Difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Processors/Operating Systems


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) up to 128Gb more effectively than a 32-bit system.

How can I tell if my computer is running a 32-bit or a 64-bit version of Windows?

To find out if your computer is running a 32-bit or 64-bit version of Windows, do the following:

Open System by clicking the Start button, right-clicking Computer, and then clicking Properties.
Under System, you can view the system type.

If your computer is running Windows XP, do the following:

Click Start. Right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.
If you don’t see “x64 Edition” listed, then you’re running the 32-bit version of Windows XP. If “x64 Edition” is listed under System, you’re running the 64-bit version of Windows XP.

Which version of Windows should I install: the 32-bit version or the 64-bit version?

To install a 64-bit version of Windows, you need a CPU that’s capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows. The benefits of using a 64-bit operating system are most apparent when you have a large amount of random access memory (RAM) installed on your computer, typically 4GB of RAM up to 128GB . In such cases, because a 64-bit operating system can handle large amounts of memory more efficiently than a 32-bit operating system, a 64-bit system can be more responsive when running several programs at the same time and switching between them frequently.

How do I tell if my computer can run a 64-bit version of Windows?

To run a 64-bit version of Windows, your computer must have a 64-bit-capable processor.

To find out if your processor is 64-bit-capable in Windows, do the following:

Open Performance Information and Tools by clicking the Start button, and then clicking Control Panel. In the search box, type Performance Information and Tools, and then, in the list of results, click Performance Information and Tools.

Afterwards, do one of the following:

In Windows 7, click View and print detailed performance and system information.

In Windows Vista, click View and print details.

In the System section, you can see what type of operating system you’re currently running under System type, and whether or not you can run a 64-bit version of Windows under 64-bit capable. (If your computer is already running a 64-bit version of Windows, you won’t see the 64-bit capable listing.)

To see whether a computer running Windows XP is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows, do the following:

Click Start. Right-click My Computer, and then click Properties.
If “x64 Edition” is listed under System, your processor is capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows.
If you don’t see “x64 Edition” listed, your processor still might be capable of running a 64-bit version of Windows.

Can I upgrade from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit version of Windows or from a 64-bit version of Windows to a 32-bit version of Windows?

You can use the Upgrade option during Windows installation, which preserves your files, settings, and programs, only if you’re currently running a 32-bit version of Windows Vista and you want to upgrade to the 32-bit version of Windows 7. Similarly, if you are running a 64-bit version of Windows Vista, you can only perform an upgrade to a 64-bit version of Windows 7.

If you want to move from a 32-bit version of Windows to a 64-bit or vice versa, you’ll need to back up your files and choose the Custom option during Windows installation. Then, you’ll need to restore your files and reinstall your programs.

Can I run 32-bit programs on a 64-bit computer?

Most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows will work on the 64-bit version of Windows. Notable exceptions are many antivirus programs.

Device drivers designed for the 32-bit version of Windows don’t work on computers running a 64-bit version of Windows. If you’re trying to install a printer or other device that only has 32-bit drivers available, it won’t work correctly on a 64-bit version of Windows.

Can I run 64-bit programs on a 32-bit computer?

If the program is specifically designed for the 64-bit version of Windows, it won’t work on the 32-bit version of Windows. (However, most programs designed for the 32-bit version of Windows do work on the 64-bit version of Windows.)
Device drivers designed for the 64-bit version of Windows don’t work on computers running a 32-bit version of Windows.

If I’m running a 64-bit version of Windows, do I need 64-bit drivers for my devices?

Yes. All hardware devices need 64-bit drivers to work on a 64-bit version of Windows. Drivers designed for 32-bit versions of Windows don’t work on computers running 64-bit versions of Windows.

To learn how to check for drivers, you can do this by visiting your device manufacturer’s website or via Windows update.

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