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Windows Vista is available in both 32 and 64 bit versions. We'll look at what that means, and what that implies for the average user.

I recently bought a new computer with Windows Vista 64. What are the advantages/disadvantages of 64 bit over 32? I can't get my HP Deskjet 712c printer to work on a 64 system, is there a way?

I suspect I'm going to get some disagreement on this one, but so far I've voted with my virtual feet: all my machines are running 32 bit operating systems, even though several of them could run 64 bit.

So you can guess what I'm going to recommend for the average user.

And, in fact, your very question highlights one of the reasons why.

I've covered some of this in an earlier article, Are 64-bit PCs more secure than 32-bit machines?. (A little, for now. Smile)

To summarize some of the differences between 32 and 64 bit processors:

  • 32 bit versus 64 bit really just means the size of the biggest integer number that the CPU can work on. In 32 bits that's 4,294,967,295, and in 64 bits it's 18,446,744,073,709,551,615.

  • Similarly, a 32 bit computer can theoretically access 4,294,967,296 bytes (4 gigabytes) of RAM, while a 64 bit machine would be able to access 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 bytes (over 17 billion gigabytes, or 16 exabytes).

  • Some 64 bit processors have the option of loading data from memory 64 bits (or 8 bytes) at a time instead of 32 bits (4 bytes) at a time. Thus it's possible for data access to be twice as fast if the computer's motherboard and memory supports it.

"The biggest drawback you'll find is exactly the scenario that you mentioned: drivers."

Those are the major differences. What they typically translate to in more useful terms is that it's possible for a 64 bit processor to do more work in less time than a 32 bit processor.

"Possible" is an important word here.

Most basic is that you need an operating system that runs in 64 bits, like the 64 bit versions of Windows. This is a start, and Windows can already make use of the 64 bit architecture to improve its performance, particularly in high-load scenarios. Ideally, you also want your applications to take advantage of 64 bits, in particular those applications that could really benefit from it - those that are CPU and memory-usage intensive.

The biggest drawback you'll find is exactly the scenario that you mentioned: drivers. Vista already has a mediocre track record when it comes to compatibility with older drivers, particularly printer drivers, even staying in the 32 bit world. Windows 64 bit has made that worse in that existing 32 bit drivers typically don't work - new 64 bit drivers must be provided. If they're not, you're likely to be out of luck. Reports on driver availability vary, but particularly for older hardware I wouldn't be particularly hopeful.

I've also heard, but not confirmed, that the size of executable files, ".exe" and ".dll" files, has also increased - hence it's likely that you'll also need some more disk space for your 64 bit operating system and tools. Fortunately, disk space is exceptionally cheap these days, and this is easily handled.

Ultimately, my take on it is that certainly for the average computer user, and perhaps even the advanced computer user, it's not yet time to go 64 bits. Most people do things that are handled quite will with 32 bit processors. Let's face it, word processing, web surfing, picture viewing and email are not processor-intensive applications, and the 32/64 but difference likely wouldn't be noticed.

Where does 64 bit make sense?

It makes sense mostly in memory-intensive applications. As we've discussed before, you can only put 4 gigabytes into a 32 bit machine (and even then, not all of that will be used). If you absolutely need more RAM then a 64 bit machine is the way to get it. The catch is that today, still, most people do not need more memory. The types of situations that could benefit would include heavily used servers and applications which process lots and lots of data - for example video editing and encoding, assuming that the video editing program was itself also 64 bit enabled.

64 bits will happen, but it's not yet time for average users to jump on it.

(If you're curious, you can see whether your processor will support 64 bits by running Securable, a free utility from GRC. That won't tell you whether your motherboard supports its 64 bit data transfers, but will tell you if your machine is even capable of running 64 bit Windows.)

I'd invite people who are running 64 bit Vista to share their experiences in the comments.

Article C3550 - November 1, 2008 « »

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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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16 Comments
Mike
November 1, 2008 2:09 PM

I've run 64bit windows vista ultimate, it worked pretty well for me, and yes, some programs that enable have a larger 64bit executable than it is in 32bit (looking at cinema4d.exe: 11,284,480 bytes versus 14,947,840 bytes).
I have a question, though: I read somewhere that microsoft built in a certain feature or something that limits the amount of RAM to 8GB in 64bit versions, if it's true, why would they do that?

Mary
November 2, 2008 1:43 PM

From a Computerworld article that's almost 3 years old: "...there are few, if any, 64-bit systems that support 16 exabytes of RAM. Building a machine that supports that much memory would be extraordinarily expensive. To counter this cost, many manufacturers impose RAM address space limits that fall somewhere between the 4GB limit of 32-bit machines and the theoretical 16 exabytes that a 64-bit system should be capable of addressing. Most existing 64-bit systems limit physical RAM to somewhere between 8GB and 256TB."

http://www.computerworld.com/printthis/2006/0,4814,107597,00.html

And from the Crucial FAQ website, these are the Microsoft imposed limits for 64-bit Vista (Crucial makes memory modules):

Windows Vista (64 bit)
Ultimate: 128 GB
Enterprise: 128 GB
Business: 128 GB
Home Premium: 16 GB
Home Basic: 8 GB

So to answer Mike's question "why would they do that?" the answer would seem to be cost.

Paul
November 4, 2008 8:43 AM

Out of curiosity I bought an extra GB of memory (total 3GB) and installed the 64bit version of Vista Business on my Thinkpad T61 notebook. It went without problems. All my devices are up and functioning (HP multifunction, Epson scanner, Brother labelprinter, USB disk and sticks) I find it quite stable and well performing. No plans to go back to 32bit, but that would be no problem because Vista 32bit also worked very well.

