I have had a lot of technology the last several weeks, but I have not gotten to one that has been on my mind a lot of late – being the question plunge into 64-bit or stay in the comfortable 32-bit world for a while longer? Though I think there are plenty of reasons to consider the latter and certainly some argument for stay 32-bit, my opinion is that the 64-bit revolution is upon us now. Some of this desire to pursue and discuss this now is because of my adventures in Windows 7.0 lately, but a good portion of it is also coming from my constant exposure to Linux, especially Ubuntu and a desire to do all I can do with both of those operating systems.
At the top of my list is the desire to make the plunge into 64-bit based architectures. Sure, I have those few servers at the office that are already running a 64-bit based O/S and I have toyed around with a few 64-bit based systems of my own, but until now most of that has just been a bit experiment in the past. Having been around when the leap from 16-bit to 32-bit based systems was made, I knew even though they came out a few years ago it was going to take some time before drivers started to catch up with the systems. That time is pretty much starting to be now. Most all new hardware (I did say most, not all) is being written with 64-bit drivers now. And outside of the hardware support lagging behind up until recently, what has been missing otherwise?
Primary reasoning for pursuing a 64-bit based architecture is the restriction that by default one occurs on a 32-bit system in regards to RAM. RAM, for those that are not sure, is the physical memory in the system. It is also super quick, as it is all electronic without moving parts. When all the physical RAM is used, most O/S systems today start to cache to the hard-drive. Think of it as overflow seating for things that need to be going in and out of the processor. This is S L O W compared to the physical RAM and will usually be the bottleneck of systems today (that or the actually information flow from the internet, depending on what you are doing). On 32-bit systems, you can address around 4GB of RAM, just as in the old days, 16-bit systems could address 512KB of RAM (before doing tricks to extend it of course). Without making anyones head spin too much, even the limited usage that is implemented on most processors today, you have 65000 more memory addressing capability then the current 4GB limit. It is worth observing at this point I think, that some of the first Cray Super Computers in the 1970′s had 64-bit based architectures.
Clearly, for any heavy processing it clear that this would be the choice. But what about the casual computer user? It is more often than I care to admit that I see people using a single file that approaches 2GB in size. It will only be a small matter of time before they start using software and settings that will push the size n up to over 4GB. This will again be a place were the additional memory capabilities will be a good option to have.
There is one major concern of course, and that is the compatibility of software that was clearly written for 32-bit architectures. Honestly though, most O/S that are 64-bit have some sort of compatibility mode available for just such instances. And to take that one step further, aside from the odd bloke like myself who still has games that were published or eight and nine years ago, who is regularly going to be keeping such date software around?
No, the only real issue is hard drivers. And I will tell you that up until the last year or so it was hard to come by 64-bit based drivers for a lot of things. But there has been an explosion of hardware providers realizing that support for 64-bit based systems are required and almost all new devices have support for them. The place you will run into trouble is on that older device, such as a scanner or something that works just fine with a variety of 32-bit based systems and the company has moved on to newer models and no longer supports nor is interested in re-writing a 64-bit driver. Of course, how many folks are really in that particular situation?
No, for me I am definitely looking to and planning on doing some upgrading to 64-bit systems over the next few months on the various machines that I have available that will support such. I do have a couple of systems that are truly only 32-bit, but a couple of others that will welcome the ability to stretch out and feel the full power they can leverage.
** – Image from gadgetted.com.