The industrial software application, running the operation for the complicated piece of equipment, I support on a daily basis, Optical Surface Analyzer, is based on the Windows XP 32-bit Operating System. The application is extremely memory consuming, requiring saving huge amounts of data in one process and guaranteeing smooth operation of the automatic robotic laser-based tool. Sufficient memory is essential for that, but developers reached the limit of the memory limitations of the Windows for a single process (which is 2 GB), and even sophisticated manual rebase of the drivers to free the virtual memory interval does not help. Customers are curious how this limit can be pushed forward to expand the tool capabilities. Multiple tests proved that no logical steps in the current framework, like increasing RAM or managing better the virtual memory, can help.
But, there is solution – transition to the 64-bit Windows OS. What is absolute necessity for the industrial professional applications, might not be so critical for the computer home users, unless you also use the heavy memory consuming programs, like games, graphic utilities, or video editing applications. In any case, Windows 64-bit slowly but steadily makes it way to the consumer market.
So, let’s review what the difference is, and how you can benefit from using this next generation OS in in brief questions and answers session:
- What is the difference between 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows?
The terms 32-bit and 64-bit refer to the way a computer's processor (also called a CPU), handles information. The 64-bit version of Windows handles large amounts of random access memory (RAM) more effectively than a 32-bit system.
Think of your computer as a series of tubes that can either be 32 or 64 bits wide. When you have the smaller 32-bit size, there is more potential for bottlenecks to occur. Bottlenecks slow down your system because one process has to wait for another to finish before it can begin. But if you want to have 64-bit wide tubes, your computer needs to be thinking in 64-bit so your software and hardware all need to support 64-bit.
- What is the difference in terms of the memory management?
On a 32-bit operating system, you are restricted to a maximum of 4 gigabytes of RAM. On a 64-bit operating system, you really do not have a limit. Normally when you exhaust your physical RAM on a 32-bit system, it has to use virtual memory or hard disk space to pick up the slack. On a 64-bit system, you can install as much RAM as you can to cover your overhead.
- What are the main advantages of the 64-bit Windows?
• More RAM. 64-bit versions are theoretically capable of supporting a little over 17 billion GBs of RAM due to the spacious register system. Realistically, Windows 7 64-bit Home editions are limited (because of licensing issues, not physical limitations) to 16GB of RAM and the Professional and Ultimate editions can be extended up to 192GB of RAM.
• Increased efficiency. Not only can you install more RAM in your system (as much as your motherboard can support) you will also use your installed RAM with greater efficiency. Because of the nature of the 64-bit address system in the register and how Windows 64-bit allocates memory you’ll see less of your system memory consumed by secondary systems (like your video card).
• Virtual memory allocation. Your computer will be able to allocate significantly more virtual memory per process. Under 32-bit architecture Windows is limited to assigning 2GB of memory to an application. Modern games, video and photo editing applications, and other memory consuming applications like virtual machines, need a lot of memory each. Under 64-bit systems they can have theoretically up to 8TB of virtual memory. On top of the more efficient use and allocation of memory, applications optimized for 64-bit operating systems, such as Photoshop and Virtualbox, are super fast and take full advantage of the spaciousness of the processor and memory afforded to them.
• Advanced security features. Windows 64-bit with a modern 64-bit processor enjoys additional protections not available to 32-bit users. These protections include the hardware D.E.P., as well as Kernel Patch Protection that protects you against kernel exploits, and device drivers must be digitally signed which cuts down on the incident of driver-related infections.
- What are the main disadvantages of the 64-bit Windows?
• Need dedicated 64-bit drivers. You may not be able to find 64-bit drivers for older but critical devices on your system. For small things that are easily replaced or need to be upgraded anyway, this isn’t a big deal. For mission critical and expensive hardware it is. You’ll have to decide for yourself if the upgrade cost and tradeoffs are worth it.
• May need a new Motherboard. You may have a motherboard, which will not support 64-bit processor, or will support an early 64-bit processor but not support more than 4GB of RAM. In this case you’ll still get some of the benefits of a 64-bit processor but you won’t get the benefit that most people crave: access to more memory.
• Old software issues. Some older software, developed for 34-bit, cannot be easily used on 64-bit. Also, unlike previous versions of Windows, Windows 7 64-bit has no support at all for 16-bit applications. If by some chance you’re still using a really old legacy application for something you’ll need to either virtualize it or forgo an upgrade. Also, just because an application itself is 64-bit, it doesn’t mean that all plugins and extensions for it are 64-bit as well.
64-bit Windows looks really good, isn’t it? But that does not mean that you need to scrap or upgrade your existing computer immediately. Frankly, it all depends on what are you using this computer for. For general day-to-day applications, your hardware and software fill your needs perfectly well. However, if you are computer user, suffering from the memory deficiency, there is solution, and this solution is Windows 7 64-bit.
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