Mike Santarcangelo
November 4, 2008 9:21 AM

My wife bought me a new HP laptop for our anniversary and it came with Vista 64. I've had a few problems with it hanging up (requiring a reboot), but the only problem that I can directly tie to the 64 bit version is driver incompatibility. I have not been able to hot sync my Palm Treo 755p, since I got the machine. My printers (HP 990CE & Hp 3300) work fine and my USB bluetooth adapter seem fine.

David
November 4, 2008 9:53 AM

@Mike
Most motherboards have a limitation on the amount of RAM they will recognize. Even high end motherboards (like my nVIDIA 680i SLI) only accept a maximum 8GB of RAM. I mean, your maximum 8GB RAM comment sounds like a motherboard hardware limitation. Lookup your motherboard manual online, maximum RAM *will* be documented. If you're shopping for a machine that you want to run with a 64bit OS, make sure the computer (and by extension, I mean, the motherboard in that computer) supports the amount of RAM you're thinking about. If you go this right, it's gonna get very techy very quickly: be prepared to learn about makes and models of different motherboard manufacturers. Mary's comment is also good.

Judith
November 5, 2008 7:39 AM

My only choice on the Vista Ultimate computer I wanted was 64-bit. I admit I am being overly careful about what I connect to it or download on it. My HP 2710 All-In-One printer took a special download from HP and, thankfully, it is working very well. I researched the 64-bit issue before purchase and decided to go with it (after crossing my fingers); however, I knew before hand that I still have my XP desktop and a laptop to fall back on if I run into trouble. Had I not had the backup I have, I would have probably chosen another computer that offered the 32-bit Ultimate.

Bob
November 5, 2008 10:58 AM

I'm running Vista 64 and it works fine EXCEPT finding 64bit drivers for usb to serial adapters, Sony HD video camera and some older programs.

Have been bugging Sony, but no 64bit driver for a $900 High Def video camera with an enternal hard drive. How do I get the video off the camera if the computer doesn't recognize it?

One of my responces from Sony they said they haven't sold a 64 bit computer yet. (They do now). Visiting the local Costco and checking found 75% of the computers they see, notebooks and desktops are now 64bit Vista.

So far my two printers, Epson and HP have both come out with 64bit drivers.

Just be aware some of your favorite devices or programs may not be compatible!

Mark O
November 5, 2008 2:48 PM

For those with driver problems try a free program called 'Drivermax' helped me.

Doug Harding
November 5, 2008 7:07 PM

I have Vista 64bit on one computer and Vista 32bit on another. My biggest problem has been programs and hardware that is not compatible with Vista, including my older PDA. Why can't MS make things backwards compatible? I have a few programs that will load on the 32 machine that will not load on the 64, which is related to exe install files.

fastfreddie1959
November 8, 2008 9:42 AM

Best comment i can make is thank you leo.
You have answered my question even before
i got a chance to ask it.
I was gonna buy a 64bit system-but with
your info I've decided against it...
Thank you for the support you give.
I look forward to your Emails every week.

Patrick
December 11, 2008 11:53 AM

I have been using Vista 64 Ultimate with 8Gb and I love it.

I have had no driver problems except for an old printer which I replaced anyways. It was really the manufacturer, because they said they would never make newer drivers for that printer.

I love Vista!

GREGi
December 27, 2008 6:50 PM

I too recently upgraded to Vista Ultimate 64 bit.
Apart from an aging Win95 era soundcard I've had no problems obtaining drivers.

The system is vastly improved.

I use my PC to make music, a very CPU intensive
task.
1 song I'm working on at the moment used 80% CPU
while I Was running the audio system at 10 ms
latency.
On the 64bit OS the same song uses 25%/30% CPU
@ 3 ms latency!!!

Thumbs up for Vista 64 from me ......

ShARYNN
February 22, 2009 12:41 PM

I just got a 64 bit and its great. Didnt realize the non compatibilities that exist with my all-in-one printer and camera. Now to update (purchase) a compatible setup for both.

Zeke
March 1, 2009 9:20 AM

Can you please clarify a point of confusion: IF i have a 64-bit processor while using Vista 32-bit OS, is more than 4GB of RAM available? Is the availability a hardware(processor) or sOS limitation? do I determine the max RAM I can install?

Thank you

A 32 bit OS will use up to 32 bits worth of memory, or 4 gigabytes. How much you can install depends on the motherboard, and for that you'd have to check with the manufacturer. If running a 32bit OS, installing more than 4gig might be possible, but pointless, as only up to 4gig would be used.
- Leo
02-Mar-2009

parrotlover
August 24, 2009 12:01 PM

I Love My H.P Phenom X4 64 Bit P.C I have 7gb of Ram
if I,m Looking For A Program I add X64 in the search Query And my H.p Deskjet 5400 Won't Run on it But I Have A 2 Hp 32bit P.C,S So no Biggie! I Run
Firefox With NoSCript and Fasterfox And Lots of Protection Software I Rarely Have Any Problems With Finding Free Programs And I have Gotten Very Use to Vista and Find That it's Very SMART at finding new drivers When I Install A Device! and it's much more Secure! and Now I Kinda Hate using my X.P p.c,s LOL

Kevin
February 6, 2011 6:04 AM

Dear Leo,

Now in 2011 that Windows 7 64 bits OS had been released and getting popularly. It should be time to ask the manufacturer to provide the 64 bits driver for us!

HP LaserJet M1005 Multifunction Printer is a laserjet printer product from Hewlett-Packard.
It has released its driver for the Microsoft Windows 7 (64-bit) Operating System but it cannot be installed.
Is there any solution/alternatives?

Thanks

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