bit version should do the trick. That's exactly what I did.
Leo
31-Oct-2009

Jack Webster
November 2, 2009 11:44 AM

Leo, I made the Win 7 64 bit work. But I had to use only 4 GB of Ram. When I install another 4 GB it runs "Starting Windows" for ever. Am I doing something wrong?
Thank for the help.
~Jack

My guess is that you have a hardware issue, or that the RAM you're adding isn't correct for your machine.
Leo
03-Nov-2009

Robert Bunney
November 14, 2009 11:02 PM

Converting my environment to 64-bit Windows 7 went very well, with only a few of out of dozens of programs required special attention or did not work at all. I am not as happy with new 64-bit applications. For example, Windows 7 comes with a 64-bit version of Internet Explorer (IE), but thereís no 64-bit version of Adobe Flash. No Flash, no YouTube. Fortunately Windows 7 ships with a 32-bit version of IE. Another example: 64-bit Photoshop does not support 32-bit plug-ins, and very few plug-ins are available in 64-bit versions. So Iím back to the 32-bit version of Photoshop. Windows 7 is great, but 64-bit applications just donít have the support yet.

bigh34
March 9, 2010 7:44 AM

My most frustrating experience with 64 bit was, theres no adobe flash player version, released yet, that's compatiable with the 64 bit. Any imput otherwise, would be helpful.

ABDALLA ADAM
April 26, 2010 7:11 AM

1\ My Pc is running under under 32bit i want to change to 64bit what should i do .
2\ what is the different between 32& 46 bit

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