What are the Differences Between 32-bit and 64-bit Operating Systems?

What are the Differences Between 32-bit and 64-bit Operating Systems?


Up until 2006, all Windows operating systems have been written using 32-bit architecture. 32-bits is simply the "width" of the data bus (think of it as lanes on a highway). As computer hardware technology has progressed, the need for faster and more efficient data-handling capabilities are quickly becoming a necessity. And as a result of these increasing requirements came new hardware and software architecture for managing these advancements, the 64-Bit processor and 64-Bit operating system. While 64-Bit technology is really nothing new, for most everyday users it has never been practical. Now that costs have been reduced for the necessary hardware, 64-Bit operating system use is on the rise.

In Windows, you can see if you have a 32 Bit or 64-Bit operating system by going to the control panel and opening the system icon or use the Windows Key + Pause Hotkey

32 Bit Operating Systems:

Only a few of the computers operating in the world today use an operating system that utilizes 32-bit memory management architecture (Data bus). These are commonly referred to as X86 systems (this is in reference to the first 32 bit 286\386\486 systems). There are few remaining 32-bit operating systems on the market today. Here are a few examples:

  • Microsoft Windows: These include Windows 95, 98, NT, 2000, XP, Vista, and Server
  • Linux: These include Red Hat, Mandrake, and Ubuntu
  • Solaris: Versions 1-10
  • Mac OS: Classic (84-2001) and OS X
  • FreeBSD: Versions 1-8

64-Bit Operating Systems:

In 2002, Linux and Microsoft released the first commercial 64-bit operating systems. Linux release Red Hat 7.1 and Microsoft introduced Windows XP 64-Bit Edition. These were first used by server administrators and for users with high-end software, such as rendering applications. As larger data stores, such as 4.7 GB DVD’s, needed to be accessed more efficiently, these 64-bit operating systems are being offered to the consumer user as well. In 2016, 64-Bit operating systems are the standard.

So what is the difference?

The main difference between 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems is the way that they manage memory. For example, Windows XP 32-bit is limited to a total of 4 GB maximum of system memory to be allocated by the kernel and applications (this is why systems with 4 GB of RAM do not show the total system memory in Windows. Kernel = 1 GB reserved, Applications = 3 GBs-viewable). Windows 64-Bit has a limit of 16 Terabytes maximum of system memory allocation. This is extremely important for performance because data in memory is accessed thousands of times faster than from a disk drive. Programs also load much faster into memory. There is also a better security in XP 64-Bit because it is written from Server 2003 SP1 code base. Users of modeling, statistical, and rendering software really benefit from the 64-Bit architecture because these programs are usually very processor and memory intensive.

Here are some of the possible obstacles of using a 32-Bit operating system:

Applications: Just like any legacy technology, vendors no longer develop applications for 32-Bit operating systems.

Hardware: The many processors require a 64-Bit operating system.

Drivers: Manufacturers often do not offer 32-Bit driver versions for their hardware due to a lack of market demand or their product.


Before purchasing a 32-Bit operating system, it is important to define what you will be using the system for, is the current hardware in place, and are there 32-Bit versions of the device drivers and any applications that will be used.

Article ID: SLN57436

Last Date Modified: 11/27/2019 09:11 AM

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