As with many technical terms in the world of computers, you may have heard about 32 and 64-bit operating systems but have no idea what they mean or why they’re important. Well, as per my usual style, I’ll try to explain these terms with a simple analogy.
Imagine the inside of your computer is a massive factory with many, many workers accomplishing various tasks (these workers represent ‘bits’ of computer data). In order for them to complete their tasks they need to travel between different places in the factory. However, because the factory is so big, there is a motorised cart, which transports the workers around the factory to where they each need to go. In a 32-bit system that cart would hold 32 workers and in a 64-bit system it would hold twice as much. Still with me? Good.
Following on from this analogy, we can see that since a 64-bit system can hold more bits of data, it would be faster and more efficient at moving them around, resulting in a faster and more memory efficient computer. However, this is only true under certain circumstances.
Which Is Better?
To be honest, there’s no straightforward answer to this question and just because I know you love them, here comes another analogy!
In the UK, passing your driving test in a car with an automatic gear box will allow you to only drive an automatic car. However, passing in a manual car will allow you to drive both a manual and an automatic.
In a similar way, 32-bit systems can only run software designed specifically for 32-bits of memory, whereas 64-bit systems can run software designed for both.
Based on these facts, some may say that it makes more sense to go with a 64-bit system since you’ll have more options open to you. However, it should be noted that 64-bit systems are generally more expensive than 32-bit systems and that extra money you spend could be wasted depending on what you’ll be using your new computer for. How so? To answer that question, we’ll need to determine the real difference between these two versions in practical terms.
What’s The Real Difference?
To take full advantage of the increased memory capacity in a 64-bit system, all of the software installed on it would need to be optimised specifically to handle the extra memory. This is rarely the case.
Buying a 64-bit system and then only installing 32-bit software on it would result in the system probably never reaching it’s potential in terms of speed and efficiency, meaning that extra money you paid for a ‘faster’ computer would likely be wasted. But don’t despair!
Quite a few software titles these days come in 32 and 64-bit versions, allowing you to take advantage of the extra memory your 64-bit system can handle. Also, most of the major web browsers have 64-bit versions and I speak from personal experience when I say that running 64-bit Internet Explorer makes a huge difference! It doesn’t make your web pages load any faster though, that’s down to the speed of your Internet connection.
Which Should I Choose?
So, weighing up all of these factors, which system should you choose? Well, as I said earlier, that depends on what you’ll be using your computer for.
If you intend to engage in heavy multitasking (doing several things on your computer at once) or creative tasks involving graphics, images and/or video, then I’d definitely recommend a 64-bit system since such tasks require a lot of memory and processor usage.
However, if you mainly use a computer for browsing the web, checking email and word processing, then you should find a 32-bit system more than fit for purpose, as long as you don’t try to do all of those things at once.
The information in this article is provided without warranty of any kind; either expressed or implied and should only be used as a guide to choosing between 32 and 64-bit operating systems as opposed to a comprehensive decision-making process.
The information in this article has been written for an audience with limited technical knowledge and understanding. As such, it may contain minor inaccuracies and/or omissions, though not detracting from the article’s overall usefulness.
Windows™ and Internet Explorer™ are registered trademarks of the Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries.