This has really been confusing to some people choosing between 32-bit and 64-bit systems. Head over to any operating system’s website, you will be given a choice to download either version of the same operating system. So what is the difference? Why do we have two different versions of the same OS? Let us solve this mystery here, once and for all.
So currently you might get to see either a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. There is absolutely no difference in both of these systems, they are 100% alike with all the same features and applications. Now you might be wondering which one to choose. Well, the answer is pretty simple.
It depends on the processor
Yeah, you read it right. Actually, the type of operating system you install depends on the type of processor you have. Currently, there are 2 major types of processors available, 32-bit and 64-bit processors. A 64-bit processor can run both 32 and 64-bit operating systems, however, a 32-bit processor can only run 32-bit operating systems.
Now that you know which one to choose, the next question would be what’s the difference between the two.
What’s the difference between 32-bit & 64-bit?
The difference is that a 32-bit system can process 32 bits in one cycle, similar a 64-bit system can process 64 bits in one cycle. The major difference is that in a 32-bit system you will be able to use only 2^32 bytes of RAM which is around 4GB. Similarly, for 64-bit systems, you can use up-to 16 Exa-Bytes of RAM. This is just the theoretical quantity, Even though there are these physical limits, Microsoft usually restricts the amount of usable RAM depending upon the software license you purchase. This is not a problem with Open source operating systems like Linux and BSD.
Note – If you have a 64-bit processor and you installed a 32-bit system, you will be limited to using 4GB of RAM.
This is the most important thing. So if you run a 32-bit system, you can only install software made for 32 bit systems. However, if you run a 64-bit system, you can run both 32 and 64-bit software as well. Most of the common software are made for 32 bits since it runs both places. But for some heavy software like image and video editing and rendering, a higher bit version is suggested because it will be able to use the processor and ram better.
Device Driver software for various hardware explicitly requires you to install the version that matches your system. A 32-bit driver is of no use in 64-bit system and vice versa.
What is X86_64?
Now you must have seen this with some operating systems. Arch-based distro Antergos has this type of system available. This is simply the x64 extension of the x86 instruction from Intel. Such systems are X32 systems but they have support for 64-bit as well.
A few important points
- Before the 32-bit there were 16 bit systems and before that, we had 8 bit systems.
- After 64 the next step seems 128, but that may not happen soon.
- The current RAM availability with 64-bit is 16 Exa-Bytes which hasn’t been achieved on any system.
- 32 bit is close to dead and even Ubuntu has dropped making 32 bit ISO’s.
- The immediate future will only be for 64 bit systems.
The number of bits in system reflects the number of bits its processor can process in a cycle. The more bits in your processor, the more RAM you can use. A 64-bit operating system will only run on a 64-bit processor. However, a 32-bit system may work on 32 or 64-bit processor. The same is applicable for software. It is still recommended to use software that are designed for your system type.